an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 7, May-June 2010, ISSN 1552-5112



      What Is a Philosopher?


Nicholas Ruiz III


First of all - do not ask an academic. You will likely receive a typically fearful, woefully sanitized, cautiously undergraduate response like, "That's a matter of opinion." Sort of like the cop-out in the New York Times - Opinionator: "There are as many definitions of philosophy as there are philosophers – perhaps there are even more." [1]

    Philosophy - and philosophers, of which we must add, there are sparingly few, involves taking a stand. And that is exactly what so few people are willing to do. Stop right there - we are not talking about the 'history' of philosophy.

    You often hear of philosophers and philosophy departments, 'doing philosophy,' somewhere. But that's mostly the administrative accounting of philosophy that is quietly pissing all over what philosophy truly exists; passing for 'philosophy' in utter blasphemy.

    Socrates, a real philosopher, took a stand. Philosophy has nothing to do with the love of wisdom. What would it mean to 'love' wisdom? Nothing. Loving wisdom, is like loving chocolate. Sweet, satisfying, safe - and meaningless. Philosophy is not safe, non-metaphorically speaking. If it’s safe – it’s not philosophy.

   And philosophy is certainly not "a series of footnotes to Plato," or anyone else. Philosophy is a question that is answered with actions. Not simply the question - nor the answer, but rather, the whole circle through to completion. No, not Hegel, or some postmodern variation thereof: let the soft parade (Zizek et al.) march down that rabbit hole. You might join them, but then you are not 'doing philosophy' and instead, engaging in psycho-literary historical studies, which I admit at times, is not without merit and intrigue.

   There are philosophers. You may know one or two. But they probably do not work in universities or colleges. These places do not generally employ philosophers (they love historians, however) - they generally employ philosophical accountants, and equity analysts of philosophical publishing, whom in that setting of pedagogical distribution, generally function as student customer service representatives (CSR).

   It's all part of the broader dismantling of higher education.

There are exceptions - we hope to God. An example? First there is more to discuss in the commercially sanctioned 'piece' that elicited my response. In another institutionalized observation, Critchley identifies time as the philosopher's culprit: "...we might say that to philosophize is to take your time, even when you have no time, when time is constantly pressing at your back...The philosopher, by contrast, is free by virtue of his or her other-worldliness, by their capacity to fall into wells and appear silly."

    But philosophers are no more or less concerned with time than anyone else. And unless one fathoms 'freedom' as time, for leave to hop from sabbatical to conference to low teaching loads, and back again, all while doing nothing to increase justice, or diminish abuse, or curtail tyranny - then that is all philosophy can be: otherworldly, silly, marginalized.

    Again, Socrates was none of these things - and that is precisely why he was murdered by the State.


I have always preferred the concept of a theory-fiction, to explain what the CSR rationalists have hijacked and deem 'philosophy.' Philosophy, is something else. When Jean Baudrillard described his work as theory-fiction, it was because he knew philosophy was a far more activist endeavor. And Baudrillard was the first to admit he was no activist.

   On the other hand, there are careerists, and other associated objectivists involved in didactic dissemination of what passes as philosophy ('teachers' of philosophy, etc.). It is such a conglomerate institution that is apt, while stuffed with administrators, and administrative hopefuls, to believe and cultivate the metaphysics of accounting. This Baudrillard described as a particularly inane attempt to control the totality and distribution of orthodox postulates - conspicuously engaging in the analysis of the world, largely, so as to control it, while plump with the ambition, expectation, obsession - and phantasm - of material world possession. All variances of megalomania under the pettifogger rubric, quibbling over trifles and the like.

   No, philosophy requires something different - something to the effect of putting your money where your mouth is, no? Alas, we entertain very few philosophers these days...plenty of writers, though. Of every sort and genre: fiction, non-fiction, theory-fiction, creative and otherwise.

   Now is about the time someone will remember a certain Sartre, and his writing 'commitment':  "...the freedom of writing implies the freedom of the citizen. One does not write for slaves. The art of prose is bound up with the only regime in which prose has meaning, democracy. When one is threatened, the other is too. And it is not enough to defend them with the pen." [2]

    Hence a philosopher, generally is not an academic, which begs the question - "Where are the philosophers?" - as they are largely not, in the corporatist academy. Yes, a philosopher may teach, but that cannot be her primary practice, otherwise she risks being simply that, a teacher. However meritorious teaching may be, 'tis another endeavor indeed, as we've just established. And now, we have entered the realm of philosophy, and philosophers, with a word: risk.

   Now the list you have been waiting for - some philosophers: Socrates, Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi, Jesus of Nazareth, Antonio Gramsci, and others, as you can imagine. Some have written treatises - some have not.

   And then, some non-philosophers: well, I'll leave that for you to decide. But I will say this - the most pressing question philosophers must answer today is: Why is the world failing in its promise of justice for all?

    Is it because the idea of justice has not been properly theorized? Editorialized? Analyzed? Declared? Philosophized? Unpacked? Teased apart? Duly considered and legalized? Legislated? Not enough lawyers?


A hypothesis: justice escapes us for truly one reason alone– there are too few philosophers.




an international and interdisciplinary journal of postmodern cultural sound, text and image

 Volume 7, May-June 2010, ISSN 1552-5112


[2] Jean Paul Sartre, “What is Literature?” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, New York; Norton (2001), p. 1349