A World without Why?

Raymond Geuss in The Point Magazine:

I have what I have always held to be a mildly discreditable day job, that of teaching philosophy at a university. I take it to be discreditable because about 85 percent of my time and energy is devoted to training aspiring young members of the commercial, administrative or governmental elite in the glib manipulation of words, theories and arguments. I thereby help to turn out the pliable, efficient, self-satisfied cadres that our economic and political system uses to produce the ideological carapace which protects it against criticism and change. I take my job to be only mildly discreditable, partly because I don’t think, finally, that this realm of words is in most cases much more than an epiphenomenon secreted by power relations which would otherwise express themselves with even greater and more dramatic directness. Partly, too, because 10 percent of the job is an open area within which it is possible that some of these young people might become minimally reflective about the world they live in and their place in it; in the best of cases they might come to be able and willing to work for some minimal mitigation of the cruder excesses of the pervading system of oppression under which we live. The remaining 5 percent of my job, by the way, what I would call the actual “philosophical” part, is almost invisible from the outside, totally unclassifiable in any schema known to me—and quantitatively, in any case, so insignificant that it can more or less be ignored.

So the experience I have of my everyday work environment is of a conformist, claustrophobic and repressive verbal universe, a penitential domain of reason-mongering in which hyperactivity in detail—the endlessly repeated shouts of “why,” the rebuttals, calls for “evidence,” qualifications and quibbles—stands in stark contrast to the immobility and self-referentiality of the structure as a whole. I suffer from recurrent bouts of nausea in the face of this densely woven tissue of “arguments,” most of which are nothing but blinds for something else altogether, generally something unsavory; and I feel an urgent need to exit from it altogether. Unsurprisingly, Plato had a name for people like me when I am in this mood: misovlogos, a hater of reasoning. I comfort myself for being on the wrong side of Plato by thinking that I am also, at any rate, never unaware of the potentially questionable nature of this desire. One might be inherently suspicious of what is clearly the luxury complaint of someone who occupies what is in effect a very privileged position in a rich society; those suffering from debilitating diseases, struggling to get access to clean water, trying desperately to avoid the systematic attentions of a repressive state-apparatus, or enduring the more or less random violence of armed gangs in regions where public order has broken down might well be thought to have more pressing concerns. To that extent perhaps my reaction does not throw a morally flattering light on me. That does not, however, exhaust the objective disquiet my impulse causes me.

[H/t: Justin Smith]