Monday, May 17, 2010
what is a philosopher?
This morning, as I was reading the Interweb, I came across two seemingly unrelated articles, one from Al Jazeera, the other a column in the Times.
However, upon closer examination, the two articles are perfectly linked.
The first article is about Dr. Noam Chomsky not being allowed to cross into the West Bank from Jordan to give a lecture at Birzeit University. Israeli officials held the noted academic and his daughter at the border and while the Interior Ministry is now pleading that the incident was a misunderstanding, it is clear to anyone who has read Chomsky exactly what happened.
An outspoken critic of Israeli policy, and Jewish, Chomsky is one of the most noted philosophers of our time, on par with the likes of his good friend, my personal favorite, the late Howard Zinn. Chomsky, who teaches at MIT, is now better known as a rabble rouser and anarchist, but to anyone with half a brain, these things don't matter when it comes to intellectual thought, curiosity, and a penchant for questioning the status quo.
The second article I read today was the first installment of the New York Times' new column, The Stone (which, of course, refers to the legendary Philosopher's Stone), and it promises to be all about modern-day philosophy, which just doesn't get the super star treatment it used to. I mean, no matter what I think, Chomsky will never have the name recognition that Aristotle does.
Anyway, I found an interesting link between these two articles that reminded me why I enjoy philosophy in the first place.
"Philosophy should come with the kind of health warning one finds on packs of European cigarettes: PHILOSOPHY KILLS," writes the author, Simon Critchley, referring to Socrates. He continues, "Philosophy has repeatedly and persistently been identified with blasphemy against the gods, whichever gods they might be. Nothing is more common in the history of philosophy than the accusation of impiety. Because of their laughable otherworldliness and lack of respect [for] social convention, rank and privilege, philosophers refuse to honor the old gods and this makes them politically suspicious, even dangerous. Might such dismal things still happen in our happily enlightened age?"
Well, clearly, as the incident with Chomsky proves, yes.
Philosophers are still enemies of the state and religion. And that is the one thing I hope will change in my lifetime - that the masses will being being interested in and listening to philosophy.
But, alas, I'm aware that this is a pipe dream... which is why I am a philosopher.