The naive philosopher

Okay, the situation is as follows: I need to write my master thesis this year. Which means that I need a topic, and I need two professors to approve of it. Until this time next month, because that´s when I need to enlist for the exam. Which means that I´m starting to panic.

Irene told me one year ago that I should start thinking about topics for my thesis. I complied, very well, but hello, what I found interesting one year ago is not what I find interesting now, right?  That´s the type of attitude that gets you knee-deep into trouble. Because now here I am, waiting to be kissed by the muse. What on earth can I stand to write 100 pages about?

The problem is: If I´m not passionate about a subject, I cannot write about it. I never had the kind of mind Irene has: The cold, rational, scientific perspective. She criticizes my emotional investment in everything I´m interested in (I can feel personally insulted by philosophical theories^^); but if it wasn´t for that investment I wouldn´t be interested in the first place. And if I´m not interested in something and still have to write 100 pages about it, then I get this uncomfortable feeling that I´m wasting my life.

The trouble with emotional investment is that I always fear it might cloud my judgment. What motivates me most, what makes me stay up all night and read, write and ponder, is when something (like a theory or a statement or a text) really, really pisses me off. I thrive on anger. If the anger remains manageable, that is. If I feel like I have good chances to refute the theory. If I know that sooner or later I´ll find out why exactly it pisses me off so much and base my counter-argument on that. But that – personal resentment – is what is frowned upon most. For example by people like Irene. It is why I never felt at home at college. As a student, you´re supposed to think and work scientifically. (Yes, even as a continental philosopher. We may waffle a lot, but we waffle according to scientific standards.) I, however, rely on my gut feelings. If I feel something isn´t right about a theory, even if I can´t pinpoint it, then I´ll take a mental note and come back at it later to find out which of its implications makes me so uncomfortable.  And just how great does it feel when I succeed!

The thing is: My best sensor for uncanny implications is anger. And my best motivation for actually revisiting the theories in question is also anger. So what shall I do? Go to my professors and ask them if I may, please, please write about how something-that-pisses-me-off-real-bad-is-totally-wrong? I was going to ask my professor if I could try to build up a philosophical criticism of psychoanalysis. What would be his next question: “Well, what exactly do you criticize?” He would demand that I give him a synopsis, some structure, just something to work with. But I don´t know yet what the outcome would be if I worked on that subject for six months.

Okay, maybe that´s silly. Nobody can possibly know what he is going to find out before he starts researching. And I can´t do all the research before I even get the official approval of my topic. Hello? I have other things to do as well. So some preliminary research will have to do.

Still, I feel like an idiot. Why can´t I be like Irene? Why can´t I be determined, and rational, and just know what I´m doing, what I´m going to say, and how to convince two professors to accept that work? Why do I have to feel like an eccentric artist who constantly worries that publishers and sponsors will oppress his creativity? I hate having to convince someone of my ideas before I have even fully developed them. I hate having to gain someone´s approval. I just want to pursue my interests and if anybody cares, great, if not, screw you, world! (Yeah, isn´t that everybody´s dream…)

I feel like the typical way philosophy is practiced today looks like this: “I specialize in thinker A. I want to know what he would have said about thesis T §5.6 in the work W part 1 by thinker B in relation to thinker C´s interpretation of the late thinker D´s thoughts on subject E.  So I will ask everybody in the scientific community (and their mom) how they interpret sentence S1, S2 and S3 in thinker A´s opus magnum, insert the results into various interpretations of the expression “amoral subjectivist hermeneutics” and then, finally, arrive at some conclusions OF MY OWN!”

I mean – is there anything left of philosophy other than self-referential musings about other philosophers? One professor of mine quoted a philosopher who claimed that all philosophy after Plato is just footnotes to Plato´s works. Uh, great. So if everything meaningful has been said and done over 2000 years ago, can´t we just launch the armageddon? It´s not like I don´t understand that we are all struggling with our meaninglessness and the general senselessness of everything, but could we please, please FIGHT our nihilism? If we stop believing that somewhere inside some mind a great new idea can be born, we can just as well go kill ourselves. Yeah. That´s me being personally affected by philosophical theories once again.

All I ever searched in studying philosophy was being allowed to develop my own thoughts. It seems to me, though, that nowadays there are no more philosophers. Philosophers are people like Plato, Kant, Hume, Nietzsche. We are just the folks who research them. Wonder what they would have said about this or that subject. Instead of asking what we have to say about it. The only people who still sit down and develop their own world view from scratch are kids and crazies. There is something childish and unscientific about it, isn´t it? Isn´t it hubris to think that you, a single little post-modern person in an age that doesn´t even believe in truths anymore could just sit down and finally find the answers to the great big questions that have plagued humanity ever since? How naive do all those questions seem! How naive it is to ask for the meaning of life! How barbarian! How uneducated! How do you define “meaning” in the first place? Read about how some philosophers defined “meaning” and then come back with your question! We might be able to tell you then what Rousseau, Berkeley or Russell thought about the meaning of life. But we can never give you a manual for how to live!

Still, this naive question, this “how to live, what to do” just doesn´t seem to go away. We can be as scientific as we want, we are still faced with such questions. Maybe we answer it without even realizing it, but the question is there. I think I chose to study philosophy because it was the naive questions that moved me. I never cared much what thinker A thought about late thinker C´s interpretation of thinker D´s opus magnum. I was never really interested in philosophers or even philosophy. The naive questions pop up everywhere. An psychoanalytical essay on narcissism can bring them to your mind. So I can be interested in a great variety of subjects, without being interested the slightest bit in the scientific method which is commonly used to research them.  Which is why I never felt at home in any scientific discipline. Or at college. At school I was a loner, now I feel like an outcast.


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