Faculy Column: Philosophy how?

An amateur philosopher from Columbia University is about to interview for a philosophy position at a secondary school and asks me what else I could tell him about philosophy. I’ve thought up the following points for myself, for him, and for anybody who’s interested in overhearing this response. I offer them here in the Stoic spirit of “correspondence as circle of subjectivation/veridiction,” as Michel Foucault teaches.

Think now in the opposite direction. How to strip down ideas but make them enticing. Three or four would be as many as people are ready to handle or remember you by. What anecdotes of life (proprietary examples) can you use to bring to life a philosophical idea? Do you have idiosyncratic ones? Do you have three? Be punchy and consumable. Think bestseller without being cheap.

Read you interviewers on the spot. Ask them good questions. Be gentle with your listeners. We tend to err on the side of being brutally knowledgeable, or knowledgeable brutes. But there is a world of difference between knowledge and understanding, or wisdom. The position expects you to teach the love of wisdom. How else can this love be taught if not by contagion? There are different species of wisdom, too. Remember that, for Baruch Spinoza, intellect is inferior to intuition, and good ideas are, after all, adequate ideas – ones that help us encompass situations. A dramatist, by the way, would say that drama is a good idea, because it is a strategy contrived to encompass situations.

Philosophy is what philosophy does. People tend to associate philosophy with abstraction but there’s no philosophy in the abstract. Besides philosophy as a way of life (a la Pierre Hadot), also talk about philosophy in the flesh (a la George Lakoff and Mark Johnson) – your flesh, the students’ flesh, and all that. In what mode do you practice (and preach) philosophy? What does it do?

Focus a bit more on the rhetorical side of things, both as you cope with the interview situation, and as you present to your interviewers the way you rhetoricize philosophy. Even the Stoics care about the rhetoric of Parrhesia, regardless of their dismissive attitude toward rhetoric. Actually their attitude precisely shows that rhetoric matters.

Expect to be asked about how to work with digital natives, or neo-primitives, who do not really lack information, but heuristic ideas enacted through good form. An exercise in form is an exercise in human propriety and poise, as Kenneth Burke teaches. If we care about mature social efficacy, then there should be a fusion of philosophy and rhetoric. Let’s not forget the McLuhanesque point: when the Internet makes teaching obsolete, teaching comes back as an art form.

Philosophy is humanity’s best defense against bigotry, petrified narrow seriousness (a la Mikhail Bakhtin), or mere technical excellence. If anything, let’s love a Socrates that dances, as worthy disciples of Nietzsche would say.