To philosophize is to cease living

by Oscar Brenifier, February 2009


Discuss / diskuter


Two philosophies

“Philosophy is life”, is an expression we hear commonly among philosophy fans. But it seems to us that actually it is exactly the contrary. Although that is the way it goes for many commonplace expressions: they are good at putting reality topsy-turvy. Probably because of their intention: they hide reality in order for their author to feel better. And when we think about it for one moment, this might be one of the “popular” reasons for “philosophy”: a desire for a good conscience, a hope for the mind to feel easy and relaxed. A common conception of philosophy: philosophy makes you “cool”. Thus it seems useful to us, as often, to take the counterpoint of this principle, to effectuate the reversal of this reversal, if only to better examine the effect produced by the operation. And in this case, like in many others of same type, it works quite well, since it seems to us that for example the expression “To philosophize is to cease living” is a rather sensible and interesting expression. Probably, indeed, we have now another meaning of philosophy, opposed to the previous one: philosophy implies to overturn established ideas and induce uneasiness, at the risk of a bad conscience, a sort of psychological suffering and death. But of course we are conscious that we have here posed as opposites two very distinct classical conceptions of philosophy, that can be coined as the “vulgar” one and the “elitist” one. We are not trying to establish a hierarchy between them, since “vulgar” could become “popular”, and “elitist” could become “abstruse”. But subjectively, in defense of this “harsh” philosophy, let us claim that if philosophy was life, it would fill up football stadiums, supply supermarkets, we would find it in opinion polls, appear at prime time television, and probably established philosophers would look less dusty and speak to everyone. Although some of this somewhat may happen already over the last few years, for different reasons!

Let us examine different ways in which philosophy would be opposed to life. First, by taking up the classical refrain that “To philosophize is learning to die”. Plato, Cicero, Montaigne and many others have affirmed, written and rewritten that preparation to death would indeed constitute the heart of philosophical activity, the philosophical experience par excellence. Of course we can oppose here some philosophers like Spinoza, with his concept of “conatus”: every living being tends to persevere existing, or his famous quote: “the free man thinks of nothing less than of death”. Or Nietzsche who claims life itself is at the core of real thinking, when he writes that the great reason is the body, the small reason is the mind. Or Sartre, who in the footsteps of the epicureans affirms that death is exterior to existence, since it is absence or cessation of life. But since by principle, especially on these matters, not a single proposition can obtain unanimous agreement among philosophers, we will not bother about the consensus: we will only examine the viability of our propositions. And in fact, we most likely will reconcile with our philosophers of “opposition” in the course of our peregrination. Already because in those different philosophers the concept of finitude is important, and it is precisely on this trajectory that we wish to invite the reader: examining the different stakes of thinking, undergoing and living the finitude: existential, epistemological, psychological...


Page created: 16.03.09. Page last modified: 18.11.09 14:41.