larvalsubjects Says: August 4, 2007 at 6:51 pm I’m inclined to endorse Vernant’s position that the originary problem motivating philosophy is political in nature rather than ontological or epistemological:
The claims that we make about what is real and not real, what counts as knowledge and what doesn’t, and so on all have consequences for how the polis is organized, who governs, the grounds of governance, etc. For instance, President Bush advocates an ontology that includes incorporeal entities such as God that speak to him and this grounds, in his view, the legitimacy of certain actions… At least if we take his word for it. More progressive leaning religious believers tend to argue this is all a smokescreen and that his actions are really motivated by power and wealth.
At any rate, I think this comes out most clearly in Plato’s dialogues where the very form of the dialogue as a contentious discussion suggests that the problems of philosophy are intersubjective problems and where there’s always an ethico-political problem lurking in the background such as Euthyphro turning his father in for murder because he believes it is his pious duty. This simple act on Euthyphro’s part generates all sorts of questions of an epistemological and ontological nature: what does it mean to know? what is the ontological status of piety? etc.
The political dimension of philosophy seems to become lost or obscured with the emergence of the book as the primary form of transition. In a manner not unlike Marx’s commodity fetishism where relations of production or social relations are hidden in the object, the book tends to clothe or hide the intersubjective and political relations underlying professionalized articulations of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. The questions become abstract problems that us scholars work over, and the concrete field of problems that might motivate them in the first place tend to become invisible.