I Miss Philosophical Enquiry

When I was a young undergraduate, and my head was filled with heady intellectual juices of Marxism and John Rawls, I use to relish getting involved in philosophical discussions, both in class and with colleagues. I had studied Political Science and Philosophy, amongst other things (ie Psychology, German and so on) and was thus exposed to all manner of philosophical writings, ranging from the existentialism of Descartes – who still has a special place in my head – to the brutally-frank realism of Hobbes. One of the last courses I did in my final year was the notion of philosophical agnosticism, triumphed by one Richard Rorty; a philosopher of no major renown outside of the United States I believe. The point was not the vanilla agnosticism the religious confuse it with, but rather with this persistent mindset to essentially dismiss nothing, but doubt everything. To always be challenging your views and beliefs and continuously trying to hone one’s knowledge on everything ad infinitum.

However, I stopped philosophy and political science and veered towards Strategic Studies, opting to leave the philosophy at the door and involve myself in what is essentially analysing very current phenomena in very practical, nonsensical terms. There’s no room in the study of war for existentialism, or even Hobbes. Although they both factor into the field of International Relations, they’ve normally paid a face value ‘nod’, if that, and left at the door whilst we stick our noses of inquiry into the relationships between country A and country B, or in my case, Pirates and Modernity.

The point is, I miss philosophy. It was great to come out of a lecture or seminar with my head reeling with new ideas and reconceptualisations of what I had previously thought to be the status quo. Having one’s worldview challenged on a daily basis was insanely frustrating and yet immensely satisfying at the same time.

Reading Jon’s blog often makes me wish I could still continue with pure philosophy. The spirit of inquiry which is almost indistinguishable from the discipline as a whole is something which is very easy to lose track of outside of departmental corridors. Sure, my own realm of strategic studies requires all manner of questions be asked, but there exist very well-defined precedents essentially written in stone. Warfare is, if nothing else, a patterned exercise in human politics. It’s about as well-defined a field as one can find, if one can stomach the obvious distastefulness of the subject matter. But in philosophy nothing is sacred, and everything is up for question. It’s something very valuable that I gained from studying philosophy for 3 years. I might not have ever been very good at a lot of the authors, and I often came out severely dissatisfied at the fuzzy obscurity of some of the shit we had to read, but at the end of it philosophy equipped me with a toolset designing basically around the question “Why?” which has served me well ever since. I resented it’s lack of permanence in any one discourse, as everything, even the big guys like Kant and Foucault, was up for critique, but I always relished the manner in which philosophical enquiry was able to break down norms in thinking and analysis and basically stick the intellectual finger to establishment.

I miss that, because in International Relations there are very well-established SOP’s for approaching one’s theoretical frameworks, and they’re especially unhelpful in the field of strat studies. Philosophy is like the intellectual pit bull of universities; they’re abused, beaten and treated like dirt, but eeeevery once in a while, they’ll be let out to publish something, and it generally ruins the academic pant-legs of departments around the world. That’s awesome, and I miss it.

Music for the post: My good friend Jo (who also loves philosophy I might add) showed me the awesomeness of The Gaslight Anthem, and they rock… metaphysically and awesomely.

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