“…the Last Person You Want in the Room Is a Philosopher.”

I recently attended a great lecture sponsored by IU Bloomington’s Center for the Theoretical Inquiry in the Humanities.  The lecture was given by a very intelligent and insightful scholar, Laurence Hemming, who has a book coming out, called Heidegger and Marx: A Productive Dialogue over the Language of Humanism.  Unfortunately, this scholar induced a facepalm of the likes the world may not see for quite some time.  Okay, “facepalm” indicates a hell of a lot less insult than was my actual disposition, but I have gotten over the immediately induced state of having been insulted.  The state was induced by his comment, which, maybe, he wanted to take it back as soon as he said it (I paraphrase slightly): “When the powers-that-be get together to discuss “rethinking money,” the last person you want in the room is a philosopher.”  Even though the initial agitation is gone, I still feel the inclination to facepalm; but let’s discuss.

I find these sorts of comments to be evidence of a tremendously deep misunderstanding of what philosophy is, and even more so a deep ignorance as to what are the true problems of economics, as I take them to be.  I will touch on the latter, but only explicate at some later time, supposing that I am so impelled.  I am not sure I get the deal with misunderstanding what philosophy is, in general.  Maybe people tend to read some text, now considered shenanigans to some degree, like that of Descartes (if someone refuses to acknowledge the putative philosopher’s contribution to modern thought), and have concluded that philosophy is bunkum.  That’s rather a silly and ignorant point of view to have.  It ignores the fact that every scientific text that revolted against the mainstream science was philosophical in its bent; it ignores that the instantiate of essentially every discipline was an experimental and wholly heterodox mode of thinking; it is ignorant of the fact that the antithesis of philosophy is dogma vis-à-vis it’s orientation toward satisfying some set of values.  Now, I don’t get too upset when the layperson comes along and laughs at philosophy, even though I am personally involved with philosophy of physics qua resolving fundamental problems in physics.  However, when a scholar comes along and says something so ridiculously ignorant to the fact that he or she possesses a PhD or a D.Phil —that is, a philosophical doctorate or a doctorate of philosophy—, then I do, most certainly, take exception.  Their mastery of a dogmatic practice, assuming that it is not more closely linked to pure philosophy, is afforded by the fact that he or she has acquired a non-dogmatic —that is, a philosophical— understanding of it, being able to manipulate the ideas of the discipline on a metalevel.

As stated, I will not present much in the way of what I think is problematic within the realm of economics, but I will say that the most fundamental issues are those that are challenging, and have been challenging, economic theory.  The Austrian School’s (and some other, non-formally presented lines of thought) challenge to the Keynesianism and the Chicago School is evidence of this.  Suffice it to say that I hold one problem among all to be the central problem, the question: what is money and value, and are they the same thing?  The philosophical underpinnings of all existing systems make the formal economic analyses produce mess, because, I believe, they are neither consistent with one another, nor are they consistent with what is seen in the world.  I have seen approaches that treat money as a debt, while others treat it as a surplus; yet these theories often get mixed and matched, completely ignoring the premises, videlicet, what money is taken to be.  Going further into these sorts of implicit internal disagreements shows, more and more, why Hemming’s statement was absurd.  However, I can’t lay all of the fault on him, as I am sure economists would likely say something similar; and he may even have been uttering what he once heard from an economist, without much thinking about it.  Who knows?  But I will say that I should hope that someone dealing with great philosophers, such Heidegger and Marx, would have a bit more respect for the discipline, even if Hemming is a professor of Germanic Studies (no excuse, given the Germanic tradition!).

At any rate, this certainly won’t deter me from reading Laurence Paul Hemming’s new book, Heidegger and Marx: A Productive Dialogue over the Language of Humanism, and the comment has not changed my effusively positive opinion of the gentleman.  We all make mistakes.

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October 22, 2012 · 12:52 am

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