Ideas of Simon Critchley, by Theme

[British, fl. 1997, Prof at University of Essex; at Collège Internationale de Philosophie, Paris; New School Univ, NY]

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1. Philosophy / C. History of Philosophy / 2. Ancient Philosophy / b. Pre-Socratic philosophy
Philosophy really got started as the rival mode of discourse to tragedy
     Full Idea: The pre-Socratics are interesting, but philosophy really begins in drama; it's a competitive discourse to tragedy. Which is why Plato's 'Republic' excludes the poets: they're the competition; gotta get rid of them.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 6)
     A reaction: That's an interesting and novel perspective. So what was the 'discourse' of tragedy saying, and why did that provoke the new rival? Was it too fatalistic?
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 5. Aims of Philosophy / d. Philosophy as puzzles
Philosophy begins in disappointment, notably in religion and politics
     Full Idea: I claim that philosophy begins in disappointment, and there are two forms of disappointment that interest me: religious and political disappointment
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 2)
     A reaction: You are only disappointed by reality if you expected something better. To be disappointed by the failures of religion strikes me as rather old-fashioned, which Critchley sort of admits. Given the size and tumult of modern states, politics isn't promising.
1. Philosophy / D. Nature of Philosophy / 8. Humour
Humour is practically enacted philosophy
     Full Idea: Humour, for me, is practically enacted philosophy.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.198)
     A reaction: This may be overstating it, as the funniest jokes may be the least philosophical, and remarks may be faintly amusing but very profound. Lear and his Fool make up a single worldview together.
Humour can give a phenomenological account of existence, and point to change
     Full Idea: Humour provides an oblique phenomenology of ordinary life; it is a way of describing the situation of our existence, and, at its best, it indicates how we might change that situation.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.198)
     A reaction: The trouble is that this leads us to relentlessly political standup comedians who aren't very funny. Critichley may have a problem with remarks which are very funny precisely because they are so politically incorrect. I sympathise, though.
1. Philosophy / G. Scientific Philosophy / 3. Scientism
If infatuation with science leads to bad scientism, its rejection leads to obscurantism
     Full Idea: If what is mistaken in much contemporary philosophy is its infatuation with science, which leads to scientism, then the equally mistaken rejection of science leads to obscurantism.
     From: Simon Critchley (Continental Philosophy - V. Short Intro [2001], Ch.1)
     A reaction: Clearly a balance has to be struck. I take philosophy to be a quite separate discipline from science, but it is crucial that philosophy respects the physical facts, and scientists are the experts there. Scientists are philosophers' most valued servants.
Scientism is the view that everything can be explained causally through scientific method
     Full Idea: Scientism is the belief that all phenomena can be explained through the methodology of the natural sciences, and the belief that, therefore, all phenomena are capable of a causal explanation.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.196)
     A reaction: He links two ideas together, but I tend to subscribe fully to the second idea, but less fully to the first. Scientific method, if there is such a thing (Idea 6804), may not be the best way to lay bare the causal network of reality.
Science gives us an excessively theoretical view of life
     Full Idea: One of the problems with the scientific worldview is that it leads human beings to have an overwhelmingly theoretical relationship to the world.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 2)
     A reaction: Critchley is defending phenomenology, but this also supports its cousin, existentialism. I keep meeting bright elderly men who have immersed themselves in the study of science, and they seem very remote from the humanist culture I love.
1. Philosophy / H. Continental Philosophy / 1. Continental Philosophy
To meet the division in our life, try the Subject, Nature, Spirit, Will, Power, Praxis, Unconscious, or Being
     Full Idea: Against the Kantian division of a priori and empirical, Fichte offered activity of the subject, Schelling offered natural force, Hegel offered Spirit, Schopenhauer the Will, Nietzsche power, Marx praxis, Freud the unconscious, and Heidegger offered Being.
     From: Simon Critchley (Continental Philosophy - V. Short Intro [2001])
     A reaction: The whole of Continental Philosophy summarised in a sentence. Fichte and Schopenhauer seem to point to existentialism, Schelling gives evolutionary teleology, Marx abandons philosophy, the others are up the creek.
The French keep returning, to Hegel or Nietzsche or Marx
     Full Idea: French philosophy since the 1930s might be described as a series of returns: to Hegel (in Kojève and early Sartre), to Nietzsche (in Foucault and Deleuze), or to Marx (in Althusser).
     From: Simon Critchley (Continental Philosophy - V. Short Intro [2001], Ch.2)
     A reaction: An interesting map. The question might be why they return to those three, rather than (say) Hume or Leibniz. If the choice of which one you return to a matter of 'taste' (as Nietzsche would have it)?
German idealism aimed to find a unifying principle for Kant's various dualisms
     Full Idea: In his Third Critique Kant established a series of dualisms (pure/practical reason, nature/freedom, epistemology/ethics) but failed to provide a unifying principle; German idealism can be seen as an attempt to provide this principle.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.187)
     A reaction: He cites 'subject', 'spirit', 'art', 'will to power', 'praxis' and 'being' as candidates. This is a helpful overview for someone struggling to get to grips with that tradition.
Continental philosophy fights the threatened nihilism in the critique of reason
     Full Idea: If reason must criticise itself (in Kant) how does one avoid total scepticism? In my view, the problem that has animated the continental tradition since Jacobi (early 19th cent) is the threat of nihilism.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.188)
     A reaction: As an outsider to 'continental' philosophy, this is the most illuminating remark I have read about it. It is not only a plausible account of the movement, but also a very worth aim, which should be taken seriously by analytical philosophers.
Since Hegel, continental philosophy has been linked with social and historical enquiry.
     Full Idea: In continental philosophy from Hegel onwards, systematic philosophical questions have to be linked to socio-historical enquiry, and the distinctions between philosophy, history and society begin to fall apart.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.188)
     A reaction: I have a strong sales resistance to this view of philosophy, just as I would if it was said about mathematics. It seems to imply a bogus view that history exhibits direction and purpose (the 'Whig' view). There are pure reasons among the prejudices.
Continental philosophy is based on critique, praxis and emancipation
     Full Idea: The basic map of the continental tradition can be summarised in three terms: critique, praxis and emancipation.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.189)
     A reaction: I wince at 'emancipation', which seems to take freedom as of unquestionably high value, instead of being one of the principles up for question in social philosophy. There are more presuppositions in Marxist than in analytical philosophy.
Continental philosophy has a bad tendency to offer 'one big thing' to explain everything
     Full Idea: In continental philosophy there is a pernicious tendency to explain everything in terms of 'one big thing', such as the 'death drive' (Freud), 'being' (Heidegger), 'the real' (Lacan), 'power' (Foucault), 'the other' (Levinas), or 'différance' (Derrida).
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.197)
     A reaction: From a fan of this type of philosophy, this is a refreshing remark, because if pinpoints a very off-putting feature. Each of these 'big things' should be up for question, not offered as axiomatic assumptions that explain everything else.
1. Philosophy / H. Continental Philosophy / 2. Phenomenology
Phenomenology is a technique of redescription which clarifies our social world
     Full Idea: Phenomenology (as in the later Husserl) is for me a way of assembling reminders which clarify the social world in which we exist; it is a technique of redescription.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.198)
     A reaction: I'm not sure if I can identify with this as a target for philosophy, but it is interesting and sound worthy of effort. Critchley offers this as the best strand in 'continental' philosophy, rather than the big explanatory ideas.
Phenomenology uncovers and redescribes the pre-theoretical layer of life
     Full Idea: Phenomenology is a philosophical method that tries to uncover the pre-theoretical layer of human experience and redescribe it.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 2)
     A reaction: I would be delighted if someone could tell me what this means in practice. I have the impression of lots of talk about phenomenology, but not much doing of it. Clearly I must enquire further.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 8. The Arts / b. Literature
Wallace Stevens is the greatest philosophical poet of the twentieth century in English
     Full Idea: Wallace Stevens is the greatest philosophical poet of the twentieth century in the English language - full stop - in my humble opinion.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 6)
     A reaction: I include this because I tend to agree, and love Stevens. Hear recordings of him reading. I once mentioned Stevens in a conversation with Ted Hughes, and he just shrugged and said Stevens 'wasn't much of a poet'. Wrong.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 7. Art and Morality
Interesting art is always organised around ethical demands
     Full Idea: I don't think that art can be unethical. I think that interesting art is always ethical. It is organised around ethical demands.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 8)
     A reaction: It is a struggle to make this fit instrumental music. Critchley likes punk rock, so he might not see the problem. How to compare Bachian, Mozart, Beethovenian and Debussyian ethics? Not impossible.
22. Metaethics / A. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / d. Ethical theory
The problems is not justifying ethics, but motivating it. Why should a self seek its good?
     Full Idea: The issue is not so much justification as motivation, that in virtue of which the self can be motivated to act on some conception of the good. ...How does a self bind itself to whatever it determines as its good?
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 2)
     A reaction: That is a bold and interesting idea about the starting point for ethics. It is always a problem for Aristotle, that he can offer no motivation for the quest for virtue. Contractarians start from existing motivations, but that isn't impressive.
22. Metaethics / B. Value / 1. Nature of Value / f. Ultimate value
Food first, then ethics
     Full Idea: Food first, then ethics.
     From: Simon Critchley (Continental Philosophy - V. Short Intro [2001], 8857)
     A reaction: This is not a dismissal of philosophy, but a key fact which ethical philosophers must face up to. See Mr Doolittle's speech in Shaw's 'Pygmalion. It connects to the debate c.1610 about whether one is entitled to grab someone's plank to avoid drowning.
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 2. Nihilism
Perceiving meaninglessness is an achievement, which can transform daily life
     Full Idea: If nihilism is the threat of the collapse of meaning, then my position is that one has to accept meaninglessness as an achievement, as an accomplishment that permits a transformed relation to everyday life.
     From: Simon Critchley (Interview with Baggini and Stangroom [2001], p.193)
     A reaction: This sounds cheerfully upbeat and life-enhancing, but I don't quite see how it works. One could easily end up laughing at the most appalling tragedies, and that seems to me to be an inappropriate (Aristotelian word) way to respond to tragedy.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 2. Anarchism
Anarchism used to be libertarian (especially for sexuality), but now concerns responsibility
     Full Idea: Anarchism in the 1960s was libertarian and organised around issues of sexual liberation. That moment has passed. People are and should be organising around responsibility.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 3)
     A reaction: So there are two types of anarchism, focused on freedom or on responsibility. An organisation like Greenpeace might represent the latter.
The state, law, bureaucracy and capital are limitations on life, so I prefer federalist anarchism
     Full Idea: I begin with the ontological premise that the state is a limitation on human existence. I am against the state, law, bureaucracy, and capital. I see anarchism as the only desirable way of organising, politically. ...Its political form is federalist.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 3)
     A reaction: Hm. Some sympathy, but caution. All systems, even federalist anarchism, are limitations on our lives, so which limitations do we prefer? The law aspires to a calm egalitarian neutrality, which seems promising to me.
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 3. Conservatism
Belief that humans are wicked leads to authoritarian politics
     Full Idea: If you think human beings are wicked, you turn to an authoritarian conception of politics, the Hobbesian-Machiavellian-Straussian lie.
     From: Simon Critchley (Impossible Objects: interviews [2012], 3)
     A reaction: Right-wingers also tend to believe in free will, so they can blame and punish. Good people are more inspired by a great leader than bad people are? (Later, Critchley says authoritarians usually believe in original sin).