“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Philosophy and the City

A few good posts on the polis recently.

One by Adam Robbert.

Another by Bill Thorn.

Re-thinking politics is something most Athenian citizens never had to do. They had common categories to guide them in the agora, as well as comedy and tragedy to form and re-form their feelings for them at the theater. But then Socrates started taking philosophical walks along the Ilissus with the city youth, asking them about Love and the Soul. He started asking about Goodness and drinking wine with them, telling stories about Beauty. He inspired a generation of intellectual critics of the city’s traditional ways. The comics laughed at him. The courts did not. He found himself called to testify. He was convicted of atheism and sentenced to death.

Philosophy is inherently disturbing to the ruling classes of all but the most ideal societies. It under-minds the politician’s sense of identity by forcing him to consider the ground of his own powers of persuasion, to reflect upon his own reasons for exercising power. This throws him into conflict with himself, a crisis of consciousness as well as conscience. Politicians always have to pretend not to have internal conflicts, not to have contemplative thoughts. They are to be creatures of immediate action only, of instinctual oughts.

Socrates was accused of being a sort of magician, a pharmakeus, charming the young with his psychedelic speech. I think philosophy, if it is to remain relevant and effective, must play a similar role in politics today. It is risky, of course. Bruno was burnt at the stake for practicing political magic. Cornel West was chased out of Harvard by Larry Summers for practicing theological sorcery on behalf of the poor and working classes. Not many academics and intellectuals take magic seriously anymore. Politicians and business leaders certainly do, which is perhaps why they have all the power in our society.

Wisdom bombs threaten to persuade people not to shop, to organize in public places for the purposes of self-governance, to protest the material conditions of their spiritual imprisonment. Philosophy is lobbing gnosis grenades into public places as often as possible. Philosophy bears the torch and is the light of every free mind. Philosophy shares with the polis a secret, that the ordered motion of the stars above is a sign from heaven, there to remind people what is Beautiful and Good here on earth below.






4 responses to “Philosophy and the City”

  1. Adam Robbert Avatar
    Adam Robbert

    There’s also this bizarre gem of a post that I just came across: http://fractalontology.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/exology-of-the-city/

  2. billrosethorn Avatar

    Wisdom Bombs from philosophers questioning the prevalent modes of governance… Love It.
    The fictions and fantasies that stabilize political relations have their sphere of influence. Philosophers like Socrates come off as magicians and cult organizers to those invested in business as usual. The fantasy element is common to both resisters and those attached to current government, so the essentialist tendency of discourse on Justice, Good, Truth, etc. can’t be rejected outright if we are to get through crisis.

    I wonder: how to distinguish when the spiritual crosses over into dogma and domination?

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Re: how to distinguish the spiritual from domination… As Sam Mickey was saying at the end of his talk last week, maybe this is where humor comes in. If a group/movement doesn’t take it self completely seriously, if its able to laugh at itself from time to time, that is a good sign its not dogmatic.

  3. mary Avatar

    Christopher Alexander, the architect, decries the way cities have been constructed in the modern world by the dogmas of domination and efficiencies, acutely eliminating spaces of life in tune with the full spiritual ergonomics of the human and animal. In his essay “The city is not a Tree”,(1966), he intuits the rhizomic and nomadic nature of the mind /bodies of human ,animal, and plantlife and contrasts the grids of dead geometry of roman military encampments as the prototype of the static angular modern cities.

    Click to access A%20City%20is%20not%20a%20Tree.pdf

    so your metaphors of grenades and bombs illustrate the extent to which the human is in conflict with the architectures of its own embodied ideologies.
    in that sense, a city can be as much informed by the unconscious…that which it tacitly refuses to acknowlege…in its making of artifices…The conflict over the assumptions of what can be accomplished in so-called public spaces was brought to the fore during many of the Occupy demonstrations., much of which served to illustrate the polis as a space of police action in service to those same schizophrenic Polis-ies.
    I am not particularly fond of the semantic juggle of nature/earth terms., and see them more as the last gasps of the incomplete vision of an ecocosmology which Christopher Alexander prefers to call “life”;


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