On ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Philosophy

Is there such a thing as ‘bad’ philosophy? For Plato, philosophein is simply the best possible human activity, the closest thing to the leisurely existence of the Greeks gods. For this reason, the practically-minded Sophists did not deserve the name ‘philosopher’ as they not only dishonoured but consciously betrayed the very aims of this most noble occupation. The opposite of philosophy or ‘love and pursuit of wisdom’ is ‘misosophy’ or ‘hatred of philosophy’, an oxymoron (or contradiction in terms) for Socrates and Plato as Philosophy is not only a pursued activity but first of all, a natural condition. One is born a ‘philosopher’ and this natural trait can only be developed and refined through a strenuous philosophical programme of education. The Auxiliaries in The Republic may not have passed the ultimate philosophical hurdle set for them by the Platonic Philosophy Board but they, nonetheless carry on enjoying their philosophical understanding and knowledge of the world. Once a philosopher, always a philosopher!

The History of Philosophy is a long dialectical process in which every new thinker is bent on proving that his predecessors are, if not totally ‘wrong’, at least, partially ‘mistaken’: Socrates reneged on his former Sophist-friends, Aristotle rejected his mentor’s ‘Theory of the Forms’, Marx exposed Hegel’s limitations and Nietzche proclaimed himself the prophet of the ‘new spirit’, harbinger of the future ‘Overman’ or ‘New Humanity’. Thus, Philosophy can be compared to a snowball, in turn gaining or losing in size and substance, generation after generation.

Yet, the early seeds of philosophical enquiry planted in Athenian young minds, back in the fourth-century, have never stopped producing new strange species of flowers.  There is a distinctive difference between outright ‘bad’ philosophy – or Sophistry – and ‘mistaken’ philosophy: the sophist exploits specious ideas to win an argument in his favour. On the other hand, the ‘misuser’ of Philosophy is simply incapable of constructing a valid argument, despite his confidence in mastering genuine concepts.  Like tennis or boxing ‘good’ philosophy requires the active contribution of a sparring partner prepared to test the true mettle of his opponent. Too often, philosophers prefer to take refuge in shadow boxing, a safe but unproductive activity, leading inexorably to the practice of ‘bad’ philosophy.

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