restricted access Chapter 22: Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality!
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from Autobiographical Reflections (1973) 24 From Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Volume 34: Autobiographical Reflections : Revised Edition, With a Voegelin Glossary and Cumulative Index, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 118–27. Chapter 22: Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality! The motivations of my work, which culminates in a philosophy of history, are simple. They arise from the political situation. Anybody with an informed and reflective mind who lives in the twentieth century since the end of the First World War, as I did, finds himself hemmed in, if not oppressed, from all sides by a flood of ideological language—­ meaning thereby language symbols that pretend to be concepts but in fact are unanalyzed topoi or topics. Moreover, anybody who is exposed to this dominant climate of opinion has to cope with the problem that language is a social phenomenon . He cannot deal with the users of ideological language as partners in a discussion, but he has to make them the object of investigation. There is no community of language with the representatives of the dominant ideologies. Hence, the community of language that he himself wants to use in order to criticize the users of ideological language must first be discovered and, if necessary, established. The peculiar situation just characterized is not the fate of the philosopher for the first time in history. More than once in history , language has been degraded and corrupted to such a degree that it no longer can be used for expressing the truth of existence. This was the situation, for instance, of Sir Francis Bacon when he wrote his Novum Organum. Bacon classified the unanalyzed topics current in his time as “idols”: the idols of the cave, the idols 25 autobiographical reflections of the marketplace, the idols of pseudo-­ theoretical speculation. In resistance to the dominance of idols—­ i.e., of language symbols that have lost their contact with reality—­ one has to rediscover the experiences of reality as well as the language that will adequately express them. The situation today is not very different. One has only to remember Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s chapter on “Idols of the Marketplace” in Cancer Ward [chapter 31] in order to recognize the continuity of the problem. Solzhenitsyn had to fall back on Bacon and his conception of idols in order to defend the reality of Reason in his own existence against the impact of Communist dogma. I like to refer to the case of Solzhenitsyn because his awareness of the problem, as well as his competence as a philosopher in his reference to Bacon, is certainly a model that would, if followed, fundamentally change the intellectual climate of our universities and colleges. In relation to the dominant climate of the social sciences, the philosopher in America finds himself very much in the situation of Solzhenitsyn in relation to the Soviet Writer’s Union—­ the important difference, of course, being that our Soviet Writer’s Union cannot enlist governmental power for the purpose of suppressing scholars. Hence, there are always enclaves in the West in which science can continue, and even flourish, in spite of the intellectual terrorism of institutions such as the mass media, university departments, foundations, and commercial publishing houses. A situation comparable to the present one occurred at the time when Plato started his work. In the conventional interpretation of Plato, it is practically forgotten that the central Platonic concepts are dichotomic. The term philosophy does not stand alone but gains its meaning from its opposition to the predominant philodoxy . Problems of justice are not developed in the abstract but in opposition to wrong conceptions of justice, which in fact reflect the injustice current in the environment. The character of the Philosopher himself gains its specific meaning through its opposition to that of the Sophist, who engages in misconstructions of reality for the purpose of gaining social ascendance and material profits. This is the situation in which the philosopher has to find the men of his own kind in a community that comprehends both the present and the past. Although there is always a dominant climate 26 part one | intellectual biography of ideological opinion, there is also present, even in our society, a large community of scholars who have not lost contact with reality and of thinkers who try to regain the contact that they are in danger of losing. One of the typical phenomena of the twentieth century is the event of spiritually energetic people breaking out of the dominant intellectual group...