The Public Philosopher in the Academies: Reflections on Merleau-Ponty's Eloge de la philosophie

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Journal Article

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Recently we have come to witness an assault on the traditional conception of the university as a centre of detached concern for pure research. The economic rationalist vision which has occasioned this assault has deeply permeated almost every facet of contemporary life and even the specific kind of discourse emanating from this interpretation has managed to ensconce itself within the academies. Philosophers are at particular risk in the uncertain climate that has been created. However philosophers have not addressed the issues which the new ideology has foisted upon the universities with sufficient rigour and clarity. The facility with which economic rationalist considerations have filtered into academic discourse points, I believe, to a deep malaise in academia. The fatalism with which many philosophers have faced the threat has in its own way hypostatised the new ideology and granted it the titanism of some inevitable, irresistible and irrevocable force. The tradition of the public philosopher has not enjoyed the same degree of public approbation in the English-speaking world as has been the case on the European continent, and in particular, in France. One can think of notable exceptions but on the whole the public philosopher in the English-speaking world is a rare breed. Given the radical changes that contemporary universities are undergoing it is clearly worth while to reflect upon the professional philosopher's relationship to other individuals in society, to communities and to the state. Here the meditation will focus on a debate on these issues within France, a country which perhaps more than anywhere else has elevated public philosophy to an art form. Philosophers, perhaps more than any other academics, are prone to a certain hesitancy in attempting to describe what it is they do. Philosophy no doubt employs techniques but it is not itself a technique, nor is there a single problem or series of problems or mysteries which can claim sway over philosophy's subject matter. Such hesitancy, one might say ambiguity, is the very stuff of philosophy and indeed of the philosopher. In Merleau-Ponty's inaugural address to the College de France, later published as Eloge de la philosophie(In Praise of Philosophy, 1953) he returns to these perennial philosophical musings, in particular, through attempting to characterise something of the nature of philosophy and the philosopher.



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Australian Studies





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Australian Studies Institute

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