Cavell on philosophical disciplinarity..

| April 1, 2012

“When you wish to make serious art popular what you are wishing is to widen the audience for the genuine article.  Is this what someone wants who wants to widen the audience for philosophy by writing summaries or descriptions of philosophical works?  Or is he, as in the case of popular science, providing simplifications which are more or less useful and faithful substitutes for the original work?  Neither of these ideas makes good sense of philosophy.  I think someone who believes in popular, or in popularizing, philosophy (as differentiated from someone in an open business venture who finds profit in excerpting and outlining anything in demand) believes that the ordinary man stands in relation to serious philosophy as, say, the ordinary believer stands in relation to serious theology -that he cannot understand it in its own terms but that it is nevertheless good for him to know its results, in some form or other.  What reason is there to believe this?  There is every reason to believe, on the contrary, that this is one of philosophy’s most ancient betrayals -the effort to use philosophy’s name to put a front on beliefs rather than to face the source of assumption, or of emptiness, which actually maintains them.  Those who guard themselves from philosophy show a healthier respect for it than those who are certain they know its results and know to whom they apply.  For when philosophy is called for one cannot know beforehand where it will end.”

Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? (1969/1976) p.xxvii-xxviii.