Philosophical Fashion

fashionI always thought it a weak argument (or is it an aside?) which Fichte makes in the introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre, that those who believe in human freedom will understand idealism, whilst those who have no interest in it will always side with dogmatism (by which he meant realism). But the more I see homo philosophicus at work (at thought?) the more I think he may have been right. Witness the latest apostasy amongst former disciples of Badiou. Fascinating are the reasons they give for their disppointed hopes: he promised us a realist philosophy, he promised to get us to the object without the subject, he promised us an ontology of relations. Which translates, despite the apparent novelty, into something quite old: I wanted to believe in receptivity, causation of sensations by the Ding-an-sich, but he gave me only more spontaneity, more insuperable relation of things to mind, of being to society. Betrayed but not without hope, the apostates determine to continue their quest across the sea of representation to that dark ‘X’, the island of ontological truth, the same island Fichte recognised as illusion.

Who will now convince aspiring philosophers that new, valid work is being done in the field today? one apostate asks. What a strange question, as if philosophy hasn’t always been an engagement with its own past, with the tradition, and as if new thoughts spring up ex nihilo. Why would a novice be discouraged by the disenchanting of immediacy? Would it not be liberating for them to discover that philosophical novelty is itself often, as Benjamin called fashion, the eternal return of the same, of exchange values (the publishing houses and their translators never complain about philosophical trends). Can the novice (and the apostate) not now return to philosophy, its traditions, topics and questions and re-engage with it themselves, recognising they need no maitre penseurs, no Gods, no masters? Is that not in itself liberating, heartening for philosophy?