Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Philosophy and Pluralism

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Philosophy and Pluralism

Article excerpt

In the opening lines of their What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari refer to this question as one philosophers in general tend not to pose. It is a question they say, one puts to oneself, "at midnight, when there is no longer anything to ask." It requires a certain "sobering up," the reaching of a "point of non-style" where one can finally say "what is it that I have been doing all my life?"1 I would not have dreamed, when reading these lines, many years ago, that before too long I would find myself in the position of being forced to ask just that kind of question. Not as an old man, closing his files, but in media vita-or so I should hope . . . The occasion was an invitation to speak at the Seventh Annual conference of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy at Middlesex University, London. I accepted, but I felt embarrassed upon receiving the conference program, which struck me as a script that would force me to play a part in which I would have to betray much of what I believed standing by with regard to philosophy. So I decided to beat around the bush to see what fowl flees out of it, so that I could shoot it if I find it to be of no use for the problem I felt we had to address. What follows is the text of my opening lecture for that conference, almost exactly as I gave it-I have made no effort to tidy up my informal style of spoken delivery. I felt that would have been inappropriate, since my remarks are essentially occasional-inspired by the "occasion" of what I have been able to do and of what I was privileged in witnessing some others, whom I admire, doing.

I come before you with a problem, to which I vaguely refer in my title as "pluralism"-a vagueness which is deliberate, leaving open some of the questions that are, I fear, already excluded by both the title of this conference and the description given in the program.2 For as we shall see neither this title nor this description are neutral. They already express a philosophical position. To think of "questioning, critique, and construction" as aspects of philosophy, is already to philosophize. It is already to introduce a model, itself based on an analogy, with perception for example, allowing us to link an undeniable "diversity" to a certain unity-philosophy in the singular. It is perhaps already to relegate a certain "incompatibility" between philosophical "approaches" or "traditions" to the realm of semblance (the program mentions, from the very start, a "bewildering assortment of often seemingly incompatible approaches"). If these are to be properly conceived of as aspects of philosophy, then incompatibility cannot be what ultimately characterizes them. There would seem to be, at the very least, some kind of "compossibility of the incompossibles"-an expression that is at the heart of MerleauPonty's late work and which leads him to think of other subjects, other cultures, other visions than my own as "reliefs, deviations, variants of one sole Vision in which I too participate."3 Philosophy could then, for example, become like Being: not just one, nor multiple, but "a surface of separation and of union,"4 a "space of incompossibilities" (VI 215) that "forms its unity across them" (VI 216). It would be a unity that allows for multiplicity and even demands it because it addresses Being and because "Being is what requires creation of us for us to experience it" (VI 197). Incompatibility would no longer need to be "bewildering" (as the conference program puts it), once we see through it and refer it to a common source from which all these divergent approaches spring without any one of them ever exhausting it. Universality would cease to be vertical-it would neither be from below, nor from above; we would be "simultaneous with others and with the world" (S 16), not in spite of our separation, but through it,-universality would be lateral.

This is merely an illustration of the pull exerted by the title of our conference. A few steps further and we will find us in the midst of the imagery of the mystical body, secularized of course, but mystical nonetheless: the one body of philosophy of which all its different approaches are like the limbs, engaged in a common enterprise. …

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