“Folk” Philosophy

I’m interested to hear what the OOO peeps think about Harman’s take on “folk” philosophy in general. I should really write on this at some point—maybe I’ll suggest this to Speculations. But a big dig at certain parts of African philosophy was that it was “folk” philosophy and that (Western) science (or one really lame interpretation of it) trumped “ethnophilosophy” and thus other forms of knowledge don’t get to count. I’m reading (slowly, among other works) D.A. Masolo’s Self and Community in a Changing World, where he revisits some of these debates. And it seems to me this is a trump card used for “naive village superstition” (Harman’s apt phrase) that is within “European” and between European and other traditions that the “I know nothing about you” ethnocentric trump card is used: it’s just “folk” knowledge. (Let’s not leave aside that certain areas of knowledge have been feminized and rendered “folk” knowledge as well. And let’s leave aside that “folk” knowledge as “false” is as lame as Heidegger’s critique of das Man or Arednt’s view of the social: people are really strange and different and just stupid.)

I once taught a critical thinking course at Chicago State around this idea of “folk philosophy,” using so-called “sage philosophers” (work compiled by the late H.O. Oruka) and then working through the differences he made between “philosophical” sages (“critical”) and sages as such (those knowledgeable about their culture and thus “folk” in the sense of simply repeating it, though of course that’s no easy task either). Then my task was the reverse of what one would think: reading Socrates (or Plato’s Socrates) in order to try to dilineate that line, that is, to read them first as folk philosophers. The point, I guess, could reinforce the point that “folk” was bad, but for a critical thinking course, it worked well—since it was good frame for figuring out what was meant by “critical” thinking.

Also in my mind at the time was Heidegger’s rendition of the Greeks (“natural” or “Greek” Dasein). In any case, the other connecting rod is the accusation of “panpsychism.” The point would be not to say that Harman or someone else is doing “folk” philosophy, but to say that if science does not exhaust objects, then perhaps those previously deemed folk were onto something more than being a marker of our “past” selves. Sure, you will find something different that Harman’s diagrams, but frankly I think I’ve seen versions of the mesh (not that you’re just folkish, Morton) in certain African philosophers. Or better point, to follow up on the intent of Harman’s post, could there be a pretense that the people one disagrees with are not morons or childish? That others have, perhaps in different languages in contexts, thought through the very issues you say they ignore?

(Also, could that be ended in philosophical discussions? So and so “ignores” or “neglects” x, y, or z issue? How do you know what I’m reading before I decide to concentrate on something else, and perhaps for good reason?)

One comment

  1. read some of that link, it was clear but i switched off from reading the rest after this was said:

    “if some half-educated thug comes up denouncing substances for no good reason than that they read it in a scientistic work and can now ape it, they are apparently on the winning side of history”.

    what could this mean?

    are they complaining that there are too many rap fans reading about science? i agree that everyone who wants to read philosophy has an obligation to read it well and understand how to reason, at least if they are to read it well. but the comment sounds like a statement that only pop philosophy is for those that will never be philosophers.

    how non philosophers answer philosophical questions is just none of the business of philosophers, which of course doesn’t make these “thugs” philosophers, just like it doesn’t mean that no philosopher is a “thug”.

    anyway, i think i will decide what i think of philosophers from someone who has less of an inflated opinion of themselves.

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