philosophy’s crazy ex-girlfriend

Titled after Carrie Jenkins.
20th Annual Interdisciplinary Graduate Student Conference on Colonialism in the Academy, February 29, 2020. Hosted by the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia.

Classical accounts of the role of philosophy in mental life (e.g. Plato’s Republic) point to philosophy’s role in promoting the proper function of reason. On the classical picture, reason has the role of a monarch that controls the other passions and energies in a body. In this piece, I illustrate that the classical picture persists in philosophy’s methodology. Philosophy can be seen to employ an imperialist methodology whereby it alone possesses the definitive set of standards for understanding and evaluating other disciplines and practices. The singular focus on reason to assess and control results in a lack of understanding of what some activities, practices, and disciplines are about. For example, the evaluative approach sidelines body-based knowledges and practices, which may employ standards such as conscious presence or ritual, that are at best uninformatively characterized as arational or instrumental by a ratiocentric approach.

The impact of this approach extends to the manner of engagement between philosophers themselves. The lack of porousness of philosophical methodology, and philosophy’s lack of curiosity about what certain disciplines and practices are doing on their own terms, extends to an academic culture in which philosophical inquiry has a dearth of genuine collaboration and interpersonal engagement. Further, because of philosophy’s failure to interrogate the oppressive undertones of its conception of reason, marginalized individuals can feel like test cases or testimonies not granted true subjecthood and agency by the discipline. I illustrate the latter point by playing the role of a hurt lover who has been expected to be vulnerable without genuine reciprocity from her beloved.

Photos by Angela Fama