#15: The institutionalization of philosophy as the repression of honesty

It will be noticed that although we determine Truth and truth to be two false, ideological notions, we have opposed to these the third term of honesty. Honesty is human drive in full transparency, which manifests itself as the absolute and outright rejection of all currently existing things. In short, this is because all ensembles are only stabilized contingencies historically leveraged. The human drive, making no assumptions and having no reason to take anything for granted, quickly identifies the baselessness of all currently existing things. We all learn this when, after asking “Why?” three or four times in succession, mommy and daddy tell us to shut up if we want to eat dinner. If honesty acknowledges the legitimacy of nothing other than its own movement, it thus rejects all distinctions, and thus all that is left is the “oneness” of all human drive as ether or vapor or “event” at the edge of any moment in history.

The destination of honesty is thus the ground zero of nothingness, where the movement of skepticism—ineradicable in the history of philosophy—always lands. It is also the plane from which all things are spun, the plane of immanence. The motif of circularity announces itself once again. Because all things, from the atom to “human civilization,” by definition share the same structure of thinghood—but variably separated and distinguished by almost infinite and infinitely diverse evolutionary distributions—it is no surprise that human thought itself has the structure of a thing and that its true conclusions must return to its beginnings: absolute ignorance, and thus the indistinction of all existing things. The absolute indistinction of all existing things clearly implies the illegitimacy of all enforced separations.

Curiously, however, at the same time it serves an especially convenient springboard or foundation for making new things. Precisely because one can show, without fail, that the consistency and separation of anything collapses under scrutiny—this radically pervasive illegitimacy of contingent distinctions in our human world can be mobilized as an all the more convincing justification for some new premise in some now syllogism. As Deleuze and Guattari point out, Descartes’ proof of the cogito, one of the greatest philosophical innovation-thing of the modern period, finds its foundational certitude in the figure of an idiot who thinks and speaks to himself, doubting whether anything exists, including himself. It is easy to see that Husserl—by investing the strong skepticism of modern psychologism into a structure of an all-the-stronger transcendental consciousness, literally and rather transparently does this over again, doing for the idiot of modernism what Descartes does for the idiot of modernity.

This nexus that is at once the destination of honest thought and the source of dishonest but “true” thought is exactly what has been defined as the plain of immanence. As already defined, human thought is the eternal departure and return from and to the plain of immanence.

But the present investigation, by beginning with neither skeptical questioning nor the search for certitude, but existence in general as modeling the movement between the two, now furnishes a particularly stunning comment on the history of philosophy. Our investigation shows that the history of philosophy as an institution cannot help but suffer irredeemably and unjustifiably from a concrete and specifiable bias, and thus a component of systematic falsity. With respect to “truth,” skepticism and antiskepticism are perfectly undecidable. They are two perfectly equivalent things (philosophies) within one institutional ensemble (Philosophy), two equal and opposing movements that balance and constitute each other. This is not only why interpreters with opposite agendas can very well find either component in any particular philosopher. More importantly, it is why philosophy, so long as it refers us to criteria related to “truth”—logic, reason, whatever—suffers from what social scientists call “status quo bias.”

In short, truth is a bribed referee because a tie between the absolute critique of currently existing institutions and the absolute defense of all currently existing institutions will always be decided in favor of the latter, in favor of currently existing institutions. The institutionalization of philosophy is exactly this bribe, society literally paying the radically honest with the right to live and often the right to live comfortably, on condition that they commit to being merely truthful. Was this not exactly the provisional solution of Platonism and the Academy as a response to the crisis of Socrates? And history shows that when such bribed referees depart from the merely true to the honest, their right to live is revoked in proportion to this departure. Some are given hemlock or burned at the stake, others sent from their post at Yale to the University of London.

This also returns us to the alternative metaphorical registers of physics and evolution. We are simply pointing out that in the institution of philosophy, any conceptual innovation—skeptical or antiskeptical—is subject to the laws of “attraction” or “selection.” Skepticism falls to the earth neither more nor less than antiskepticism, but the ideological falsity of the debate lies precisely in the fact that between these two opponents the earth itself was supposed to be at stake! An unbiased, non-ideological social context for philosophy would imply literally earth-shaking, society-wide alterations of human experience during the highwater marks of skepticism and equally strong returns to stability during the highwater marks of antiskepticism. That only a small portion of society experience only minor alterations of perception at any of these junctures, relative to the always-overwhelming gradualism of dynamics in common sense, illustrates how far we are from the seemingly absurd implications of an unbiased social context for philosophy. Similarly, skepticism is neither more nor less “fit” than anti-skepticism, given the institutional context of philosophy, and faces neither more nor less selection pressures. But honesty evolved into “truth” because of selection pressures, selection pressures that are perfectly contingent and unjustified sanctions in favor of the status quo.

By accepting truth as a criterion, honesty pays homage to falsity by marketing itself as a merely true “skepticism,” thus becoming harmless, perfectly balanced and neutralized by an equally true antiskepticism. But in doing so it also becomes essentially dishonest. This is how philosophy as an institution—captured in our running cartoon starring Socrates and Plato—betrays its original impulse, and indeed how institutionalization as such is nothing less betrayal as pure form. Incidentally, this accounts for why the notion of betrayal is loaded with such a fundamental contradiction as that between “showing possession,” and “turning one’s back on.” It is because to earn a socially legitimated ownership of something is strictly tantamount to turning it upside down, submitting it to the ideological inversion that society requires so as to not let any radically honest claim destroy its dishonest essence and foundation.

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Murphy, Justin. 2012. "#15: The institutionalization of philosophy as the repression of honesty," https://jmrphy.net/blog/2012/09/12/31425089281/ (December 14, 2018).