Where Is Philosophy?


Crowded City, Gizem Saka, 2008

From The New York Times:

Philosophy is typically depicted as a solitary activity conducted in remote natural settings — a hut next to a fjord, a clearing in the middle of a forest, a cave on the slope of a mountain, or, these days, a rocking chair on a porch in a quaint college town. Certainly, some great thinkers (Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Nietzsche among them) were responsible for promoting this bucolic ethos. But even a superficial familiarity with the history of Western philosophy reveals that the city is virtually a necessary condition for the possibility of doing theoretical work, which may then be carried on in other, less hectic places.

It might be enough to mention the critical importance of Athens to the birth of ancient philosophy with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; or the way that modern philosophy got its start in Bacon’s London, Descartes’s Paris and Spinoza’s Amsterdam; or the deep roots of American pragmatism in New York, where William James spent the first years of his life as a curious child, and John Dewey spent the last years of his life as a revered professor.

These biographical notes are not inconsequential, especially if we acknowledge one of the most basic pragmatist beliefs: Ideas do not operate in a void. They respond to and depend on human beings in particular situations. Ideas prevail not because of their immutable logic but because they are embedded in the social environment at hand.

To speak of “urban philosophy,” then, is a bit misleading, or redundant. Isn’t philosophy always already urban through and through? Can it even help being so? Urban philosophy suggests that there are kinds of philosophy that are not urban, or that it is itself a branch within the larger field.

“Metrosophy: Philosophy and the City”, David Kishik, The New York Times