Peter Sloterdijk on Contemporary Theory and Scholarship

Peter Sloterdijk

“We have art so as not to be ruined by scholarship making our relation to the world and ourselves artificial.”—Peter Sloterdijk

In the chapter “Theory and Suspended Animation and Its Metamorphoses,” from The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as Practice, Peter Sloterdijk concludes with a critical assessment of the the contemporary academic and theoretical condition:

Anyway, a glance at the tradition confirms the basic trend of this observation: it was the epistemic virtues of people in suspended animation that were supposed to qualify these exquisite monsters for the theoretical professions. Of course, we no longer talk openly about the pathos-filled relationships between self-effacement and method; we generally forgo metaphysical special effects and are content with apparently harmless introductory courses in which the previous virtues of the dead are discreetly shifted into the reach of the next generation. We teach young academics to search for the transpersonal standpoint without their having to fast and pray. We educate the novices of theory to respect the general in particular and the particular in general; we awaken them to the sense of the formal side of everything, initiating them into the self-effacement of thinkers. Today, too, the moral of history is: as far as possible, people should make themselves invisible behind their terminological methods. In the natural sciences, the human observer retreats completely behind “measuring” through observations with equipment, and the “subjective factor” only comes into play (as discreetly as possible) when interpreting the measurements.

In the case of the protagonists of theory, if this retreat from their own all-too-personal being becomes ingrained in flesh and blood, the primacy of method will become second nature to them, and the priority of the object an almost “personal” need. As a rule, scholarship today is practiced like an ordinary profession, as if collaboration on the epochal project of coming to terms with the world had become a routine assignment. The epistemic career is often face to face with a second life in nonacademic situations, in which the subject of theory oscillates back, more or less unobtrusively, to ordinary forms of thought and perception. In this way, existence in everyday life becomes undeclared compensatory coaching against the one-sidedness that has to be practiced for professionally done science. The routine nature of daily life is linked to the nonroutine nature of art to reproduce the implicit wealth of spontaneous life experience in explicit forms. We have art so as not to be ruined by scholarship making our relation to the world and ourselves artificial.

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