I'm not a philosopher. I want to say this because it might appear to many others that I am. I even named my website philosopher-warrior, shouldn't that make things clear? Some of my critical writing will be very philosophical. It will reference philosophers, it will work within the discipline of philosophy... but I don't want it to be philosophy.
I love philosophy. Along with exercise, philosophy was one of the main things that helped bring me out of depression in high school. I took a basic philosophy class in my senior year of high school, which consisted almost entirely of a very close reading of Plato's Republic. I loved it, and I began to read philosophy for fun. When I got to college, I majored in it. I presented a paper at an undergraduate conference. I served as Departmental Student Advisor. I used philosophy in my literature thesis. But this doesn't stop me from recognizing philosophy for what it is; a decaying doctrine. Worse, it has built into itself a deep refusal to understand that decay.
At its heart, philosophy is a discipline founded around the 'love of wisdom'. This has typically taken the form of questions and answers related to various fundamental questions of life, founding the sub-disciplines of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. In the beginning philosophy wasn't very distinguished from other disciplines and so early philosophers were just as much scientists as critics. But as time has passed, philosophy has grown into its own discipline distinct from other fields of knowledge, a discipline with its own faults.
Perhaps the most grinding of these is the intense belief of philosophers in a handful of principles, including the primacy of logic as a method of interpreting the world, and the superiority of their own discipline as above all others. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied, they tell us. Yet this overlooks the fact that ultimately satisfaction is all that matters; Socrates dissatisfied is (by the very nature of the definition of dissatisfied) in a state of wishing that he were not Socrates. He may justify it to himself, may say that his dissatisfaction with life is a necessary byproduct of a service to a higher discipline, but in making this justification, he is making himself satisfied with his position; even by admitting his dissatisfaction he is making himself satisfied by displaying his passionate attachment to the very traits in him which are worst. In short, it is impossible for Socrates dissatisfied to admit this dissatisfaction without also speaking out against philosophy as the constitutive determining discipline of his lifestyle. Thus, it is better to be the pig satisfied, for the satisfaction of the pig denotes an endorsement of the pig's own way of life.
In truth, logic is not the only way of interpreting the world rightly. Logic is a method of making patterns and forming connections, but the world as given to us (as inert matter waiting for meaning, as from the existentialists) has no connections. The act of logic is thus an act of creation and an act of mastery, but it produces in the human a false belief in the power of his/her own logic to describe every phenomenon in the world, when in reality many phenomenon (including the vast majority of human relations) are inherently non-rational, incapable of being comprehended by logic. Philosophers have often considered themselves separate, 'apart', separated from other human beings, as a result of their devotion. This is a literal fact; they have dedicated themselves to thinking in a way that most people do not, and therefore they have enabled themselves in the mode of disabling themselves. Philosophers are antisocial as a rule, because they understand that their discipline is incomprehensible to the vast majority of people and thus suited only for a certain minority: other philosophers.
Much of the above analysis (particularly the pig bit) is very Taoist; I myself identify as very Taoist. One of the major developments in my philosophical thinking came from reading and studying the Tao Te Ching and the book of Chuang-Tzu for the first time. Taoist philosophy is the philosophy of less, of thinking less and being less, of not imposing logic and removing oneself from the equation. It is a doctrine of achieving through learning not to achieve, and so on. Of course, this runs very contrary to philosophy, which has always had faith in its ability to know, i.e., to assert logic on the world and thus in a way impose its mastery. Philosophy as a western phenomenon refuses to recognize eastern philosophy for the most part, largely because it runs so counter to so many of the main assertions of the modern discipline of philosophy. Only recently has eastern philosophy begun to be recognized by modern philosophers, and only as an afterthought. Aside from Schopenhauer, there have been almost no mainstream philosophers who have drawn any serious influence from the East.
Philosophy refers to a historically concrete discipline just like any other. This means that philosophers are no less subject to the shared delusions of their time and place, including racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. Women and homosexuals have only recently entered into philosophy; minority races don't produce as much philosophy as do majority races, or if they do, they are ignored and discredited. Philosophy is and always has been a discipline of the hegemony. In order to be a philosopher one must first be capable of affording a quality education, something which has always been historically rare, and has thus been available only to a certain few, the middle to upper class. What would philosophy tell us if we had black women, asian men, latino women, middle-eastern men, and more writing our mainstream philosophy? Something entirely different, I would say.
Over the years philosophy has also tended to grow more complex. In the time of Plato it would suffice only to have that love of wisdom and a tongue for arguing and nothing else; in the modern age, one must have a basic understanding of a long list of writings from here all the way back, and more are being produced every year. Then of course there are various major sects within philosophy, and since they generally refuse to work together, one must pick one of them to specialize in. (I didn't get to make that choice; I went to a primarily continental university and so I received a continental education.)
Over time philosophy has also grown more and more obscure. As its esotericism has grown, one of the big problems is that of obscurantism, the tendency to use unnecessarily complex and confusing language to describe philosophic concepts. Today it's practically impossible to find an easy to read philosophic text, whereas if you look back at The Republic there's a concerted effort to be as clear and easily understood as possible. Where the change?
As philosophy grew more complex and differentiated from other disciplines, it also picked up flowery and obscure language. Kant isn't necessarily the first, but he's one of the big originators of the problem, in my opinion. Virtually every philosopher after the 19th century is dense and difficult to read, and often without necessity. Schopenhauer claimed that:
“[i]f I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right. Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.”
(Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality,pgs. 15-16)
In 1998 Butler won a humorous award for bad writing, citing a sentence of hers which is 94 words long. (http://denisdutton.com/bad_writing.htm) Butler responded to this criticism with the argument that unconventional language is better at forcing the reader to think, and thus helps to break up the hegemony. Yet dense language is the hegemony, when it comes to philosophy. Her writing is no better or worse at breaking up the status quo than any other.
Across the board there is this passionate attachment to bad writing that often prevents the real message of philosophy from getting across. This is bizarre in that this is literally the only discipline in which the stated purpose is to teach you things and then the philosopher does everything in his/her power to actually make it more difficult for things to be learned from the writing. Oftentimes the argument is somewhere along the lines of Butler's, claiming that this confusing writing is somehow better for the reader, who is thus forced to think more critically. This is true, but then it leads to much more confusion and misdirection in the process. This is simply another high bar set on the entry level into philosophy, trying to prevent new opinions and ideas from making their way in. Western philosophy is particularly xenophobic in this way.
What happened to the days in which clarity was considered a strength of argument? Much of early philosophy was an attempt to reason out clear and evident logic such that it cut through the confusing and mystifying arguments of the Sophists, who were claimed not to love actual wisdom but only to love appearances. Are not today's philosophers more like Sophists than anything else?
Perhaps the two western philosophers I most like are Plato/Socrates and Nietzsche. The early Greek philosophers were particularly naïve, but at the very least they recognized their naivete; the same applies to Nietzsche, whose pessimism does more to illuminate than the supposed realism of many other philosophers. Both are clear, straightforward, easy to understand. Both get their points across without running around in circles for hundreds of pages.
I'm going to tell a story about one of the philosophers I know. He was an excellent philosopher, really knew his stuff, could talk to you about things for hours without letting up. He's been doing this for years and he knows exactly what he's doing. The thing is, he has a certain style. He's very difficult to understand at first, since he's so knowledgeable. He's incapable of putting things simply, only of taking the long way around. He's more knowledgeable than any other teacher but has difficulty teaching if simply because his students aren't on his same level. I took many classes under this teacher, and loved every one. But as time goes on, you start to realize that not everything is as confusing as it seems. Once you take more than a few classes you realize that he starts to use the same few examples over and over to describe a variety of different and conflicting philosophical topics. He speaks with great authority yet he never seems to say very much. Then all of a sudden it hits you; he's just as confused as you are. There's no secret, he's no genius, and he's certainly no bullshitter, he's just managed to take his confusion to such a level that it becomes a literal knowledge. With the veil of Maya torn away, suddenly everything becomes clear: these philosophers write so densely, not because they have anything interesting to say, but because they have to seem important, have to fit in, have to participate in the shared delusion in order to be a philosopher proper.
This isn't an insult, this isn't the recognition that I'm supposed to be superior or something, I'm just as bad as they are; it's just that it's a realization that really opened up massive doors in my thinking that had formerly remained closed. It's really profound and sublime to realize, all of a sudden, why the equation didn't add up, because it was never supposed to in the first place. Reading a handful of Zizek texts I discovered that literally none of them have anything to do with their theses. This isn't to say that I didn't learn anything from them, just that it wasn't at all what was advertised, and this is pretty typical for philosophy. This is what philosophy has become, and this is where it intends to keep going.
Now that philosophy has become ossified and reified into this form, it becomes difficult for it to grow and evolve again. Lacan called philosophy one of the discourses of the master, used to prop up existing structures rather than inventing new ones (funny that his psychoanalysis is now so much in fashion in philosophy). Philosophy has in a way realized it's own defeat as it turns away from its traditional questions and focuses more on political theory and interdisciplinary criticism. It once separated itself from other disciplines because it needed to stand on its own, but now it returns to them because it cannot. As Zizek has pointed out, sometimes the only way to save the whole is through its own wide-scale destruction in order that the seed of a new system may be planted: a revolution. A revolution is exactly what is needed to shake the foundations of philosophy and give it new life, and I believe that this will happen as a result of the very interdisciplinary action that it has so long avoided. Once new ideas can be injected into the system, it will begin to live again.
In the meantime, philosophy has become a thrice-removed criticism of reality, failing to recognize its own shortcomings and placing irrational faith in itself. Criticism based on a text is always once removed from the text itself, becoming less real as it can only describe that text in approximations. Philosophy is a criticism based on a criticism based on a criticism... and it fails to realize the literal uselessness of much of its present work. Philosophy is now just as illusory as most other major attempts at ideological change, and it refuses to acknowledge this fact. Real wisdom should not be in dense and confusing writing, but it should be like the flaming sword of Manjusri; shattering illusions and cutting through the clouds of ignorance. I philosophize not with the hammer, but with the sword.