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PN Review 275
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This report is taken from PN Review 270, Volume 49 Number 4, March - April 2023.

Are Philosophers Normal? Zohar Atkins
There is one view of philosophy that says it’s not for everyone. The heroic temperament and mental acuity needed to question one’s assumptions puts one at odds with mainstream society. The philosopher is a tragic figure, at least viewed from the outside, because he cannot integrate – like Socrates who asks annoying questions and then is made to drink the hemlock. The philosopher is threatening and abnormal viewed from without. Viewed from within, the philosopher is the only person not captive to conventional thinking, the only person with the courage to strive. Thus, the philosopher is equal parts outcast and self-aggrandizer (not unlike the Biblical Joseph, and not unlike many messianic figures). If you think of Marc Chagall’s representation of the Jewish people as a kind of Jesus-like figure (or alternative to Jesus) you see the same chicken-or-egg pattern: are the Jews hated because they see themselves as a chosen people or are they a chosen people because they see themselves as chosen? Just as theological election and antisemitism are twinned, philosophical election and misosophy (hatred of wisdom) are twinned.

But the view of philosophy and philosophers as exceptional is not the only view, just as some Jewish thinkers have sought to tone down the theology of election, or, what amounts to the same thing, raise up many, if not all, peoples and traditions to the level of the elect. In America – a nation of immigrants – thinkers like Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell sought to turn philosophy into something ordinary, something continuous with everyday life. Sartre and the ...


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