On Reading Weird Books in Public

At 3quarksdaily. Oddly, more enlightening vis-à-vis how professional philosophers perceive ‘ordinary’ people.

Robert Nozick closes The Examined Life with a story of how he, when eighteen or so, “carried around in the streets of Brooklyn a paperback copy of Plato’s Republic, front cover facing outward.”  He’d hoped someone might notice and “be impressed, (and) pat me on the shoulder and say… I don’t know what exactly.”

…The simple fact is that everyone thinks that they are naturally good at philosophy, even if they don’t really put in the work… People seem to realize that the issues are important, that it takes some care to think it all through properly, but that there’s something impractical, even perverse, in the pursuit of these topics. The thought runs: I ought to have a view about this, but it would be weird to have thought too hard about it.   It’s a good thing that people are naturally good at philosophy without really trying, then!

The irony of the Nozick story is that the Republic itself is the tale told of an all-night conversation at a party hosted by a poseur.  Cephalus, too, wants to be philosophical, or at least to see himself as philosophical.  But the demands of involved conversation alienate him quickly.  Eventually, it’s only Glaucon and Adeimantus who can maintain the focus and patience to keep the conversation going with Socrates.  Poseurs and loudmouths abound.  They don’t seem to know that they aren’t good at the task – they either bail on the conversation before they can learn something or they get offended to the point where they can’t listen.


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