Big Philosophy

Robert Solomon’s The Joy of Philosophy is a defense of philosophy as a joyful wisdom, a la Solomon’s philosophical hero, Nietzsche. Solomon knows that Nietzsche isn’t even considered a philosopher by many: “His prose is too shimmering, too full of sarcasm and wise-cracks, too personal. He has too much fun. (Too many exclamation points!).”

In Solomon’s mind, that’s just to say that Nietzsche’s work is full of life:

“He is a dancer, a philosophical prankster, an ironist in the grand tradition of Socrates, a jokester and a comic who includes everything in his philosophy—health hints, recipes, gossip, bumper stickers, nursery rhymes, advice to the lovelorn, pop psychology, popular physics, a bit of the occult and esoteric, social commentary, mythological history, contentious philology, family feuds, political diatribes, libelous insults, declarations of war, petty complaints, megalomania, blasphemies, bad jokes, overly clever puns, parodies, and plagiarisms.”

He wants to break down walls—“between academic philosophy and its lost audience, between thin logic and thick rhetoric, between philosophical reason and philosophical passion, between ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy, between philosophy and everything else.” 

The walls are there to keep philosophy philosophical, to keep it pure. Solomon wants to risk impurity, a philosophy as impure as Pablo Neruda’s poetry, which the poet once described as “as impure as old clothes, as a body with its foodstains and its shame, with wrinkles, observations, dreams, wakefulness, prophesies, declarations of love and hate, stupidities, shocks, idylls, political beliefs, negations, doubts, affirmations, and taxes.”

Most of the joyless rigor that Solomon complains about in philosophy has its counterpart in theology. ’Twould be well to have a joyous, Nietzschean theologian to knock through some of those barriers and impurify our theologizing. We’d find ourselves simultaneously both postmodern and ancient. 

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