Philosophy / Action

Philosophy, practiced properly, will help certain men to discover how they should act. Though it will not necessarily be the same path of action for all such men. Philosophy, if it is to have any meaning at all, must be concerned with the question of how to live.

The man who understands unthinkingly, unquestionably how he should live--either by never wondering, or by having already discovered it--has no need for doing philosophy. Philosophy would only bore him or confuse him.

He who does philosophy must eventually stop doing it. It must lead to his living in the world in a new way. Philosophy is not itself a way. Philosophy without action is useless (e.g. the academic philosopher who does it professionally for money, or the hobbyist philosopher who does it part-time for kicks). Doing philosophy has nothing to do with using technical language to argue with other men and publish books and papers.

As a result of the philosophical work he has done he will act in the world in a new way: he may begin to express himself differently with language, to lose his friends or gain others, destroy certain habits, leave his job or his wife or his country, wear different clothing, disregard social norms or a particular law--he will act differently in the world. How he acts will distinguish him from other men.

Those who present the work of philosophy as “internal work” expose their cowardice. They cling to a Cartesian myth of inner and outer which while allowing them to live among other men with a minimum of conflict, denies them from achieving the self-satisfaction of action in the world. These cowards will die regretful, having denied their bodies, having been unwilling to act.

The idea of an inner world is a false one, a clever escape, a denial of the body. Just as there are no private languages, there are no “inner acts”. Man’s “inner life” is an expression of his retreat. The moments he calls “conscious moments,” where he feels himself distinct from the world “outside,” are moments of bewilderment. To build upon them something philosophical, to call these moments more “real” or “true” than the way he moves and speaks among other men, is to entertain a path of thinking that privileges inaction, and that will allow him to escape the willful, courageous task of expressing himself in the world.

The men with a need for doing philosophy are potentially great men. Philosophical work is the work of the few. It is the challenge of greatness that these men, to varying degrees, will feel in their need. This makes the cowardice and the regret of their failure to act all the greater. For these men have the opportunity to be something more than men before: to show other men a new way in the world.

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