This is a question about source materials: I'm hoping someone can point me to a modern treatment of obligations to the state incurred by the act of philosophizing, or even an argument against the notion. This could be cast in moral or structural terms. It could even be a side-comment, or in passing during a book review. I'm not picky, as long as it's been subjected to peer-review in a reasonable capacity.

I have a sense of personal interest in the answer to this question, so I wouldn't be averse to hearing some views on the matter; that said, this is still a source request (I'm drawing up a class paper). Answers with citations, please.

My own position on this question: Inconclusive. I'm currently exploring the subject for research purposes and have no opinion on the matter, although on introspection, I find myself biased in favor of duty.

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    To assume that academic philosophers have moral obligations that people in possession of a sufficiently cultivated conscience do not, seems to me, quite preposterous. perhaps changing the title to something along the lines of, "Do people have a duty to challenge their government?" would be more fitting. The opinions of many non-academics and their perceived obligations is the reason why more than 9/10 governments are in power. Jul 15, 2014 at 0:14
  • @musingsofacigarettesmokingman: Should one assume that allowing academics to have a conscience neccesarily imply non-academics don't? It isn't difficult to extend this question in the imagination at least to take in informed citizenry. Jul 15, 2014 at 0:17
  • @Mozibur Ullah, my point, that you have completely missed, is that the non-academic uninformed citizenry, being more effectual in challenging a government, should at least be included in the discussion, It isn't difficult to extend this question at least to take in non-academic uninformed citizenry. Jul 15, 2014 at 0:45
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    Seems like you want philosophers to be burdened with the duty of professional rabble-rousing. Additionally, democratic governments are based on emotion, and not reason or insight. Today it is trivial to manipulate the mood of the public through mass media, or turn people against each other. What interest does any of this have to philosophy? Better to look at politics with supreme contempt, and pass it by. Jul 20, 2014 at 9:04
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    Don't have time for a full post, but philosophers themselves disagree on this. There is, eg, Socrates/Plato, who discussed in the Republic the need for Philosopher-Kings. There is, on the other hand, Chesterton, who discusses somewhere (I think in Orthodoxy) that matters of state are too important to leave in the hands of the elite. Feb 1, 2016 at 16:43

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Deleuze and Guattari argue in What is Philosophy? that it's not false to say philosophers are to blame for revolutions, even though they are not the ones who lead them.

I think among other things this may point towards the generally reactionary conditions of academic philosophy despite the radicality of particular thinkers.


I'm not sure that this is what you are looking for, but Judith Butler is well known as a radical philosopher, however, she points out in this interview, that:

As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and speak out against arbitrary state violence ... it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice

She remarks, also in places, that these ethical considerations for arose out of her studies of Jewish Philosophy - she names Martin Buber as a source.

It's worth noting too, that the question assumes - or perhaps I am making this assumption - that the primary site of struggle here is national 'governments'; but Homi Bhabha, in his foreword to Fanons Wretched of the Earth, points out:

Globalisation gazes at the nation through the back-mirror, as it speeds towards the strategic denationalisation of state sovereignty.

It suggests that sovereignty has to be interpreted more broadly; if sovereignty is denationalised - where does it leak to? Who owns it when it escapes?


This is not an answer about source materials. This is a response to the question itself.

Yes, philosophers do have a duty to question their government. As do auto mechanics, teachers, plumbers, and software engineers. Every citizen needs to question their government; and if the government starts to stray from the good; then the people need to speak out. Surely we who remember the twentieth century have seen what happens when the people shirk their responsibility.

“It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”

-- Benjamin Franklin


Do philosophers have a special duty, or any particular duty by virtue of being philosophers? No. Why should they? Philosophy is a profession like any other. Is a philosopher presumed to be wiser than others? Not in contemporary society by any means. A professor of philosophy writes books and studies other philosophers and can tell you what each one said.

So if you ask a philosopher, "Should I put my suffering loved one out of their misery?" a philosopher can say, "Well, Aristotle said this and Russell said that." But they can't tell you what to do. They are not wise men. Just learned ones.

I see no connection between that occupation and any special rights or obligations in society. We license doctors and we license plumbers. But we do not license philosophers.

[Of course we do license professors of philosophy. But that is not the same thing.]

Every single person in society has an obligation to question his or her government; and to speak out as needed, according to their own conscience.

Everyone has a conscience, not just those who can quote Aristotle. What makes anyone think philosophers are special? And who thinks that, besides the philosophers?

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    Exactly right, formal education that results in encyclopaedic technical knowledge does not confer wisdom, the uneducated person on the street who does not procrastinate when it comes to his conscience possesses more wisdom then the learned man, even if he cant quote Aristotle. Jul 14, 2014 at 23:50

Absolutely. But the system is so fouled up, you're likely to run into resistance even suggesting it.

Not only do academic "philosophers" have a moral and personal duty, but anyone who calls him/herself a "Doctor of Philosophy" (i.e. PhD, yes?), has an obligation to doctor their society and it's government -- presuming that it is a system of the People. For them, it is supposed to be an obligation above and beyond the everyday citizen who isn't presuming to be a authority. Hence, the common complaint today of the "ivory tower" -- a reference to cloistered professors who have made themselves so disconnected from their society that they can no longer even relate to it.

Most people (students) take it for granted calling their professors "Dr.", but the academic profession has simply fallen from the purpose that it had since Plato: of creating a moral, just society ("philosopher kings [and queens]") -- and who else to fit the bill but the presumed masters?

Given the complete failure of this society and it's democracy, it demonstrates a gross failure of the academic establishment to accept moral responsibility and authority for it's society.

There is no question about it, and if anyone is interested in actually fixing this mess, please get in touch with me. I have a thorough analysis and outline for a plan to recovery as I have personally been victimized by it as has most everyone else but the system is so diseased now that most have simply [mal]adapted to it.

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