Quo vadis, Philosophie? Antworten der Philosophen. Dokumentation einer Weltumfrage (Where Philosophy is Moving? Philosophers Respond to Global Questions). Hrsg. by Raul Fornet-Betancourt. Concordia. Internationale Zetschrift fr  Philosophie. Aachen: Mainz, 1999.
 
 

Mikhail Epstein (Emory University, USA), pp. 94-98.
 

1. In your opinion, which are the historical events that have more strongly influenced the development of philosophy in this century, and which of these events should become subject of philosophical reflection?

2. Which are the events in this century that have influenced your own philosophical development the most, and which in particular have made you change your philosophical positions?

3. Which issues, ideas, currents or works would you say are essential to the philosophy of the 20th century?

4. Which philosophical traditions from this century do you think should continue to be developed in the future?

5. Which tasks do you think should be given priority at the beginning of the 21st century?



1. In your opinion, which are the historical events that have more strongly influenced the development of philosophy in this century, and which of these events should become subject of philosophical reflection?

 The philosophy of the 20th century was mostly indifferent to history, whereas history and politics were were enormously interested in philosophy.  Heidegger and Wittgenstein take larger place in the history of the 20th c. than history takes place in their thinking. The point is that the philosophy of the 19th century--Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Komte--strongly relied on history, in order that history  of the next century could rely on philosophy, on the rational understanding of the world and the will of thought to power. Indeed,  our century became a historical scene for the enactment of great philosophical ideas, such as communism, individualism, absolute state, superman...  Philosophy, however, moved away from these "obsolete" historical  issues and concentrated on radically ahistorical dimensions of language and mind, on ontology and phenomenology. I think it will be the task of the philosophy in the 21st century to assimilate this dramatic historical experience of the 20th century and to absorb history back into philosophy.

 Among the  events of the 20th century, I would single out the  six as the most important.  The three are technological:
1. Nuclear weapons whereby the human kind can commit a collective suicide;
2. Space exploration whereby the human kind can overcome its planetary bonds;
3. Electronic media whereby the human kind can transcend the limits of reality and delve into virtual worlds.
These are radically metaphysical events that relate to the problems of free will and destiny, the nature of reality, and the liminality and transcendence.

 The three political events:
1. The rise and fall of communism;
2. The rise and fall of fascism and nazism;
3. The rise of Western, and especiallly American democracy, its global appeal and succes.
The logic of history--and of current events--prompts us to think that the 21st century may witness the fall of America, as this part of the world  may fall prey to its own global ambitions.  The absolute power, with its totalitarian temptations, becomes the source of moral corruption and internal divisions... Unfortunately, all these epochal events remained invisible for the grand style philosophy of the 20th century and attracted attention only of publicists and thinkers of a smaller caliber.



2.  Which are the events in this century that have influenced your own philosophical development the most, and which in particular have made you change your philosophical positions?
 

For me, the stagnation and fall of communism were imbued with  philosophical meaning, because these events laid bare  the  intellectual skeleton of history.  The Soviet Union  was the most philosophical power in the history; the State was governed by  ideas, such as "materialism, "atheism," and "dialectics."  Philosophy in the traditional sense--writing, teaching, discussions--was reduced to political propaganda, because the State itself operated as the grand philosophical body. Philosophy was not in words and  books, but in the System.  The fact that such a comprehensive System   collapsed presupposed that there was some other reality beyond ideas...

 In philosophy, I try to avoid the extremes of both realism and nominalism by  positing energetic interactions between these two.   In the 1970s, I was more disposed to realism, but in 1982, as the system prepared to collapse, I went through the transition to what can be called dynamic conceptualism, as it mediates between concepts-names and concepts-realities and promotes their mutual  activation and enforcement.  The systems based on pure nominalism or pure realism would be immobile and stagnant, as the history is the product of tension between verbal-mental constructs and something that resists them and distorts them and what we call reality.

 In my view, the truth is a dynamic category, the space of discrepancy between descriptions and facts, rather than the function of their correspondence. The truth is the place of  tension and strife, rather than that  of agreement and repetition. The concept of truth is precious  to me, like the lost sheep of the contemporary intellectual herd. On that score I disagree with many postmodern theorists. In fact, the entire 20th century is an all-round critique and denunciation  of truth, beginning with Marx and Nietszche who replace the notion of truth with concepts such as power, will, desire, instinct, class, and political interest. If any truth is a form of power or a struggle for power, and if any rude violation of  the truth is  no more delusional  than the sacrificial service to it, - then all resistance to power is void, for there is nothing but power. If "love you neighbor" and "kill your rival" are both statements and strategies of power, how can I discriminate between them and  oppose the power that kills?   I think, however, that  truth is that place that allows one to stand outside of power, even to resist power. Truth makes us free. If there is no difference between power and truth, then there is no hope. It seems to me that in that regard, leftist postmodern theorists such as  Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard, or Jameson, are, unintentionally, preparing the ground for a new, postmarxist totalitarianism. In America, this can be seen also in the context of the intense politicization of all discourse, including the academic one: the epistemology of power  passes into  the hermenutics of suspicion. All discourse is immediately interpreted in terms of power: how it serves certain political strategies and goals.

 Truth is the ability of my mind to reach another mind, to overstep its own boundaries, the ability to realize my own mistakes and to recognize the righteousness of somebody else. If there were no truth, then I would always be right, and the mistake would be that of the other. Truth is what makes possible our  errors and deviations from truth; truth is that which is not subject to our strength or desire. Perhaps we are not granted the capacity to know the truth, but we are granted more modest and ethically obliging capacity  to know that we do not know it. If there were no truth, there would be no obstacles to our absolute righteousness and to the war of all against all.  My defence of truth was born from the resistance to the  symbiosis of power and ideas, of politics and metaphysics that was imposed on me as a citizen of the Philosophical State. For me, truth is the possibility of diagreement rather then the necessity for agreement.  What I am searching for as an author is not  the persuasion and consent of my readers but rather their growing disenchantment and ability to dispute my thought. I am constructing my discourse in such an exaggerating, accentuated manner, that it would be  impossible for a thoughtful reader to accept my position completely. I want to provoke in others a resistance to my thought and therefore, to instigate  new bifurcations of thinking, a variety of alternative judgments and interpretations.
 
  Truth is what lies beyond my and your consciousness, and what, therefore, demands a consciousness greater than ours. I prefer alternative thinking to what is called "critical thinking" and is aimed at refutation of  certain false judgments in favor of true ones because it knows where the truth lies. Truth is not something that needs to be claimed, it is, on the contrary, something that prompts us to acknowledge our own ignorance and delusion.  Closest to the truth would be an idea that not only challenges established opinions but also prompts  a challenge to itself and thus emerges on the boundary of two disagreements.



3. Which issues, ideas, currents or works would you say are essential to the philosophy of the 20th century?

4. Which philosophical traditions from this century do you think should continue to be developed in the future?

There were several important philosophical movements: Neo-Kantianism, pragmatism, analytical philosophy, phenomenology,  existentialism, structuralism, and post-structuralism. The latter four remain most vital on the threshold of the new century, and their  debates are far from being resolved in favor of one or two of them.   Existentialism not only descended from phenomenology but shares with it such intuitions as "the horizon of consciosness" and "the living world." Structuralism shares with phenomenology the project of rigorous description of cultural phenomena. Deconstruction shares with structuralism focus on the systems of signification and shares with existentialism the critique of structuralism's claims for rigorous and comprehensive  description of these systems. Thus, these are not four separate philosophical schools, but a thick intellectual tissue where threads of various principles and movements are interwoven, each is linked to all others, as in a hypertext. Even oppositions could be seen as  complementarities. In my view,  phenomenology that is based on immediate perception and description of intellectual entities, and deconstruction that assumes infinite deferral  and erasure of such entities,  are related as "particle" and "wave"  in quantum mechanics: both approaches are justified and complement each other.

 The philosophy  of the future will be probably "trans-methodological," that is, will be able to utilize and combine any methodological principles, like a musician utilizes all keys on the piano.   So far philosophy was inventing its keyboard and adding new principles/movements/keys: Kantian key, Hegelian key, Husserlian key, etc.;  but a genuine music will sound later.



5. Which tasks do you think should be given priority at the beginning of the 21st century?

The main task of philosophy, as I see it, is to break through the limits of criticism and deconstruction to constructive thinking. I divide  the history of philosophy into three major epochs: pre-critical, critical (from Kant to Derrida) and post-critical (which starts now). Deconstruction appears to be the latest stage of criticism which undermines the capacity of criticism as such--and therefore ushers into the constructive era.
 It is interesting that each of the three past centuries ended with a  collapse of metaphysics, and each subsequent century started with a new positive philosophical project erected on the ruins of  the past.

 The 18th century ended with Kantian critique of metaphysics--the 19th century started with the Hegelian project of phenomenology of spirit and absolute idealism.
 The 19th century ended with Nietzschean critique of metaphysics--the 20th century started with Husserlian project of phenomenology as a rigorus philosophical science.
 The 20th century is ending with Derridean critique of metaphysics--the 21st century, according to my projection,  will incorporate deconstruction in a constructive type of philosophical discourse.

 The task of the philosophy is neither to explain the existing world (metaphysics) nor to change it (Marx), but to construct alternative worlds, with different properties and foundations, to multiply the "world-ness"  of existence.  If the unit of biological thinking is an organism, and the unit of chemical thinking is a molecule, then the  unit of philosophical thinking is a world. A philosopher thinks in worlds, and this may become a crucial capacity in the near future, with the proliferation of new, world-like virtual realities and perhaps multi-dimensional physical realities.  A philosopher will be entrusted to design a new universe, or galaxy, or planet, or species. Through philosophical  thinking,   a logical possibility of a new world will be posited and tested, and then astronauts, engineers, contractors, computer  programmers will come to transform this possibility into reality, into a place where people have sufficient physical and existential conditions to grow as personalities and social beings. Philosophers can construct worlds with different properties. The job of philosopher will be to define how the matter and ideas, mind and body,  language and thinking will be related in a given  civilization. Will there be "selfness," or this property can be ignored to avoid the corruptions of "egoism" and "individualism"?  Will people prioritize as their ultimate goals the state of happiness or salvation-through-suffering?

 For me, potency and potentiality are the key philosophical principles.  Ideas are not eternal and self-identical entities, they are potencies of things to come. The task of philosophy is potentiation, i.e. making thinkable and therefore possible certain worlds and their attributes, new civilizations, arts, sciences, communities, intellectual and religious movements...  So far philosophy  was searching for the "first principles," whereas in the future philosophy itself may lay down  the foundations  for the worlds to come.