Volume 108, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244



Age-old philosophical texts, from Plato to Montaigne or from Lao-tse to Rousseau, are still being read by many. What makes these texts so attractive and ‘contemporary’ today, other than scientific texts from long ago? Most of the time these texts do not address empirical or conceptual questions, but address the problem to understand ourselves as creatures that try to live a life. Academic philosophy has left this question more and more aside, in an ongoing process of ‘scientification’, and concentrated more on conceptual and epistemological questions or on the reconstruction of the philosophical tradition. Yet, in the margins of academic philosophy, in neighboring fields of research and in the public sphere, we can discern examples of a philosophical practice that rephrases the classical philosophical question in a new manner. In this essay an attempt is made to draw the contours of this new practice of philosophy and the writings it produces. Starting with (among others) Nietzsche and Benjamin, and inspired by recent lectures by Norman Lear, a portrait is created of an author who operates somewhere on the borders between science and literature, as a placeholder – or more precise: as an ethnographer who, more than the average scholar, is closely involved with the object of his research, and who, more than the average novelist, addresses ‘the weird problem of having a life’ in a direct way, starting with the problematic and problematizing experiences of others. This philosophical attitude comes close to what Michel Foucault called ‘an ontology of the present’ that writes about the question of who or what we are here and now from a ironical involvement with everyday problematizations of our cultural, political or personal identity. The essay ends with some concrete examples of this philosophical practice and with some suggestions for a philosophical institute in which such a practice could be a central concern.


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