Concerned, but not comfortless, we stand aside for a little, as contemplative spirits who are permitted to witness these enormous struggles and transitions. Alas! The magic of these struggles is such, that we who sees them must also take part in them!

 

F. Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, §15

 

Foreword

The fact that human beings can transform their external environment is obvious. It has been suggested that, to stress how much the human impact on the global environment has steered its evolution, the current age ought to be called the ‘Anthropocene’ . These transformations are usually based on some sort of technique, namely, a disciplined and methodical use of means for the realization of an intended end. Knowing a certain aspect of reality, and knowing how to manipulate it, are strictly connected forms of knowledge, as the contemporary synergy between science and technology illustrates.

It is also true that human beings transform themselves. Learning to communicate with others, learning a language, and other more sophisticated forms of education are familiar examples of how this can happen. One might even say that humans are technical products. A newborn has the capacity to become a human, but this capacity can be fully actualized only through appropriate technical transformations. As in the case of external implementations, endogenous transformation (the sort of technical manipulation that one does upon oneself) is based on some sort of knowledge, usually shared and advocated by the human community in which one lives. Becoming human means also becoming a certain kind of human, a new member of a certain community. Usually, it is because of the needs and demands of this community as a whole that individuals attempt to transform the rest of their environment. If there is no human being that exists outside of any community (because in such a condition nobody would become a human being in the first place), then the human potential for technically transforming their external environment is an outward expression of the way in which the whole human community constructs itself and its members, and hence struggles to ensure its own thriving.

There can only be an interest in transforming something when there is some form of recognition that what needs to be transformed is not acceptable in its current state. The knowledge that underpins any technical implementation is essentially concerned with diagnosing what is wrong with the way in which things are, and how they can be changed or altered for the better. Survival challenges are the most obvious example of how this relation between knowledge and transformation can develop, but they are by no means the only example. Even when knowledge presents itself as eternal and immutable (think about Plato’s ideas, or the Brahminic Ātman) it still has a normative and technical implication for those who might be far from possessing such a knowledge. By pointing to a region of eternity, knowledge reveals the problem with the uncertainty of the rest of reality, and offers a more or less viable bridge to rescue those who are willing to be transformed enough.

We might call the knowledge aimed at endogenous transformation, and thus at building human beings, ‘anthropoietic’ knowledge,[1] since it aims at imagining and enacting what and how humans should be, or become. This anthropoietic knowledge is essentially soteriological. Anthropoietic knowledge is a way of articulating and exploring an ideal of safety, a dimension of salvation (Greek soteria), and thus prescribes the means necessary to bring that condition about, or to forge humans capable of reaching it. The distinctively human ability to transform the outward environment is but a consequence of the essentially technical nature of humanity as such (humans are constructions, not natural kinds), but in turn this is even more fundamentally predicated on a soteriological basis. Humans are constructed for the sake of reaching some sort of salvation, they engage in transformation for the sake of being saved. They become humans by aspiring for safety. The origin of humanity is in the acknowledgment of some form of unsafety, danger, and uncertainty, no matter how that is understood or spelled out.

In its broader and more proper sense, soteriology should be first understood in relation to the way in which some sort of fundamental problem or predicament is articulated and exposed. It is only by building on this diagnosis that an ideal of salvation, and a practice leading to it, can be further envisaged and spelled out. In this sense, soteriology articulates the way in which humans (in different times and places) express, conceptualize, and act upon their understanding of some structural issue, threat, concern, evil that is perceived as plaguing their condition and thus urging a reaction. Any actual solution (theistic or atheistic, linear or cyclical, optimistic or pessimistic) is derivative of this broader, more fundamental getting in touch with something worrisome that demands attention, understanding, and transformation. Soteriology, in this broad sense, is the expression of that from which humans want to be saved. Soteriology is the cradle of human aspiration for the good. However, especially in today’s Western culture, this soteriological dimension that is inherent in human transformative practices is not duly acknowledged, or been too much restricted by interpreting it on the basis of a few particular instances that have been (mis)taken as universal paradigms.

Over the last forty years, a number of Western philosophers have drawn attention to the technical and transformative drive that is constitutive of being human. Authors such as Pierre Hadot, Michael Foucault, and Martha Nussbaum focused in particular on ancient Greek schools, especially in the Hellenistic period, as a crucial moment in which the idea of human transformation was explicitly articulated. Foucault’s final research was aimed at using this reconstruction to better understand later Western forms of human transformation, as practiced in particular in early Christianity and in monastic institutions. More recently, Giorgio Agamben, in his The Highest Poverty (original Italian ed. 2011) expanded this line of research further by focusing on medieval Western monasticism (and the Franciscan order in particular). Agamben drew attention to the attempt at articulating a form or rule of life that is irreducible to both the domain of juridical right but also to the domain of ordinary life.

Peter Sloterdijk has offered the most general and cross-cultural theoretical framework for discussing human transformation so far. In his You must change your life (original German ed. 2009), Sloterdijk focuses on the way in which humanity is essentially constituted by an ascetic verticality. Ascetism (Greek askesis) must be understood in keeping with its etymology, as a practice, a way of exercising. Building on Nietzsche, Sloterdijk illustrates how any form of exercise (ascesis) is always built on a pull from above. As he puts it: ‘whoever looks for humans will find ascetics, and whoever observes ascetics will discover acrobats’ (Sloterdijk 2013, 62).

Sloterdijk’s investigation entails two provocative claims. First, he dissociates the issue of transformative ascetic practices from the issue of religion or religiosity. Provocatively, Sloterdijk claims that ‘religions do not exist’ (Sloterdijk 2013, 83-105). What is socially constructed as a ‘religion’ is usually based on some form of transformative ascetic practice, that has been reconceived (and, Sloterdijk suggests, also misconceived) for the sake of protecting or selling it among larger groups of people. The religious dimension of transformative practices should thus be studied as a specific socio-cultural phenomenon, but it remains derivative on the practices themselves. As he writes: ‘perhaps the ‘great’ religions, with their clerical apparatuses, their networks of organized escapism and their world-friendly schools, clinics and welfare services, are nothing but businesses for softening the hurtful overloads let loose by their founders’ (Sloterdijk 2013, 220).

The second claim concerns a hierarchy between practicing elites and the habits common to the average population. Sloterdijk articulates this claim (echoing Nietzsche again) in terms of what he calls the ‘base camp problem.’ He writes: ‘the vast majority of people have no interest in becoming more than they are. If one investigates the average direction of their wishes, one finds that they simply want a more comfortable version of what they have’ (Sloterdijk 2013, 176). Average habits and norms are ‘base camps’ in the sense that they provide a ground for preparing the ascent to the heights of ‘Mount Improbable’ (Sloterdijk’s name for the ascetic ideals). But most people might decide that they like living at the base camp more than they like the idea of ascending further. According to Sloterdijk, it is from this preference that the notion of ‘identity’ arises: ‘inertia is elevated from a deficiency requiring correction to a phenomenon of value. My identity consists of the complex of my unrevisable personal and cultural inertias’ (Sloterdijk 2013, 188).

The resulting picture tells us that practicing humanity is genuine humanity, or better that the nature of humanity is to be a cultural construction. This construction is inherently oriented by a vertical pull towards transcending the current state, overcoming any established habitus, and bringing about something new. Hence, humanity is inherently self-changing, self-transforming, self-overcoming, despite how large is the portion of human beings who appear too idle to take this transformation as their own goal.

One of the main problems with Sloterdijk’s account is that it tends to treat this concern with transformation as prior to any further knowledge, as if the drive for transforming could be considered prior to some form of knowledge about what the needed transformation is and how to bring that about. In other words, in his effort to rescue practice and ascetism from its religious overtones, Sloterdijk seems to treat soteriology as a byproduct of practice itself. But this move is unwarranted, since without some knowledge or understanding of why and how one should ascend, there could be no actual striving for ascending. Bringing practice back to the foreground of discussion cannot be done at the expenses of the anthropoietic knowledge that underpins that practice. This dichotomy (or the possibility of isolating practice in its own right and neutralizing any further knowledge attached to it) is untenable, both theoretically (practice conceptually requires some knowledge) and historically (there is no evidence of practice without some underpinning knowledge). In short, even Sloterdijk’s attempt at developing a new discipline of ‘Anthropotechnic’ is flawed by its failing to take soteriology as the ground for any human practice.

But what does it mean to take soteriology as the ground of any human practice? Answering this question entails recovering a whole field of investigation. As a preliminary sketch, two dimensions of this field might be pointed out.

Soteriology has a descriptive dimension, insofar as it helps charting the different ways in which various historical communities in various times and places have articulated anthropoietic knowledge about their predicament, and the tools for facing it. In this descriptive sense, investigating soteriology means uncovering the answer to questions such as: what is the diagnosis of the human condition proposed in this context? What sort of fundamental and systemic problem is recognized and exposed? What further (philosophical, political, social) implications are associated with this problem? How is the state of salvation conceptualized in this framework? Who is supposed to reach that salvation? What are the means, tools, practices, and exercises envisaged to reach it? How do they contribute to transforming not only the practitioners but also their overall environment? And how does this investigation change our understanding of our own historical situatedness as interlocutors and inquirers of this or that particular soteriological structure?

Among preliminary remarks it should be emphasized that soteriology per se has no necessary connection with theistic worldviews, although all theistic worldviews presuppose their own soteriology. This point can be quickly illustrated by considering a few examples.

First: Nietzsche is a soteriological thinker, who claims that the fundamental problem of existence has to do with its inherent dissonance and suffering, and the genuine salvation from it lies in the ability to create something new, and unlock the poietic potential of the ‘will to power’ that constitutes the core of any form of life. In outlining this vision, Nietzsche is among the most vocal Western philosophers to propose a sort of methodological atheism. Only by building on the acknowledgment that ‘God is dead’ and that previous religious strategies (especially Christian ones, in Nietzsche’s view) must be abandoned, can a viable salvation be pursued (which for Nietzsche means being saved from the ‘heavens’ and from the ‘other world’).

Second example: Spinoza is another soteriological thinker, who sees the fundamental problem in the passionate structure of human beings and in the way in which the overwhelming power of external conditions can perturbate the mind to such an extent to let it forget its genuine nature, namely, its being a mode of the infinite substance (which Spinoza, controversially at the time, calls ‘God’). Salvation is adequate knowledge of nature, which depends upon and leads to a certain management of passions and affectivity. Despite Spinoza’s own protests to the contrary, no other Western philosopher before Nietzsche has enjoyed more outstanding fame (or rather infamy) as an atheist.

Third example: master Gotama, the historical Buddha (fifth century BCE), regarded the whole of ordinary human condition as doomed, due to the pervasiveness of a constant struggle and concern for appropriating this or that content of experience or form of existence. Living beings (not just humans) are constantly dragged away by their thirst for being something or something else, they are burning of the fever of greed, aversion, and ignorance. Affectivity is the problem, and a reversal of the affective structure is its solution. Through disciplined practice, ordinary habits based upon and leading to appropriation and thirst can be weakened, stopped, and abandoned, leaving the sage free, unconcerned, at peace. Human life is not only a playground for bringing about this transformation, but also the best stage for it, since any sort of divine existence (as acknowledged in Buddhist cosmology) is equally plagued by the same problems, except for the fact that divine beings might lack the sense of urgency and the sharpness of vision regarding the fundamental soteriological problem that are needed for directly embark in the process of making an end to suffering. The Buddha was no atheist, but only because he did not believe that any of the gods were actually eternal, unchanging, and free from sorrow, as they would themselves proclaim to be.

From a descriptive point of view, these examples not only show that soteriology is relatively independent from endorsing a theistic framework, but they also suggest that one important aspect in the charting of soteriological territory consists precisely in clarifying how specific theistic views or concerns interact and play a role in a soteriological construction. In other words, since everybody who engages in some form of transformative practice has a soteriology, but not any soteriology has to be spelled out in theistic terms, one can investigate why these theistic terms are introduced at some point, what purposes they serve, and what the (philosophical, historical, political, social) conditions are that make them more or less meaningful in a given context.

A similar consideration would extend to other characteristics that are often associated with soteriology due to the assumption that particular instances of it are paradigmatic of soteriology in general. Christian soteriology, for instance, tends to have a linear teleological orientation, but such a linear teleology is not a necessary feature of soteriology as such. One might well imagine that salvation entails a form of cyclicity or even comes through endless repetition (think about the Stoic and later Nietzschean amor fati). In certain contexts (early Buddhism, for instance), the emphasis is very much on achieving a definite state of salvation in this very life, such that the adept reaches a condition ‘beyond training’ where no further practice and exercise is needed. But again, this idea of embodying perfection in a definite state does not have to be necessarily linked with soteriology as such or in general. Salvation can equally be conceived as an open-ended process that extends on an indefinite (or unfathomably long) period of time, as seems to have been the case for some ancient sects (like the Ājīvikas in ancient India, or perhaps Empedocles in ancient Greece).

These remarks show that mapping soteriological territory inevitably leads to (and indeed ought to) cross cultural and historical boundaries. By facing how both the diagnosis and the solution for the human predicament is conceived by different groups, and in different times and places, it becomes possible to more deeply investigate the reasons that contributed to specifying each soteriological outlook and shaping it in a certain way rather than another. Soteriology is thus best understood as a spectrum of possible views, which might differ greatly both in matters of general orientation and in details, although they would all share the basic concern with articulating some sort of structural problem recognized with a current state, and a need for addressing it through some form of practice, which will inevitably be transformative of those who engage with it.

Soteriology also has a second, normative dimension. This means that soteriology puts certain initial constraints on how any further investigation in human transformation can be carried out. Two constraints are particularly relevant. First, selfhood is co-constituted in its own soteriological quest. The self is not some preexistent entity that engages in a soteriological quest only contingently, at some point. Second, there is no human life devoid of some (implicit or explicit) soteriology, although multiple soteriological structures can coexist in the same time and place, interact, and even compete with each other.

The first constraint consists in methodologically ruling out the assumption that selfhood is constituted in a sort of morally-neutral space, in which it emerges as a pure, dispassionate, cognitive structure of some sort, and only later (if ever at all) might become interested or concerned with its own salvation. This assumption must be rejected (a normative claim) because it reverses (and thus misrepresents) the logical order of phenomena. A dispassionate self is a soteriological construction, it represents a condition of imperturbability and absence of any concern, hence it is a symbol of achieved salvation. For this notion to be valued and considered fundamental, one needs preliminary to have an experience of what a passionate self feels like, what it means not to be dispassionate, how it is to live in the grip of existential concerns. But if one has access to these sorts of experiences, then it becomes clear that one is not a dispassionate self in the first place. That view of dispassion is a soteriological projection of an ideal state, which is then taken as a regulative ideal and assumed as something fundamental. The ideal of dispassion is created in a soteriological context, namely, in the effort of conceiving (giving birth to) an alternative way of existing as a human. Hence, it offers no proof of the fact that selfhood comes before any soteriological concern, but rather shows the opposite, since being concerned with soteriology is precisely the domain in which selfhood (and its potential for salvation or dispassion) is first discovered.

The second constraint consists in assuming that any human individual is practicing some sort of soteriological game. Wherever selfhood is enacted, that is because some sort of soteriological background has been established. There cannot be any ‘base camp problem’ as described by Sloterdijk. Those who appear lazy and inert from the point of view of certain practitioners, cannot be simply indifferent spectators, but must be engaged in a different soteriological quest. It is a well-known paradox that inaction is still a form of action, and doing nothing is still a way of doing something. If one acts, one brings about a change, any action is transformative in a sense. No matter how one understands one’s own humanity (no matter how original or derivative, effective or ineffective this view is), this knowledge is anthropoietic, it entails a soteriology, and hence it guides one’s way of becoming the sort of human that one envisages. It is impossible to split humans between practitioners and non-practitioners. Everybody who is human is also a practitioner of sorts, and all practitioners are such because they (more or less explicitly) base their actions on some soteriological knowledge. Hence, wherever there is transformative action there must be (another normative claim) a soteriology that makes it possible.

As a consequence, selfhood is not discovered by an elite of ascetic athletes (as Sloterdijk suggests), but is a phenomenon common to all humans insofar as they all share the same predicament and the same concern for it. The plurality of different soteriologies interacting with one another raises the question of their relative validity, and the problem of how to assess them. Is it possible that a certain soteriological understanding could introduce new or even unwarranted concerns? How sustainable is a certain soteriological view for individuals or communities? And how do changes in external condition affect this sustainability? In which ways can a soteriological ideal fail? These are all normative questions, which presuppose a preliminary understanding of soteriology as necessarily embedded in any human culture. The alleged difference between practitioners and non-practitioners must be reconceptualized as the interaction between practitioners of different soteriologies (perhaps opposite, or even indifferent to one another), and their clash can result in different forms of selfhood. No one is just watching the show, everybody is playing their part in it. There is no passive audience, only players. What are you playing then?

This is a new field of study. Let’s call it ‘the global history of soteriological agency.’ This is not an established academic field today. If anything, it can be discerned as the overlap between various more familiar domains of study. Agency is a broad topic of research in philosophy and many other disciplines. Within this large cluster of research programs, soteriological agency points to those ways of conceiving of, shaping, practicing, orienting agency (of both individuals and communities) for the sake of dealing with a soteriological problem. Soteriological agency must be indexed to specific historical contexts (hence it must be always historical to some extent). But this history needs to be global, both because soteriology emerges at all times and in all places of human history, and because it concerns the global dimension of human (but perhaps also non-human) life as such.

The global history of soteriological agency might not exist as a field or even topic of study yet. But de facto it existed in the past of various civilizations, and it still arises today in ours. Present-day humanity has reached a degree of interestedness across the globe that had no precedent in past times. And more importantly, we know that today human actions (our actions) are also part of a (perhaps new) soteriological problem. If the world as we know it will end in a few decades from now, this is also because of our economic, social, political, ideological decisions, and not just because of the accidents of nature or the will of otherworldly entities. In ways that were inconceivable for past humanity, today we seem to have little time left to make very important choices, which might have an impact not only on our quality of living, but on our survival as a species. The future has always been a challenge, but now this challenge is both globalized and pushed on the verge of the irredeemable. Simply invoking more scientific knowledge does not seem sufficient. Scientific knowledge, by itself, neither caused nor prevented the course of events from taking their turn that they did, which suggests that other and arguably more profound factors are involved. And yet, some general transformation in humanity’s way of conceiving itself (and especially in those sectors of today’s humanity that have appropriated the greatest monopoly of power and resources) seems very much needed.

Soteriological agency, despite all its varieties of forms and practices, does have a central focal point, namely, the self. Soteriological agency in fact plays a crucial role in constructing the self, both at the social and at the individual level. This is why, in order to judge any of these practices, it seems most appropriate to look at them from the point of view of the sort of selfhood they give rise to. What sort of self could emerge from undertaking this practice? In what way is this form of selfhood preferable than others? The first question is descriptive, the second is normative. But both questions require comparisons between different practices, and this comparison in turn requires having a sufficiently wide and global framework against which differences can be seen and contrasted.

 

 

These lectures are intended to introduce into higher public education the competences needed to be able to critically reflect on different forms of soteriological agency. Their core ambition is to sketch a roadmap of possible theoretical avenues for conceiving of the self, bringing to the foreground its soteriological implications, while also testing this theoretical outlook against insights offered by various disciplines (including philosophy, cognitive science, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, religious studies, intellectual history, and contemplative practices) and in specific historical cultures (ancient India and Greece, the modern West). The resulting journey is a way of practicing hermeneutics, the art of understanding and interpreting experience in its multifarious manifestations (which include different genres of written texts, oral traditions, social structures and practices, various sorts and domains of experience, ideas and ideals). This form of hermeneutics is best understood as ‘global hermeneutic’ both because of its temporal and geographical scope, and because of its focus on a phenomenon so broad and deeply rooted as selfhood. The purpose of the journey is not only descriptive, though. Exploring the cross-cultural spectrum of possible ways of conceiving of the self invites more existential question of whether any of these possibilities might offer resources for dealing with the tragedies of today’s world, or maybe even saving it from some of them.

Each lecture focuses on one particular scene in the broader tragedy of the self that is enacted throughout the whole series. The main purpose of each lecture is to introduce the audience to some relevant sources and interlocutors, which can bring important insights for the development of the overall action. In this respect, the first goal of each lecture is to provide a sufficiently clear and comprehensive account of the sources themselves, more than directly arguing in favor of a particular point. The effort is to keep a balance between a narrowly selected pool of main references, and a sufficiently in-depth discussion of the materials, while also providing a number of hints that could be used to further expands various points by those who might be more interested in following up on them.

The lectures are organized around a unified ‘tragic’ narrative (to borrow from the plot of Greek tragedies) articulated into three steps: (i) introducing the character and their goal; (ii) discussing the challenge that the character faces; and (iii) learning from that challenge how to explore alternative scenarios. (i) The self (character) is enacted in order to face various forms of uncertainty (goal), and exploring the ways of facing them gives rise to a spectrum of possible ways of enacting selfhood. However, (ii) uncertainty can never be fully mastered (challenge), and hence all the possibilities encompassed by this spectrum face paradoxes and generate new challenges. This leads to (iii) exploring the possibility of setting aside the whole project of mastery and finding new ways of facing uncertainty without having to master it.

This narrative is deployed in fourteen episodes. More specifically, the first five lectures (i) sketch a spectrum of possible ways of constructing the self, covering apparently disparate and yet related topics such as contemporary cognitive science, anthropological studies on shamanism in small-scale societies, and philosophical and psychological studies on mysticism. Another four lectures present (ii) a comparative case study of conceptions of selfhood in ancient Greek and Indian cultures (between the sixth and the third century BCE), positioning them with respect to the spectrum previously sketched and underscoring the different issues that emerge in this context. The last five lectures (iii) discuss and compare more critical approaches to selfhood aimed at overcoming it, which emerged both in the modern West (Nietzsche) and ancient India (Buddhism).

In today’s Western academic philosophy, the dominant style of writing and exposition relies heavily on argumentation. However, the notion of argumentation is often subject to a dangerous equivoque. Argumentation can be understood in two basic ways. A first type of argumentation takes it as the set of rhetorical and dialectical moves used to defend and hopefully support a certain claim in the context of a controversy. A second type of argumentation sees it rather as the overall set of means that can be used to interlink ideas and articulate intuitions, in such a way that they will constitute a coherent and intelligible whole. The paradigm for the first type of argumentation is provided by forensic practice, while for the second type might be better captured by certain forms of art, like Western counterpoint music for instance.[2] These two types can coexist and enrich one another. But today, it is more often the case that the two are conflated, with the first ruling out the second. Often, an audience trained in academic philosophy might hold an implicit expectation that a philosophical argument must unfold in the shape of a debate between opposing parties, and that a claim is not really argued for if this dialectical frame is not provided. But such an expectation overlooks the fact that the exposition and development of a philosophical idea (like that of any other idea) does not have to take such a dialectical form.

Presenting and developing an idea, an intuition, or any other germinative motive, might use various other means, including phenomenological observations, the interplay between certain practices and reflection on their results, the exploration of various perspectives and degrees of closeness or distance at which the same phenomenon is observed, speculation, analysis, and many others. It would be hard to reduce all these various approaches to just arguing pro or contra a given thesis, finding fault in the opponent’s arguments and replying to their objections.[3] But what all these approaches do share in common is an interest for finding, uncovering, and sometimes creating connections and pathways through which meaning can flow, expand, evolve, and disseminate. These connections embed the departing idea in a web of meaningfulness, which arouses interest for it. This interest does not merely depend on what others say pro or contra, but rather on the peculiar way in which that idea is encountered, presented, developed, refracted. Given current practices and conventions, the first, forensic type of argumentative style is by large the dominant one in the industry of writing and publishing philosophy papers, books and book-chapters. Lecturing seems to still leave broader margins for hosting and integrating different styles, and hence the following discussion is phrased as a series of lectures for the purpose of a more sustained and deliberate engagement with the second type of argumentation. Besides, soteriology has to do with transformative practices, and nothing is more transformative than education.

 


  1. For the use of this term, cf. Francesco Remotti, I drammi dell’antropo-poiesi (2013).
  2. As a healthy complement to the study of argumentative strategies, philosophers might benefit from reading about how various artists conceived of their work. A good start might be Arnold Schönberg’s Style and Idea (1975).
  3. One reason why dialectical (type-one) argumentation is sometimes regarded as paradigmatic of philosophical activity might have to do with the way in which philosophy, as an academic field, seeks to delineate and distinguish itself with respect to other fields. Emphasis on logical-dialectical argumentation (historical evidence suggests that logic arose from the practice of dialectics, as even a cursory look at Aristotle’s logical works suggests) can be taken as quintessential for defining philosophy. While this approach might have strategic advantages in certain contexts, it clearly cannot be taken at face value as a normative definition of what philosophy is. On the one hand, this very emphasis on logical-dialectical argumentation tends to exclude a number of authors (cf. for instance Eileen O’Neil, ‘Disappearing Ink,’ 1997) and even antagonize whole traditions (as the long-standing divide between ‘continental’ or ‘European’ philosophy vs. ‘analytic’ or ‘Anglo-American’ philosophy has witnessed). On the other hand, it clearly takes more than just logic to forge and develop philosophical ideas, otherwise any logically sound and valid argument should count as a philosophical argument. Searching for the unique quid that makes philosophy something distinct, one would inevitably have to add some more substantial element, like the concerns for this or that particular topic, question, or problem. Perhaps, one might also suggest that the distinctive philosophical flavor of a discussion does not depend on specific topics or on their logical structure, but rather by a peculiar self-reflective interest for how the discussion is carried over, what its metacognitive constraints and contexts are. Be that as it may, logical-dialectical argumentation might be a powerful tool to contributing to this philosophical endeavor, but it hardly can provide a sustainable and overarching definition of what philosophy is, what it was, or what it ought to be.

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The Tragedy of the Self by Andrea Sangiacomo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.