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The Philosopher and Their Politics -- Insights For Public Figures in Philosophy

Updated: Feb 17

A man is positioned between two seating ranges.

Outside the Ivory Tower: The Public Philosopher as Politician

To avoid confusion within this discourse, it's crucial to acknowledge that the scope of "politics" extends far beyond its contemporary definition, AKA, "the actions or activities concerned with achieving and using power in a country or society". As long as one participates in one or more collectives, the influence of politics is inescapable, as all human relationships are based on the dynamic of power.

According to a broader source, poltiics is "total complex of relations between people living in a society." And of course, when it comes to the "total complex", governments are only a part of it, and never its entirety.

Moving beyond the meme "We live in a society," public philosophers must recognize the implications of being part of a collective larger than themselves. These implications extend beyond their individual practice of philosophy, demanding they consider additional roles and functions to optimize their public engagement with philosophical thought.

The collective possesses immense power for any public figure, regardless of their involvement in formal government, for the public figure holds an exclusive status. Views, supporters, critics, and other elements can be utilized not only to be heard but also to expand one's influence within the collective, even without formal authority over others. Thus, the philosopher, when emerges as a public figure, can hold informal authority over others whether or not he is a formal leader of an organization.

Like with any public figure, the public philosopher occupies a kind of political space within the collective, hallmarked by his or her sage-level wisdom. They are participants in a shared arena, where other competitors also seek attention and influence. Public perception significantly shapes how both the philosopher and their ideas are received. In other words, just as a governmental politician represents their party, the public philosopher stands as a representative of their entire public body of work and thought. That's unfortunately because of one of the most commonplace logical fallacies of ad-hominem.

Since people may prefer far more to focus on people rather than ideas (with a prime example being gossip), it can be quite difficult making the difference between the philosopher and his ideas. Therefore, keeping a good public image is also done for those who prefer to talk about other people, rather than their ideas. That's even though the philosopher is merely a representative of their ideas, and even though in philosophy, ideas matter more than the minds behind them.

The Public Figure's Digital Shadow

As I look back today, I realize, with a touch of melancholy, that my public behavior represents not just myself, but a sphere of others. My website, articles, books, my organized followers—all will also be judged, in the reflection of my actions. Like waves at sea, one small choice can set forth a rolling snowball of unintended consequences, actualizing both desired and unwanted potentials. Like genius villains, we must think competently.

Humanity's grandest collective thus far, the globally connected internet, presents the extent of our shared public memory. Intimate details reside alongside grand pronouncements, readily exposed even when privacy feels most desired. My own contributions, like many others, might not cause a world-altering impact, but the their impact can nonetheless accumulate weight and meaning with each passing year, long after their originator became a relic of the past.

And so is everything else online that can be traced to said originator. Anything that can easily be used against them, making society a very hostile place to live in.

Deletion proves a shield at the face of screenshots. Once casted into the digital abyss, to-be-deleted data can resurface at the whim of a stranger who saw value in its preservation, for either good or for malice. The public domain, unlike any physical territory, stretches beyond borders and language barriers, and can turn the smallest of notes into global-grade controversies.

And in here lies the difficulty for both politician and philosopher: That every move, every utterance, can easily become a relic in the collective memory, powerful enough to cast a long shadow that can eclipse even the most profound of philosophical contributions to humanity.

In my own reflection of past events, decisions are made through the lens of a "political" understanding, aimed at relevance and engagement. Yet, the price of such visibility can be high, necessitates the surrendering of some control to the ever-shifting nature of perception. Perception to be molded by countless factions and agendas within the general collective. And all of that, at greater favor over reality itself.

Unfortunate, isn't it...

Today's technology further complicates the equation. Attention spans, already fragile, dwindle under the constant barrage of low-quality content. While I find solace in avoiding platforms like TikTok, one cannot deny their potential to amplify the overshadowing effect, of reducing complex arguments to sensationalized clickbait. For, why putting effort of reading an entire essay when an insufficent "summary," of a reel, can offer the illusion of understanding with minimal effort?

Negative. Reels are not enough for summarizing, especially in philosophy. But people want reels. Therefore, people want insufficent ways to understand complex ideas, for they have not the guts to override the normalized laziness of modern-day consumerism. And this puts many philosophers at a disadvantage, as this highly-valued field, capable of many great contributions for humanity, is undermined in the name of instant gratification.

In this echo chamber of digital shadows, navigating the path between authenticity and self-preservation becomes an adversity. One aspires to connect, to share ideas, yet risks being reduced to a caricature, defined by the loudest echoes rather than the full composition of their philosophical legacy.

Perhaps the answer lies not in retreating, but in reclaiming the narrative, by trying and make philosophy relevant again. For in the end, it is not the fleeting virality of a meme, but the depth and resonance of our lived experience that deserves to echo through the halls of time.

Public Philosophy in an Age of Fragile Attention

I am no prophet, but one hazy vision clouds my future: the ever-tightening knot of "politics" in its broadest sense. In this future, where impatience and laziness reign supreme, a single misstep, a poorly chosen sentence, can degenerate a whole legacy, reducing a philosopher's lifelong pursuit of wisdom to ash in the eyes of those with no time for more-than-simple understanding.

So, for those who choose to traverse this unforgiving, entertainment-over-substance landscape of today, a lesson might be gained from the Bushido code of the samurai, not the Yakuza's morally-depraved shadow: Just as a warrior defends their honor, not for personal glory, but for the ideals their blade embodies, so too must the public philosopher guard the integrity of their work. Not through violence, of course, but through careful precision, wielding words like a skilled swordsman, each utterance honed to illuminate, not deceive, and not to cause malice.

As all the wise need to do in a world where gutlessness is marketed as sensitivity, and thus cowardice, as appropriate.

And when, inevitably, a misstep hinders the journey, there is no need to embrace Socratic drop of poison, and die. Negative. Atonement, not suicide, is the key. Not "cutting off the little finger" but to redeem the error, through good deeds. For the future, for the sake of the philosophical legacy, and the ideals it carries.

I've the guts to admit I've contradicted myself before, and that I made errors. But why verdict eternal darkness upon me, when I can work towards redemption? The beauty of philosophy lies not in pronouncements carved in stone, but in the constant evolution of thought, the ongoing dialogue with oneself, the world, and earlier text. Each error, each misstep, becomes a stepping stone, a chance to polish the lens through which we perceive, in the name of a greater understanding of reality.

Final Words

So in this age shortened attention spans and merciless judgement, the path of the public philosopher becomes a minefield that requires careful planning between preserving truthfulness and avoiding the shame of doing just that.

But it is precisely here, in this unforgiving terrain, that our words hold the most power. For the act of public philosophership requires not one but two strengths: The first is the strength of being a philosopher and the trials it features. The second is to dare sounding one's voice and become a component in the larger context that is public discourse.

Let us then, embrace the challenge, and remember: The battlefield of thought is not won in swift pronouncements, but in the patient, relentless pursuit of wisdom. A pursuit that, even in its predicaments, illuminates the path for generations to come.

And while the obscure philosopher refuses to relent, the public philosophers refuses to relent tenfold!

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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