Philosophizing with the Hammer

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The disruption of coronavirus is both a catastrophe as well as an opportunity. It is indeed debilitating but we can make it liberating. It has Fredrick Nietzsche’s last man but we cannot forget his overman too. It is an opportunity to what Nietzsche says, ‘to philosophize with a hammer’. We need to cross boundaries of thought and chisel our new ideas as we hammer out a statue from a stone. Maybe we are standing at the turning point or the vortex of history of the world. We may have come to the end of life that became a project that could be described as a ‘joyless quest for joy.’

We may have to give up the orthodoxy of the philosophy of the city and embrace the heterodoxy of the philosophy of wilderness. Like Nietzsche, we may have to embrace aphoristic and poetic mode of thinking. It does attune us to the natural dynamism of our thought and life. Nietzsche did believe that aphorisms reflected life while systematizations mummified it. Staying with the vitality and vibrancy of human life is something that we need to synchronise with at this moment of great human distress.

Friedrich Nietzsche
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We have indeed reached the twilight of all our idols that we seem to have worshiped so far. Our condition is aptly diagnosed by Joergen Habermas as colonisation of our life world by money and power. Money and power are means of good life. Unfortunately, they have become ends of life. This is why life has become a joyless quest for joy. Coronavirus challenges our values that we so far cherished to the point of our death. All our values have become hollow and are undergoing transvaluation. Our established values and authorities are under question. It is indeed an invitation to philosophize with a hammer so that we can chisel out thoughts like polished diamonds.

Maybe we have to throw away what is called Ockham’s razor and return to the complexity of raw life. We love nested life but the nest is now falling apart throwing us into the wild world. The spirit of our time has put the burden on us to open new paths towards life enhancing horizons for humanity. To achieve our goals, we have to philosophize with a hammer. We cannot simply reproduce Socrates / Buddha or Nietzsche. We are hitting decadence. Knowledge is exploding in the web but there is no wisdom. We have to counter the tyranny of reason and lust of wealth. To usher in this revolution, philosophers will have to become the proverbial mad men, the mad man of Nietzsche who came with a lantern in broad daylight to signify what the people thought was light was actually darkness. The decadence of the darkness needed new light then and it needs light now too.

This is why I imagine that the philosopher of today is the new madman with the lantern in broad daylight. This light is required to understand how the values that we held so far are melting in the air under this great human distress. This means our philosophic task is noble and prophetic. It has to question that which is thought to be established or authorised by reason and tradition. The madman philosopher is contra Socrates. He is more like Nietzsche who reveals the folly of reason. These new philosophers are to drink the cup of poison of Socrates. They are to nail to death the reign of reason. This doesn’t mean they are to establish the reign of unreason and madness. The mad philosopher is a metaphor taken from Nietzsche to philosophize with a hammer. It can take us from the chains of reason to freedoms of transreason.

The mad philosophers of tomorrow have the noble task to teach humanity to learn to die. Faced with a prospect of meaningless suffering and death due to coronavirus, humanity has the challenge to learn to die. Paradoxically, one who has learnt to die learns to live. This is why the threat of death that we experience can become a leap of life. Simon Critchley in the Book of Dead Philosophers echoes the word of Cicero who taught us ‘to philosophize is to learn to die’. This is why we may say that to philosophize with a hammer is to learn to die. The main task of philosophy is to prepare us for our death. Philosophical training for our death is actually a training for life. Death is not on the other side of life. We live as we die. Our drunken desire for life forgets death. Coronavirus is here to remind us about our finitude and about our inevitable death.

The death that is brought unto us by coronavirus is in our mouth. We literally carry death in our mouth and pass it to others though our cough. This reminds me of Montaigne who wrote ‘I have formed the habit of having death continuously present not merely in my imagination but in my mouth .‘ This is why the mad Philosopher has the noble task of carrying death in his mouth. To philosophize with a hammer means to have death in our mouth, in the words that we speak, food that we eat and drinks that we sip. This is a profound lesson that we have in the corona moment of humanity. Our words can kill. Our food can kill and our drinks can also kill. Hence, instead of staying in the madness of death, being aware of death in the mouth, we can become careful and care giving upholders of life.

This time the mad man with the lantern does not have to proclaim the death of God. His task is simple. He has to assert the truth that we are walking in the shadows of death. He has to declare that we are carrying death in our mouth. We need this premeditation of death so that we can live our life in freedom and responsibility. This is why let’s imagine that the madman with the lit lantern in his hand has once again arrived in broad daylight and declared that we carry death in our mouth. This realization of having death in our mouth will make us responsible to ourselves, to God , to our neighbours and the world.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao