“The Use of Philosophy” – Eric Kaplan Speech at Harvard Philosophy Department 2015



10 thoughts on ““The Use of Philosophy” – Eric Kaplan Speech at Harvard Philosophy Department 2015

  1. Sean says:

    Thanks for sharing this. DFW’s “Good Old Neon” gets at the problem of knowing whether we are sincere or phony in what I think is an insightful way.

    • Sean says:

      Opening lines:
      “My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired. It’s a little more compli- cated than that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever. You get the idea.”

      • Sean says:

        “…my own basic problem was that at an early age I’d somehow chosen to cast my lot with my life’s drama’s supposed audience instead of with the drama itself, and that I even now was watching and gauging my supposed performance’s quality and probable effects…”

      • Sean says:

        It is hard to say why he chose that way. He talks about a dream he had where he spends his entire life sculpting and maintaining a statue of himself on a town commons: polishing, keeping birds off, picking up litter from around it, etc. The obsession with self-image is also linked to a culture where one’s value is based on social status, i.e how others see you.
        At the age of four he began to realize that he could manipulate others into believing him to be a certain kind of person. That realization came with feelings of power and intelligence. (at first it was the power that enabled the manipulation, but then he got a job at an ad agency where manipulation was the power) In a culture where power and intelligence are two gold standards of social status, what is a boy to do?

      • Sean says:

        That seems right, but if status depends on how others perceive you…then how to seek it without caring about one’s image?
        Another important theme in the story is how infinitesimal is the fraction of our inner lives that we can convey to others. Our channels of communication are so limited. (and we adore those who widen those channels- artists, musicians, poets…)
        Given the limits of what we can show others, why wouldn’t we curate carefully what we present as our ‘self’ to others? At what point does it become narcissistic? Perhaps when our attention to self-presentation eclipses any genuine recognition of the inner lives of others. (Cavell calls narcissism “the unnecessary isolations of selfhood,” and its escape requires encounters with otherness)

      • Narcissism is a disorder of Eros. The narcissist’s primary erotic interest is in his self-image. Somebody could be dressing really nice and talking really fancy to impress somebody else and not be a narcissist. But if when he is dressing nice and talking fancy what is really exciting him is an image of himself as a smart, fancy guy then that’s narcissism. It can be hard to tell because the narcissist clothes, talk, behavior all are impressive to other people, but that’s not really what is motivating him (although he may not know it). It’s ultimately an unsatisfying way to live, as the myth shows us — Narcissus starved to death looking at his own reflection.

  2. Cory says:

    Thank you for sharing your talk and the conversation with the audience. I really enjoyed it. Extra thanks for the link within your link to the Harvard Philosophy Department youtube channel. Their channel has some gems.

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