Non-philosophers sometimes charge philosophers with talking and writing voluminously to no particular end, getting nothing done, solving no problems. But Slavoj Žižek, clown prince of academic superstardom, has a response: “Philosophy does not solve problems,” he claims in the clip above. “The duty of philosophy is not to solve problems, but to redefine problems, to show how what we experience as a problem is a false problem. If what we experience as a problem is a true problem, then you don’t need philosophy.” He uses the hypothetical examples of deadly comets and viruses from space. Against such clear, present, and direct threats, he argues, we have no use for philosophy, just “good science.” Žižek continues the argument from his bed: “I don’t think philosophers ever provided answers, but I think this was the greatness of philosophy.”
To Žižek’s mind, the pursuit of philosophy involves asking as many questions as possible, but not broad ones about absolute truths. “Philosophy is not what some people think,” he says, gesticulating while propped up by pillows. “It just asks, when we use certain notions, when we do certain acts, and so on, what is the implicit horizon of understanding? It doesn’t ask these stupid ideal questions: ‘Is there truth?’ The question is, ‘What do you mean when you say this is true?’” He conceives of philosophy as a modest discipline, not a grand one. This clip comes by way of the invaluable Biblioklept.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.