Was Adorno right? This is perhaps the wrong question to ask, because philosophy at its best offers not definitive answers but the encouragement to sustain a critical posture in all our questioning.

Peter E. Gordon. I’ve been hearing some version of this line for around fifty years now. I don’t care for it. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if the best that philosophy can offer me is to “sustain a critical posture in all [my] questioning,” then to hell with it. Because that “sustaining” would be an untrammeled good for me only if I never had to make any decisions, if I never had to act on the basis of what I believe to be true.

Far too often academics talk about philosophical ideas as though they are only contemplated by professional scholars for whom what matters is getting published, not acting decisively and consequentially in the world. “Sustaining a critical posture” is perfectly fine for them, because the position you take, or decline to take, has no necessary relevance to publication. (Though to be sure, academic life being what it is, if one wants to go beyond “problematizing” to affirmation there are many, many affirmations you’d better not make.)

This is why we have seen the creation of endeavors like the School of Life — institutions built for people who can’t stop asking the philosophical questions in which professional philosophers have no interest, because they’re too busy sustaining their critical posture. Which apparently is a full-time job.