The Consolations of Philosophy

“An idea is a putting truth in checkmate.” 
—Ortega y Gasset

Philosophy in the 20th century has shared the fate of other high arts whose audiences are increasingly limited to an inner circle of adepts. This is partly the fault of a culture that aims at mass production and mass communication, but a good part of the blame must be laid at the door of the practitioners themselves. Most professional philosophers, like so many poets and painters, have deliberately withdrawn from the language of public debate and taken refuge in technical terminology, self reflective linguistic analysis, and mathematical formulas that have little or nothing to do with the human material that forms the subject of most branches of philosophy. The result is that the middle-brow readers who once turned for enlightenment to Russell or Hume, the Emperor Marcus or Francis Bacon, now take their cues from cracker-barrel pundits like Eric Hoffer or out-and-out humbugs like L. Ron Hubbard, Leo "Dr. Love" Buscaglia, and Nathaniel Branden, Ayn Rand's philosophical beach boy turned self-help promoter.

The one philosophical discipline to experience a revival in the past 25 years has been political ethics. While comparatively few people have actually read John Rawls, or Robert Nozick, or Bruce Ackerman, their ideas have been used to justify a variety of political programs and...

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