Hi, my name is Pete, and I’m a systematic philosopher. I live in Newcastle Upon Tyne and teach seminars in philosophy at Newcastle University.
If this introduction sounds like I’ve taken the mic an AA meeting, there’s a reason for that: systematic philosophy is not something you are supposed to do in real time, it’s something that people are supposed to have done; and, depending who you listen to, either can only be done by septuagenarians from France, Germany, Italy, or elsewhere on the Continent (‘Continental’ Philosophy), or simply can’t be done at all (per most ‘Analytic’ Philosophy). I’ve spent enough time trying to present myself in ways that would be acceptable to the ossified social cliques currently in charge of academic philosophy for one lifetime, and I’m done.
So here it is: I explicitly claim to do what most academics implicitly claim is presently impossible, despite its historical prevalence being the rock upon which every single one of their churches are built. Whether or not this claim is warranted is a question I leave to the reader. As in most things I’d rather show than tell, and deontologistics is where this really takes place, rather than the various bits of writing I’ve managed to publish since I started writing here in 2009.
The link between doing and saying is important, because the interaction between the two is where thinking happens, at least for me. For any academic philosophers reading this and thinking ‘I’ve never claimed that systematic philosophy can’t be done!’, ask yourselves not what you’ve said, but what you’ve done, and whether your behaviour and that of your colleagues is consistent with not just admitting but encouraging the possibility of being a generalist in our discipline, let alone having synoptic ambitions animating that generalism. Do that and then we’ll talk. Hopefully, about more interesting things.
I’m interested in everything, more or less, and I refuse to apologise for it or otherwise downplay it. To put this in thematic terms, I have interests in philosophies of logic, mathematics, language, mind, computer science, science, politics, art, and games; not to mention epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. To put it in historical terms, I have interests in Socrates, Plato, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Sellars, Foucault, Deleuze, Badiou, Brandom, (Jean-Yves) Girard, Meillassoux, and more besides. I have also been associated with the labels ‘speculative realism‘, ‘left-accelerationism‘ and now ‘neorationalism‘ with various degrees of descriptive accuracy and respect for my intellectual autonomy. So there’s something in here for everyone to like and/or dislike.
To quote one of my favourite philosophers, whose own synoptic ambitions, systematic efforts, and relentless autodidacticism continues to inspire me:
The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term. Under 'things in the broadest possible sense' I include such radically different items as not only 'cabbages and kings', but numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death. To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to 'know one's way around' with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, 'how do I walk?', but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred.
My ravenous curiosity is driven by Platonic love and steered by Socratic friendship. It’s all good, at the end of the day, and you’re welcome to come along for the ride.
There are some ground rules though. These can be neatly encapsulated by my commitment to the virtue of sincerity, which demands more than mere honesty if we are to avoid the temptations of unrestrained irony. Meaning what you say (sincerity) must pass into saying what you mean (explicitness) and revising what you think when these turn out to contradict one another (consistency). This trinity of dialectical virtues guides me in my quest to articulate and follow through on my commitments, both theoretical (e.g., rationalist inhumanism) and practical (e.g., Promethean socialism). I can, have been, and will be found wanting in each regard, but my compounded failures carry me onwards, chasing the dragon of individual and collective wisdom. But there’s a symmetry in such things, and I’m liable to respond to challenges with challenges in kind, in the hope that the resulting interaction leaves us all wiser than we began.
What does it mean to become wiser in this way? Other than knowing more about everything and how it hangs together? Socrates’s great wisdom was said to lie in how well he understood his own ignorance. To quote the apocryphal paraphrase:
All that I know is that I know nothing.
The important thing to understand is that, if Sellars’s maxim captures the nature of the product at which philosophy aims, then Socrates’s maxim captures the nature process which aims at it. There is such a thing as cultivating better ignorance, coming to know more about what we don’t know. We might condense this by saying that not only are there better answers, but equally better questions. If philosophy is an art, it is the art of questioning: the skill required to articulate what a question means, and to see when the answers it elicits demand that it be reformulated. We organise everything by articulating nothing. This is why it’s all too easy for professional philosophy to fall back on empty words (sophistry), and for true philosophy to emerge from nowhere, as those with no professional training whatsoever begin to question whatever is most important to them. Turning to Montaigne:
There is a sort of strong and generous ignorance which is as honourable and courageous as science.
Philosophers cultivate our ignorance as a means to the end of knowledge, but in order to know we must become something more than mere philosophers: mathematicians, scientists, artists, activists, friends, lovers, or otherwise live any of the myriad lives worth examining. Socratic sincerity tends towards Sellarsian synopticism. The only question left to ask is: where do we begin?
There’s no one path through my work, but a garden of forking ones that split, overlap, and circle back on themselves. Nevertheless, there are a few tried and tested routes, and you’ll find them in the sidebar. Most importantly, the writings on this blog are divided into three rough eras: Phase 1 (2009-2017), Phase 2 (2017-2020), and Phase 3 (2021-????). The newer writings are more consistent, more confessional, more rhetorically inventive, and more self-assuredly systematic. It’s probably best to start there, read one of my interviews, watch one of my lectures, or listen to one of my talks. There are also more traditional books, papers, and some other sundries.
I can also be found on Twitter (@deontologistics), where I can be seen thinking in real time. Much of this material finds its way back onto the blog and other mediums eventually. If you have questions you’d like to ask me that don’t fit the parameters of Twitter, or proposals you think I might be interested in, I can be emailed at the obvious gmail address (pete.wolfendale). My cognitive functionality varies, and thereby my productivity and response times.
If you like the work I do here and there, consider donating below, or subscribing to my patreon.