Philosophy “Changes the Subject”


Much of philosophy simply changes the subject when it brings the world under its analysis.

That is Nellie Wieland (CSU Long Beach) in her review of How To Do Things With Pornography by Nancy Bauer (Tufts). Wieland is describing Bauer’s view, and continues:

When we write about pornography we risk not writing about any phenomenon that tracks the experience of ordinary people. When we describe sex and gender and language (and surely most everything else too, like happiness and knowledge and religion and poverty) we are describing something other than that which is experienced in the world (146-147). Again, this is not a dull claim on her part that philosophers ought to care more about the perspectives of the folk but rather a more interesting one about philosophical authority. If, for example, a feminist writes about the authority of pornographers in structuring sexual subordination, and she does so with an aim of bringing her expertise to bear on a matter of grave political importance, then her work only matters insofar as she is writing about real pornography and not a stilted, technical version of pornography. As I understand Bauer’s argument this is supposed to apply everywhere; analyses of pornography are only an example.

The idea that philosophers “simply change the subject” and in doing so lose authority is provocative and plausible sounding (a possible interpretation of Wittgenstein’s “philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday”?). What are other examples of this, besides analyses of pornography?

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