To begin with, I want to warn those of you that reached this post by searching for “philosopher niche” or “niche philosopher,” that this page is probably not what you are looking for. I have a feeling that you, like many others, are having trouble spelling the name of the late 19th century German philosopher, first name Frederich, last name Nietzsche. There’s really no way to remember how to spell Nietzsche’s last name, except through intense dedication. You can try writing the name on your ceiling above your bed, but don’t use permanent ink because after a point, people will start to wonder if staring at “Nietzsche” is a sign of some morbid or megalomaniacal desire.
If you really want to know more about Nietzsche, or want to pretend, effortlessly, at parties that you do know a lot about him (some of you have been looking for “niche essay” as well, which leads me to believe that you want someone else to do your homework for you,) then you are better off at a couple of other pages. I would recommend you read either the entry on Nietzsche in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, or the Wikipedia entry for Nietzsche. There are essays worth reading on Nietzsche’s idea of the Superman — possibly one of his most popular or maddening concepts, depending on your point of view — on the Internet: here’s a post on a philosophy professor’s blog, and this article.
On the other hand, maybe I misjudged the reader and in fact, what you are looking for is a discussion of the “philosopher niche.” It’s a great topic to think about — what is the niche that the philosopher occupies? Why do we have philosophy? Why do human beings like to engage in it?
Not all people might like to do so. Though I have, in jest, suggested earlier that only those with active and sensual lifestyles should engage in philosophy, as opposed to people with introspective ones, the truth is that they don’t. There is a big divide between popular culture and philosophical, or high, culture, that’s hard to bridge. You can’t get the athlete to write philosophy. Why not, though? Because she’s too busy.
This is key in understanding who writes, or “does,” philosophy — that some people are always too busy. The rest are too bored, and ergo, they write philosophy. So the true niche of philosophy is boredom. You know when someone will start spouting philosophy, is when they are bored. Some people are just sitting there, she got nothing on her hands, he got nothing in his head, and the next thing you know, they are saying philosophical stuff.
What comes out of boredom is self-reflection. Boredom is a state of refined lethargy. It is a state of languor, the kind of attitude that looks best with when adopted on a chaise lounge, with a cigarette holder in one’s hand, dripping ash on the carpet like a ghostly benediction. And what comes out of self-reflection is the slowing down of reality. The world resolves into archetypes and objects, categories and metaphysical entities, all of which interact at a slower pace than the hurly burly of ordinary reality. Everything happens with the import of historical materialism, with the ponderousness of academic tomes. Everything has meaning.
For a philosopher, all these aspects of the philosophical world are infinitely alluring and infinitely malleable. Everything can be questioned — what we perceive, what the perceptions mean, how someone knows what they mean, whether any one knows anything at all, whether there is in fact worth knowing. A philosopher can wander lost forever through the tricky terrains of these questions for hours.
Philosophers do not only occupy the niche of boredom, but are a good cure for it. If you find yourself possessing a moment of time in which you wonder, “Boy, I don’t know what to do with my time right now,” think of a topic that has plagued philosophers for centuries — is there free will, what if nothing actually exists, do animals have moral rights — and you will soon find your head hurting so much that you will be compelled to find something else to do. This is why philosophers were invented — because people had to be convinced to not sit on their asses and be unproductive if economies had to be bult, wars had to be won and heavy metals discovered.
If you were thinking of occupying this niche yourself, know ye that these are difficult grounds to tread. You might think that it’s a simple matter to spout nonsense but it isn’t. Nonsense takes a long time to spin out, after the first three hundred words of it or so. I started writing this post eight months ago and couldn’t finish it until now. And that only because I have been unemployed for three of those eight months! It’s an exceptional amount of boredom that you need to be able to sit down at your desk and construct philosophy or even to put together thoughts about philosophy (an act called meta-philosophy in the jargon of philosophers.)
If you read this far, it means that you really are into the niche of philosophers rather than merely into the utterances of that German guy, who wasn’t a bad egg at all really. You know why he wrote most of what he wrote — because he never got laid. So maybe that’s another philosophers’ niche — sexual frustration. Oh, but don’t even get me started on that one.
A particularly bored woman once said to me that she thought molecules had meaning and a purpose of their own, even though it was a very tiny and darling purpose. I told her she was drunk and insulted the color of her nail polish. I am not making this up, because this is the kind of human interaction you can’t make up. It was four in the morning, and she and I had been drinking a lot. This was before I had had sex with any one. I was a nerdy, drunk, virgin, arguing the metaphysics of molecules with a drunk woman. Let’s face it, at that time, what I was doing was something slightly, but ever so slightly, different — I was arguing metaphysics with a drunk white woman. This is important, because it is what adds the post colonial emphasis that all narratives need — or definitely all narratives that involve the Oppressed.
Anyway, to return to my original point — one couldn’t possibly imagine any conversation, no matter how drunk, ever approaching such topics as molecular metaphysics if the interlocutors weren’t bored, to begin with. Terribly bored, perhaps. I won’t claim that the degree of boredom bears any relationship to how good the philosophy is, because such a claim would be too controversial and distracting. But it’s important to at least notice when a philosopher is less, or more, bored, than other philosophers, or than he has been on previous occasions.
Unfortunately, my proposition is hard to believe, and easily refuted. One could point to the generally energetic, mentally so if not physically, life of most philosophers. There is also much passion, that one associates with many of the philosophers — and even more so with all philosophers in the post Enlightenment era that are associated with various strains of empiricism and utilitarianism. None of these men and women were bored at all — in fact, they were a study in industriousness and engagement.
The thing to realize is that philosophers are not always bored. Boredom is not the philosopher’s niche for always, but for a critical moment — the moment when they are ejected from the world that doesn’t know boredom, or at least true boredom, and into the world of philosophy. The philosopher’s attitude after this critical moment is of no importance for us. Only the critical moment, the ejaculatory moment one might say, is what matters.
Another criticism we encounter is the idea that philosophers suffer not from having too much time on their hands, but merely from an excess of the clarity of vision. A philosophers sees things — the reality that envelopes us but is carefully hidden from most of us, the structures that govern us without revealing the slightest impression on our shoulders of their heavy yokes — and so he has to react. He has to point to these spectres and try to describe them, either to alert the rest of us — as if we asked the philosopher to be told! —
It’s instructive to consider if boredom is, or has a relationship to, disenchantment, discomfort and any form of rebellion.