What do you need to be a philosopher? You discover that you are a philosopher: it is not something you ever become.
Not a logical mind, not argumentative brio: philosophy is a passion. Discover this passion as a lover and witness of Socrates. Read the Platonic dialogues, Phaedrus, Phaedo, and the Apology, and you will fall in love with Socrates. You imbibe his frenzy, the madness of love inspired by Aphrodite and Eros. You feel you can reach out and touch the feathers that grow again from the roots all over the surface of the soul to ascend to divine beauty.
To be a philosopher you need only three things. First, infinite intellectual eros: endless curiosity about everything. Second, the ability to pay attention: to be rapt by what is in front of you without seizing it yourself, the care of concentration—in the way you might look closely, without touching, at the green lacewing fly, overwintering silently on the kitchen wall. Third, acceptance of pathlessness (aporia): that there may be no solutions to questions, only the clarification of their statement. Eros, attention, acceptance.Gillian Rose, Paradiso, 2015:45
Gillian Rose (1947-1995) remains one of the most important social philosophers of the late twentieth century. Rowan Williams once commented that her “work has had far less discussion than it merits”. Vincent Lloyd said that everywhere he went he “kept encountering professors who loved Rose’s work, who thought she was brilliant and right, but who had for one reason or another never mentioned her name in print. There were Jeffrey Stout and Cornel West at Princeton, both of whom taught Rose’s books, Paul Mendes-Flohr at Chicago who knew her well, and Judith Butler and Daniel Boyarin at Berkeley”. In a recent lecture philosopher and cultural critic Slavoj Žižek said that of all the books written on Hegel that Rose’s was among the best.
Below is an extract from a radio interview given in 1995 where Rose comments on teaching and learning in philosophy:
Andy O’Mahony: Were you planning for a long time to study philosophy at Oxford?
Gillian Rose: Yes. I discovered philosophy at about the age of 16, reading Pascal and Plato. You don’t become a philosopher, you discover you’re a philosopher. It’s a passion, it has to be a passion. You have to fall in love with Socrates. That’s the only criterion. People say to me, ‘How do you know you’re a philosopher?’ I say, ‘There’s only one way to find out if you’re a philosopher: whether you fall in love with Socrates.’ If you fall in love with Socrates, then you’re a philosopher. And you’ll always be a philosopher.
AO’M: But you were disenchanted with Oxford philosophy, weren’t you?
GR: First of all, I went to a women’s college. It was extremely straight-laced,very strict. Even in the 1960s you had to be back in college by a certain time or you’d be fined or gated. You weren’t allowed men in your room; we used to smuggle them in and out. The philosophy was so narrow. I’d already read an enormous amount of philosophy, and I found that suddenly I was being asked to read in a very narrow way, a very destructive way, a way that didn’t correspond to any of the things that I thought philosophy was about. But I played the game. I did the best I could do.
AO’M: I’ve heard it said so often about Oxford philosophy that it teaches people to take things apart.
GR: It does. It teaches them to be clever, destructive, supercilious and ignorant. It doesn’t teach you what’s important. It doesn’t feed the soul. It doesn’t allow you to read even the philosophers who it introduces you to holistically, never mind all the philosophers it declares are outside the canon. The awful thing is that it’s still taught the same way. My whole vocation has been to teach differently. But in both America and Britain, most philosophy departments are just like they were when I was 18. A lot of young people, teenagers, who feel very passionately about philosophy and who have good analytical minds go to university and are turned off. My students get a different initiation altogether. But students who go to Oxford and Cambridge are still being taught in this very arid way.
Gillian Rose: Philosopher and Teacher
Gillian Rose was a teacher and a philosopher. She studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Oxford, Columbia University, New York, and the Free University, Berlin. She lectured in sociology for the School of European Studies at the University of Sussex, and from 1989 was the chair of social and political thought at the University of Warwick. Her first book, The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Work of Theodor W. Adorno (1978) is based on her doctoral dissertaion and demonstrates Rose’s commitment to interdisciplinary thinking by exploring the relations between philosophy, aesthetics, and social theory. Her work on Adorno returned her to Hegel and his thinking became the subject of her second book. Hegel contra Sociology (1981) is an original and challenging engagement with Hegel’s speculative thought and for many it is seen as a revolutionary study. Love’s Work: A Reckoning with Life (1995) is Rose’s philosophical and autobiographical account of her battle with ovarian cancer. Her Paradiso (1999), the work quoted above, was published after her death but began shortly before it. Unfinished, it contains fragments of her thinking and some of her most remarkable writing.