Ludwig Wittgenstein is sitting laughing with his friends, the sculpture he made sits at the back.

What Is The Anti-Philosophy Movement?

Have you ever thought philosophy was too theoretical? Impractical maybe? Have you asked yourself why the discipline is asking the same questions it did hundreds of years ago? If you have, you aren't alone. There is an entire discipline in opposition to traditional philosophy called antiphilosophy. Major thinkers who contributed to the ideas in antiphilosophy include Ludwig Wittgenstein and Nietzsche. The field may be a philosophy scholar's worst nightmare, but it does have some valuable insights.

Antiphilosophy - An Overview

Painting of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
Painting of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, a prominent antiphilosopher.

People in opposition to traditional philosophy fall into the discipline called antiphilosophy. Antiphilosophy sees traditional philosophy as pointless. In this view, philosophy is just a part of the intellectual experience, such as reason and debate. It isn't treated as its own discipline.

Antiphilosophers criticize philosophy for being too theoretical, and seeking to answer questions using a priori justifications. A priori justifications are justifications that are not based on experience. An example of an a priori justification sometimes used in philosophy is that happiness is an intrinsic good. This is a justification that is not based on experience. Instead, a justification based on experience for this example might be, when people do things that they enjoy, they are happy.

In the eyes of antiphilosophers, philosophical problems are misconceptions. Antiphilosophy says thinking about typical philosophical problems, such as the nature of truth, is a waste of time. Many antiphilosophers point out that philosophers have been pondering these questions for almost 2000 years, with no real answers found.

Some fields in the realm of antiphilosophy include relativism, skepticism, nihilism, and pluralism. Some philosophers associated with antiphilosophy ideas include Kierkegaard, Shestov, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Benjamin. Today, there is disagreement amongst scholars about whether an antiphilosophical position can exist, what it means, and what it means for the field of philosophy.

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1899–1951) black and white photo
Black and white photo of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

One of the most well-known antiphilosophers is Ludwig Wittgenstein. He was an Austrian-born British philosopher most recognized for his achievement of thoroughly analyzing the true nature of Western philosophy. He addressed questions such as what is special about Western philosophy problems, where the problems come from, and how to address them. His answers to these questions were unique and controversial in the field of philosophy.

According to Wittgenstein, there is no question or phenomenon that is the specific concern of philosophers. In fact, Wittgenstein argues, there is no truth or unique theories gained from using philosophy. Specifically, Wittgenstein advises that a priori theories and supporting arguments are not helpful in attempting to understand reality.

Wittgenstein's ideas are still controversial today. In colleges and academic societies, philosophy is a respected field that promises insight into the human condition. Often, philosophy leads people to vital conclusions about how they can best live their lives.

Wittgenstein's ideas point out an assumption in Western society that philosophy can give us an understanding of the nature of the world. The conclusions made by Wittgenstein call this idea into question. He adds that philosophy as a field has lacked decisive progress because it is asking the same questions it did 2000 years ago. However, despite the age of the questions, there are no solutions to them today.

Wittgenstein also points out that the aim for conceptual truth in philosophy is in conflict with the non-empirical methods of the discipline. Theorizing can only take philosophers so far in tackling philosophical problems. Other philosophers ridiculed Wittgenstein's work, since his antiphilolosophy stance was a direct attack on the work of many philosophers. However, Wittgenstein was not alone in his antiphilosophy views.


Depiction of the school of Athens
The school of Athens, where many philosophical concepts took shape.

Pyrrhonism is another antiphilosophy take. The philosophical discipline originated in ancient Greece during the first century BCE. It is in the realm of philosophical skepticism. Pyrrhonism is still considered an antiphilosophy because the field rejects philosophical dogma. Aenesidemus founded Pyrrhonism, but Pyrrho and Timon if Phlius inspired the discipline.

Pyrrhonism disputes other philosophies that have claimed to have found truth using a priori justification. According to Pyrrhonism, opinions about theoretical matters are dogma, and holding these opinions as truth prevents people from attaining eudaimonia. In some philosophy, eudaimonia is the ultimate goal. It can be synonymous with happiness.

Pyrrhonists make arguments for and against each dogma. This way, there are no conclusions because pyrrhonists do not believe true conclusions exist in philosophy. Looking at a dogma without siding with or against it, suspends judgment, according to Pyrrhonists. This induces what Pyrrhonists call ataraxia, which is a tranquil state of mind resulting from suspended judgment.

Ethics and Antiphilosophy

An example of an antiphilosophical position on ethics is that only practical reasoning exists in true morality. In this view, using a priori judgments is wrong to determine what is good and what is morally wrong. In the antiphilosophical view, both deontology and utilitarianism are wrong because they oversimplify situations. An antiphilosopher would argue that it is wrong to assume happiness is the single most important factor in morality. They would also argue it is wrong to assume a principle can account for what is moral all of the time. This renders both utilitarianism and deontology oversimplified.

Why Learn About Antiphilosophy?

The theoretical nature of philosophy is a strength in that everyone can engage in the discipline, but it is also philosophy’s weakness. According to antiphilosophers, this is because it causes a clash between contemplative concepts, such as the nature of truth, and empirical concepts. Aniphilosophers such as Wittgenstein argue against the use of a prioiri judgments commonly used in philosophy. Many people engage in philosophy because of the discipline’s ability to deliver insights into our inner and outer realities.

While antiphilosophy doesn’t objectively disprove the ability of philosophy to give us insight into our lives, antiphilosophy does point out some critiques that are helpful to keep in mind. Remembering that philosophy is, for the most part, strictly theoretical helps us gain perspective. Reminding us, that as important as contemplation is, action and empirical evidence also have an important place in our lives.


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