How to Philosophize with a Hammer and a Blue Guitar, #3–How and Why All Seven Varieties of Philosophical Quietism are Unjustified and Unacceptable.

By Robert Hanna



1. Introduction

2. What I Mean By “Philosophy,” “Politics,” and “Rational”

3. Philosophical Quietism and Philosophical Activism

4. Seven Varieties of Philosophical Quietism

5. How and Why All Seven Varieties of Philosophical Quietism are Rationally Unjustified and Morally Unacceptable

6. Eight Varieties of Philosophical Activism

7. How and Why the First Eight Varieties of Philosophical Activism are Rationally Unjustifiable and Morally Unacceptable

8. The Ninth Variety of Philosophical Activism, the Mind-Body Politic, and How and Why It is Rationally Justifiable and Morally Acceptable

9. Philosophizing with a Blue Guitar

10. Conclusion


The first installment contains sections 1–3.

The second installment contains section 4.

This installment contains section 5.

But can you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete essay HERE.


5. How and Why All Seven Varieties of Philosophical Quietism are Rationally Unjustified and Morally Unacceptable

In order to show how and why all seven varieties of philosophical quietism are rationally unjustified and morally unacceptable, I’ll need to provide more working definitions and relevant background notions.

The State is correctly characterized, as Max Weber pointed out, by its being a social institution that possesses a territorial monopoly on the (putatively) legitimate means and use of coercion[i] — but that’s only a somewhat superficial gloss that doesn’t really get at the essence of the State.

The essence of the State is that it’s a form of social organization, with territorial boundaries, that’s both authoritarian and also coercive with respect to its government, i.e., its ruling class.

By coercion I mean:

either (i) using violence (for example, injuring, torturing, or killing) or the threat of violence, in order to manipulate people against their will according to certain predefined purposes of the coercer (primary coercion),

or (ii) inflicting appreciable, salient harm (for example, imprisonment, termination of employment, or large monetary penalties) or deploying the threat of appreciable, salient harm, even if these are not in themselves violent, in order to manipulate people against their will according to certain predefined purposes of the coercer (secondary coercion).

So all coercion is a form of manipulation, and proceeds by following a variety of strategies, that share the same core characteristic: treating people as mere means or mere things.

Correspondingly by authoritarianism, I mean the doctrine that telling people to obey commands and do things is legitimated merely by virtue of the fact that some people (the purported authorities) have told them to obey those commands or do those things — “it’s right just because we say it’s right!” — and are also in a position to enforce this by means of coercion, not on any rationally justified or objectively morally defensible grounds.

The State is coercive insofar as it claims the right to compel the people living within its boundaries to heed and obey the commands and laws of the government, in order to realize the instrumental ends of the State, whether or not those commands and laws are rationally justified or morally right on independently ethical grounds.

In turn, the State is authoritarian insofar as it claims that the commands and laws issued by its government are right just because the government says that they’re right and possesses the power to coerce, not because those commands or laws are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Here we can easily see the the fundamental parallel between what I’ve called “Statist Command Ethics” and what’s classically called “Divine Command Ethics,”[ii] which says that the commands and laws issues by God are right just because God says that they’re right and possesses the power to create and destroy the world, punish with eternal damnation, and more generally cause people to do whatever God wants them to do, not because those commands or laws are are rationally justified and morally right on independent ethical grounds.

Therefore, the basic objection to Statist Command Ethics is essentially the same as the basic objection to Divine Command Ethics, which is that the State’s (or God’s) commands and laws are inherently arbitrary, and fully open to the possibility they’re rationally unjustified, morally wrong, and even profoundly evil.[iii]

In the Western European philosophical tradition beginning with the pre-Socratics, whatever else philosophy might be, necessarily it involves the critical use of one’s own capacity for rationality, aka reason.

But if a totalitarian coercive authoritarian political State — like Hitler’s Nazi Germany or Stalin’s communist Russia — systematically censors, imprisons, punishes, suppresses, tortures, or murders philosophers just for critically using their own capacity for rationality, then philosophical quietism is self-evidently self-undermining, since philosophical quietism would not permit political engagement even in order to resist or defend itself or innocent others against totalitarian coercive authoritarians’ systematic repression and destruction of the human capacity for rationality, which is an essential feature of philosophizing (according to the nature of philosophy in sense (ii), spelled out above in section 2) itself.

In other words, no matter which reasons are offered for disengaging from politics, nevertheless philosophical quietism can’t offer any politically engaged resistance to or defense (whether self-defense or defense of innocent others) against coercive authoritarians who’ve decided that they find what philosophers are saying, writing, or teaching is dangerous, no matter how anodyne those philosophical views might actually be, so they bully and/or annihilate the disengaged philosophers.

For example,

[o]n March 7, 1277, the Bishop of Paris, Stephen Tempier, prohibited the teaching of 219 philosophical and theological theses that were being discussed and disputed in the faculty of arts under his jurisdiction,[iv]

such that no philosopher was even allowed to think any one of these 219 “dangerous” theses — most of them highly abstract propositions about the nature of form, matter, potentiality, actuality, etc. in Aristotelian metaphysics, that were in fact wholly anodyne — much less write down, utter, or teach them, lest they be bullied and/or annihilated by the Church.

Indeed, philosophical quietism is self-evidently self-undermining, even for a contextualized version of philosophical quietism that recommends philosophical activism in some contexts but philosophical quietism in other contexts.[v]

And that’s because, for every actual or possible context in which quietism is allowed, there will be an actual world example or a really possible thought-experiment in which the Gestapo (or the Cheka, or the Spanish Inquisition, or whatever) are banging at the door ready to bully and/or annihilate disengaged philosophers who refuse to resist or defend themselves or innocent others, no matter how actually dangerous or “dangerous” (actually anodyne) their views might be.[vi]


[i] M. Weber, “The Profession and Vocation of Politics,” in P. Lassman and R. Spiers (eds.), Weber: Political Writings (Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994), pp. 309–369 at p. 310.

[ii] See R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise (THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 4) (New York: Nova Science, 2018), available online in preview, HERE, part 2, esp. section 2.5.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] See, e.g., H. Thijssen, “Condemnation of 1277,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. E.N. Zalta (Winter 2018 Edition), available online at URL = <>.

[v] This interesting possible “third alternative” between the seemingly contradictory positions of straight-out or universal philosophical activism (as politically engaged) on the one hand, and straight-out or universal philosophical quietism (as not politically engaged) on the other, was suggested to me by Otto Paans in e-mail correspondence.

[vi] It’s worth noting that although all versions of philosophical quietism are self-undermining, nevertheless some of the reasons that have been offered by philosophers for quietism — e.g., by Boethius, Hegel, Wittgenstein, and even by Carnap — are better than other reasons. And in fact, aspects or elements of pure theory, Stoicism, post-historical reflection, philosophical description-diagnosis-&-therapy, and pure logic can be consistently combined with the version of philosophical activism I’ll spell out and defend in section 8. It’s just that none of the reasons offered for quietism, whether taken individually, or as a conjunction of any or all of them, is sufficient to justify quietism.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 5 November 2019

Against Professional Philosophy is a sub-project of the online mega-project Philosophy Without Borders, which is home-based on Patreon here.

Please consider becoming a patron!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store