How to Philosophize with a Hammer and a Blue Guitar, #5–A Critique of the First Eight Varieties of Philosophical Activism, and a Defense of the Ninth Variety.

Mr Nemo
11 min readNov 19, 2019

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.

The third installment contains section 5.

The fourth installment contains section 6.

And this installment contains sections 7 and 8.

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


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

In order to show how and why the first eight varieties of philosophical activism are rationally unjustifiable and morally unacceptable, again I’ll need to provide more working definitions and relevant background notions.

For the purposes of my argument from here on in, I’ll assume the truth of the following two theses:

(i) that a broadly Kantian dignitarian ethics and politics is rationally justified and morally acceptable, and

(ii) that the coercive authoritarianism of States, especially those organized around identitarian ethics and politics, is rationally unjustifed and morally wrong.

Concisely defined, identitarianism says

(i) that people are defined primarily in terms of their falling under a certain social group-type and/or their social group-allegiance (for example, race, ethnicity, gender-&/or-sex, sexual preference, national origin or citizenship, language, economic class, social roles of all kinds, social institutions of all kinds especially including religions, etc., etc.),

(ii) that special moral virtues and special positive moral value, or goodness, are attributed to all members of that social group and to that social group itself, call it the We,

(iii) that special moral vices and special negative moral disvalue, or badness, are attributed to members of certain other social groups and to those groups themselves, who are then collectively intensely distrusted, or even excoriated-and-vilified, as the Other, and

(iv) The creation of the Other also leads to intense or even obsessive fears that the We will be corrupted, infiltrated, and miscegenated by the Other culture, members of which are then perceived to exist both covertly inside (as carriers of disease, or impurities) and also overtly outside (as invasive threats surrounding the We) Our culture.

Indeed, a characteristic and indeed essential feature of this creation of the Other is that the members of that group be caricatured and even represented as “sub-human” in the morally pregnant sense of being sub-persons, and more generally as being thoroughly inferior to the We.

By a mutually exclusive contrast, dignitarianism, especially the Kantian version of it, says

(i) that everyone, everywhere, has absolute, non-denumerable, non-instrumental, innate moral value, aka dignity, simply by virtue of their being persons (i.e., conscious, caring, cognizing, self-conscious rational animals with a further capacity for free will), and that dignity is a fundamental, irreducible, and therefore primitively given feature of persons that cannot either be reduced or erased by any bad actions or bad habits of character, or increased or sanctified by any good actions or good habits of character, and

(ii) that everyone, everywhere ought to treat themselves and everyone else with sufficient respect for their dignity.

The fundamental problem with the first eight kinds of philosophical activism lies in one fundamental philosophical truth, namely

(i) that coercive authoritarianism of any kind is rationally unjustified and morally unacceptable, but especially versions of coercive authoritarianism based on identitarian premises,

and also in two rationally unjustified and morally unacceptable facts, namely

(ii) that all States, by their very nature, are coercive and authoritarian, and

(iii) that each of the first eight kinds of kind of philosophical activism either accommodates, collaborates with, or itself directly engages in, coercive authoritarian political activity, and especially coercive authoritarian activity based on identitarian premises.

More specifically:

The Gadfly conception, even though it’s critical of tyrannical city-States like Socrates’s and Plato’s Athens, nevertheless entails ultimately accommodating them.

The Philosopher-King conception entails that a philosopher-king would directly engage in the coercive authoritarianism of the ideal city-State envisioned in The Republic.

The Philosophical Absolute on Horseback conception entails direct collaboration with identitarian imperialist nation-States like Napoleonic France.

The Changing the World conception entails direct collaboration with coercive authoritarian and violent revolutionary groups like the French Jacobins, led by Robespierre, during and after the French Revolution, and the Russian Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, during and after the Russian Revolution.

The Fascist Philosopher Engagé conception entails direct collaboration with identitarian totalitarian fascist nation-States like Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

The “Western Marxist” Philosopher Engagé conception, while it doesn’t entail direct collaboration with identitarian totalitarian communist nation-States like Stalin’s Soviet Union, and even allows for criticism of them, nevertheless entails accommodating them.[i]

The Captive Mind conception entails either accommodating or direct collaboration with post-World War II identitarian socialist or neoliberal democratic nation-States of any kind.[ii]

And finally, the Multiculturalism conception entails directly engaging in identitarian coercive moralism inside the professional academy.

And moralism is a sub-species of authoritarianism that says you ought to obey some moral command C just because the issuer of C says so, and also possesses, at the very least, the power of destroying the social standing of anyone who fails to obey that command ( as, e.g., in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s searing critique of coercive moralism, The Scarlet Letter), or even the power of destroying the life of anyone denounced as counterorthodox (as, e.g., in Arthur Miller’s equally searing critique, The Crucible), and not on any independent ethical grounds.

So the Multiculturalism conception also entails directly engaging in identitarian coercive authoritarianism inside the professional academy.

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

In a nutshell, what I’m going to argue in this section is

(i) that only what Maiese and I call “the mind-body politic” provides for a philosophical activism that’s at once non-coercive, non-authoritarian, and dignitarian in the Kantian sense,

(ii) that insofar as it’s dignitarian, only the mind-body politic provides for a philosophical activism that creates and sustains all and only social institutions that are grounded on the essentially embodied human capacity for rationality, and therefore

(iii) that only the mind-body politic provides for a philosophical activism that makes philosophy — that is, philosophy in sense (ii), as spelled out in section 2 above — itself possible, especially by virtue of its ability to resist and defend itself and innocent others against all forms of coercive authoritarianism, in a fully non-coercive and non-violent way.[iii]

In The Mind-Body Politic,[iv] Maiese and I start with the following basic thesis, drawn from our earlier work —

1. Human minds are necessarily and completely embodied (the essential embodiment thesis).[v]

Then we proceed from there to argue for three new basic theses:

2. Essentially embodied minds are neither merely brains nor over-extended “extended minds,” yet all social institutions saliently constrain, frame, and partially determine the social-dynamic patterns of our essentially embodied consciousness, self-consciousness, affect, (including feelings, desires, and emotions), cognition, and agency — that is, they literally shape our essentially embodied minds, and thereby fundamentally affect our lives, for worse or better, mostly without our self-conscious awareness (the mind-shaping thesis).

3. Many or even most social institutions in contemporary neoliberal nation-states literally shape our essentially embodied minds, and thereby our lives, in such a way as to alienate us, mentally enslave us, or even undermine our mental health, to a greater or lesser degree (the destructive Gemeinschaft/collective sociopathy thesis).

4. Nevertheless, some social institutions, working against the grain of standard, dystopian social institutions in contemporary neoliberal nation-states, can make it really possible for us to self-realize, connect with others in a mutually aiding way, liberate ourselves, and be mentally healthy, authentic, and deeply happy (the constructive Gemeinschaft/collective wisdom thesis).

It should be noticed that the kind of destructive, deforming mind-shaping described in thesis 3 inherently admits of degrees — greater or lesser — whereas, by sharp contrast, the kind of constructive, enabling mind-shaping described in thesis 4 is categorically different from the kind of literal mind-shaping that occurs in standard, dystopian neoliberal social institutions.

Hence the existence, creation, and development of constructive, enabling social institutions represents an absolute, radical break with the social-institutional status quo in contemporary neoliberal societies.

So understood, the conjunction of our four basic theses yields what we call the enactive-transformative principle:

Enacting salient or even radical changes in the structure and complex dynamics of a social institution produces corresponding salient or even radical changes in the structure and complex dynamics of the essentially embodied minds of the people belonging to, participating in, or falling under the jurisdiction of, that institution, thereby fundamentally affecting their lives, for worse or better.

In short, we can significantly change our own and other people’s essentially embodied minds, and in turn, their lives, whether for worse or better, by means of changing the social institutions we and they inhabit.

The enactive-transformative principle, in turn, motivates a philosophico-political clarion call whose simple, yet world-transforming message is that we can freely, systematically, and even radically change existing destructive, deforming social institutions in contemporary neoliberal nation-states into new constructive, enabling social institutions; and this, as a consequence, enables us to transform our own and other people’s essentially embodied minds and lives significantly or even radically for the better.

More generally, The Mind-Body Politic[vi] is not only a study in the philosophy of mind, but also a study in radical, emancipatory political theory, drawing on Kant’s theory of radical enlightenment, Schiller’s aesthetic extension of Kant’s radical enlightenment theory, Kierkegaard’s existentialism, early Marx’s existential humanism, Foucault’s insights about governmentality, Frankfurt School Critical theory, and my Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism.[vii]

For our purposes in that book, here is what Maiese and I understand by those doctrines.

Kant’s theory of radical enlightenment says that in order to liberate ourselves from our own self-imposed rational, moral, and political immaturity, we must dare to think and act autonomously, both as individuals and also publicly or relationally, under the guidance of individually and multiply self-legislated universal ethical principles that require sufficient respect for human dignity.

Such respect entails never treating anyone, including ourselves, either as mere instrumental means to self-interested ends or collective happiness or as mere things, hence as non-persons.

Schiller’s aesthetic extension of Kant’s radical enlightenment theory says that the life-process of liberating ourselves from our own self-imposed rational, moral, and political immaturity, and daring to think and act autonomously, is neither merely an intellectual process (which Schiller dubs the “formal drive” or Formtrieb), nor merely a sensory process (which he dubs the “sensible drive” or Sinnestrieb).

Instead, by way of reconciling, harmonizing, and transcending the other two processes, the emergence of human autonomy is fundamentally a creative, playful process (which

Schiller dubs the “play drive” or Spieltrieb) of developing one’s capacities for meaningful self-expression, the appreciation of beauty and other aesthetic qualities, artistic production, feeling, and emotion.

Kierkegaard’s existentialism says that our recognition of universal ethical principles must be combined with fundamental spiritual values in the radical absence of certainty about God’s existence or non-existence, and freely worked out by the individual herself over the course of her entire life.

All the while, the individual must be guided by the ideal of authenticity, according to which “purity of heart is to will one thing.”

Early Marx’s existential humanism says that the alienating “commodification” (instrumentalization and mechanization) of all aspects of human life under the system of large-scale capitalism can be overcome only by self-liberating, self-realizing activity in which all laborers or workers freely create and control both the means of production and its products.

Foucault’s work on “governmentality” says that any government’s techniques for coercing and controlling individuals are tied to the ways those individuals monitor and control themselves, aka “subjectivation.”

More specifically, self-shaping practices of subjectivation consist of “processes through which the self is constructed or modified by himself, ”[viii] so as to sustain particular behaviors, namely those coercively compelled or “nudged” within specific power structures and social institutions.

By internalizing norms that impede overall human flourishing, a subject “becomes the principle of his own subjection.”[ix]

Frankfurt School Critical theory says that an essential preliminary to the full recovery of our seriously-diminished capacities for autonomous rational agency in the modern world, including the liberation of our aesthetic and affective (that is, sensible, desiring, and emotional) selves, is our self-conscious, reflective awareness of the pathological impact of the multifarious systems of ideology and thought-control in advanced capitalist States.

These toxic arrangements include totalitarian fascist state-capitalist systems, totalitarian communist State-capitalist systems, and all neoliberal nation-States, whether democratic or non-democratic.

And finally, in Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism,[x] I use Kant’s eighteenth century philosophical ideas, together with nineteenth and twentieth century social anarchist (aka anarcho-socialist) doctrines, especially those developed by Peter Kropotkin, in order to develop a contemporary Kantian radically agnostic doctrine in the philosophy of religion, philosophical theology, and real-world spirituality, and also a contemporary existential Kantian cosmopolitan social anarchist (aka anarcho-socialist) doctrine in political philosophy and real-world politics.

By emancipatory political theory, then, Maiese and I mean any political theory that promotes and sustains —

(i) a critical consciousness about ourselves and our basic relationships to social institutions,

(ii) a cognitive and practical resistance to destructive, deforming institutions,


(iii) a radically enlightened self-education that is at once intellectual, moral, aesthetic, affective, religious/spiritual, and existential, via our collective creation of, and individual engagement with, constructive, enabling institutions.

More specifically, we believe that the enactive-transformative principle should be directly deployed in service of our critical consciousness, cognitive and practical resistance, and radically enlightened self-education.

So The Mind-Body Politic is an explicit, detailed attempt to renew and extend radically enlightened, existentially-informed, emancipatory philosophical projects in the tradition of Kant, Schiller, Kierkegaard, early Marx, Kropotkin, Foucault, and the Frankfurt School, in the context of contemporary philosophy of mind.


[i] See also, e.g., T. Judt, Past Imperfect: French Intellectuals, 1944–1956 (Berkeley, CA: Univ. of California Press, 1992).

[ii] See also C. Milosz, The Captive Mind, trans. J. Zielonko (New York: Vintage Books, 1955).

[iii] See, e.g., R. Hanna and O. Paans, “On the Permissible Use of Force in a Kantian Dignitarian Moral and Political Setting, Or, Seven Kantian Samurai,Journal of Philosophical Investigations 13 (2019): 75–93, also available online at URL = <>.

[iv] M. Maiese and R. Hanna, The Mind-Body Politic (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), also available online in preview, HERE.

[v] See, e.g., R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ, Press, 2009), also available online in preview, HERE.

[vi] See note [iv] above.

[vii] 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.

[viii] M. Foucault, “About the Beginning of the Hermeneutics of the Self: Two Lectures at Dartmouth,” Political Theory 21 (1993): 198–227, at pp. 203–204.

[ix] T. Hamann, “Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and Ethics,” Foucault Studies 6 (2009): 37–59, at p. 51.

[x] See note [vii] above.


Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Tuesday 19 November 2019

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.