What Philosophy Is For
Michael Hampe, What Philosophy Is For, Michael Winkler (tr.), University of Chicago Press, 2018, 332pp., $45.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780226365282.
Reviewed by Richard Eldridge, Swarthmore College
Michael Hampe has had a significant career as Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Humanities and Social and Political Sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich). As befits this institutional setting, he has worked primarily in the philosophy of biology and the theory of laws of nature while also maintaining interests in science and society, critical theory, and literature, as well as in a number of thinkers who have joined these topics together, such as Whitehead, Dewey, and Deleuze. This volume is the English translation of Hampe’s 2014 Die Lehren der Philosophie: Eine Kritik — the doctrines or teachings of philosophy: a criticism. Under these titles, Hampe offers “above all a metaphilosophical text” that is “a critique of the current academic condition of philosophy” (xii). Philosophy as a body of putative doctrines is both empty — real doctrines and explanations are the province exclusively of the sciences — and a prop to unjust social authority. What is left is nondoctrinal philosophy as the activity of criticizing “circumstances that exist in the world” (xi) or as “a poetic critique of factually existing circumstances” from within them (257). Hampe’s enemies are those whom he takes to be systematizers and theorizers, including Plato (or at least Platonism), Kant, Hegel, Habermas, Brandom, and analytic philosophy in general. His heroes are Socrates, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Adorno, Whitehead, Dewey, Rorty, Cavell, and Geuss (to whom the book is dedicated).