Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 39-46
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 39
The Standarization of Writing. Asphyxia of Philosophical
Thought in Academia Today
Marina Garcés
Department of Philosophy, Universi dad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain
Received October 24th, 2012; revised November 27th, 2012; accepted December 10th, 2012
This article addresses the problem of the place of philosophy in higher education today through the analy-
sis of a single issue: the standardization of academic writing and its effects on the practice of philosophy
and teaching. From the formal analysis of the academic “paper”, as the unique pattern of production and
evaluation of current research, this article evaluates its impact on the relationship between thinking, writ-
ing and education. It concludes that standardization of writing in the globally homologated university,
leads to a stifling of thought not only in philosophy but in all areas of knowledge. At the same time gives
us the key to diagnose and locate, in each of these areas, what are the spaces of the non-negotiable from
which we must rethink our relationship with education and thinking inside and outside the university.
Keywords: Writing; Standardization; Academic Production; Higher Education; Philosophy
Introduction: The Uncertain Place of
Philosophy, Once Again
The question about the place of philosophy in secondary and
tertiary education has once again arisen today, urgently and
worryingly. It is evident that the transformation of educational
institutions, the slashing of public budgets and the way in
which both cultural and knowledge markets are developing are
elements of a powerful unidirectional current: the marginalisa-
tion of philosophy in educational programmes, academic struc-
tures and rankings of academic excellence. Although the ques-
tion about the place of philosophy may be pertinent and press-
ing today it is not a new one. First, today’s situation is no more
than the culmination of a long series of episodes in a decades-
old assault on areas of knowledge that are less profitable for
universities. Second, however, the relationship between phi-
losophy and academia has never been clear, and neither has it
ever enjoyed a single desirable or stable formula. Plato invented
the Academy but it is a moot point whether philosophy is an
academic matter or that it might be so in a secure and stable
fashion for everyone in any political or social context. Hence,
philosophy is once again on shaky ground. The history of this
uncertainty is, in fact, the history of philosophy.
Is there anything in the present-day situation of philosophy
that is particularly alarming? Something that requires us to re-
flect more thoroughly than on other occasions about the phi-
losophy-university fit? Indeed, there is something that, quite
apart from all the uncertainty, is now highly threatening for phi-
losophical thought and, with it, all forms of free thought: the
regimentation of writing that is occurring within the framework
of a process of university homologation on the global scale.
The changes undergone by universities all around with world,
among which the “Bologna Process” is just one chapter in the
European setting, should be understood as a form of standardi-
sation (Jordana & Gràcia, 2013 forthcoming) that includes the
formalization of academic institutions, their teaching activity
and their research production as well as gauging their relative
merits in keeping with international standards. One key element
in this process of regimentation, which is rarely mentioned or
analyzed, is that which affects writing itself: the diversity of
genres and voices, of ranges and types that come together in the
sphere of knowledge and that shape it, have been reduced to
one thing, the “paper”, as a unit of measure and vehicle of com-
munication for research in all areas of knowledge. Some of
these spheres are less susceptible to the violence of the paper
while in others, perhaps, it is simply less noticed because it is
just a matter of a change of format in the ways in which people
are used to writing. In the case of philosophy, the standardiza-
tion of writing imposed by the new forms of communicating
and publishing knowledge is a veritable dagger in the heart.
More than trying to respond yet again to the question about
the place of philosophy in present-day academic institutions, I
propose, therefore, to inquire into a much more specific ques-
tion which I believe will give the true measure of the difficulty
we face: is it possible to write philosophy in the university to-
day? If we were only expecting a yes or no answer to this ques-
tion it would have remained at the rhetorical level as the answer
is obvious and part of the reason that led us to ask it. Given
present conditions of the standardization and predictability of
academic writing, the answer is “no”. But what about this “no”?
How does it situate one vis-à-vis the university and vis-à-vis the
demands of thinking? What are its consequences? In particular,
why is it so important to raise this question?
In contrast with other highly specialized areas of knowledge,
it has always been possible to relate with philosophy from dif-
ferent places, and with different proposals and degrees of inten-
sity. Philosophy can be studied in its history, read in its texts,
visited and revisited in its existential or cosmological questions,
debated in its ethical and political consequences, used as a re-
source in elaborating models of thought applicable to other
spheres, and so on. Philosophy can be known, grasped, enjoyed,
instrumentalized, conveyed, sold, synthesized, popularized, et
cetera. This is why there are so many reasons for coming to a
faculty of philosophy and why so many different kinds of stu-
dents come to it. And this is why neither the university nor
other educational institutions have ever been the exclusive ha-
bitat of philosophy.
However, there comes a point at which one knows whether,
among all the possible uses of philosophy, something is “going
on”: this is the point of writing. In philosophy, writing is not a
means for communicating ideas or knowledge but is the raw
material with which problems and concepts are elaborated. Phi-
losophy is a form of thinking that is embodied in writing and
the voice of philosophy is one that is reborn in writing. This
does not mean that philosophy is only a literary genre or that it
is limited to its written works: writing is veracious if it is linked
with a way of life, rooted in a singular experience and con-
cerned with the quest for shared reason. In this interconnection
problems are opened up, always new without needing to be
ground-breaking, while the concepts that appear are useful
without needing to be applicable. Philosophical writing weaves,
in both senses of the word: it crosshatches and hatches. How-
ever, this is precisely why it cannot be formalized, and why it
does not admit standards or protocols for assessment or com-
What are the conditions for the possibility of this writing? It
is difficult to say, because there is no such thing as laboratory
philosophy, but there is one condition that the practice of phi-
losophy has embraced from the start: teaching. Philosophy was
born teaching and there is hardly any philosopher who has not
taught—somehow, and in some or other kind of relationship—
philosophy. For philosophy, the quote from George Bernard
Shaw, typically heard in artistic circles, which affirms that “He
who can, does; he who cannot, teaches”, does not apply. The
greatest philosophers have made teaching part of their philoso-
phy, whether in institutional or convivial milieus, from the
teacher-pupil relationship through to a group of friends who
open up spaces for thought.
What is the relationship between teaching and writing as the
two elements in which philosophical thinking unfolds? Can
writing be taught? What does this teaching consist of? And in
what spaces might it develop? Tackling these questions, which
appear to be abstract and timeless, entails situating oneself right
in the middle of the challenges posed by the transformation
which the university and knowledge institutions in general are
now undergoing. The threat of asphyxia which, through the
standardization of writing, hovers over philosophy does not
only affect this discipline. Also jeopardized is the possibility of
making free, experimental thinking the basis of knowledge. It
seems that the present drift of the university, not only in Spain
but on the global scale, is not only towards accepting the situa-
tion but also to see the process of strangulation through to the
very end. Philosophy can reappear in an open field and acquire
the instruments it needs to reinvent itself, as on previous occa-
sions, out of place. Yet can the university, as the headquarters
of higher education and research, really take on the conse-
quences of this stifling of thought?
Writing Is Transforming Oneself
There are ideas, discoveries, inventions and knowledge that
happen in a laboratory, in a computer, in an operating theatre or
an excavation and they are conveyed in writing to the pertinent
community of experts and, finally, through different publica-
tions of wider circulation, to society as a whole. Philosophy
does not work like that. As I said, it “happens” writing. What
happens here is not communication and, moreover, everything
happens at once, without levels or mediation. In philosophy
there are no degrees of writing but different ways of approach-
ing it: a book of Nietzsche is a book of Nietzsche but the read-
ings of a Nietzsche scholar, a philosopher turning to Nietzsche
as an interlocutor, a devotee of philosophy in general, or an
adolescent seeking urgent answers to his or her painful solitude
will be different. The best philosophy is that which, without re-
serve, offers its writing to every possible approximation, with-
out confusing them but also without hierarchy.
What is this that “happens” writing? First and foremost, in
philosophy writing is transforming oneself. To use Foucault’s
well-known formulation, one writes to become someone other
than who one is or, more specifically, “One tries to modify
one’s way of being through the act of writing” (Foucault, 1994).
This transformation affects one’s own thought in the movement
of its being written. “[…] the book transforms me and trans-
forms what I think” (Foucault, 2000). But how does this come
about? This process of modification of oneself takes place
through the practice of a specific kind of writing, which is quite
distinct, although it may overlap with other kinds such as po-
etry or composing music. What philosophy does is to propose
new variations for already-existing problems and to create in-
dispensable concepts for them (Deleuze & Guattari, 1993). The
exercise of creating concepts is, then, abstraction incarnate. It is
not alien to the body of the philosopher who braves it, or from
his or her life situation yet, at the same time, it goes beyond the
body by means of appealing to shared reason, to an intelligibil-
ity that demands to be attended to. This has three important
consequences for what I am analyzing.
First, for philosophy, there is no such thing as neutrality of
the place of enunciation; the person who thinks, the person who
writes is involved and directly concerned with what he or she
needs to think. There is a vital need that guides writing and that
dictates its breathing (James, 1912, p. 37).
This implies, in second place, that philosophy, as discourse,
is necessarily connected with a way of life. Philosophy is a
manner of speaking that appeals to a way of life, oneself, and
one’s relations with other people. This connection has been
elaborated in many ways over history, from the classical idea of
the exemplary nature of the philosophical life through to the
modern call of philosophy to existential creativity and the po-
litical transformation of the world. Be that as it may, philoso-
phy is theory only in a residual way. Theory is what remains of
philosophy when it becomes detached and neutralized as a nec-
essary inquiry into living (its value, its sense, its languages, et
Third and finally, the value of this process of transformation
embarked upon by philosophy is not to be found in the result it
might have for oneself but in its power of interpellation. It is
sometimes asserted that philosophy is the changing formulation
of eternal problems. They are not eternal. They are problems
that keep demanding answers from us. This why, more than be-
ing immortal, they stay alive or return to life, transforming
themselves thanks to each piece of writing capable of giving
them new life.
Hence, writing philosophy is not only transforming oneself
but it is also opening up a meeting place, a place of interpella-
tion. Summaries of the history of philosophy present us with
the great philosophers in accordance with what they have said,
in accordance with what they have stated. It would be interest-
ing to produce one day a history that tells us what they have
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
listened to. There is no philosophy without listening, without
reception, without contagion, without insemination. This does
not only refer to the question of some scholastic influences on
others but also how what remains to be thought about is re-
ceived in every case. Listening to what is not thought: it is only
here that the desire to keep thinking is unbound, the wish to
write again about what has been written, the need to take things
up once more, or begin anew.
Writing as an experience of transformation and as a place of
interpellation is, necessarily, creative, experimental, bodily, sty-
listic and unexampled writing. “The question of philosophy is
the singular point where concept and creation are related to
each other” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1993: p. 17). What would be-
come of philosophical writing if we were not able to recognize,
in its tone and rhythm, in its way of approaching the truth, the
pen of its author? But the pen of the author, as Nietzsche so
very well puts it, is not the signature of an owner but the move-
ment of a body dancing. The steps of a dance are learned and
practiced but, in the end, each body has its own way of per-
forming them, its own way of infusing them, as I have said,
with life. Even the most austere of philosophical pens, even the
most impersonal and anonymous of writings, has its own tone
and style if it really has adopted as its own the problem it is
tackling, together with the need to develop its concepts and be
transformed with them. Philosophical styles have changed, not
only in step with authors but also according to times, fashions,
political and institutional situations, academic traditions, and
the means of publication and diffusion of writings. In each
epoch, furthermore, writings have coexisted in tension and open
conflict, not only because of the content of their propositions,
but also their way of enunciating them.
The real problem that has cropped up today is that of the ap-
parent neutralization of this conflict about the standard “scien-
tific research paper”. The idea of standard is not concerned with
one way, among others, of writing but rather it presents the
paradigm of validity and legitimate place of enunciation for all
content that seeks to be academically relevant. We shall see the
effects of this standard on philosophical writing as I have de-
scribed it above.
1) Dissociation of form and content. Although we may have
gotten into the bad habit of studying authors by isolating the
“doctrinal” content from the main account of the text, in phi-
losophical writing form and content call upon one another and
are inseparable. Their dissociation is precisely what turns phi-
losophy into theoretical discourse and annuls its embodied, ex-
perimental nature.
2) Silencing of the voice. This formal standard results in the
gagging of philosophy’s distinctive voice, the expunging of its
body in an already formatted text. Who is speaking in a “paper”?
The expert. To whom does he speak? To his counterparts, other
supposed experts in the same field. The expert is the figure who
is allied with the standardized language of academia and, ac-
cordingly, the only recognizable and rateable type of “aca-
demic” in the university today.
3) Annulment of experience. The expert does not make of
writing a place of experience precisely because the only person
who can venture into the experience of his or her own trans-
formation is the one who is willing to lose what he or she al-
ready knows. The expert has deserted experience and its uncer-
tainties for research and its results. That is what he or she writes
about. In philosophy, this expertise means abandoning every
real philosophical problem in favor of two different kinds of
stock “topics”1, either the lines of research prioritized by com-
missions set up to evaluate projects according to preordained
criteria of academic relevance and usually dictated from other
areas of knowledge, or by turning authors of reference into
objects of inquiry rather than treating them as interlocutors of
thought. Traditional academia once boasted a certain figure of
the scholar who devoted his or her entire life to in-depth re-
search into one author and wrote monographic studies that as-
sisted and accompanied the work of his or her peers. Nowadays,
this model, generalized, trivialized and imposed, is presented as
the only one to adopt. The expert on an author, a period or
school of thought is now not only the most usual figure one
finds in European faculties of philosophy but also the only au-
thorized prototype. Hence, not only is the voice of the acade-
mic in question muffled but the author is also silenced along
with it as the object of specialized study to which the expert
devotes his or her career. The experience of thinking is neutral-
ised in this double silencing.
4) Demarcation of an inside and outside of writing. The pa-
per functions as the unit of production, rating and evaluating
what is deemed to be research activity. In addition, however, it
works as a frontier. As a standard, it disbars from the arena of
what is countable, visible, rateable and evaluable any writing
that does not conform to its protocols and goals. In abiding by
the division between communication for the community of
experts and divulgation to the rest of society all writing in the
academic world has been harmed by this division. Scientists
have embraced the maxim “publish or perish”. In the domain of
letters, one might vary the terms of the alternative, “Do you
write or publish?” It would be the joke that portrays the dra-
matic situation of so many “academics”, not only philosophers,
who must choose between writing to publish within the estab-
lished guidelines and writing what they really need to think. In
the case of philosophy, this demarcation has a twofold effect,
the consequences of which we have not yet sufficiently as-
sessed. On the one hand, the philosophy that goes into the le-
gitimized field of standardized writing is a philosophy made
ridiculous in having to present itself as scientific research while,
on the other hand, other philosophical writings are subsumed
either to literature (the philosopher as writer) or journalism. The
natural overlap between philosophy and literature, between the
philosophical word and the poetic word, has no place in the
bastion of the present-day university and is dispatched directly
to an enforced extramural exile. And the relationship with the
public word is abandoned to the forces of the communications
and entertainment markets.
5. Subordination of writing to English. The issue of the in-
side and the outside of academic writing also has a determinant
linguistic aspect. The certification of standardized university
activities as meeting international standards of scientific pro-
duction implies, of course, that this production is increasingly
being communicated in English, not only because of criteria of
utility but, directly, as part of its added value. When language is
a mere vehicle for the transmission of findings, the language in
which they are communicated may have some relative impor-
tance. However, does this apply to philosophical writing and its
creative, personal and experimental singularity? Of course not.
The relationship between philosophy—in its western and espe-
cially European tradition—and languages is one of continual
1In Spanish, the word “tópico” can mean both “subject” or “cliché”and
“hackneyed expressions” [translator].
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 41
displacement given the mobile and relocated nature of its read-
ers and interlocutors. Depending on the period and the most
intense foci of philosophical creation, some or other European
language has predominated, always in communication with the
rest. There have been classical languages, linguae francae and
languages with more philosophical prestige than others, as well
as hegemonic and proscribed languages, but what has never
existed is a neutral language. If engaging in philosophy means
creating concepts and this, as I said, “happens” writing, part of
the raw material of philosophy is the language in which it is
written. Writing philosophy always entails a linguistic decision,
a commitment to pitching the language, whether one’s own or
by adoption, in another way. Now, this decision has been ma-
nacled, coerced and subordinated to the calculation of a yield
that is directly valued in terms of academic career and possi-
bilities for job finding and institutional visibility.
In philosophy, then, the consequences of the standardization
of academic writing geared to the paper are not only formal
(how a scientific article is to be written) or related with institu-
tional monopoly (where one publishes and what value is given
to it) but they also directly affect the practice of philosophy and
the conditions of its teaching. Faced with the situation I have
just described, the question that then arises for any university
philosophy teacher is evident: is teaching philosophy in the uni-
versity about producing so-called experts, and training students
to write papers in which they can show their research profi-
ciency? Or is it something else? First, it means renouncing
philosophy that simulates doing philosophy. Second, as we
shall see, it means embarking on a hard task, going against the
flow and working in “clandestinity”.
Philosophizing in Teaching
Thinking is learning how to think. This is something that phi-
losophy has proclaimed and practiced from the very beginning.
This is why it is an activity that cannot be separated from
teaching and learning. If thinking is learning how to think, it
essentially means two things: that normally we don’t think, and
that there is no already known way of thinking. The former
situates philosophy in a relationship of conflict with established
opinions and learning, while the second places it in a position
of tension with respect to itself, since it does not admit stabili-
sation, accumulation and predictability in its ways of thinking.
Thinking is learning how to think because thinking is thinking
again. But then, how is it possible to teach? What could be the
intrinsically educational sense of a practice of thinking that
comes about in the displacement of established knowledge and
of its own conquests? What philosophy as educational practice
proposes is that educating is not about acquiring skills, con-
veying knowledge or organizing thought into schools. It con-
sists, fundamentally, of a displacement, a change of place that
renews the desire to think, and commitment to truth. “It is
something to be able to raise our heads but for a moment and
see the stream in which we are sunk so deep. We cannot gain
even this transitory moment of awakening by our own strength;
we must be lifted up—and who are they that will uplift us?”
(Nietzsche, 2000: p. 71). The real educators are the ones that
make us raise our heads. Raising one’s head is, at the same time,
starting to look and ceasing to obey; discovering the world,
opening up its problems as something of concern to us and
entering into them free of all servitude, whatever brand it may
be. The teacher, in philosophy, neither trains nor instructs but
liberates, freeing us from what prevents us from thinking. The
true teacher is, in the last instance, the teacher who frees us
from the teacher. Now become a friend, he or she “delivers us
to the happiness of our solitude”, as Deleuze put forward in his
Abécédaire, when his talks about teaching. This is not a para-
dox. The relationship between friendship and solitude is the
condition to start thinking, to “learn again to see the world”
(Merleau & Ponty, 1955: p. 63), rewriting it. Nietzsche says in
the quote above that we cannot raise our heads with our own
strength. Flying in the face of every idea of natural inspiration
or the revealed word, philosophy wholly situates us in the ter-
rain of human interdependence: if we think, it is because we are
given something to think about by means of another person,
teacher, friend, mediator. As Heidegger recognized in the Ger-
man root of the verb to think, in every thought there is grate-
fulness (think/thank). Making one think is not indicating how
or what to think, just as teaching writing is not putting into
practice standards or methodologies of writing. Making one
think, teaching one to write means indicating that there remains
something to think about, and there remains something to write
about, still. Teaching philosophy means leaving clear spaces
with one’s gesture and one’s word. Teaching philosophy is an
Educating, therefore means initiating the other in this dis-
placement, moving the other, shaking up or seducing or drag-
ging the other out from what he or she is, or believes he or she
is, out from what the other knows, or believes he or she knows.
This is why philosophy’s relationship with education is at once
violent and fecund. It is violent because it attacks the very roots
of what is constituted. It questions what we are and what we
know, what we value and what we purport. It is fecund because
it opens up new relations and new ways of seeing and speaking,
where once it was only possible to perpetuate what already
existed. In brief, it offers new approximations to what makes us
live. Philosophy’s question about education has never been the
pedagogical question about how to teach philosophy but the
question about how to educate the human being, the citizen or
humanity. It is therefore a question that affects, challenges and
reformulates the representation that, in every epoch and in
every context, organizes the space of knowledge and political
Is today’s university willing to be the place in which it is
possible to formulate such questions and take responsibility for
their consequences? It would seem, quite clearly, that it is not.
At the same time as it is making its productive, working and
curricular structures more flexible so as to adapt better to the
demands of the market, the university as an institution is ar-
mour-plating itself against questions and has ceased to ask
questions. Faced with this situation, some writers and teachers
have denounced the “cultural desertion” of today’s sectorial-
university (Oncina, 2008; Llovet, 2011) or entrepreneurial-
university (Jordana & Gràcia, 2013), which has become a col-
lection of professional schools and centers of technological
innovation. Invoking the humanist ideal of the university as
society’s cultural headquarters and motor, they perceive the
presently occurring changes as betrayal and a dismantling of
the pro-culture project. Nevertheless, with the university’s sub-
jugation to business interests today we should not be taken in
by nostalgic images of lost freedoms: the pro-culture university
was a tool of the western bourgeoisie which had, in culture, one
of its chief prerogatives and sources of social “empowerment”.
When the university began to open up socially, this enterprise
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
was lost. Nowadays, culture, in this sense, does not exist and is
of no use to anybody. Why would the university want to defend
it unless it is to become a mausoleum?
The problem lies elsewhere. Beyond all humanist melan-
choly, beyond the whole gamut of defensive and conservation-
ist positions, what is at stake is a battle of thought: how might
we ensure that the real questions, the ones that matter to us, that
move us to write, to acquire knowledge and to transform the
society in which we live do not expire under the weight of pro-
fitable but toothless knowledge? From whence might it be pos-
sible to construct the alliance between philosophical inquiry
and knowledge? Inside or outside the university?
Inside or Outside the University?
This is the question that is raised every time the educational
institutions and centers of knowledge shield themselves against
questions and succumb to the pressures of producing predict-
able knowledge. Although they might remain active, even in-
creasing productivity and their economic and institutional rele-
vance, the upshot is that it is impossible to think within their
bounds since there is nothing to think about. The drain begins, a
veritable brain drain of people who are not willing to stand by
and observe the demise within them of the desire from which
all thought springs.
Inside or outside the university, where can one start thinking
once more? This question goes hand in hand with the history of
the university, as an institution, since its inception. Heretics and
scientists escaped from the medieval theological university.
From the still-theological modern university escaped the great
philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from
Descartes and Spinoza to the French “Republic of Letters”.
After the consolidation of the German university, which was
built on the foundations of the Enlightenment and idealism, fos-
tering all German philosophy, from Kant to Schelling and He-
gel, other philosophers including Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and
Marx also had to take flight. We are now in a similar situation.
After the opening up of western universities from the 1960s to
the 1980s, admitting epistemologically and socially diverse
voices, problems and practices, we have been witnessing its
progressive closing down for some years now. Subjected to
purportedly innovative reasoning, we are in fact faced with a
new kind of scholasticism: an appearance of knowledge that is
based only on itself, making this self-referencing the basis and
legitimizing source of its power. Hence, the university today is
not only the cause of ruptures and expulsions, but also of in-
creasing indifference in society. Once again, there appears the
need to leave, to grow in the wilderness—“let the philosophers
run wild” (Nietzsche, 2000: p. 116). As a clear symptom of thi s,
we are now seeing the spread of a great many self-training as-
sociations (Garcés, 2009), projects of political, social and cul-
tural experimentation, writing groups, independent publications,
networks, forums and gatherings that, in all their fragility, are
committed to undertaking the task of learning how to think. Is
the university emptying? It is, in part. The most creative and
exposed forms of knowledge, the processes of producing the
freest and at once most compromising kinds of knowledge, the
procedures of engaging in horizontal and collaborative work,
and so on, are moving out of academia. Even writing books no
longer brings formal academic recognition but has become an
“extemporaneous” activity. Does this mean that we must un-
dertake a radical commitment to this out-of-university, affirm-
ing it while denying any possibility of life in the university?
The answer I offer in this article is a paradoxical yes and no.
Yes, one must make a radical commitment to the out-of-uni-
versity while yet not denying all the possibilities of life within
the university. How can these two apparently contradictory po-
sitions be reconciled?
The answer is provided by philosophy itself, in its historical
origins. If Socrates is a sort of father and midwife of western
philosophy, then who are the children of Socrates? Many, pro-
bably all of us, are still that. Immediately following him in
Athens there were basically two: Plato and Diogenes. Plato, the
one who baptizes philosophy and invents the Academy; Dio-
genes, the one who abhors the conventions of knowledge and
their relations with power, who lives naked and sleeps in a jar, a
“Socrates gone mad”, as Plato famously says. The Academy
and the jar; the man of prestige and the stray dog; the organisa-
tion of all knowledge in its unity and its destruction root and
branch; education and de-education; reformist political aspira-
tion and subversion: this is the binary body with which phi-
losophy took its first steps. What has been presented throughout
history as two options, as the alternation between two concep-
tions of the word and knowledge, is in fact a necessary polarity.
Plato without Diogenes would be a dead end. Diogenes without
Plato would have fallen into oblivion. Academy and jar have
mutual need of one another without any possibility of making a
synthesis of them, of overcoming them or finding any middle
ground. On the one hand, knowledge needs to consolidate, to
organise and foster contact between different spheres of erudi-
tion. On the other hand, questions of knowledge perish when
they are no longer exposed to their own limits and to the real
problems that nourish them: the problem of life, the reason of
being, and ways of inhabiting our existence.
Philosophy is faced with the challenge of keeping this irre-
solvable tension alive. However, it is this difficulty (and not its
supposed foundational or systematizing nature) that situates it
at the base or root of knowledge. The academic side, when at-
tempting to be self-sufficient, dies of self-absorption. The wild
side, when putting an end to all and any dialogue with the ex-
tant social institutions and forms of knowledge, is dissipated in
personal postures and particular micro-worlds that easily break
off communication. Then again, this “wilderness” outside of
educational institutions is no longer a true outside but one that
is densely articulated, dominated by market forces and their
corresponding dynamics of power, which make it very difficult
for unprotected thinking and creation to survive.
Against “these divisions [that] simply attest inst itutionally to
the renunciation of the whole truth” (Adorno, 1984: p. 156) and
without losing sight of the fact that “all forms of thought are
solidary” (Merleau & Ponty, 1955: p. 99) and need to meet
each other, the task of philosophy is to keep this tension alive
because it is only in philosophy that the desire for knowledge
and commitment to the truth can be renewed. Philosophy loses
its ability to keep the tension alive every time it becomes just
another academic discipline. In the case of the modern univer-
sity, this occurs when philosophy becomes one of the “human
and social sciences”. Its disconcerting virtue turns into produc-
tive impotence. Its cliché-resistant nature and resistance to be-
ing confined to authorize topics becomes meta-discourse or
“transversal competence”, in the words of the new methodo-
logical terminology. Its writing, in servile genuflection, be-
comes tame theoretical discourse that refers to other theoretical
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 43
This is a time of growing detachment between academic and
wild. In this disconnection, philosophy as such does not need to
be defended or saved from the besiegement to which it is sub-
mitted as a discipline of the human and social sciences. As a
discipline of the human and social sciences it was stillborn. It
needs to be free from this “pigeonholing” in order to be able to
do its job, to link up once more established knowledge with its
outside world, what is thought with what is not yet thought,
knowledge with not-yet-knowledge.
Conclusion: University without Surrender
I began this article by wondering whether it is possible to
teach and write philosophy in the university today and ventured
the response that we already knew the answer. If we comply
with the present-day conditions of standardization of institu-
tions and writing, it is not possible. After the above analysis of
the writing which is deemed to be appropriate for the only kind
of document that is now regarded as legitimate in academic
curricula vitae, namely the research paper published in the right
scientific publications, this response has not only been con-
firmed but appears as an even more serious matter. Yet the
arguments of the previous section oblige one to add something
to the predictable answer: it cant be done but, for the moment,
it must be done. Let us see, to conclude, what this statement
means and what it entails.
We have seen, first, that writing philosophy means opening
up spaces of transformation and interpellation in which a sin-
gular way of living points the way to shared reason, appeals to
shared intelligibility. I have argued, second, that the possibility
of such writing is related with an education that can enable us
to “raise our heads”, which is to say, to start looking and to
cease to obey. Now, one can add that this writing is that which,
from its commitment to the truth, connects knowledge with
non-knowledge. It is writing that toils at the limits of what is
known, of what is thought, of what is established; at the limits
of what can be enunciated and recognized. Philosophical writ-
ing elaborates the limits of language itself. Hence it does not
admit the inside/outside blackmail but rather restores this con-
nection over and over again, thus attacking the sterilizing myth
that imposes a “cordon sanitaire” (Merlau & Ponty, 1955) be-
tween disciplines, between legitimacies, between ways of speak-
ing, between murmuring and silence, between what is thought
and what is not thought. “If philosophy is paradoxical by nature,
this is not because it sides with the least plausible opinions or
because it maintains contradictory opinions but because it uses
sentences of a standard language to express something that does
not belong to the order of opinion or even of the proposition.”
(Deleuze & Guattari, 1999: p. 82) Its disturbing character is
precisely that of subverting standard language to make it say
what was not accommodated in it. “Words are wellsprings that
must be dug up in the telling” (Heidegger, 1960: p. 127).
In opposing standardization of writing, it is essential, then, to
keep writing philosophy, to philosophize by teaching, to teach
how to write. Philosophy is not, then, a humanistic bequest
about to die of starvation and in danger of extinction but the
most powerful weapon by means of which the university,
which is indeed in danger of asphyxiation, can resist becoming,
as many thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum or Bill Readings
among many others have pointed out, a great global enterprise
of mass production of ultra-specialized professionals and of
redundant and sterile fields of knowledge.
In 1998, Jacques Derrida gave a lecture at Stanford Univer-
sity (California) titled “The University without Condition”, in
which he presented the thesis that the university should be the
place of dual unconditionality: the unconditionality of a bound-
less commitment to the truth and the unconditionality of an
absolutely heterogeneous dissidence before any kind of power.
The university should be, then, the place of “unconditional
freedom to question and to assert” (Derrida, 2002), governed by
“the right to say publicly all that is required by research, know-
ledge, and thought concerning the truth”. Unconditional free-
dom, unconditional discussion, unconditional resistance and
unconditional dissidence should be the manifestations of a
“profession of faith” in the truth, which the university would
embody. The principle that would govern its justice: thought.
This is why Derrida conceives of the university as the privi-
leged place of what is philosophical, and its future as the prom-
ise of “the new Humanities”. As I have noted, all the discussion
about the university “without condition” conjugates, in Der-
rida’s text, into the conditional. For Derrida, the university
“without condition” situates us in the time of a “perhaps”, on
the horizon of a commitment to what is “dejure” and in rela-
tion with “an event that, without necessarily coming about to-
morrow, would remain perhaps—and I underscore perhaps—to
In response to Derrida’s stance, I have put forward a pro-
posal of unconditionality: instead of a should, a “must”; instead
of a perhaps, a “for the moment”; instead of a profession of
faith in absolute terms with regard to the university to come,
taking a specific stand in the presently existing university. What
comprises the unconditionality of this position? Opening up
spaces for the non-negotiable. In particular, in terms of what
concerns us here, teaching the writing of philosophy in the
university is a non-negotiable commitment. Something that is
non-negotiable is something that has value in itself, that does
not answer to any kind of calculus imposed from outside. In
this case, teaching people to write philosophy in the university,
in the sense described above, is a commitment that declares that
it has broken with all the rating scales that justify and assess
academic activity. It is only justified on the basis of its own
This indispensability is embodied in specific people, every
one of them individuals who come to the university moved by
their wish to learn. Obviously, the desire to learn is an impure
desire: it is bound to the necessity of finding a profession and
earning a living. Why not? The self-sufficiency of the sage is an
ideal, either aristocratic or religious. However, for the rest of
humanity, knowledge and work, learning and money are per-
force intermingled. Without denying this impurity but enlisting
within it, the university is the place in which two things in the
order of the incalculable and the order of the non-negotiable
can still happen: being taken seriously, namely for oneself,
one’s desire to learn; and learning that with this knowledge it is
still “not enough”. By this I mean that all knowing implies
non-knowing and all knowledge appeals to a way of life that
has personal, social and political consequences that go beyond
its specificity. This is the philosophical task that is not negotia-
ble in the present-day university.
Speaking of a university without surrender is not, therefore, a
call to redouble our efforts to defend the university but to make
the commitment not to capitulate to it, not to surrender in it.
“[…T]his is precisely where culture begins—namely, in under-
standing how to treat the quick as something vital…” (Niet-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
zsche, 2009: p. 66) The university is, perhaps, more dead than
alive, but we, each one of us who teaches and studies in it are
alive, and this is how we must treat each other, as something
vital, something alive. At the heart of this I have placed taking a
stand, a “for the moment”. It is possible that the asphyxia of
thought in the university will come to such a pass that taking a
stand, such as I am declaring here, ceases to have any sense.
One will need to be attentive to this and to know how to make
the right decisions at the right time. Hence, not capitulating to
the university also implies, as I have noted, not ceasing to
nourish what is happening outside of it, what escapes, what
does not fit, what can only be done and tested outside the insti-
tutional frameworks that we know. It may well be that this
testing, these attempts, are what will give us in future the clue
as to how we might go beyond the university itself.
The question about the place of philosophy in higher educa-
tion today, which I have discussed here through analysis of the
present standardization of writing and the possibilities of
teaching philosophy in the university now brings us to the need
for opening up spaces of the non-negotiable inside the univer-
sity, maintaining them and experimenting with them, as a com-
mitment that concerns everyone who, coming from whatever
sphere of knowledge it may be, is resisting the stifli ng of thought
in educational, creative and research practice. To conclude,
what specific and provisional implications arise from this way
of taking a stand?
1) Do not accept the inside-outside blackmail. We have seen
how today’s university does not function on the basis of cen-
sorship or prohibition but from regimentation and standardiza-
tion of what is admitted as legitimate. Whatever its form, such
blackmail is unacceptable by any standard, either from the
submission/flight dichotomy or from the even worse assump-
tion of a double truth (I pretend to conform inside and do what
interests me outside). On the basis of what I have argued, it is
necessary to work at the university’s limits, which connect, and
in doing so tautening the relation, the inside and the outside.
This entails experimenting with the specific forms of such a
connection, individually and collectively exploring strategies of
contamination of both teaching and research languages and
practices, as well as of the ways of life that they make possible.
2) Distinguishing the negotiable from the non-negotiable.
Precisely because this is not a matter of making great petitions
based on principle but of taking tactical stands that are situated
and effective in reality, one must distinguish in every context
what is negotiable and what is not negotiable. In the case of
philosophy, we have situated it in the practice of teaching peo-
ple to write as the moment in which the incalculable takes
shape within the study of philosophy. Every sphere of knowl-
edge and every specific institutional and human context will
need to identify and examine its own non-negotiable commit-
3) Be willing to lose. Declaring “non-calculable zones” in
university activity means being willing to waste time, academic
visibility and points in one’s curriculum vitae, among many
other things. It is difficult at times not to see all of this as losses
outweighing gains since an academic career is presented in an
unambiguously countable fashion. Gratuitous activity is then
understood as frittering away one’s energies, inefficient volun-
teerism, a waste of time and effort.
4) Learning to give value to what doesnt count”. If we are
to challenge this sentiment I have just mentioned, which ex-
plains many processes of defeated conformism, we must learn
how to do justice to what is of value and to share it. The prize
of vocation has always existed in the academic world: “I do it
for me… and for my students”. This value is not to be re-
nounced, but it is a very fragile one today given the implacabil-
ity of the forces with which one must engage. It is necessary to
combat the vulnerability of each of our decisions and motive-
tions, shoring them up with alliances, complicities and struc-
tures (groups, publications, et cetera) that give us back, and
enable us to give to each other, the value of what we are doing.
This means consolidating a network of counter-values that also
acquire the power of challenging the imposed system of as-
5) Dont lose questions. One can lose just about everything,
except questions. Questions are not these rhetorical interroga-
tions without an answer by means of which people tend to par-
ody sages (who am I? from whence do I come? and so on).
“Questions” simply means this thing we have put in movement
and on the basis of which we have begun to search, to walk, to
desire; this moment in which “we raise our heads” and that,
after so much capitulation, we end up forgetting. This is why it
is sometimes necessary to go against oneself, against what one
has come to be and represent, against what one believes one
knows and through which one occupies a place. In order not to
lose questions one must keep alive intelligence and the humility
of not coinciding totally with one’s own “position” and to va-
cate it whenever it threatens one’s capacity to think by learning
again to think.
6) Dont get trapped in the impotent gaze of nostalgia. All of
western modernity, even as it looks to the future also looks
back with a sense of loss at what is left behind. In recent dec-
ades, loss has not been accompanied by any future and, in re-
cent years, has been turned directly into destruction. From the
world of culture in particular, without wishing to, we have let
our gaze become trapped in this model of representing change
wherein nostalgia, melancholy and resistentialist positions pre-
vail. The destruction of public institutions, the university among
them, which we have witnessed over the last century in Europe
is the destruction of a direct attack. This is not a state of deca-
dence but a state of war. This war is our present, and there is no
value in any laments over any past. Value lies in our ability to
spread and gather allied forces that are not willing to surrender
or to live in fear of a future that we cannot yet see.
7) Put body and voice into it. For all these reasons, it is ne-
cessary to become present and credible, not in sweeping pro-
posals but in what we do every day: the classes we teach, and in
what we are to our students and in what we write. If blood calls
blood, imposture also brings more imposture. Only with the
truthful word and gesture of each one of us will we be able to
break the circle and thus leave space for others to come and
occupy it with their own gestures and their own words, which
are unyielding before any attempts at standardization.
This paper has counted with the financial and institutional
support of the research group at the Universidad de Barcelona
“El horizonte de lo común” (FFI2 009-08557, Ministerio de Edu-
cación y Ciencia, Spain).
Adorno, T. (1984). The essay as form. New German Critique, 32,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 45
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1993). What is philosophy? New York:
Columbia University Press.
Derrida, J. (2002). The university without condition. Without alibi.
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Foucault, M. (1994). An interview with Michel Foucault by Charles
RuasDeath and the labyrinth: The world of Raymond Roussel.
London: The Athlone Press.
Foucault, M. (2000). Interview with Michel Foucault. In J. Faubion
(Ed.), Power: The essential works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984 (pp.
239-240). New Yor k: New Press.
Garcés, M. (2009). It makes you think: On the political need for new
spaces of learning: The battle of thinking. Barcelona: Edicions Bel-
Heidegger, M. (1960). Qu é si gnif ica pen sar? Buenos Aires: Losada.
James, W. (1912). Essay s in radical empiricism. Lond on : Green & Co.
Jordana, E., & Gràcia, D. (2013, fothcoming). The University in the
Impasse: What about Philosophy? In M. Cruz, & L. Llevadot (Eds.),
The coming university. Bar celona: P ro t eu s .
Llovet, J. (2011). Goodbye to the university. Barcelona: Galaxia Guten-
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1955). Éloge de la philosophie . Paris: Gallimard.
Nietzsche, F. (2000). Schopenhauer como educador. Madrid: Bibliote-
ca Nueva.
Oncina, F. (2008). Philosophy for the university, philosophy against the
university. Madrid: Dykinson-U. Carlos III.