Human requirements change. People who lived centuries ago would marvel at our technology, and yet we look beyond our own creations today. The accumulations of the past have entered into Nature, into what we’re now born into. My point is not to say that we’re ungrateful. If we were transported back in time, we would suffer more than peasants because we’re conscious of what is possible. As Hegel might say, we would be suffering from unrealized potential.
The status quo of capitalist society points beyond itself. Even unconsciously we’re aware of what is lacking. The progressive overcoming of our moment requires historical consciousness.
At the end of the work-day, how many scholars close their books, turn off their computers, and leave their thoughts until the next work day? Sometimes I wish I could live like that. There are professionals who turn thought itself on and off. This is a symptom of the proletarianization of intellectuals.
The lack of personality always takes its revenge: A weakened, thin, extinguished personality that denies itself is no longer fit for anything good—least of all for philosophy. “Selflessness” has no value either in heaven or on earth. All great problems demand great love, and of that only strong, round, secure spirits who have a firm grip on themselves are capable. It makes the most telling difference whether a thinker has a personal relationship to his problems and finds in them his destiny, his distress, and his greatest happiness, or an “impersonal” one, meaning that he can do no better than to touch them or grasp them with the antennae of cold, curious thought. In the latter case nothing will come of it; that much one can promise in advance, for even if great problems should allow themselves to be grasped by them they would not permit frogs and weaklings to hold on to them; such has been their taste from time immemorial—a taste, incidentally, that they share with all redoubtable females.1
The time where philosophy should be mere intellectual work—if it ever existed—is long gone. Not only that, but philosophy itself requires its own self-overcoming. Where must it go? The world! “The inner self-contentment and completeness has been broken. What was inner light has become consuming flame turning outwards.”2
1 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 283 (§ 345).
2 Karl Marx, “To Make the World Philosophical” (1839-41), in The Marx-Engels Reader, second edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978), 10.