Doing Philosophy in the Face of War – The Courage to Speak the Truth
How do we philosophize in the face of what people in Ukraine – but also in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and in so many other places around the world – experience and suffer? Every explanation and every attempt to understand recoils at the inhuman and fear-filled reality of war.
In an interview, a Ukrainian colleague explains that he stayed in Kyiv with his son, his wife and daughter just left town with their three cats. They both decided to stay “to be witnesses” – witnesses to the terrible things that are happening. For him and for his son, who speaks eight languages and accompanies journalists to dangerous places as a translator, it is “an inner necessity, that of telling the truth”. “We are not only defending ourselves, we are defending a certain idea of dignity and freedom. If we don’t do so, our existence no longer has any meaning.”
Philosophizing in war – philosophizing against war. I had to think of the courage it takes to speak the truth, the Greek practice of parrhesia. To “boldly speak everything” takes on an utterly existential meaning facing the lies of a Putinian regime, because life and limb are threatened for all those who dare to speak out what Putin twists in propagandistic rhetoric and cynically turns against his victims. Speaking the truth is political practice that liberates and resists manipulative speech. It aims to change society – but also carries enormous risks. The one who speaks the truth – even if it is on a sign with the word “war” in the Russian news – assumes the function of the ancient Cynic, the function of the scout, who dares to report from the frontline about all the dangers that await humanity.
To speak freely is to act, to bear witness, it means to be a witness and not just a spectator looking from the outside in. Speaking the truth means doing, risking something. We, who (still) live in peace and security, have to ask ourselves: What are we willing to risk? What price are we willing to pay? As human beings, but also as philosophers. Perhaps this also means courageously confronting one’s own helplessness, facing the fact that we come to our limits and that sometimes what overcomes us emotionally holds more “truth” than all the well-considered systems, theories and arguments.
To philosophize in the face of war means – to use Hans Blumenberg’s well-known metaphor – to be shipwrecked and not just a spectator.
Barbara Schellhammer is member of the Kontrapunkte editorial team.