What philosophers say about reality is often as disappointing
as a sign you see in a shop window, which reads: Pressing Done Here.
If you brought your clothes to be pressed, you would be fooled;
for the sign is for sale.
Philosophers offer you a service (so it seems). The banner says that they’ll smarten your appreciation of reality. So you enter the shop — only to learn than you won’t get answers. But you can buy a banner to hang by the fridge that says “Smarten your appreciation of Reality.”
Kierkegaard thought philosophy was always promising what it couldn’t deliver; he had a witty way to convey his (and our) disappointment. We know the feeling. We’ve been hoodwinked.
On the other hand, maybe a negative can be turned positive! Perhaps we need to stop looking for philosophers to deliver a neatly pressed service for us – giving us direct neatly pressed answers to our questions about reality. If they get us to bring that sign, “Philosophy Done Here,” to hang by the fridge, then perhaps that is a hidden service, of sorts. It might bring about a beneficial transfer of responsibility.
At first we expected the shopkeeper-philosopher to tell us about reality – give us answers. Now, responsibility shifts over to personal existential domains. We have to answer questions about reality as best we can – improvising day by day, reminded by that banner by the fridge: “Philosophy Done Here!” (not in the shop).
That makes philosophy a more private thing that we do on our own, mulling in silent fear and trembling, sometimes in joy and delight, sometimes in wonder or plain curiosity. Books prod us, but answers stir and marinate in the quiet of our kitchens — if only we’re reminded, “Philosophy Done Here!”
See, Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. 1, trans. D. Swenson and L.M. Swenson, Princeton University Press, 1959, 31.
— Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor