Relearning the Art of Paying Attention: A Conversation

Martin Savransky (MS):

The first question I wanted to ask you has to do with the manner in which you do philosophy, in the sense that the concepts that you create, develop and experiment with, always resist the temptation to tell others what to do. In fact, at the very beginning of your “The Cosmopolitical Proposal” (994), you begin with a question that I think resonates with this. You write: “How can we present a proposal intended not to say what is, or what ought to be, but to provoke thought?” So what I wanted to ask you is, how would you characterize the importance of this challenge of creating concepts that provoke thought, rather than instruct others on how to think?

Isabelle Stengers (IS):

Well, probably you never know why you do what you do as you do it. I mean, it may be that others are better placed to answer this. But to me, this cannot be disentangled from the reason I did become something called “a philosopher.” In fact, at the beginning, I did not even know about philosophy. When I left chemistry, I knew that in chemistry there were “good questions,” concerned with advancing knowledge, and any other question would not be considered serious. And to me, philosophy was just the place where I could learn to craft my own questioning path, a place where nobody could tell me “but this is not philosophy!” just as I had been told “but this is not science!”

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