Am I too young to sound philosophical?

Who am I, and if so, how many?

Süddeutsche Zeitung | Discussion of 06/13/2008The first step to happiness
Very culinary: Richard David Precht's philosophy bestseller "Who am I - and if so, how many?"
So now it happened after all. After more than 100 weeks, Hape Kerkeling's book "Ich bin mal weg", which has sold over three million times and about his walk to Santiago di Compostela, is no longer number one on the German non-fiction bestseller list. Only foreseeable successes such as the Pope's Jesus book and Gerhard Schröder's memoir managed to outstrip the comedian's pilgrimage report for a short time. That this has now succeeded - with a little help from Elke Heidenreich, the chief multiplier of the German literary industry (“If you are reading this book, you have already taken the first step on the way to happiness”) - a book that is basically a Introduction to philosophy is not exactly to be expected. On the other hand: the main title of the volume “Who am I?” Printed in big, bold and red. promises no less than its predecessor: orientation, help in life, consolation, answers to final questions in an apparently unstable time.
What kind of book is this that can find over 220,000 buyers, although it does not have a prominent author and is not about the most accessible, the philosophy of the “love of wisdom” that can only be won with some effort? As expected, it is written out of a violently anti-academic, anti-university reflex. It is more surprising that it makes no secret of the fact that in no small part it is due to some kind of trauma overcoming. The introduction tells the story of how the book came about as the story of a great disappointment.
Gentlemen in bus driver suits
Before studying philosophy in Cologne, the author Richard David Precht, born in 1964, “imagined philosophers as exciting personalities who lived as excitingly and consistently as they thought”. But then he met “boring older men in brown or blue bus driver suits” who “did not apply their inner spiritual freedom to their lives”. After all, one of the bland gentlemen taught him how to think and taught him to ask the 'why', not to be satisfied with quick answers and to build up trains of thought and argumentation without gaps, “so that every single step is as strict as possible builds up the other ”.
So the following ennobles itself without further ado before each reading, as a service to the reader and the real philosophy alike, which really doesn't deserve to gather dust in the seminar room. Finally, on the other hand, an unprecedented culinary approach is to be taken, after all, “carve” learning without enjoying. And who wants to risk that?
In the - so far rather sparse - reviews, he was not thanked for this inconsiderate shit towards the audience. On the contrary. It was paid back with the same coin. In fact, Precht doesn't make it difficult for his critics. Anyone who complains that the university philosophy lacks "the systematic interest in the major overarching questions" and then only a few lines later raises the reproach that the academic reading style is "non-culinary" and places "more value on exact reproduction" than on the " intellectual creativity of the students ”- whoever writes such, may follow an intuition that is certainly not entirely inaccurate, but he also makes himself enormously vulnerable. Because both - systematic interest and precise reading - shouldn't really be in contradiction if you are really serious about your thinking.
And, of course, he was promptly shown that he was not reading carefully, especially in the chapter on the question of what love was attached to Niklas Luhmann's considerations. Also the messing up of the three big Kantian questions as chapter headings - what can I know? What should I do? What can I hope for? - is little more than educational demonstration. The 34 chapters are ultimately subsumed rather “creatively”. Strangely enough, the sections on the subjects of freedom, property and justice, assigned to theoretical or practical reason by Kant, all come under the third, religious or historical-philosophical key question “What may I hope?
But so be it. The band is more problematic where it obviously forgets its momentum. One would have liked to have read an introduction to philosophy that would finally have shown how closely life and thinking actually lie together. But like so many other popular books that wanted to take the philosophical back stairs, Precht does not quite succeed in making the long-awaited short circuit. Unfortunately, the fundamental difference between the two spheres cannot simply be asserted away. One would have wished the author and text were more suspicious after the writing of sentences like this one about Nietzsche from the first chapter on the question "What is truth?" (which, by the way, should have been titled “What is true?” or at least “What is the truth?”): “His lofty fantasies and the thundering self-confidence of his books stood in a hair-raising contrast to his appearance: a small one , somewhat plump, soft man. " And about the American justice theorist John Rawls, who almost single-handedly revived moral philosophy in the second half of the last century, it is said that he was “anything but a brilliant speaker”: “He stuttered and looked very shy in front of many people . ” Would the two have appeared to the freshman Precht as "exciting personalities"?
A stone tablet in the tavern
The miracle of the book's commercial success can only be fully marveled, however, if you turn your gaze from the detail to the basic structure and content of almost all of the chapters. After a free, lifelike, and also a little personal introduction in the manner of a sensible everyday morality advisor ("I noticed a stone tablet on the first evening in the tavern"), lively and conventional biographical notes on the respective godmother follow, before pleasantly jargon-free, but but it is necessary to begin with dry explanations about the essential sticking points of the respective topic.
Much may have been dealt with all too quickly, but in sum it must also be said that the complexity of the questions is by and large not sacrificed to an alleged compulsion to be genuinely general understandable, in the appendix there are even 15 pages of neatly structured references. And for a philosophical bestseller, individual technical discussions are repeatedly presented with astonishing accuracy. The popular philosophical books by Stephen Law or Martin Cohen, for example, which are available from Eichborn and Piper, are more playful, but are therefore also more superficial.
However, that does not change the only really lamentable thing: the gestures of the book. No matter how tricky the case may be, after around ten pages it is not only the end, but also some all too suspiciously apodictic judgment: With Rawls there is a lot to be “improved”, Kant is hopelessly “out of date”. It is a perfidious illusion that is sold like this: that thinking is something that you can let someone do for you for 14.95 euros. JENS-CHRISTIAN RABE
RICHARD DAVID PRECHT: Who am I - and if so, how many? A philosophical journey. Goldmann Verlag, Munich 2007. 398 pages, 14.95 euros.
Forgetful momentum: Richard David Precht Photo: Goldmann Verlag
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