Why read a book like The Virtuous Cyborg? One answer is that reading philosophy books is a way of encouraging your own virtues; your curiosity, your flexibility, your moral judgement, and your reasoning - all can be sharpened by forming a cyborg with a book that will expand your capacities - just as your smartphone expands your capacities as a cyborg, albeit by signing over part of your autonomy to GoogleApple.
Not every book written by a philosopher is a ‘philosophy book’ in the sense I mean, and some books written by journalists, scientists, and theologians are also philosophy books in the relevant sense. Many novels are too. They are so if they put your mind and the world it lives within into contact with another mind and world in a way that opens you up to new ways of thinking. That capacity - to think anew - is what makes philosophy such a unique set of practices. Alas, the vogue for an academia of specialisms is anathema to philosophy books, since in such a system there are only problems to solve and no people to meet.
Through my cyborg encounters with philosophy books I have talked with Descartes, Aristotle, and Chuang Tzu, but not alas with Hypatia, whose books have not survived. I have encountered people like Mary Midgley who I went on to correspond with, and Immanuel Kant or Mary Wollstonecraft, who I could not. And each encounter has expanded the range of ways I can think about myself and my world, and clarified the connectivity between our thinking today and two millennia of written works, many of which have bequeathed to us our tools for thinking, held so unconsciously we might almost mistake them as the only possible way of thinking.
Yet philosophy books are endangered. Professional philosophers aren’t expected to learn how to share minds as a human-book cyborg, as universities are expunged of the practices of philology and so-called ‘continental’ philosophy, both of which make this cyborg possible. Books too are endangered, although ebooks provide a surrogate if you do not mind your reading habits being fed to advertising robots. The smartphone-human cyborg encourages bite-sized thinking, watching over reading, monotone over monographs. The book is an anchor to an older way of thinking - indeed, to every older way of thinking that survives in books. That’s why libraries are so vital - they are a kind of time machine that is not purely imaginary!
Why read a philosophy book? To experiment in thinking with somebody else, to share in the experience of human thought in ways that are new to you. It is not something that everyone can do with ease - but if you can, you owe it to yourself to provoke your own thought. Philosophy books can do that. But you have to be prepared to commit to something more than utility; to find value in discourse and disagreement. Are you up to that challenge?
A Hundred Cyborgs, #100