lyotard and the philosopher child

karin fry


Jean-François Lyotard’s description of the philosopher uses a metaphor comparing the philosopher to the child. This article traces the use of the child metaphor in relation to philosophy throughout Lyotard’s work. In general, the historical problem with philosophy for Lyotard is that it has been understood as involving maturity, mastery, and adulthood. While the stereotype of the wise philosopher might suggest a mature expert who knows all, Lyotard rejects this view. For Lyotard, the philosopher is the child who seeks answers, but cannot master them. The wisdom of the philosopher is similar to Socrates’ wisdom, in that he is wise because he knows the limitations of his knowledge and does not presume to be a master. Furthermore, the philosopher is the one who listens for what has not yet been articulated and says something new. Philosophical language does not merely report or observe, but it creates expressions of what is new by becoming attuned to something latent in the world (WP 95). Therefore, the answers will not be mastered, comprehensive, or settled for good. In Lyotard’s later work, the mode or method of philosophy is closer to reflective judgment because the issues it examines are open to further discussion. Lyotard’s linking of philosophy with childhood helps avoid an understanding of philosophy grounded in technological rationality in which practical mastery is the goal. Understanding the world exclusively through the categories of means leading to ends, assumes definitive answers, mastery, and expertise. Though many understandings of philosophy stress the practical knowledge conclusively obtained or strive for mastery, Lyotard sees these forces as enemies to philosophical thought, which requires more openness to childhood. Consequently, philosophy is fully political by providing a small voice against the loud and overwhelming push toward practicality, efficiency, and the discourse of capitalism.


Lyotard; child; reflective judgment; technological rationality

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e-issn 1984-5987 | p-issn 2525-5061