Few philosophers have entertained a more complex relation to the history of philosophy, both in terms of aesthetics and of political thought, than Jacques Ranciére. His rigorous engagement with this tradition has allowed him to powerfully critique it, forcing us to reconsider what is at stake when intellectuals assume a position of authority in the name of their philosophical, and more generally theoretical, credentials. Ranciére is ultimately able to show us that, in political philosophy, what always had to be defended, in the most different times and places, was the position of the philosopher himself, as bearer of a knowledge inaccessible to people outside specific pedagogical situations. For Ranciére, this presupposed inaccessibility is not only a conceptual blind spot but also a historical fallacy.
In the following pages we shall follow three main lines of enquiry within Ranciére's treatment of the philosophical tradition: the first will be his chronological point of entry into philosophical “disagreements”, that is, the Marxist tradition; the second, the general philosophical heritage common to all Western “apprentices in philosophy”, that is, the Greco-Roman Classics and the modern representatives of political philosophy from Hobbes to Sartre; the third and final line will try to situate Ranciére with respect to the politics and philosophies of postmodernity.
Ranciére shows us how, time and again, even extremely different philosophers tend to assume similar postures when faced with the independence of equal human beings claiming the same ability to reason as his or her own.