Kyle Waterbury-Drake passed away on September 27th, 2018 from metastatic melanoma. He began studying in the MA program in Philosophy here at Cal State Long Beach in the Fall semester of 2015. Before that he studied at Humboldt State University and Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria. Kyle was admired by all who knew him at CSULB. He was quiet, gentle, smart, kind, and an extraordinarily original thinker. We are deeply saddened by his loss.
Over the last few years Kyle worked on a project on what he called metaphilosophy. He was interested in the way in which the discipline of philosophy is distorted by its institutionalization, and thought that such issues are important to inquire about if we understand philosophy as having uses, as playing a role in the community, and as having aims in philosophical education. He put it this way:
‘What is it that we seek to cultivate with our course objectives and degree programs […]? Are we preparing students as well as we can to critically, charitably, and ethically engage themselves and their communities? What impact does the professorial condition have on both the individual philosopher, the philosophical community, and our community at large? In sum: Are the practices of philosophy in the twenty-first century responsible?‘
It is in this final question that we can see that Kyle was not interested in a merely educational question. Rather, he believed that there are ethical obligations of philosophical thought, practice, and education, and those obligations could be met or abdicated. In particular, the ethical obligations of the philosopher include virtuous and wise character formation—not just for the philosopher herself, but also for her students, and those in her community. When the philosophy professor instead follows the path of the natural sciences, and regards her job as one of technical knowledge production, then her pursuit of this distorts her ability to cultivate philosophy as the living of a good life, and to the care and health of our communities.
Kyle defended what he called a synthetic scalar antiessentialism about philosophy. On each end of the scale, he described philosophy as an existential project (in the sense defended by Rorty, Kitcher, and Sartre). One end of this scale practices philosophy as the art of living, which he conceived of as ‘the project of skillfully coping (i.e., flourishing) with life and life problems’. On the other end of the scale, it is conceived of as critical theoretic philosophy, which is ‘the project of knowing one’s way around the cosmos’. Kyle argued that critical theoretic philosophy is what dominates philosophy-as-taught-in-the-university today, to our detriment. Philosophy as the art of living is that which you find in philosophical traditions throughout history, including Plato’s examined life, in Buddhism, in what he calls the medical model of philosophizing in Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, Fourth Way Mysticism, Existentialism, and in Foucault.
The obligation to take this task of philosophy seriously is enormously important. This practice or use of philosophy is, as he put it, ‘a kind of reservoir of wisdom. This reservoir of passed down teachings and practices is like an accumulated immune system for individuals and society at large, who may be undergoing crisis’.
This is part of how he thought of what it meant to be a philosopher, and what he called philosophical lifework. He wrote,
the full philosopher engages and integrates two species of work which correspond to the two extreme projects of philosophy: the work upon the self (i.e., the care of the self), and the work upon thought (i.e., the care of the cosmos).
Kyle was a wonderful person, a curious philosopher, and a creative mind. He thought that caring for others was not only his personal commitment but his philosophical commitment as well, writing,
wisdom occurs in organisms—individuals, institutions, communities, and societies at large are organisms […] All organisms are subject to sickness and health, and philosophers are those beings who have the special capacity to influence the health of social organisms.
He understood that we find wisdom in living our lives well and in helping others do the same. He will be missed.
Kyle is survived by his parents, Trish and Steve Waterbury, his younger brother, Garrett, and his wife, Leanne. If you would like to support a scholarship fund in philosophy and poetry at Allan Hancock College, please visit here.