From “The University Without Condition,” by Jacques Derrida
In sum, what does it mean to profess? And what stakes are still hidden in this question as concerns travail, work, career, trade, craft (whether professional, professorial, or not), for the university of tomorrow and, within it, for the Humanities?
This word of Latin origin (profiteor, professus sum, eri; pro et fateor, which means to speak, from which also comes “fable” and thus a certain “as if”), to “profess” means, in French as in English, to declare openly, to declare publicly. In English, says the OED, before 1300 it had only a religious sense. “To make one’s profession” then meant “to take the vows of some religious order.” The declaration of the one who professes is a performative declaration in some way. It pledges like an act of sworn faith, an oath, a testimony, a manifestation, an attestation, or a promise. It is indeed, in the strong sense of the word, an engagement, a commitment. To profess is to make a pledge [gage] while committing one’s responsibility. “To make profession of” is to declare out loud what one is, what one believes, what one wants to be, while asking another to take one’s word and believe this declaration.
…To profess is to pledge oneself while declaring oneself, while giving oneself out to be, while promising this or that … It is neither necessarily to be this or that nor even to be a competent expert; it is to promise to be that, to pledge oneself on one’s word to be that. Philosophiam profiteri is to profess philosophy: not simply to be a philosopher, to practice or teach philosophy in some pertinent fashion, but to pledge oneself, with a public promise, to devote oneself publicly, to give oneself over to philosophy, to bear witness, or even to fight for it.
I read this essay from Derrida’s book Without Alibi last night and I am still thinking about it.