July 02, 2003

tweaking the axioms

This review of Colin McGinn's autiobiography, The Making of a Philosopher, is a good account of the experience of doing analytic philosophy. This is a philosophy so seduced by big natural science that it too wanted to be a science. A hopeless desire, forever thwarted. As the reviewer explains:

"...philosophy hoped to become a truly hardheaded discipline in which “real progress could be made, instead of being a swamp of obscurity and pointless wrangling.” Philosophy increasingly came to see itself as an immature or incipient science, a residue of pesky problems that would remain only until metaphysics became physics, philosophy of mind turned into neurology, and philosophy of language merged with linguistics."

Note the lack of interest in society, culture and politics.

As a lived activity analytic philosophy was not something that gave you a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. Far from it. It did not make meaningful sense of my human experience and need. It had little connection to a life of creativity, commitment, and independence of spirit.

In shsort it was a professional activity--a trade--- that caused me to die inside.

McGinn spent academic life in the discipline and was successful. Yet he too became disilluioned. He says:

"...the issues became purely technical, a mere matter of writing your axioms the right way to get out the theorems you were looking for. It was the ever–tempting hope of turning philosophy into a science—misguided, perhaps, but undeniably appealing (sexy, as some philosophers like to say).”

What we end up with is a flattened and tedious world constructed by a sterile rationalism. A prisonhouse. So many escaped from philosophy as science to continental philosophy, and they started writing about Nietzsche, Adorno, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze etc. This connected philosophy to contemporay social life and to literature.

Bu there is another conception of philosophy to philsophy as told here; one which is described by Pierre Hadot as:

“...the choice of a certain way of life and existential option which demands from the individual a total change of lifestyle, a conversion of one’s entire being, and ultimately a certain desire to be and to live in a certain way.”

This is one in which philosophy is not purely a theoretical endeavour, since the content comes from the lived life. It is a way of doing philosophy that was exemplified by Nietzsche among the moderns.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at July 2, 2003 01:01 PM | TrackBack
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