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Monday, March 27, 2006

Reply to dt

In his comment to this post of mine, dt asks some questions about how I see philosophy, to which I promised replies. A quick orientation to what philosophy is about can be found on Wikipedia. A very useful web resource is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Now, philosophy as toolkit or tradition. It's worth making the point that the range of ways of writing philosophy is extraordinarily broad, so much so that some philosophers have difficulty seeing other philosophers' work as philosophy. This found one of its most dramatic appearances in the passionate objection of Cambridge University's philosophy department to the proposal of the English department that Jacques Derrida be awarded an honorary degree. Some varieties of philosophy have given the appearance of being the search for tools, usually logical ones, to resolve what are seen as thorny problems. E.g., if a theory appears to commit you to the existence of entities you don't believe to exist, then rewriting that theory in some formal framework may free you from this commitment. Hartry Field attempts this kind of thing when he rewrites physics without mathematics (assuming logic is not mathematics). Some would find this exercise completely pointless.

But despite these very large disagreements as to method, there is still a unity, or perhaps connectivity, provided by our relation to a tradition. In some sense, you can't be a philosopher without being able to position yourself iu relation to some of the questions considered by Plato and Aristotle.

dt also asks about why I take such notice of category theory. I've given a couple of reasons here, but there are plenty other reasons to like it. It breaks down what I see as an artificial distinction between the framework of a language and what the language talks about. And I'm very much enjoying its rise to prominence in contemporary physics. As to what I would have done 60 years ago, well do what all philosophers of X ought to do, namely, make apparent the 'constellation of absolute presuppositions' (to use a phrase of Collingwood) of X, and the tensions within it, understanding this constellation to be an historical entity.


Anonymous said...

You mention the Cambridge fuss over Derrida. Another example of divergence between different conceptions of philosophy was the dispute at University of Sydney in (I think) the 1970s, which led to the University creating two Philosophy Departments -- essentially a Marxist one and a non-Marxist one (although, of course, that is not what they are called).

Sydney University solved a similar dispute between different schools of economists in the same way, creating two Departments of Economics.

March 28, 2006 8:14 AM  

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