On the Relevance and Othering of the History of Philosophy (guest post by Martin Lenz)


The following is a guest post* by Martin Lenz (University of Groningen). A version of it first appeared at his blog, Handling Ideas


On The Relevance and Othering of the History of Philosophy
by Martin Lenz

Do you remember talking about music during your school days? There was always someone declaring that they would only listen to the latest hits. Talking to philosophers, I occasionally feel transported back to these days: especially when someone tells me that they have no time for history and will only read the latest papers on a topic. “What do I care what Brentano said about intentionality! I’m interested in current discussions.” Let’s call this view “currentism”. I sometimes experience versions of this currentist attitude in exams. A student might present an intriguing reconstruction of a medieval theory of matter only to be met with the question: “Why would anyone care about that today?” I have to admit that I sometimes find this attitude genuinely puzzling. In what follows I’d like to explain my puzzlement and raise a few worries.

Why only “sometimes”? I say “sometimes”, because there is a version of this attitude that I fully understand. Roughly speaking, there is a descriptive and a normative version of that sentiment. I have no worries about the descriptive version: Some people just mean to say what they focus on or indicate a preference. They are immersed in a current debate. Given the constraints of time, they can’t read or write much else. That’s fine and wholly understandable. In that case, the question of why one would care might well be genuine and certainly deserves an answer.

The normative version is different: People endorsing the normative attitude mean to say that history of philosophy is a waste of time and should be abolished, unless perhaps in first-year survey courses. Now you might say: “Why are you puzzled? Some people are just more enthusiastic in promoting their preferences.” To this I reply that the puzzlement and worries are genuine because I find the normative attitude (1) unintelligible and (2) politically harmful. Here is why:

(1) My first set of worries concerns the intelligibility of this attitude. Why would anyone think that the best philosophy is being produced during our particular time slice? I guess that the main reason for (normatively) restricting the temporal scope of philosophy to the last twenty or fifty years is the idea that the most recent work is indeed the best philosophy. Now why would anyone think that? I see two possible reasons. One might think so because one believes that philosophy is tied to science and that the latest science is the best science. Well, that might be, but progress in science does not automatically carry over to philosophy. The fact that I write in the presence of good science doesn’t make me a good philosopher.

So if there is something to that idea people will ultimately endorse it for another reason: because there might be progress in philosophy itself. Now the question of whether there really is progress in philosophy is of course hotly debated. I certainly don’t want to deny that there have been improvements, and I continue to hope for more of them. But especially if we assume that progress is an argument in favour of doing contemporary philosophy (and what else should we do, even if we do history!), how can someone not informed about history assess this progress? If I have no clue about the history of a certain issue, how would I know that real advancements have been made? In other words, the very notion of progress is inherently historical and requires at least some version of (whig) history. So unless someone holds the belief that recent developments are always better, I think one needs historical knowledge to make that point.

Irrespective of questions concerning progress one might still endorse current over historical philosophy because it is relevant to current concerns. So yes, why bother with medieval theories of justice when we can have theories that invoke current issues? Well, I don’t doubt that we should have philosophers focusing on current issues. But I wonder whether current issues are intelligible without references to the past.

Firstly, there is the fact that our current understanding of justice or whatever is not a mere given. Rather, it is the latest stage of a development over time. Arguably, understanding that development is part of understanding the current issues. Now you might object that we should then confine ourselves to writing genealogies of stuff that is relevant today but not of remote issues (such as medieval theories of, say, matter). To this I reply that we cannot decide what does and doesn’t pertain to a certain genealogy in advance of historical studies. A priori exclusion is impossible, at least in history. Moreover, we cannot know that what we find irrelevant today is still irrelevant tomorrow. In other words, our judgments concerning relevance are subject to change and cannot be used to exclude possible fields of interest. To sum up, ideas of progress and relevance are inherently historical and require historical study.

(2) However, the historicity of relevance doesn’t preclude that it is abused in polemical and political ways. Besides worries about intelligibility, then, I want to raise political and moral worries against the normative attitude of currentism.

Short of sound arguments from progress or relevance, the anti-historical stance reduces to a form of othering. Just like some people suffer exclusion and are labelled as “weird” for reasons regarding stereotypes of race or gender, people are excluded for reasons of historical difference. But we should think twice before calling a historically remote discussion less rational or relevant or whatever. Of course, there is a use of “weird” that is simply a shorthand of “I don’t understand the view”. That’s fine. What I find problematic is the unreflective dismissal of views that don’t fit into one’s preferences. The fact that someone holds a view that does not coincide with today’s ideas about relevance deserves study rather than name-calling. As I see it, we have moral reasons to refrain from such forms of abuse.

If we don’t have reasons showing that a historical view has disadvantages over a current one, why do we call it “weird” or “irrelevant”? Here is my hunch: it’s a simple fight over resources. Divide et impera! But in the long run, it’s a lose-lose situation for all of us. Yet if you’re a politician and you manage to play off different sub-disciplines in philosophy or the humanities against one another, you can simply stand by until they’ve delegitimised each other so much that you can call all camps a farce and close down their departments.


Art:  Cai Guo­-Qiang, “Sky Ladder”


Related: “Are History’s “Greatest Philosophers” All That Great?“, “How Philosophy Makes Progress“, “Is this the Golden Age of Philosophy?“, “The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions“, “Whether Philosophical Questions Can Be Answered“, “Progress in Philosophy

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A.J.
A.J.
3 years ago

Is this normative attitude common? I have to say I don’t think I’ve every meet someone who claims the only philosophy that matters is that which is current. There is also the problem, of course, that what philosophy is current now won’t be current in 20 years, so today’s philosophy only ‘matters’ for a short time, until it doesn’t matter again.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  A.J.
3 years ago

I find it quite common. Apart from individual encounters it is expressed the the structure of many departments in the UK and Germany where you find very few people hired for historical expertise. That said, things might be changing for the better, but it’s too early call it a trend.Report

And
And
3 years ago

I do work in both history of philosophy and mainstream contemporary philosophy. Whenever a contemporary philosopher asks me what the value of history of philosophy is (which is quite often) I just respond with the same question: what is the value of contemporary philosophy?

I think the most popular answer to this question is that there’s something intrinsically valuable about knowledge. But that answer also justifies the study of the history of philosophy.

As I see it, history of philosophy is important for the same reason that art history is important. Because it’s important to know the history of interesting and valuable things. Not because it’s useful for contemporary philosophers/artists. It might be. But the reason to study history is because knowledge of our history has intrinsic value.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
3 years ago

One might think that the best, say, philosophy of science is current philosophy of science, because one believes that the people doing philosophy of science (in, say, the 20th century) paid exactly the kind of attention to the relevant history you are recommending here. Junior faculty just might not see the value in going over ground that has been well-trodden by philosophy’s brighter lights. This kind of trust in previous generations can be misplaced, and certainly, well-gone-over ideas should be revisited eventually. But with faculty that have limited time resources available to make themselves attractive as scholars, it does not seem unreasonable to rely on others’ judgments about the history – at least until they get tenure.

On a personal note, I saw that my graduate school has done away with the traditional qualifying exams, including the history exam that struck fear in the heart of every student. (Six questions from a list that one did not have in advance. 1 on the Pre-Socratics, 1 Plato, 1 Aristotle, 1 Medieval, 1 Early Modern, 1 Late Modern). I probably learned more about philosophy studying for that exam than anything else. It (and the program) made all of us at least competent generalist philosophers (and teachers). I think the faculty realized, however, that that is not what the profession wants. It wants specialized folks that walk out of school with several publications in hand. Something had to give and it was the history.Report

JTD
JTD
3 years ago

“People endorsing the normative attitude mean to say that history of philosophy is a waste of time and should be abolished, unless perhaps in first-year survey courses.”

Does anyone really hold this extreme view? It strikes me as a strawperson. Surely a more realistic opponent will says something like the following:

“What we should focus on is developing and critically assessing the best arguments for and against various answers to fundamental philosophical questions. Many promising lines of argument were originally developed by past philosophers working in different epochs. However, it is often the case that in the years and centuries since, the debate has progressed. The line of argument has been improved, bugs have been fixed, new tools incorporated to broaden or narrow its scope, and developments in other areas of philosophy applied to give it a more solid foundation. When this has occurred there is no need to study the original presentation, we only need to examine the best contemporary versions of the relevant line of argument.
Where the history of philosophy can be of help is in the following two cases: (1) A key insight by early innovators who developed a certain line of argument has been lost as the debate has progressed. History of philosophy may then help us to “rediscover” this insight. (2) A promising line of argument on some fundamental philosophical question was developed in some neglected philosophical work and is missing from the contemporary philosophical debate. History of philosophy may then help us by drawing our attention to this novel line of argument so that it is incorporated into the contemporary debate.
The history of philosophy is a waste of time when it is just hagiography or interpretative parlor games that doesn’t serve (1) or (2).”

There will no doubt be different views about how common (1) and (2) are. Some will think they rarely happen and thus hold that the history of philosophy should only be a very small part of contemporary philosophical practice. Others will think they they happen quite a lot and thus hold the history of philosophy has a very important role to play. However, no serious interlocutor would deny that (1) and (2) ever happen, yet Lenz’s strawperson above appears to do just that.

Now I suspect that some defenders of the history of philosophy (including Lenz) will reject key aspects of the view I attribute to the more realistic opponent (e.g., they might reject the idea that some philosophical arguments are better or worse in general rather than just better or worse relative to the norms of some philosophical tradition or culture). If that is the point of disagreement then that is the debate we should be having rather than one based upon a strawperson.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

Thanks for this! I agree that my portrayal of currentists isn’t nuanced enough to capure the refined instrumentalist view you put forward. Although this nuanced view might even be more common, it is not necessarily mirrored in hiring decisions. But anyway, I’d certainly like to have the debate you’re proposing.
I guess that people adhering to (1) or (2) would assess the the relevance of historical research from the current point of view. As I try to make clear in the OP, that is fine. But even in such endeavours we cannot be sure to include the right kind of material in advance of broader historical study.
To give an example: Say you’re interested in the history of pragmatics. Would you really start searching for pertinent stuff in theorlogical commentaries on Peter th Lombard? The tracts on sacramental language are quite relevant, but we wouldn’t know, had it not been for research driven by non-contemporary concerns.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  JTD
3 years ago

Strawperson? Really?Report

reshef
reshef
3 years ago

a. One does not need to know the history of astrology in order to understand astronomy. And if, as some may think (didn’t Wittgenstein had similar thought about his own philosophy?), the relation between current philosophy and the history of philosophy is like that, then one does not need to have knowledge of the history of philosophy to understand and be able to do current philosophy well. (One would have to know the history, if one wanted to *argue* there is progress. But one may not be interested in that, and just *trust* that there is progress, as we normally trust that that astronomy has progressed beyond astrology.)
b. The claim needs to be made more strongly that one cannot really seriously *do* current philosophy without the history of philosophy. For several reasons. Here are some: (1) the history of philosophy is embedded in the ideas that current philosophers work with. That is, the history of philosophy is not really that “historical” and dated. Philosophers of current philosophy may not know this, but the historical ideas are there. (2) Some ideas from the history of philosophy really go beyond what is available in current philosophy. In some ways, historical philosophical ideas are actually more advanced than what we have in current philosophy. (3) If one does not learn from history, then one is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.
c. There is a strong sense that we (who do history of philosophy) would like to engage the currentists in a serious debate about this issue, and a serious sense in which it is likely that we’ll continue to feel that the currentists are ignoring us, not viewing the issue as really serious. (Why is the burden of proof on us, anyway?) Although I’m pessimistic, then, I agree with much of what Lenz says, specifically, I too “find problematic is the unreflective dismissal of views that don’t fit into one’s preferences.” And I am also thankful to him for trying.Report

Commentor 9
Commentor 9
Reply to  reshef
3 years ago

As someone who is more of a currentist, I would also appreciate a more robust debate along these lines, but I often find it hard to meaningfully engage because I often don’t see the challenges as very serious. I mean, to me the question “why is the burden of proof on ~us currentists~ anyway?” seems right. But given that so many other thoughtful people disagree, it seems like strong evidence I’m missing something.

Why does the burden of proof strike me as on historicists? Well, canonical historical texts often strike me as very bad, under contemporary standards. Sometimes this can be because they work with severely outdated scientific and formal methods. But other times it is just the argument. E.g. In the groundwork Kant offers “derivations” that deserve scare quotes around the term; offers non-equivalent formulations while ambiguously specifying their relation; and illustrates those formulations with examples to which they do not even clearly apply (or apply at all). Just looking at it, it is mysterious to me why I would think the project of offering ever closer readings and yet more elaborate apologetics in defense of this text was the way forward on any issue of concern, aside from a concern that was simply about Kant biographically. That this is the most efficient way to make progress on contemporary issues seems to me to be the exceptional claim requiring a surprising and robust defense. I don’t mean my language or example to be abusive, but only to state clearly the perspective from which I really don’t get it. Although I see this perspective pushed back against a lot in posts like the OP, I rarely feel that the challenges are very responsive.

For one example: the OP notes that scientific progress does not AUTOMATICALLY translate to good philosophy. But this is obvious. What is unclear is that it isn’t necessary—knowing science doesn’t guarantee good work, but bad science may guarantee useless work (via reference failure, false presuppositions, etc). And it seems to me again that the clear default assumption should be that better science and more powerful formal methods ceteris paribus tend toward better work. Historical philosophers could not even entertain, let alone solve, questions about eg causation, explanation, or rational belief poised in terms of a robust probability calculus.

These factors strike me as much more clearly concrete and relevant than those that are typically raised in the other direction, aka the hidden historical baggage of concepts. Concepts that are adequately defined in terms of theoretical role and ostension should not need a historical archaeology to be made explicit; they should just be explicit already, because their definition was adequate. Is it ~impossible~ to be adequately explicit in philosophy? That seems like a very powerful claim! I would want to see an argument for this.

Ah well. Again, I apologize for my rudeness. Maybe my message is intrinsically disrespectful and so that cannot be canceled by any performance, but if there is a performance that can cancel it, i hereby perform it.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Commentor 9
3 years ago

Thanks, interesting points! You write “And it seems to me again that the clear default assumption should be that better science and more powerful formal methods ceteris paribus tend toward better work. Historical philosophers could not even entertain, let alone solve, questions about eg causation, explanation, or rational belief poised in terms of a robust probability calculus.” – I guess we agree as long as you grant that “better” means “better with regard to certain *ends*”. I simply assume that there are more ends in philosophy than those captured by the means you propose. – Now we’d have to decide whether we want to have a plurality of ends in philosohy. (And sadly that’s not simply a matter of discussion but also of resources.)Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
3 years ago

What’s the difference between a philosopher of history and a historian?

In my own mind, the philosopher isn’t merely interested in trying to piece together historical ‘facts’ about their period of expertise, the philosopher is interested in answering contemporary issues informed, perhaps, by their interest in history. Someone interested in trying to reconstruct Socrates’ Greece is a historian, but someone trying to show that Socratic understandings of memory can be useful ways of making sense of contemporary philosophical or neuroscientific questions of mind and memory is a philosopher. Since I’m a philosopher myself, I see a special normative significance to doing philosophy over history. I’m not sure where that puts me in the false dichotomy presented in the OP.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
3 years ago

Thanks! “In my own mind, the philosopher isn’t merely interested in trying to piece together historical ‘facts’ about their period of expertise”. Neither is the historian. I wholeheartedly agree that the dichotomy between history and philosophy is a false dichotomy. Sadly, we don’t get to revoke it that easily.Report

Reshef
Reshef
3 years ago

To DO the history of philosophy means to take the great philosophers (it’s your choice who they might be) and interpret them—but in a special sense of interpret. It involves trusting them: trusting that their view coheres, that it may cohere beyond what you can at the moment realize or even imagine, and that when you finally realize the coherence in their position you will have learnt something new: you will have seen a different way to think; you will have studied the history of philosophy.

As opposed to that there is the practice of accepting a contemporary framework for a matter at hand—a map of possible views—and trying to place a philosopher on it. This is a completely different idea of what interpreting a philosopher might be. Arguably this doesn’t give the philosopher a chance to teach a different framework—to be great. And this may lead to the notion that there really aren’t any great philosophers (except perhaps in the sense that some have better reputation), and that the history of philosophy is redundant.

Take Richard Moran’s and Martin Stone’s “Anscombe on Expression of Intention: An Exegesis,” for example. They find what they present as a problem for readers of Anscombe. They say those readers don’t have a reading of Anscombe that makes her view plausible (p. 42-3).

I agree with Moran and Stone. However, saying there is such a problem for those readers fails to acknowledge how disparaging these readers are towards the practice of the history of philosophy. As Moran and Stone realize, these readers are already reading Anscombe without Thomas or Wittgenstein. And this already indicates their unwillingness to DO history of philosophy. – But if so, then these readers will hardly start with Anscombe. Having discovered the problem, the response of such readers is likely to simply be: “She’s confused here.” They are not going to take it as a problem for themselves, and Anscombe as a philosopher to interpret—interpret in the sense of trusting her, and working to show how her views cohere. And if that seems as if they are unwilling to learn from Anscombe—to really learn—then that’s right. They are probably unwilling.

I’m not sure this is a criticism of Moran and Stone. I’m not sure what can possibly be done to get philosophers to DO the history of philosophy—to engage in an activity they don’t seem to see.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Reshef
3 years ago

Intriguing points! I think the fact that we have to *trust* those who we read (to be sincere, consistent etc.) is of particular importance. It seems to be a particular aspect of exercising (Davidsonian) charity.
As you suggest, trust might go into at least two opposed directions. I might trust someone like Anscombe, and then I have to puruse a reading that makes her consistent, thus invoking Wittgenstein etc. Or I might trust a community that no longer reads people like Anscombe in the light of Wittgenstein.
What is it that happens at such points? I guess what we encounter in such cases is a parting of different traditions (of reading and contextualising). (The conversation changes direction and someone like Anscombe, for instance, needs more introduction than before). I suppose we can’t prevent that this happens. Certain traditions and ways of reading die out. But, yes, we need to be aware of the fact *that* standards change in this way. If we want to retain those voices (like Anscombe) we need *historians of (near) contemporary philosophy* who mangange to mediate between different (yet fairly current) traditions.Report

Reshef
Reshef
Reply to  Martin Lenz
3 years ago

Thanks for this.

Concerning the point you now make, I am not sure there is a real problem here. One may trust both Plato and Aristotle, for example, even though they have arguably, or seemingly, very different philosophies and philosophical drives and styles and concerns. – Do you think one should endorse (or is capable of endorsing as valuable) only one philosophical tradition?

I think I would want a more radical criticism of currentism than the one you formulate: one that thinks of dead philosophers as philosophers one is in a conversation with, and thus denies that Plato or Wittgenstein or Spinoza or Nietzsche belong in a different conversation (at least in one sense). There is obviously a moral concern here. J. S. Mill talks somewhere about being able to receive light from other minds, which means more than just tolerantly listening to others. I want to say there is a duty here—the duty not to impose our own conceptions on what others say or think—and it seems to me currentism involves (perhaps unintentional) denial of that.

I also think the difficulties of convincing the currentist are great—perhaps greater than you suggest. One point I was trying to make is that it is really hard to show someone what the value of doing the history of philosophy, since in some sense it is really impossible to get them to see the benefits unless they are willing to seriously do the history of philosophy. It’s a bit of a catch 22.

Anyway, thanks for the conversation, and many thanks for opening this very important conversation.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Reshef
3 years ago

Thanks again! You’re right, it’s hard to convince currentists – which I think is necessary for maintaining a fruitful conversation. For what it’s worth, I’d argue that doing philosophy always involves doing history: https://handlingideas.blog/2018/09/09/philosophy-is-history-part-i/Report

Reshef
Reshef
Reply to  Martin Lenz
3 years ago

Thanks Martin. I like what you say in that blog post very much. Would you agree that there are ways and there are ways of doing the history of philosophy? (Might this be a way of amplifying what you say in that post?) – Specifically, would you agree with some distinction like this: between (1) a kind of history of philosophy that focuses or tends towards exegesis and on determining the bottom line of a philosopher’s views, perhaps finding value in comparing the philosopher with some more or less immediate influences on them, but not so much concerned with placing their ideas in a broader historical context, and (2) a kind of history of philosophy that attempts first and foremost on understanding and sharing the philosopher’s problems and understanding how those problems arise, perhaps re-formulating and re-generating those problems in a more accessible (current?) language, understanding their methods and ways of thinking, and perhaps attempting to bring these methods and ways of thinking to bear on other problems—even problems the philosopher did not deal with explicitly? (I’m not sure about my description of the first kind of history of philosophy. What I described might be a mere caricature, or perhaps a form of degeneration that sometimes happens in the work of historians of philosophy.)

Part of the reason for this suggestion is that it might explain why some currentists want to reject the history of philosophy. If the history of philosophy is done in the first way I mentioned, and if in this way the ideas of a philosopher get “trapped” in their time-period, and are not allowed to be re-generated, thought anew, grow beyond their time-period, or be in a conversation with ideas from other time-periods, then it is not a huge surprise that some would think it is not very relevant to what they are doing.

There is an *activity* I think you and I call ‘the history of philosophy,’ or ‘doing history,’ that needs to be distinguished from other activities that may go by that name.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Reshef
3 years ago

One of the things we learn from studying the history of philosophy is that Anscombe is not to be trusted when it comes to the history of philosophy or indeed when she makes philosophical claims *based* on the history of philosophy. See my ‘Anscombe on “Ought” ‘ 1988 Phil Quarterly. I was a brash young man when I wrote that, but I am happy to say that *real* historians of philosophy are in substantial agreement with my critique. See for instance Irwin ‘Aquinas, Natural Laws and Eudaimonism’ in TheBlackwell Guide to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics., pp. 325-329 & 335.Report

Reshef
Reshef
Reply to  Charles Pigden
3 years ago

It seems to me to be one thing to trust (or agree or disagree with) someone as a historian of philosophy perhaps giving an account of the views of some philosopher, and another thing to trust (or agree or disagree with) them as philosophers, even if as such their views are informed by discussions in the history of philosophy. These are two different things. I’m not sure which one of those you have in mind. Perhaps both; but I think that in that case you have two kinds of disagreements with Anscombe, not one. – Is this wrong?

I don’t know enough about Anscombe, or about the history of philosophy that is relevant to her philosophy. She may be trusted on some issues, or philosophers, and not about others, or about some points and not about others. I don’t see a reason to say that this trust business should be an all or nothing issue. As a historian of philosophy, I think, for instance, that she got wrong some important things about early Wittgenstein, but is on the whole one of the best readers of later Wittgenstein. As a philosopher I tend to trust her.

Regarding Anscombe on “ought.” I did not read your paper, and I probably should. So thanks for the reference. Can you say something about where you disagree with her? – Is it a disagreement with her as a historian of philosophy, or as a philosopher? (I’m assuming you accept the distinction I made at the beginning of this reply, which perhaps I shouldn’t.) To what extent is she acting as a historian of philosophy when she talks about “ought”? If I recall, she is doing relatively little interpreting there (in ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’) of the views of specific philosophers. To the extent that she says there anything about the views of other philosophers, she only presents conclusions; she doesn’t really give arguments. And it is hard to argue against mere conclusions, so I’m not sure she was even trying to do much history of philosophy (in that sense) there. It seems to me that mostly she is acting there as a philosopher, developing her own views, and not her understanding of the views of other philosophers. – Am I wrong?Report

Jim
Jim
3 years ago

I can’t argue for this here (for reasons of time and space), but my experience as an historian of philosophy is that really great historical philosophers had fundamentally correct arguments for very important results which are far from uniformly accepted, and in many cases are minority positions, in contemporary philosophy. Bernard Williams noted that contemporary philosophy, just as much as that of the past, is bound by certain assumptions that are not explicitly stated, because hardly perceived; rather, they are like the air we breathe. Past philosophers often don’t share these assumptions (they breathe a different air), and thus their thought can appear quite alien. Really wrestling with their thought, and confronting this alienness, can often lead one to see that these assumptions are unjustified, and that in fact there are quite strong reasons for supposing them false.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Jim
3 years ago

Thanks! I take it you mean Williams’ idea of “making the familiar seem strange” and vice versa? (in “Descartes and Historiography” 2006). Expanding on this, he writes: “What we must do is to use the philosophical materials that we now have to hand, together with historical understanding, in order to find in, or make from, the philosophy of the past a philosophical structure that will be strange enough to help us to question our present situation and the received picture of the tradition, including those materials themselves.” — That strikes me indeed as a productive way of treating “otherness” in history. But as you say, it is quite difficult to achieve.Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Martin Lenz
3 years ago

Exactly that, yes.Report

Reshef
Reshef
3 years ago

John McDowell: “one of the benefits of studying a great philosopher from an alien age is that it can help us to see that we do not have to swim with the currents of our own time.”Report