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05 February 2012


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Eric Schliesser

Dennis, if the majority of practitioners think this way then regardless of the worth of history then historians have a sales-problem (which is what I tried to discuss in the post that Mohan is responding to).

Mohan Matthen

Dennis, a small point of pragmatics. My post can be taken as a reason for some to do and all to read professional history of philosophy, not to ignore or marginalize it. (This is actually how I intended it, though it wasn't my main point, and I didn't harp on it.) But I agree with your characterization: as far as the practitioners are concerned, you might as well have consulted tea-leaves. You read PHP because it's generally a more effective way.


Eric: Many scientists think this way. History of science is a much harder sell in science departments than history of philosophy in philosophy departments (but remember the scandal of NYU’s having no historians not so long ago). In philosophy, I would guess that attitudes toward history depend on how closely a subdiscipline follows the science model. The horizon for people working on Bayesian methods in causal reasoning would probably be twenty years or less. For people in ethics, considerably longer.

Mohan: I agree that you were being nice to the historians. But if the attitude were that of the practitioner, then the message would be that historians offer better tea leaves. Which I suppose is not so bad.

Bennett Gilbert

As Scaliger points out in response to Mohan, the issue is not peculiar to philosophy. I'll add that the crux has even larger dimension: our fraught relationship to history, the presence of the absent, etc. Philosophy should be the very last discipline to narrow the topic down, rather than proud of being the clumsiest of the humanities and/or sciences to do so.
Eric is, I think, getting at this when he puts the matter in terms of common approaches to creativity. This, too, I fear, does no more than gestures at the issue: articulate and clear but there's more to be thought through.
A good example of what I consider the very narrow philosopher's approach is David Rosenthal, "Philosophy and its History," in Avner & Dacal, eds., "The Institution of Philosophy."
A piece I've just run across but not digested that seems interesting is Gaukroger, "What does History Matter to the History of Philosophy," in "Jour. of the Philosophy of History," vol. 5, no. 3 (2011).
I think the answers lie in looking at the very deep problems of historiography, such as holism, performativity, narrative, and others.
In my own clumsy way I tried to suggest this in the current issue of Essays in Philosophy on the theme of philosophical method, vol. 13, no. 1: and (including a reference to Eric Schliesser's and others' contributions to the long-running discussion around the subject on this blog).


Thanks for the reference!

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