Friday, October 16, 2009

Can Philosophy Be Done without History?

I want to ask people in general what you think the place of history in philosophy is. One may argue the following:

1. Philosophy is, in part, a sustained reflection with a historical-tradition.
2. Any Introduction to Philosophy is (in part or wholly) a sustained reflection with a historical-tradition.
3. Therefore, an introduction to philosophy class should study its history.

Now, does it follow that we should think of history as IN PART or WHOLLY RELEVANT? This question is just asking quite another thing: Can we have philosophical discourses that attempt to describe in some way the world?

Now, I answer the intuitively obvious answer: Yes, we can, but with qualification. Let's take a case I know intimately. For within the history of phenomenology, phenomenology developed as a method to describe the givenness of phenomena. Some people reject this idea or series of ideas that have come to us through history. Yet, to discuss the validity/objectivity of the phenomenological reduction is on the same level as asking which better fits with reality: act utilitarianism or rule utilitarianism. So, we come to phenomenology only through the history of Husserl's texts and what follows them. However, our entrance into the problem of phenomenology as a method may be both historical -- if we so remain in those texts -- or we attempt to move from the history to describing it and the status of its method. This moving beyond would be an independent evaluation as to meet those skeptics of Husserl's method. Either way, we are doing philosophy.

In other words in the above argument, 1) can only be true if we meant IN PART. For the whole of philosophy has different conceptions that articulate its very possiblity. The Heideggerian agreement in me is that philosophy is an interpretation of human facticity whereas the other conceptions of philosophy hold that our concepts describe the world in some way. We should get clear on their limits and what they do and do not describe. As such, we can hold other conceptions of philosophy as true or relevant for so long as 1) is read as "in part." One can do philosophy as a meditation on texts and then take the insight from those texts to problems that tickle our philosophical imagination. For me, these have always been: What is practical reason like? How do I come to know moral beliefs? What are moral beliefs? What is agency like? We move from history to the ahistoric dimension of philosophical problems.

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