The Columbia History of Western Philosophy

By Richard H. Popkin | Go to book overview
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Epilogue on the History of Philosophy

The three chapters in this appendix deal with matters that do not really fit in the chronologically ordered structure of the rest of this volume. Nonetheless, each deals with a matter of much relevance. Constance Blackwell has been working on the history of the history of philosophy, making us realize that what we call “the history of philosophy” is an enterprise that itself has a history that goes back to the Renaissance; and in the form we usually meet it, it only goes back to the mid-eighteenth century. The development of histories of philosophy, as she shows, has greatly influenced what people think philosophy is about and established what we accept as the canon of important philosophical authors, going back to antiquity.

Mary Ellen Waithe has been in the forefront of those making us aware of the role of women in the history of philosophy and how they have been ignored in the standard histories. She has a long battle on her hands to change the textbooks and the teaching of the history of philosophy in order to do justice to the female participants in this lengthy history. The present volume does not live up to her demands but does make a start. Some of the neglected figures she mentions are treated from ancient times onward. We hope this is just the beginning of a large-scale revision of the philosophical canon to include both men and women as actors in the history of philosophy.

My own concluding chapter offers some thoughts on why there is so much opposition to including the history of philosophy as part of the study of philosophy today. In my teaching career, starting fifty years ago, I have been confronted over and over again by colleagues and students who demand to know why “history of philosophy” is taught in the philosophy department and whether what I do and write and teach

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