The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

Synopsis

Philosophy is a dangerous profession, risking censorship, prison, even death. And no wonder: philosophers have questioned traditional pieties and threatened the established political order. Some claimed to know what was thought unknowable; others doubted what was believed to be certain. Some attacked religion in the name of science; others attacked science in the name of mystical poetry; some served tyrants; others were radical revolutionaries.
This historically based collection of philosophers' reflections--the letters, journals, prefaces that reveal their hopes and hesitations, their triumphs and struggles, their deepest doubts and convictions--allow us to witness philosophical thought-in-process. It sheds light on the many--and conflicting--aims of philosophy: to express skepticism or overcome it, to support theology or attack it, to develop an ethical system or reduce it to practical politics. As their audiences differed, philosophers experimented with distinctive rhetorical strategies, writing dialogues, meditations, treatises, aphorisms. Ranging from Plato to Hannah Arendt, with contributions from 44 philosophers (Augustine, Maimonides, AlGhazali, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Voltaire, Rousseau, Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, among others) this remarkable collection documents philosophers' claim that they change as well as understand the world. In her introductory essay, "Witnessing Philosophers," Amelie Rorty locates philosophers' reflections in the larger context of the many facets of their other activities and commitments.

Excerpt

The philosophers represented in this collection have, for better or worse, influenced the way philosophy is practiced. They have formed the canon that presently defines the field, guides apprentices, and sets standards of authority. the scope of their meditative self-presentations nevertheless suggests that philosophy has not formed a specific genre of writing or argumentation. Philosophical credos, manifestos, and programs are found in letters, prefaces, journals, diaries, interviews. Moreover, the aims, the stylistic conventions, and the audiences of such self-conscious self-mirrorings vary historically. Many of Augustine's reflections were formulated as prayers. Montaigne's Essais are exercises: expansive, concentric attempts to present himself to his intimate friends, as if he were speaking to himself. Other autobiographies—those of Al Ghazali, Maimonides, and Descartes—follow a narrative form, a reconstructed story of an intellectual quest that moves them from sensory experience through skepticism toward an affirmation of the consonance of faith and science. Later philosophical autobiographies—for instance, those by Hobbes and Hume—introduce a different narrative mode of self-examination. Rousseau's artful attempts at spontaneity announce a new form of autobiographical writing. and when self-conscious intellectual autobiographies are continuous with philosophical polemics—as they are with Heidegger, Russell, and Carnap—the genre "philosophical autobiography" yet again takes a different style, agenda, and audience.

The modes of philosophy are as various as those of autobiography. As their aims, issues, and audiences vary, philosophers experiment with different argumentative rhetorical and literary genres. in doing so, they often realign themselves: sometimes they keep company with theologians, sometimes with scientists or historians, sometimes with statesmen and educators, journalists and citizens of the republic of letters. Most recently, philosophy has become an academic profession, an exclusive, self-selective, and self-perpetuating guild with strict rules of apprenticeship and membership, a guild that regulates acceptable philosophic publication.

The Many Faces of Philosophy marks the intersection between continuously transforming genres. the introduction questions the rigid distinctions between "philosophy," "autobiography," "literary essays," and "political argumentation," distinctions that emerged from the practical necessities of library and publishers' catalogues—and from the departmental politics of university organization. It presents philosophers' meditations on the nature and tasks of philosophy, their reflections on the contribution that their "strictly" philosophic work makes to their other activities and commitments as political or spiritual advisers, as scientists and educators. Those self-searching meditations include materials culled from letters, prefaces, memoirs, political tracts, replies to critics. They also include a few excerpts from contemporary biographies (Baillet on Descartes, Aubrey on Hobbes, Fox Bourne on Locke, Adam Smith on Hume, Engels on Marx).

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