Doing Philosophy Historically

Doing Philosophy Historically

Doing Philosophy Historically

Doing Philosophy Historically

Excerpt

Although every decade of this century has seen both the development of original philosophical ideas and significant work in the history of philosophy, between roughly World War II and 1980 there were many English-speaking philosophers who were outspoken in expressing the view that philosophers, if they are to make progress in solving problems and thereby achieving knowledge, must practice philosophy independently of the history of philosophy. These philosophers (usually labeled "analytic") were seldom so rash as to claim that the history of philosophy has no value whatsoever; they conceded that the history of philosophy has historical value as part of the history of culture. They even conceded that the history of philosophy has philosophical value of a pedagogical sort; students, they allowed, can develop their powers of philosophical analysis by exercising them on dead philosophers--by dissecting philosophical cadavers, as it were. Philosophical analysts also recognized that the same writer could on some occasions practice original philosophical analysis and on other occasions write the history of ideas. But, in their understanding of the independence of doing original philosophy from writing the history of philosophy, they denied the possibility of simultaneously and responsibly engaging in these two activities in the same work.

The purism of the analysts was matched by the purism of some historically minded philosophers. While the analysts were insisting that works of original philosophy should not be contaminated by history, some historians of philosophy were insisting that works in the history of philosophy should not be contaminated by attempts to solve philosophical problems, by "presentism." From their historicist perspective, these philosophical historians charged the analysts with writing anachronistic history, when the analysts deigned to write history at all.

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