Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Evening Note for Tuesday, April 4th

Thought for the evening:

One of the greatest difficulties I've found in discussing history of philosophy with people who aren't in that field is overcoming the tendency to see arguments entirely in terms of their utility. That is, people seem to have difficulty seeing how one could evaluate an argument positively, enthusiastically, without accepting it. (This problem is not confined to people outside of HoP. I cannot count the number of times that someone in philosophy has assumed that because I'm rather enthusiastically positive about certain of Malebranche's more unusual moves that I agree with them. Needless to say, this is an illicit assumption.) But philosophical arguments shouldn't be seen as mere tools; they should also be seen as works of art, to be appreciated (or not) in their own right. In philosophical arguments we see the traces of the living operation of the human inellect, struggling with the biggest issues of all; and that is a wondrous thing. Good history of philosophy, like good philosophy itself, starts with a sense of wonder -- in this case, a sense of wonder at what the mind hath wrought. A sign of this sense of wonder is the ability to appreciate a philosophical position without having to argue that it is right.

This is not to say, of course, that whether it is right or not is unimportant. Indeed, it is the most important thing about the argument itself. But that is not what history of philosophy studies, at least primarily; HoP studies the courses of the mind at its best -- even when wrong. There is much to be learned about what is correct and what is not from studying brilliant error as well as truth. But no one can get so far without first appreciating the fact that some erroneous arguments are brilliant and beautiful, and worthy of a moment's time even if only for that fact.

Links worth noting:
Who is my neighbor? at "verbum ipsum"
Fine-tuning, Coarse-tuning, and Design Arguments at "Fides Quaerens Intellectum"

Currently Reading:
Honoré de Balzac, Droll Stories.
Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad.

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