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Some Notes and Discussions Remarks on the Historiography of Philosophy IT HAS BECOME FASHIONABLE of late to attempt to mediate what has been perceived as a gulf between philosophy and the history of philosophy. Several years ago, a number of British and French philosophers held a conference touching on this issue. A year ago, in May 1984, I participated in a stimulating conference at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on the same topic. The first of these conferences published its papers in the Revue Internationale de Philosophie (1983), 2 the Virginia papers will be published in an issue of Synthese. 3 The newly formed British Society for the History of Philosophy launched its program with a concept document which again focused on the gap between those who do the history of philosophy and those who do philosophy. More recently, we have the volume of papers delivered at Johns Hopkins University on the topic of Philosophy in History: Essays on the Historiography of Philosophy, edited by R. Rorty, J. Schneewind, and Q. Skinner (Cambridge University Press, 1984). The following remarks are meant to be a review of and commentary on some of the papers in this Johns Hopkins collection. 4 ' The following is a revised version of remarks delivered at the Inter-American Conference on Philosophy, Culture and History held in Puerto Rico, February 1985. This issue of the Revue (fasc. 3) was devoted to Descartes. The short introductory essay which raised some methodological questions was written by Jacques Bouveresse. 3 My contribution to that conference carried the title, "Is There a History of Philosophy? Some Difficulties and Suggestions." 4 The volume is divided into two parts, the second part consists of essays on particular topics or philosophers (e.g., skepticism, trust in the politics of Locke, discussions of Berkeley, Hume, Frege). I have not had time to work through the essays in Part II, but a quick glance at a few suggests that they may represent sound historical and textual analysis. Some at least show little influence of the attitudes toward the history of philosophy found in the first part. Part I consists of nine essays dealing explicitly with philosophy and the history of philosophy. It is to these essays, as well as to the general introduction, that the following remarks are addressed. I concentrate on a number of themes running through many of these essays, themes which are, I believe, dangerous to serious historical work in philosophy. The successful bridging of [571] 572 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 23:4 OCTOBER 1985 The issue has been stated in various ways in each of the conferences to which I have referred. In most accounts of the gulf, historians of philosophy mention an undertone of disdain or indifference shown to 'mere' history of philosophy by those 'analytic' philosophers who define 'philosophy' as what they themselves are interested in and do. In the Hopkins collection, MacIntyre puts the issue in the form of a dilemma. Either we read the philosophies of the past so as to make them relevant to our contemporary problems and enterprises, transmuting them as far as possible into what they would have been if they were part of present-day philosophy, and minimizing or ignoring or even on occasion misrepresenting that which refuses such transmutation because it is inextricably bound up with that in the past which makes it radically different from present-day philosophy; or instead we take great care to read them in their own terms, carefully preserving their idiosyncratic and specific character , so that they cannot emerge into the present except as a set of museum pieces (3t). MacIntyre is concerned to resolve this dilemma by arguing that "the achievements of philosophy are in the end to be judged in terms of the achievements of the history of philosophy" (47). What MacIntyre means by this remark is that the history of philosophy "is sovereign over the rest of the discipline," but it is not clear from his essay just how such sovereignty is to be judged. His model is natural science; he looks for "what constitutes the rational superiority of one large-scale philosophical standpoint over another." Skinner illustrates the first part of the above dilemma...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 571-578
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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