Exile, Occupation, Persecution: The Birth of Philosophers

Bertrand Russell, Typical Philosopher

Time to pick up where I left off last time—why so many of The Greats come from less-than-ideal circumstances. While today’s philosopher is stereotyped as a rather comfortable man in his armchair complete with tweed, pipe, and beard, it seems that most philosophers, especially before Kant, spent some time on the run, hungry, alone, forsaken, and with the law at their heels. For a few of them, there was a jail cell and executioner rather than departmental office and publisher.

I’m all about historical narratives around here, so let’s whip up another one—how philosophers found themselves on the wrong end of The Man: Continue reading


The Complete History of Philosophy, Abridged

This, perhaps more than anything else, may be my biggest scholarly disagreement with how philosophy is practiced today.  Sure, I have much bigger gripes on a personal and professional level—the casual sexism for starters—but this is less depressing.

Philosophy has a history, and its history shapes how we do things.  The problem is that each side of the philosophical turf war has its own narrative, and these narratives . . . well, they’ve got issues. Continue reading

Michel Foucault, Relationship Counselor: Philosobabble Has a Point

So this is part two of an unintentional series, it seems.  I don’t know if I’m on to something or not here, but . . .

If words and language support and are supported by a whole network of epistimic presuppositions, power structures, assumptions, overtones, nuances of meaning, etc., then, if somebody was trying to do something constructive with language, such as correct an unhealthy pattern of thought or interpersonal interaction, then it would seem logical to suppose that the words and patterns of language chosen should be those most apt to the task at hand.  This at least partially explains why philosophers love technical and specialized jargon, besides the fact that we just really love tossing around fun words; certain terms have specific connotations, implications, and shades of meaning that naturally lead the listener to the intended conclusion, as well as bearing a whole web of related information.  For instance, the term “quidity” has implications neither its translation “whatness” or strict Latin rendering “quiditas” have; while sounding like something that is part of a specialized philosophical lexicon, with its own particular uses, rather than a word made up on the spot, it still sounds like something used in current debates, rather than historical medieval disputations.  Using either the translated neologism or the strict Latinism would detract from the philosophical point at hand, while the Anglicized form of the Latin references the metaphysical debate in contemporary philosophy. Continue reading