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

Underrated Philosophers V: Dante

Yes, as I’ve said before, that Dante. Great philosopher, decent poet.

Why is he great? Don’t let anyone lead you into thinking that separation of church and state is a modern idea and that the Middle Ages were a time filled with torture chambers, witch trials, the Spanish Inquisition, and kings in bed with the Pope. That was the supposedly enlightened Renaissance, when kings and popes actually had enough power to get away with those sorts of nasty things. No, the middle ages were filled with conflicts between church and state, with nobody more eager to see the two separated than our friend Dante. Continue reading

An Education for Academic Writers, Part I

Every writer has their imaginary audience, even if their real one is (like most of us) just friends, people linking to pictures you’re hosting, and parents who wouldn’t actually be interested in what you’re writing about if anyone else wrote it.* Mine is usually my grad school self and his colleagues—people who discuss insane things over wine and coffee after lectures, who have absolutely no clue about why people aren’t interested in what we study, and who labor under more than a few delusions about how this whole “publish or perish” thing works. Continue reading

Underappreciated Philosophers: Marsilius of Padua

Sometimes, the cool people don’t get the attention they deserve. Marsilius is definitely one of these people.

Now, long-term readers have probably noticed me throwing this  name around quite a bit, usually as an example of a really brilliant philosopher who fits nobody’s tradition. I’ll probably keep doing this, of course, but it’s long past time for me to explain why he’s so awesome. 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