On Philosophy: Notes from a Crisis

On Philosophy: Notes from a Crisis

John McCumber

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0804781435

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Deepening divisions separate today's philosophers, first, from the culture at large; then, from each other; and finally, from philosophy itself. Though these divisions tend to coalesce publicly as debates over the Enlightenment, their roots lie much deeper. Overcoming them thus requires a confrontation with the whole of Western philosophy. Only when we uncover the strange heritage of Aristotle's metaphysics, as reworked, for example, by Descartes and Kant, can we understand contemporary philosophy's inability to dialogue with women, people of color, LGBTs, and other minority groups. Only when we have understood that inability can we see how the thought of Hegel and Heidegger contains the seeds of a remedy. And only when armed with such a remedy can philosophy rise to the challenges posed by thinkers such as David Foster Wallace and Abraham Lincoln. The book's interpretations of these figures and others past and present are as scrupulous as its conclusions will be controversial. The result contributes to the most important question confronting us today: does reason itself have a future?

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Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves

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Theoretical Philosophy after 1781 (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant)

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of matter is not; this account serves as an intermediate account between Boyle’s air pump and the second, more positive account Wallace gives. That positive account is for its part couched as a reflection on the aims and procedures of Boston Alcoholics Anonymous (“Boston AA”). The negative account presents a men’s consciousness-raising group into which one of the book’s two protagonists, Hal Incandenza, stumbles by accident. The meeting takes place behind a closed door in a windowless room, in

“adequate to its object,” which would sound traditional enough to people such as Heidegger and Tarski if they ever read Spinoza. But “adequacy” for Spinoza turns out to mean not “correspon- 5 6    W H AT I S T H E H I S TO RY O F P H I L O S O P H Y ? dence to an object” but “existence as in the mind of God” (him again!).16 God knows an object in relation to its entire causal context, which is ultimately the entire universe: to know anything adequately is to know everything adequately. Though

only once, with Thales. It does not restart de novo every time a philosopher sits down at her word processor or even when she gets her PhD. When she does either of those, she comes into contact, not directly with some eternal inbreath of Philosophy Itself, but with a long and complex chain of intermediations. Having assigned such a temporal, and so empirical, origin to philosophy, Hegel denies that it is unified from outside, by atemporal causes. But he is still “metaphysical” for Foucault

from Aristotle and often appeal to the notion of “organic tradition” mentioned by Pippin. They therefore qualify as premodern. But others are aimed in the other direction: at the continued use of ousia as the structuring principle of the human mind and communities. These, I take it, qualify as postmodern. Thus, when we look at the writings of such people as Derrida and Foucault, we discover that many of their ways of thinking are in fact directed against ousia.24 When Derrida says that “there is

which continually conceals itself ” (R, 12). The “death of God” has abrogated all certainties. Since answers are no longer to be had, questioning is, so to speak, of the essence, “the highest form of knowing” (R, 13–14). Heidegger has thus located himself in the philosophical space opened up for Nietzsche by Hegel, who proclaimed the death of God at the end of the Phenomenology (PhS, ¶¶ 752, 786; 455, 476). Just as for Hegel reason was not the possession of a set of successfully completed proofs

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