Friday, October 14, 2005

Gray - Grayling's 'Descartes'

"One of the defects of contemporary philosophy is a lack of knowledge of the historical contexts in which philosophical ideas are produced. This is not entirely accidental. Especially in the English-speaking world, philosophers are anxious to set boundaries around the subject, marking it off from anything that looks irrational, or which current opinion finds somehow suspect. This strategy may promote clarity of thought, but essentially it amounts to the pursuit of respectabil- ity - a dreary ideal for philosophy. Nowadays the academy is obsessively secular. For most philosophers, anything that smacks of religion or mysticism is beyond the pale, fit only for the shelves in bookshops that deal with New Age cults.

The trouble with the attempt to purge philosophy of suspect influences is that it leads to a neglect of beliefs that actually inspired philosophers in the past. These were nearly always religious. Hegel's philosophy reproduced a Christian view of history, and Marx followed Hegel in seeing history as a purposive process - a view that derives from the idea of divine providence. Many contemporary philosophers believe that pursuing the sources of ideas betrays a genetic fallacy, which wrongly suggests that if a belief has a particular origin it cannot be justified in other terms. However, some views are indefensible and even incoherent when wrenched from their original conceptual framework. This is true of the teleological view of history advanced by Hegel and Marx, and of contemporary liberal conceptions of natural rights. Locke's liberalism was rooted in his version of theism. Without some such theological basis, the idea of natural rights that is at the core of his and other liberal theories is left hanging in midair. A great deal of seemingly secular philosophy is made up of religious leftovers of this kind ...

Grayling insists that, in the end, Descartes belongs among the founders of the modern scientific world-view rather than with the mystics, but one cannot easily distinguish between the two. The greatest modern scientists have often linked their work with beliefs that lie well outside the boundaries of empirical inquiry." - New Statesman.

No comments: