Sunday, May 25, 2008

Your Favorite Philosopher

It matters to Daniel Larison. I love this part of his liveblog of the Libertarian Presidential debate:

8:06 Barr named Ayn Rand as his favourite philosopher in response to the first question (which wasn’t supposed to be asked until later). I’m not sure if this is deeply worrying evidence of insanity or evidence of absolutely shameless pandering to the Libertarian crowd.

8:21 Mike Gravel must be going for the Eunomia vote, because he named Solon as his favourite philosopher. Solon! His answer was quite brilliant, actually, and if I had never seen him before I would argue that he ought to be the nominee. Phillies oddly named Cicero, the antithesis of heroic resistance to tyranny, Jingozian named Ben Franklin and Ruwart copied Barr by naming Ayn Rand.


Dan said...

You probably didn't intend this to turn into a general call for favorites, but upon reflecting a moment, my choice is easy:

Kierkegaard by a mile.

William James remains a favorite among Americanists,and I can feel the attraction of wild, crazy, radical empiricism. But I need more Christian existentialism in my life, truth be told.

Tim said...

If I didn't intend it to be a call for favorites, there's no reason why it shouldn't be one.

My desert island philospher is still Nietzsche, not least because (like Kierkegaard) he is a blast to read and writes as if your soul were at stake -- all the more remarkable for someone who thinks belief in the soul is one of the "great errors."

In general, I am attracted less to philosophers who are careful and persuasive than to those for whom the stakes are enormous.

Dan said...

Clearly I agree with you on the criteria. My general understanding of the history of philosophy in the US, and perhaps abroad, is that many early twentieth-century philosophers did they best to scientize the field. For certain questions, that is undoubtedly beneficial. But I do wonder now if its too bad that philosophers situate themselves in universities. What if some other institution existed that might support them in making more forceful, high-stakes interventions?

Tim said...

What if some other institution existed that might support them in making more forceful, high-stakes interventions?

What -- like Paul Wolfowitz reading Strauss and Bloom at the State Department?

I'm less sure. Philosophy needs to be wissenschaftlich, even if it's a froliche Wissenschaft, as Nietzsche would have it. Its skills, from linguistic literacy and acuity to historical sense to forms of argument, are the skills of the academy, from the trivium on down.

What may be more lamentable -- at least from the point of view of those of us who want high-stakes, high-entertainment philosophy -- is the dominance of a certain scientific model on the university, and especially on philosophy. The analytic and naturalist modes are powerful ones, as powerful in their own way as Descartes's method of radical doubt or Hegel's endless upending of claims to immediacy or Kant's Copernican turn to the conditions of knowledge rather than knowledge itself. But it may be best seen in that trajectory, as an addition to the modes of argument that philosophy can make its own, rather than the only legitimate forms that argument can take.