Texts as pretexts, or: the practitioner’s attitude

Mohan Matthen has been commendably frank in expressing his attitude toward the history of philosophy. But in fact what he has expressed does not pertain to history in particular: it pertains to any source of inspiration. It is what you might call the practitioner’s attitude.
When one reads Julia Annas or Margaret Wilson or Michael Friedman one thinks: Gee that’s really interesting. Could Aristotle or Descartes or Kant really have thought that? […]
And then one thinks: Oh who cares? It’s so interesting that it’s worth tackling on its own. But, no doubt, it gives the question a certain beautiful frisson that Kant could have held it.
[From NewAPPS.] Nothing at all changes if you substitute ‘Susan Wolfe’ or ‘Mohan Matthen’ for ‘Aristotle’ or ‘Descartes’. For me as a practitioner it’s of no especial import to get Aristotle or Mohan right so long as I have arrived at something of interest to me. It may be that a historian has helped me along toward that end. But what matters is that I have been inspired, that I am having interesting thoughts.
To that end presumably whatever works is licit, so long as it is not morally objectionable. I could just as well as have consulted tea leaves. I am, so far as inspiration is concerned, a pure egoist, a solipsist even, since it hardly matters whether I have listened to you or merely dreamt of listening to you.
The attitude of the practitioner ought not to be given any weight, therefore, to in judging the worth of history. It is too indiscriminate. The practitioner is indifferent to anything that fails to inspire interesting thoughts, and will value anything that does, whatever its intrinsic worth.

LinkFebruary 5, 2012 in History of Philosophy · NewAPPS