Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Tradition and Philosophy

"Today, authors lay themselves bare, expressing and liberating themselves. They strive for originality, for what has never been said before. Philosophers set forth their system, expounding it in their own personal way, freely choosing their starting point, the rhythm of their expositions, and the structure of their work. They try to stamp their own personal mark on everything they do. But like all productions of the last stages of antiquity, the Enneads are subject to servitudes of a wholly different nature. Here, originality is a defect, innovation is suspect, and fidelity to tradition, a duty. . . . Philosophy has become exegesis or preaching."--Pierre Hadot, on Plotinus, in Plotinus: or, The Simplicity of Vision, trans. Michael Chase (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 17.

It would be easy to say that the old way of philosophizing is right, and the new way of philosophizing is wrong. But I don't think that this is the case. Originality for its own sake is surely wrong. But surely philosophy should not be exegesis; certain things, I hope, are in some ways more manifest to me now then they were manifest to Aristotle in his time.

I think well-written philosophy would be towards prior philosophy as the ending of a drama would be towards the first acts of the drama. One should not be able to predict the later from the former, because then there would be nothing new in the later and one might as well not have it at all. Yet when the former is viewed from the later perspective, the former leads to the later, anticipates it, and is perfected by it.

So somehow what is new is not contained in the old, but when one looks back at the old from the perspective of the new, the old seemed to desire the new all along. Like the Old and New Testament are, surely.

This is not an original thought, of course. And I admit it leaves something to be desired in terms of concrete suggestions.

No comments:

Post a Comment