Histor(ies) of Philosophy and Historiography

Every intellectual work has a sense of the past. It is made of several adventures, original sins, discoveries, disputes, decisive battles, that lead up to the present state of affairs . Here, we draw our attention to an intellectual work that we call history. Often, this sense of the past is linear and progressive. Moreover, linearity is privileged and rhizomic horizontality is forgotten. History in this sense is married to progressive linearity and hence has to be complemented with historiography which can assist us to synoptically look at ideas, thinkers side by side as well as assist us to discern how our narration of the history of philosophy occurs from some privileged vantage positions.

The genealogies or the linages of ideas can open us to understand philosophical ideas and views. They also give us a sense of direction and development of ideas and give us a sense of succession of ideas and thoughts. It is historiography that enables us to see how we frame ideas, thoughts and thinkers in a chronological or successive manner. We have framed Western Philosophy into ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary periods. There are also sub periodic sections like renaissance or enlightenment etc. No thinker contemptuous to any given period usually classified his work as belonging to that period. It was later thinkers who divided the Western Philosophy in the said period. In India, it is the Astika thinkers who classified their counterparts as Nastika schools. The medieval period was named to be such by those who saw themselves as moderners.

We see that history of philosophy is constructed in a bias that sees itself steadily being overcome with the coming of modernism. We can also locate a steady growth in logocentrism as thought by Jacques Derrida. Everything is progressively arranged with a privileged position of the present. Present is seen as the goal of the past of the philosophy and the narrative intensifies as well as anticipates its coming. It almost hierarchizes the present over the past and sets it up as what really matters. It is almost like a narrative that begins well (ancient Period) and gets lost (Medieval Period) and finds itself again (Modern Period). Thus, it has three parts of a classic narrative: the beginning (golden), the middle ( dark) and the end ( brave). This is why we with Jacques Derrida may think that there is no difference between Philosophy and Literature. We certainly use literary tropes to narrate the history of philosophy. This means historiography as a great value to open us the horizons of philosophy.

Besides, we can trace that the cannon of history of philosophy does not have women thinkers for a long time. Does that mean women were not philosophers in the West during that time? It is more likely that history was thought to be ‘his story’ and, therefore, ‘her story’ did not have any place in history as well as history of philosophy. Maybe it was unintentional or is that so? Feminists will not agree with us. The cannon of philosophy is tainted by patriarchy. We may also see that even after the Christian appropriation of Philosophy, Philosophy still remained a pagan affair and in the first ten hundred years the supreme philosopher remained Aristotle and not Christ.

Study of Ethics, Physics and Metaphysics crowed the work of Art Faculties of the early University. We can also bring light into the process and the manner in which philosophy was appropriated into Christianity, especially in the middle ages. Philosophy was thought to begin with Thales and end with Epicurus. We find this in the book of Diogenes Laertius of the third century, title, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Does that mean that there were no philosophers before Thales? Does it also mean that there were no thinkers anywhere in the world before him? Why philosophy has to be accepted as a Greek miracle. This need for an arche/ point of origin for Philosophy is contested in our days and Philosophy is thought to have developed all over the globe differently at different times.

Besides, we can also notice that there is no progressive linear march in the growth of ideas in philosophy. Often philosophers fell back on other thinkers without blindly flowing thinkers in chronological succession. Thus, we have several histories of philosophies that we frame into a singularized narrative. The renaissance thinkers returned to Plato to depart from Aristotle. Erasmous , for instance began to promote the concept of Philosphia Christi to expose his Christian humanism. He wished to present Christ as greater than Socrates. This had led to the denunciation of Aristotle and scholastic dialectic especially in the work of Peter Ramus and contrasted it with virtuous ‘ true dialectic’. Ramus was inviting his students to embrace the living spirit of Christian thinking against the dead letters of scholasticism.

This move lead to the expansion of history of philosophy to the time of creation. We can trace this expansive narration in the work of Georg Horns , Philosophical histories. This narration taught that Adam was completely blessed with philosophical wisdom, naturalis Saptientia. But with the fall human mind was darkened by heavy shadows of ignorance. Philosophy then could be acquired threw arduous exertion. Thus, we can see how Christianity came to see everything including philosophy as part of its existence. The renaissance produced another kind of history of philosophy. Of course another movement that we call as enlightenment will try to free Philosophy from Christianity and build as secular world.

Our discussion in this context shows that even in what we study as history of philosophy, there are several other history(ies) of philosophy. It is our turn to the historiography of the history of philosophy that is opening us to these several history(ies) of philosophy. I wish to unearth some of these histories, that has shaped what we have accepted as a singularized history of philosophy. This exercise will open us to what Paul Ricouer terms as the hermeneutics of distance and enable us to see the growth of ideas, thoughts and philosophies holistically and integrally as much as possible.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao