Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflections on Philosophical Interpretation - I

   In order to help me to write more I have decided to start writing some reflections on Philosophical Interpretation.  I hope that these can be helpful for generating some talk on the blog about our engagements with text and each other.

   My study of Kant has afforded many benefits; one of the earliest I can remember was concerning the interpretation of earlier philosophers.  As a young undergraduate it was very easy for me to scoff as soon as ‘God’ appeared in an argument.  While studying the modern period in a history course I found that I had this reaction consistently in regards to Rationalists, whereas I found the Empiricists much more agreeable.  At this point in my work I have had a complete about face.  It isn’t that I have started to doubt the Empiricists (hereafter referred to as Quitters) but I have found that their project does not have the same depth as the Rationalists (hereafter referred to as Crazies).
   At the same time I was taking this history class I was also taking my first course on Kant, and was quite impressed with what I was finding.  The Quitters were certainly more agreeable to me, but I found that they were not quite working as hard as Kant who was not happy to simply stop at habit as Hume was.  What I see now is that this extra struggle that Kant put himself through ultimately relates him much closer to the Crazies – not in their method or conclusions, but in their concerns.  
   My first study of the Critique of Pure Reason had a profound impact on which concerns are proper to examine in philosophy, and which concerns are an embarrassment.  Kant had shown that there was real substance to the discussion of soul, world, immortality, freedom and even God.  Of course, these terms had come to have an entirely different meaning for me, as well as a rich context in which their consideration thrived.  The former usage and context remained, but I was less interested in my old concern with them.  Once I had mulled this over, and with the addition of another course on Kant just concerning his Practical Philosophy, I had found looking back at the Crazies and wondering if they were on to something, if they really did have the same concerns as Kant but poorly represented themselves.  Over the years, I continue to go back to Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz to find inspiration in their enthusiasm and unique struggles with these concerns.
   The lesson learned here can be expressed as becoming interested in what matters to people; only after knowing what matters to a person does it make sense to engage arguments that attempt to pursue those concerns. And if my interpretation finds a problem in an argument, I often find that such problems are resolved by once again attending to what the concerns are.  Often that means that arguments are nothing but a way of trying to divine what matters.
   This component of my technique in philosophizing has been greatly helpful for furthering discussions that would otherwise have been impossible, and for keeping in mind my own concerns so that I can properly express myself according to what matters and not just some clever argument.  In practice, this has also been easy for others I know to adopt and benefit from.
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