Thursday, February 7, 2013

Themes in Philosophical Reading and Writing


   There are many attitudes we employ when writing or reading.  Here I am interested in the particularly philosophical attitude.  I have recently written on how I understand philosophical interpretation generally, and here the same subject must be held in mind while addressing the role of theme in philosophical reading and writing.
   A theme is not simply what is written about, but that which organizes what is set down in the exposition.  Even if a theme is not expressed directly there will be something guiding the organization of the exposition, and so an unspoken theme; even when there is an explicit stated theme, it is not necessary that this is what actually ends up guiding the reading.  
   Honest writers and readers are able to tell when the theme is unclear, even when one is stated.  Understanding the theme does not simply consist in knowing by what term the theme is called, but by gathering the exposition around what is called.
   Often, readers complain when a theme is not made clear from the very first moment so that the writing can advance in the form of a deduction or a list of testable facts that can pertain to the theme.  Writers may also despair of themes when they are not clear in advance to the writer.  These difficulties have no place in philosophical reading and writing, but only where a theme has been settled into the principle of a science around which knowledge can begin to organize itself.  Philosophy does not organize knowledge in this way, but must continually work out its theme.
   When philosophically reading or writing on a theme we confess a lack of understanding, yet this lack contains precisely enough understanding to get started, for we at least know that we don't know.  Philosophizing on a theme is an exploration of what understanding we may attain in the exposition of the theme, and this as a practice in understanding generally.  
   Setting down a theme in exposition (a triple redundancy) establishes a center point that brings different thoughts together.  Each of these thoughts, while they guide us to and from the theme, are only guiding because we hold to the theme as the center around which the thoughts are arranged and which the thoughts also clarify.
   Keeping themes in mind, we may set to our philosophical reading and writing with a better orientation to the task, and guarded against disappointments that result from demanding too much in despairing themes that are not already settled.  If we deny all themes that are not established, we deny thought, which has its peculiar work in exploring its inexplicable relation to what we fail to grasp.
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