Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Schliesser, Eric. Review of G. A. J. Rogers, et al., eds. INSIDERS AND OUTSIDERS IN SEVENTEENTH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (March 2010).

Rogers, G. A. J., Tom Sorrell and Jill Kraye, eds. Insiders and Outsiders in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2010. Imagine a possible distant future in which the poet-philosopher, Jody Azzouni, is at the core of the undergraduate curriculum. His views on ontology are routinely taught in order to prepare students for the great questions of the day. There are, of course, pesky historians who insist that the neo-scholastic reawakening inaugurated by David Lewis should be represented in the undergraduate curriculum -- they claim persuasively that for about a century Lewis attracted far more attention than Azzouni. (In his contribution to the volume under review Robert Adams calls the focus on possible worlds and the logic of modality the "coming of age of American philosophy" (312).) In his day Lewis attracted the very best graduate students in the leading philosophy department; working out the detailed implications of the various components of his system seemed to dominate philosophy for over a century. Meanwhile, Azzouni, who was by no means unknown in his time, never attracted PhD students. His work seemed to prohibit the parceling out of projects so necessary in an age of shortened PhDs, instant publication, and the division of labor within progressive research programs. Ironically, in the twenty-first century Azzouni was better known as a quirky novelist and feminist poet before he was rediscovered as the thinker who radically transformed philosophy post-Quine. So much for fantasy; it was inspired by the volume under review. Its core insight -- to place five now canonical thinkers of the seventeenth century alongside five significant but now largely untaught and unread thinkers -- is worthy of serious reflection. The five "outsiders" (Gassendi, Digby, Gale, Cudworth, and Malebranche) receive an article each. The five "insiders" (Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and Leibniz) all receive at least two articles. The volume teaches that it is very hard to say at a given time what philosopher/system will last and what the reasons are for such enduringness. Another thing taught by the volume as a whole is that philosophers can rewrite their history in various ways so that a thinker can become an insider or return to canonical status when s/he was once not. "Analytic" philosophers may need their historical "myths" (Cottingham introducing his views on Descartes, 165), but philosophy will not always be analytic and its future may require different myths or a different attitude toward history. . . . Read the whole review here:

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