Thursday, December 02, 2010

Hibbs, Thomas S. "Stanley Cavell's Philosophical Improvisations." CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION October 10, 2010.

Cavell, Stanley.  Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory.  Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010.

In God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition, the latest in a number of recent books critical of the modern research university, the influential Irish-born philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that "neither the university nor philosophy is any longer seen as engaging the questions" of "plain persons." These questions include: "What is our place in the order of things? Of what powers in the natural and social world do we need to take account? How should we respond to the facts of suffering and death? What is our relationship to the dead? What is it to live a human life well? What is it to live it badly?" Now in his 80s, MacIntyre is among a small group of philosophers who have sought to address such questions. Other members, about the same age, include the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor and, perhaps especially, the American philosopher Stanley Cavell, whose life both in and out of philosophy is on display in his just-published autobiography, Little Did I Know (Stanford University Press).

In his book, MacIntyre indicts the university for its lack of integration, the disconnections among the disciplines, and the intellectual disregard of one discipline for another. He writes: "In contemporary American universities, each academic discipline is treated as autonomous and self-defining, so that its practitioners, or at least the most prestigious and influential among them, prescribe to those entering the discipline what its scope and limits are. And in order to excel in any one particular discipline, one need in general know little or nothing about any of the others." Returning philosophy to the concern of ordinary human persons and showing how it might speak across disciplinary lines of inquiry are not easy tasks. But the life and career of Cavell testify not just to the possibility of such achievements but also to just how rich the results can be. . . .

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