Saturday, September 26, 1998

The Great Ages of Western Philosophy

Volume I, The Age of Belief

• Introduction, first page, first sentence, p. ix: ‘“We are like dwarfs seated on the shoulders of giants…”’
        Dwarfs? Why dwarfs? The fact that we can do so much and see so far largely because of the proceeding efforts of our forebears [does not imply that we are somehow doomed to be lesser men than they. Certainly the great philosophers of the past did much, and covered much ground, and we are greatly indebted to them in many ways. But philosophy is unlike science in this way: Progress is not guaranteed. It is not necessarily the case that philosophy tends to get less wrong as time goes on. It can, and we certainly hope it does, but there is less guarantee of that than with science (not that it is absolutely guaranteed there either). What I mean is that it is very possible that the great philosophers of the past can hold us back sometimes, and cause us to look for answers in the wrong directions, and so, giants though they may have been, they are occasionally giants who are actually standing on us, pushing us down.
        My point is that to believe that the great philosophers are somehow better or did more than we are or do, is not only a fallacy, it is a dangerous fallacy, because it causes us to look on our own work with trepidation, and causes us to be timid, believing that we could never be as great as our predecessors, so great, bold, new, paradigm-breaking ideas are less likely to come forth, or if they are advanced, to be taken seriously, because it is hubris to presume that your work could be as important as that as that of the great philosophers of history.–4/2/08 10:32 PM]

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