Tal on History of Philosophy

Straightforward philosophical analysis is ideally suited to bringing out internal paradoxes and contradictions in a given domain of discourse, but it is ill-suited to the task of shedding light on the impoverishment of human life that can go hand-in-hand with an impoverished yet internally self-consistent [understanding of ourselves]. If philosophical analysis cleaves too closely to common beliefs and practices, it can easily generate philosophical psychologies and allied ethical theories that serve only to systematize and entrench reigning prejudices concerning the nature and point of human action. […] where, then, might we look for a fresh start? One fruitful source is the cultural history of articulacy and self-consciousness in the classics of the philosophical tradition. Here, in the traditions of thought that have both shaped our times and been left behind by them, we might hope to find rival pictures with just the degree of ‘cultural distance’ from our own place and time to be of help: near enough that we shall not find it impossible to re-conceive of ourselves and our strivings in those pictures’ terms; alien enough that they can distance and possibly liberate us from the pictures of the self and the good in whose light, or darkness, we have been nurtured. To invoke the history of philosophy, and to learn from it, is to transcend a narrowly analytic approach to philosophy in favour of a potentially transformative struggle with the prejudices of our times.
Talbot Brewer “Three Dogmas of Desires”¬†(p.259)

 

Truth! And that is why I constantly find attempts to do so-called “philosophical history” — namely the efforts¬†to read contemporary philosophical views out of historical texts — suspicious, in the sense that it defeats the purpose of reading history of philosophy.