Preface (Full Text)
- This book tries to make philosophy interesting; I have therefore focused on ideas which make philosophy interesting to me. From the academic point of view the result is far from orthodox; but my hope is that the reader will leave this book with a sense of philosophy's relevance, not just to intellectual questions, but to life in the modern world.
- I refer here and there to the great philosophers, and in particular to Kant and Wittgenstein, who have been the most important influences on my thinking. But I make no attempt to give either a history or a survey of the subject. This book offers itself as a guide to the reader who is prepared to venture into philosophy, and presupposes no knowledge other than that which an intelligent person is likely to possess already.
- Such a person will want to know, nevertheless, how the book relates to other productions in the field, and whether it belongs to a school of thought that is larger than itself - to some 'ology' or 'ism' which would serve to file it away in the ever-growing archive of the great unread. Suffice it to say that I came to philosophy as an undergraduate, being dissatisfied with a scientific education, and suspecting that there might be deep and serious questions to which science has no answer. But I encountered, in the academic subject of philosophy, reams of pseudo-science against which my conscience rebelled. Consequently I set out in search of a literary philosophy - not an ism but a prism, through which intellectual light would shine in many colours.
- Philosophy is not the only subject that has been 'scientized' by the modern university: literature has been shrunk to 'literary theory', music has been colonized by set theory, Schenkerian analysis, and generative linguistics, and architecture has been all but abolished by engineering. Pretended science has driven honest speculation from the intellectual economy, just as bad money drives out good. This Gresham's law of the intellect operates wherever university teachers in the humanities exchange knowledge and imagination for the chimera of scientific 'research'. A philosopher should certainly make room for scholarship: but scholarship has no 'results', no explanatory 'theories', no methods of experimentation. It is, at best, a spiritual discipline, and what will emerge from scholarship depends intimately on the soul of the person who engages in it. When academic philosophers disguise their writings as scientific reports, and cultivate the fiction of step by step advances to a theory, we can be sure that something has gone wrong with their conception of the subject. The result is tedious to the student, partly because it is born of tedium - the tedium that comes when our world is surrendered to science. If this book has a message, it is that scientific truth has human illusion as its regular by-product, and that philosophy is our surest weapon in the attempt to rescue truth from this predicament.
- We should not expect philosophy to be easy; nor can it be free from technicalities. For philosophical questions arise at the periphery of ordinary thinking, when words fail, and we address the unknown with an invented discourse. For this very reason the reader of philosophy must beware of frauds, who exploit the known difficulty of the subject in order to disguise unexamined premises as hard-won conclusions. One such fraud - Michel Foucault - features in what follows; but my intention is not to create a sottiserie for our times, however much this might be needed. It is to mount a philosophical argument, which will show philosophy to be a natural extension of our interest in truth, and a therapy for our modern confusions.
- I am grateful to Robin Baird-Smith, who encouraged me to write this book, and to David Wiggins, whose painstaking attempt to dissuade me from errors of logic and style absolves him from all responsibility for the many that remain. I am also grateful to Fiona Ellis and Sophie Jeffreys, the two intelligent women upon whom the book was first tried out, and who suggested vital improvements.
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