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Stylistic Nightmare

One of the odd idiosyncrasies about reading Philosophy is that while everyone is supposed to be discovering the “truth” (if there is such a thing) all of the really important writers of the past have their own completely distinct style that seems to go specifically with a particular school. This seems to begin with what we call the “modern” period, which has nothing to do with modern times which is termed “contemporary.” I wonder if “contemporary” in the future is going to refer to time period with a definitive end, but I digress.

Modern Philosophy begins around 1600 and lasts until the late 19th/early 20th century. Now there are those people who would dispute that saying that there are two “modern” periods, but they don’t count. The reason they think that is because they are fans of the philosopher Immanuel Kant and want an era of philosophy to either begin or end with him. While I am not a fan of Kant, his ethics or his metaphysics, I must admit that he is quite important in the history of western civilization, but whether one time period ends or begins is really arbitrary. Especially given the fact that we can’t seem to agree on when the Classical Age ended: some put it with the death of St. Augustine others with the rise of Theology, and history seems to place it with the final fall of the Roman Empire.

Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Philosophy all have a certain style to the writing. Whether it be the dialogues of Plato, the discourses of Aristotle, or the political analysis of Machiavelli, it’s primarily a straightforward way of saying what is. Evidence is presented as though it were obvious that this is so, even when someone like Aristotle is getting the circumference* of the world wrong it’s quite easy to follow. Even Anselm’s faulty proof of god’s existence, while unnecessarily wordy, is relatively easy to follow. I wonder if this is because these people while either writing about something completely new (as Aristotle’s felt his duty was to classify the different kinds of things and developed a systematic inventory of animals) or new ideas on the old (Machiavelli’s analysis of amorality in politics) the ideas are still external. You can look at something like morality and say, “that’s moral” or “this type of action should not be allowed.” The evidence has to stack up because the work is trying to take a look at the world to say, “this is incorrect, and the world change to accommodate the new paradigm.”

As the progress of history marches closer and closer to the present, the writing gets worse reaching its final culmination in the rise of Germany as the center of Philosophy. In applying to PhD schools the terms Phenomenology, Kantianism, and Hegelian were the only ones around that weren’t analytic/logic schools. This bears some mention because the Germans completely live up to their stereotype as engineers and technical people as their writings are akin to manuals for hooking up surround sound systems.

It’s an important factor of why I don’t like Kant (other than he’s just plain wrong, Ethics A Priori, I don’t think so), why Hegel is only important to me because he leads directly into Marx, and why I refuse to read Heidegger…at least until I was assigned him on wed for my Existence course. When even the professor mentions that he’s a terrible writer and to not worry about getting confused because it’s his fault then the guy’s a shitty writer.

It’s something about the German language and not the time period. English Philosophers writing during the same period as Kant or Heidegger (Mill and Russell respectively) are so much clearer that I can only point to the language being the barrier. Of course it also could be the subject change. I have already mentioned that the past writings were about concrete external things, the contemporary ideas are about “being” which is not only completely subjective but also completely abstract. Are the new words and shitty writing necessary for the abstract ideas? If so, why do we need all the damn hyphens? Seriously Heidegger can compress fourteen words into one by just doing-this-over-and-over-again.

I guess it’s time to take seriously this whole “phenomenology” thing. Perhaps I can finally figure out why Marxists are so attracted to it.

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*That’s right, Circumference, as in he knew and proved the world was spherical centuries before Jesus and almost a millennium before Columbus. 

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