All entries for Monday 06 February 2006

February 06, 2006

A few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy

Follow-up to What is Philosophy? Reading Group: Second Meeting: Notes from Philosophy

Following our discussion of ‘a few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy’, one anecdote that didn't come up on Thursday was Nietzsche's claim that he decided to reject Schopenhauer's entire philosophy on learning that the great pessimist was fond of playing the flute. A good example of a biographical detail being used to refute a philosophy – Nietzsche's point being that those seriously advocating pessimism should not be engaged in such frivolous activities as music-making.

(Nietzsche famously said that "life without music would be a mistake". It doesn't follow from this, however, that life _with _music is not also a mistake…)

I'm not sure if I can think of any other examples in which the anecdote quite so clearly suffices to determine a critical response to the philosophy. (E.g. did any Kantians feel challenged on learning about his stocking suspenders?)

I've been trying to think of some anecdotes about other philosophers. About Wittgenstein one sometimes hears about how often he "gave up" philosophy to go and do other jobs (school teaching, becoming a hospital orderly, working in a monastery garden), and about how he advised a student to take a job in Woolworths instead of becoming an academic, but also about how he never succeeded in kicking the philosophy habit himself. None of this has the succinctness of the Kant anecdote that D&G are looking for, but it does suggest something about how seriously (or not) we should take Wittgenstein's views on philosophy.

Any suggestions for other anecdotes that `produce a portrait of a philosophy’ or reveal the conceptual persona?

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