Thursday, 17 February 2011

Philosophy as a craft

I promised you some pro-difficult writing arguments, so here's one from Hegel, King of obscurity:
In the case of all other sciences, arts, skills and crafts, everyone is convinced that a complex and laborious programme of learning and practice is necessary for competence. Yet when it comes to philosophy, there seems to be a currently prevailing prejudice to the effect that, although not everyone who has eyes and fingers, and is given leather and last, is at once in a position to make shoes, everyone nevertheless immediately unders
tands how to philosophise, and how to evaluate philosophy, since he possesses the criterion for doing so in his natural reason - as if he did not likewise possess the measure for a shoe in his own foot.
Phenomenology of Spirit
Learning to think isn't easy; learning to be good is difficult; becoming wise is hard. We worry about elitism, and we want to say that everyone is equal, because bad things happen when you don't treat everyone as equally valuable. But does that mean that everyone's equally able to do philosophy? Does that mean that we can get wisdom without having to work for it?

I can see flaws in the argument, but I'll leave that for another time. What are your thoughts?


Al said...

Surely wisdom should be distinguished from philosophical competence: it is quite possible to have one without the other.

I prefer 'weight' when it comes to the books that I read over 'difficulty'. A weighty statement is like a parable or a proverb, which on the surface may appear simple, obvious, and tautological, but is the distillation of great truth and insight.

It is in such weighty statements that I think that the skills of readers and writers best meet, rather than in the dense and prickly undergrowth of jargon-filled prose. Most of us have little trouble writing dense and difficult prose, but few of us can provide epiphanies in clear and elegant sentences. 'Weighty' prose provides us with simply-worded riddles, where 'difficult' prose often makes us labour over the meaning of words devoid of insight.

Andrew said...

Sigh. Hegel was safe in knowing that all humanity was alike in being unable to penetrate HIS philosophy.

I'd say the problem is that philosophy is so varied: it can mean anal(ytical) precision - easier for mathematicians. Or it can mean metaphysics, which is rather too abstract to mean anything to some people. But when it means coming to understand the nature, the purpose of life itself - as Hegel modestly thought himself to be explaining once for all - there's an argument to the effect that everyone is doing that, and it is indeed a constituent part of being human. Becoming wise is NOT hard, or rather no harder than being alive for a long time.

And on that not always intellectual level, we are all philosophers.

Marika said...

In Hegel's analogy, wouldn't that mean that we all WEAR shoes but we can't all MAKE shoes? So we all use philosophy, have a philosophy, 'wear' a worldview, but we tend to get it made for us by other, trained people? Which is probably, realistically, at least part of what we do: we pick up ideas from philosophers and use them for ourselves.