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History of Philosophy - Constitutivism

dennett constitutivist philosophical era

A constitutivist tends to believe that philosophy just is a particular tradition, fundamentally rooted in history and comprehensible only synchronically. For the constitutivist, it is our primary task today to investigate how we came to inherit the philosophical concerns we have, rather than to continue to seek answers to questions as though they were timelessly meaningful. Thus for Marx, each era's philosophy is one of the superstructural reflections, along with other outcroppings of culture, of the class relations that fundamentally define that era; for Michel Foucault (1926–1984), philosophy as the contemplation of timeless questions is in need of replacement by a genealogy of the concepts that came to predominate, mostly in only very recent history, in philosophical discourse. There is an air of subject-changing in these accounts of the history of philosophy: they want to reveal the true nature of philosophical discourse, rather than to continue to participate in it. For instance, when Frederic Jameson describes Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained (1991) as an allegory of late capitalism—as outlined by Slavoj Zizek in the London Review of Books ("Bring Me My Phillips Mental Jacket," 22 May 2003)—he is not engaging with Dennett's arguments in a way that could even permit the author to respond. He is explaining Dennett's concerns, his very conception of philosophy, as the product of a history of which Dennett need not be at all aware. Dennett may say this is unfair (though more likely he will not say anything at all); Jameson, for his part, could respond, true to his Marxist constitutivist convictions, that the deepest and most fundamental account of the philosophy of any era, including recent analytic philosophy, will be one that roots it in its time and place. Any account that does not do this will fail to grasp what the theory it is studying is really "all about." And any constitutivist would insist that such a failure is a philosophical failure, perhaps the cardinal one.

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