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History of Philosophy

Indifferentism, Appropriationism, Contextualism, Constitutivism, Conclusion, Bibliography

A respected Princeton philosopher keeps a sign on his office door forbidding the discussion therein of any philosophy more than ten years old. At this late stage in his career the restriction includes a good deal of his own work. This may well be the limit case of the antihistorical attitude that prevailed throughout much academic philosophy of the twentieth century, motivated by the view that philosophy, as an academic discipline, need have no more connection to its past than does any other positive domain of inquiry. A physicist, for example, may be interested to know how exactly Newton came upon his discovery of the laws of gravity. But this interest is, as it were, extracurricular, not a necessary part of the specialized knowledge of a competent physicist. It will be enough that the physicist learn the relevant laws in a textbook; Newton's name need not appear at all, much less the details of his distinctly seventeenth-century concerns.

Can philosophy be understood in the same way? At the other end of the spectrum from our Princeton philosopher, we find some maintaining that philosophy is entirely constituted by its history, that the study of philosophy can never be anything but the study of the history of philosophy. Between these two extremes, there are a vast number of intermediate positions concerning the value of philosophy's history to its present practice. Among those who accept that this history is in some degree valuable, moreover, there are vastly different conceptions of the nature of this value. What follows is a review, with the help of some slightly cumbersome "-isms," of some of the possible perspectives on the history of philosophy from within philosophy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with an eye toward the deeper understanding of the nature of philosophy itself that informs these perspectives.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Pebi- to History of Philosophy - Indifferentism