Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tapping Philosophy: Progress Summarized

First we discussed the possibility of progress in the discipline of philosophy itself--and basically decided that there isn't any. If anything philosophy progresses in size, the number of philosophies, and sophistication, but someone pointed out we still read Plato and that was that. Although philosophy as it is linked to the various sciences was proposed, sort of, as a possible counter-category. Let me say extremely after the fact that Schelling's conception of a "universal organism" (the projection of the self onto itself) is a great way to synthesize there being bits and appearances of progress--or some hidden real progress--but no apparent, and no ideal, essential progress.

Second we covered the possibility of social/political progress. Some people (namely myself) wanted to dismiss this outright again assigning the title "progressive" to numerical variety only, but this argument was almost solely the product of sub-rational distaste. On the other hand, the possibility of a basic scientific-technical progress, a la Social Darwinism, was discussed thoroughly as well. Some also wished to point to liberal democracy as an example of political progress, oddly enough. Rob thought there was a threshold before which progress is real and beyond which all that would manifest itself as progress becomes decay. Perhaps progress could then be placed as the unfolding of this threshold. We would want to say that penicillin is progress--and perhaps genuine novelty in thinking can be progress. It all got very hairy and we gave up. Progress was largely abandoned and again oddly enough, there was much rejoicing (and that is not merely a stylistic point).

As can be immediately glimpsed (ezaiphnas, in Plato's flash) this was a shorter meeting.

1 comment:

Francis Prior said...

Hey Rory, Thanks for posting the summary of tapping.

Immediatly upon asking about the progress of philosophy, the question that almost immediatly comes to mind is what do you mean by philosophy? Certainly, philosophy has developed historically through institutions, and I think it would be difficult to argue that philosophical practice has not progressed. A change in philosophical methodology is arguably tantamount to progress if it replaces an older outdated methodology. Transcendental idealism is an interesting methodology, but we don't use it any more because philosophy has moved beyond Kant's a priori concepts of the understanding as a productive way of understanding consciousness. The simple scholarship regarding canonical philosophers like plato doesn't mean that philosophy doesn't progress

The discussion of social and political progress brings up an important issue. I think it's possible to have progress without an essentializing the term, and the social and political progress is a textbook example of this. As many problems as there have been with the proliferation of industrial capitalism and liberal democracy, and there are a LOT, it's not a difficult argument to make to see progress coming out of the concrete manifestations of these practices, insofar as less people are starving, a lot of diseases are prevented, there's more open international dialogue regarding pressing social issues, etc. A complex philosophical ideal such as the Hegelian absolute need not be posited to understand that there is genuine relative progress in human history. That being said, the irony of giving up on progress is not lost on me.