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Eric Schliesser

Joel, my main disagreement with you is that I think it fine when philosophers strive to belong to a single philosophical tradition.

Joel Katzav

Eric, we don't disagree about this. I think that philosophy should be pervaded by attempts at inquiry that makes no ultimate assumptions not that all philosophers should be engaged in such attempts.

Ruth Groff

I love this. Except, I don't think that it is actually possible to make no ultimate assumptions, to start from nowhere. And even when it's attempted, I don't think it makes for the best philosophizing. So I don't agree with that norm. But I absolutely agree with the recommendation to be genuinely conceptually multilingual.

Joel Katzav

Thanks Ruth. To clarify, inquiry that makes no ultimate assumptions is not inquiry that makes no assumptions or starts from nowhere. Assumptions are allowed so long as, at some point, these are examined without begging relevant questions.

 Michael Kremer

I think there is something like an incoherent conception of "tradition" at work here. One doesn't just "have an ability" to "participate" in a tradition. That is not, I think, how traditions (in which things are "passed on") work.

I also think that the idea of having no preconceptions or unstated assumptions is a will-o'-the-wisp. And the idea of a tradition is precisely the idea of something that is structured by such unstated assumptions, which are part of what is passed on to one in one's becoming a participant in that tradition.

I suppose I am thinking here of the analogy with religious traditions. I have always liked the following, which I found in the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (Living Buddha, Living Christ):

"On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors. I can do this because of contact with these real Christians. When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own. This quality is essential for dialogue. When participants are willing to learn from each other, dialogue takes place just by their being together. When those who represent a spiritual tradition embody the essence of their tradition, just the way they walk, sit, and smile speaks volumes about the tradition.


For dialogue to be fruitful, we need to live deeply our own tradition and, at the same time, listen deeply to others. Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others' tradition.

Many years ago, I recognized that by understanding your own tradition better, you also develop increased respect, consideration, and understanding for others. I had had a naive thought, a kind of prejudice inherited from my ancestors. I thought that because Buddha had taught for forty-five years and Jesus for only two or three, that Buddha must have been a more accomplished teacher. I had that thought because I did not know the teachings of the Buddha well enough."

The point here is that you can't just "participate" in another tradition. You you can enter into dialogue with it, but only if you are deeply grounded in your own tradition (and that tradition has to be truly yours).

But note: The point is certainly not that tradition can never be questioned or changed. He goes on:

"For any dialogue between traditions to be deep, we
have to be aware of both the positive and negative
aspects of our own tradition. ...
Living organisms need to change and grow. ...

In a true dialogue, both sides are willing to change. ...
But the most basic principle of interfaith dialogue is
that the dialogue must begin, first of all, within oneself. ..."

I suppose I feel the same about philosophical traditions. (At least, that takes me pretty far from viewing philosophy as a science!)

Joel Katzav

Michael, I think Kuhn might have had a similar view of participating in scientific traditions as you have of participating in traditions. I do not share such a view. Moreover, I think we should contrast participating in a philosophical tradition with participating in a religious one.

 Michael Kremer

Yes, we disagree. You say p, I say not-p. Is there anything more than that? I began with the remark that you are working with an incoherent conception of tradition. I tried to use the religious analogy to bring out why I thought that. That seems not to have been helpful. Let me try a different way.

You say this: "Having the ability to participate in multiple philosophical traditions in a constructive way makes it, however, harder for one to buy into the idea that philosophy has landed upon a privileged way of *answering its own questions.* For such participation involves taking different methodologies for answering *the* questions of philosophy seriously. And this, given the absence of a strong narrative explaining why one of these methodologies is preferable, encourages seeing that claims that privilege one methodology are not well founded."

This paragraph seems to suggest that there is a clear category of the "questions of philosophy" independent of diverse philosophical traditions. What distinguishes philosophical traditions is just the methodologies employed in trying to answer given questions. Thus we further have a neat separation of questions from methods.

But for me (I think following the usual meaning of the word) "tradition" connotes something which is handed down or passed on, from generation to generation; and the questions we ask as philosophers are very much part of our own tradition, something we have received and had been handed down. We cannot assume that when we encounter others whose activities and lives are recognizably philosophical -- in some fashion bear a family resemblance to what we do as philosophers -- what unites us is simply a common set of questions or a common understanding of "our questions." (To the extent that we find this to be true, I suspect we are likely to be dealing with sub-traditions of one larger and longer tradition.) Encountering, and studying other traditions is a way of coming to see the contingency of our own questions and not just of our own methodologies.

Furthermore I don't think we can neatly separate methodologies from questions -- they grow and develop together -- methods are developed with particular questions in view, and questions are adapted to what can be answered with our methods. Without understanding the *history* of *our* intertwined methods and questions we cannot really know what we are asking and why; why these are the questions of philosophy for us, why they matter; why some questions earlier generations asked are now simply not to be answered (in our tradition) and others have taken their place. But if that is right we can't just switch from tradition to tradition with a nice set of questions we carry from one to the other.

This perhaps makes at least an aspect of our disagreement clearer. I suppose I would like to know more clearly what the word "tradition" means for you when you speak of philosophical traditions. You say you don't think of them as I do. How do you think of them?

Joel Katzav

Michael, I agree that the questions of philosophy change, to some extent, from tradition to tradition. So, when trying to figure a new tradition out, one should not just assume that one understands its questions. But I do not see why this implies one cannot try to, and succeed in, participating in different philosophical traditions. Sorry for the brief response. I am travelling.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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