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I like your first point. I wonder about the second... I think, for example, about Du Bois and the notion of double consciousness. Now, it seems to me that scholars in various humanistic and social scientific disciplines and educated people in contexts of unlimited kinds evoke the term and sometimes use it as if we all know what it means, while it is actually the case that first chapter of Souls is enigmatic in a lot of ways and it's not clear to me that we have a consensus on what Du Bois meant. Now, I'm happy to agree with you that when people are using the reference to make points about race and identity today, its fruitfulness is what matters more so than Du Bois' intentions. But when people are trying to do history of philosophy - and here's a recent effort: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/phc3.12001/abstract - should we not expect them to be trying to help us figure out what he meant? If they are not trying to do that, is it really history of philosophy - isn't it just a historical reference in a work that is beholden only to contemporary concerns?

Eric Schliesser

Chike, I am not against trying to infer the intentions of thinkers from the past, especially if we are interested in their agency or evaluating their moral stances. But I argue (in various papers and blog posts) that (a) it is a mistake to reduce the history of philosophy to this enterprise, and (b) we can understand the meaning(s) of texts from the past without access to the intentions of their authors.

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


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