Monday, February 16, 2009

A comment on action philosophy

Sometimes it is said: everything that is written now in philosophy is not more than a comment on Kant. Is it true? I doubt it. Take for example this: what did Kant write on the philosophy of action? If the philosophy of action was merely a comment on Kant, and every piece of writing in the field of analytical philosophy would be, would it have then any sense to make a distinction between continental philosophy and analytical philosophy? For then analytical philosophy could also be classified as a kind of continental philosophy. If the present philosophy of action could be classified as a “comment on” at all, I would classify it as a comment on Aristotle. For wasn’t it Aristotle who has laid the foundation of action theory?
There is much to be said for the idea that action philosophers are annotators of Aristotle. Take for example the late brilliant philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright. His Explanation and Understanding has been a philosophical master piece, but the foundation of this book consisted of Aristotelian concepts and ideas and from that point of view you can call this work an annotation of Aristotle. You can also see my own work so, although in an indirect way, in case you classify it as a comment on von Wright. But have such classifications sense? For why do we distinguish then, for example, between an Aristotelian approach and a Humean approach in the philosophy of action?
This being said, I think that there is some truth in it that the present philosophy of action is a comment on something else, albeit not simply on Kant or Aristotle. For if I read “new” work in the present philosophy of action, then I think often: “Hasn’t the author read the classics? What he or she says has already been said some time ago although it is presented as something new.”Today, actually hardly anything new is presented in this field of philosophy. And if it is new, it contains only some new applications to new areas. In this way, one can say that most new work in the field of action philosophy has nothing new but it is merely a comment on what has already been written before. Indeed, it is difficult to write a book or an article here that is more than a collection of footnotes or an elaboration of details in a discussion that has been going on for already so many years.

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