Herewith a link to dg’s distillation of 30,000 years (give or take) of Western philosophy. The idea for this essay came from reading Witold Gombrowicz’s wonderful little book A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes. DG thought six hours seemed a little long and tedious and that he could condense all the important points into about fifty minutes. This essay is a version of the lecture dg gave at Vermont College of Fine Arts last January (in the event, he was not able to get ALL of philosophy into the time slot), including his own incredibly helpful diagrams and sidebar comments which clear up the complicated points.
Plato was right when he said that we can only know what we know already, that knowledge works by identity. What we cannot know, cannot access, we also cannot experience, and yet this unknowable is all around us, lies inscrutable and threatening behind everything we do know, crouches even within our hearts in a place Freud called the Unconscious. Mostly we cannot escape the feeling that it is watching us, waiting to trip us up, or sometimes bless us. At the end of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein threw up his hands and wrote that we must remain silent about the things whereof we cannot speak, by which he meant a long list of absolutes including God, the Good, Beauty, etc. But that sort of realism has never stopped humans whose imagination is prolific in inventing dream meetings with the Other. The history of our philosophies has been a history of such dreams.
via Mappa Mundi: The Structure of Western Thought – The Brooklyn Rail.
Wow, a history of Western thought in 50 minutes! Looking forward to reading this!
Ooh! I’ve been waiting for this!
I thought you might be. Let me know what you think.
Thank you for sharing this! I had to miss the lecture during winter residency, and I’ve searched everywhere for notes or a summary. I can hardly wait to read.
Thanks, Cheryl. I think I was much more compelling in person. 🙂
I was at the lecture and the essay is equally as compelling, thought provoking and fascinating. Thanks for posting the link. I’m really enjoying it. (Still reading…this is one comprehensive piece!)
At least in this version you don’t get cut off for lack of time. And I added all the diagrams and sidebars and thought points–the influence of NC.
Which was a really cool, quasi-interactive effect. It ends up looking very fluid on the layout.
I’m certain that you were more compelling in person, Doug. But this is great.
I took eight pages of notes at your lecture last semester and promised to transcribe them and send to a friend who was unable to attend. Imagine the finished product–my typed notes enhanced by my stylus-to-iPad renditions of your diagrams. There is a good reason why I’m not taking art lessons. Talk about losing something in translation…
I would love to see how my diagrams came out. 🙂
The Brooklyn Rail is also publishing that lecture in a later issue, BTW.
Thanks for this, DG!
I had to print this off to read it properly because my eyes give out after a while looking at the screen, but it’s great to have a hard copy. I love how you followed key themes through the history of thought and highlighted the chain of influence from early to later philosophers. My knowledge of philosophy is spotty so it helped to have the gaps filled in so succinctly. And the final paragraph is beautiful, a hopeful kick at the void of meaning.
Thanks, Kim. I’ve been studying philosophy since I was an undergraduate, trying to make sense of the welter of arguments for myself. I started this essay when my son Jacob went off to do the Foundation Year Program at the University of Kings College. I made him a diagram for his dorm room wall. Then we talked and read together over the whole year, from Gilgamesh to Heidegger.
Jacob’s a lucky son. And how lovely for both of you to share such a compelling interest!
Aww, that’s kind of adorable, dg!
We are quite the dynamic duo, Dad!
thanks for your great job, Actually I have been to study western thought, and tried spell out whole structure since 2003, a few days ago when I decide to write something about Chinese thought and Western thought in comparison. I found your essay, it is a really good work, it is what I want to get it. You done it , it is more accurate and more specific than I can get it. Your great job will save me a lot of time to do. I will mainly use it in my writing as first reference, if you do not mind what I will do.
I have been studying in Chinese thought and Western thought for nearly twenty year. You know I am Chinese, I have to read a lot of western philosophy, otherwise I can not build a structure of Western thought,Sometimes it is hard to for me and progress very slowly as well, If I figure out a structure of Western thought, Use it as reference, it will easy to build up a structure of Chinese thought.
I am agree with you in fully, I spent a lot of time to read Kant’s pure reason, and try to find what he try to build up. You made me very easy to get what I want to reach. Thanks again!