Friday, March 11, 2011

The ashtray of history

I don't know much about Kripke, I know nothing about Kuhn, and I haven't read more than a little of Errol Morris's series of articles on Kuhn. So I won't say anything much about them. What interests me is how the history of philosophy is done. I mean this in the sense of how what gets told as the history is determined and how this history is told (which is maybe the same thing).  Was it Rorty (or Kuhn?) who said that philosophers don't so much get refuted as they simply come to be ignored?  We all know that continental philosophy is not worth taking seriously.  Some people know the same thing about Wittgenstein.  And now it looks as though Kuhn is getting that treatment too.  Never mind this or this on the unlikeliness of the ashtray-throwing story being true.  Never mind this or this or this on the (alleged) weakness of Morris's account of Kuhn's philosophy.  What bothers me is this kind of comment.  Of course, the reference to Kuhn's defenders as "humorless pedants" is a throwaway joke, but that makes it all the harder for anyone to defend themselves against it.  The very mounting of a defense will surely come across as humorless pedantry.  And surely the joke was made (partly) because of a perception that it would be well received, or at least not offensive to most people who will read it.  So Kuhn is now (at least well on the way to being) a joke.  His difficult work is known to be interpreted by some as massively erroneous (as is Plato's, Kant's, Wittgenstein's, ...).  And his supporters are humorless pedants.  Who will want to read him now?  Who will read him?   

Obviously some people will.  And obviously serious debate about Kuhn's work is not over.  But I can't help wondering whether it isn't this kind of "fun" that does more to seal a philosopher's fate than any serious scholarly work to defend or refute his or her arguments.  

But perhaps I'm being too pessimistic.

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