October 7, 2009

Quote of the Day: Robert Adams on Contextualist History of Philosophy as Philosophy

I believe that historical accuracy and careful attention to the historical context are important to the philosophical as well as the historical value of work in the history of philosophy and, conversely, that philosophical argument and critique are important for historical understanding of philosophy.

One reason for the philosophical importance of patient and careful attention to the actual meaning of Leibniz's writings in their historical context is that he was indeed a great philosopher, great enough that an arbitrary interpretation of his work, more relevant to our historical context than to his, is unlikely to be as interesting philosophically in the long run as what he actually thought. Indeed, the very strangeness of his context, and of some of his thoughts, is a boon for philosophy. Progress in philosophy is more likely to consist in understanding the possible alternatives than arriving at settled conclusions. And we are familiar enough with the familiar; part of what the great dead philosophers offer us is alternatives to our usual ways of thinking - alternatives thought out in great depth and with uncommon rational sensitivity.

      - Robert Merrihew Adams, Leibniz: Determinist, Theist, Idealist, pp. 5-6

This is precisely why I favor the so-called 'contextualist' approach to the history of philosophy.

Posted by Kenny at October 7, 2009 12:00 AM
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