Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Abstraction And Historical Reality: Reflecting on Philosophy And History

We won trivia at The Lookout tonight. What fun!

We were all very excited.

When I was walking home I was thinking about all different kinds of things. It is so interesting the way my thoughts flow from the personal to the abstract and back. I don't understand how my mind works.

I was thinking about my interest in philosophy over the last year. How much my reading and writing has been dominated by the philosophical and the abstract. I think my mind is adept at abstraction. I think I can speak and think clearly so long as I am comfortable with certain words and analytical distinctions. I think that I'm good at using language and I work well within its world.

I do wonder, however, how good I am at judgement: How good I am at apprehending reality in all of its nuance and ineffability. I wonder if I'm good at grappling with the emotional quality of situations; at perceiving situations beyond their articulable criteria. I want to have a penchant for apprehending nuance, the subtle, the ineffable. I want to have a strong capacity for judgment.

Lately I have been thinking of all this stuff because of Hannah Arendt's writing on Vietnam. She talks about how government officials were blinded to reality because they were so wrapped up in abstraction, in concepts.
The think it reminds me of the most is my personal divide between history and philosophy. Philosophy is so loaded with abstraction and argument. And history is so imbued with the desire for reality, for what was really going on. I have this attraction to both of them. I fear that philosophy (or abstraction) has the tendency to dull our sense of things. And I admire history for its study of nuance.

I need to become a historian. Only history can offer me the type of study I need to become the type of philosopher I want. I can't become the philosopher I want to be unless I become a historian.

These aren't things I necessarily believe. More so, they are things I suspect and fear. I fear the lengths that my learning will have to go to.

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