El conocimiento os hará libres y las fronteras os harán gilipollas.

lunes, 2 de marzo de 2015


    Last week we started our lessons on epistemology and psychology, and of course one of the topics that we discuss every now and then was creativity. One of the students seemed very upset and shot a challenging question: Is philosophy a truly creative thinking? When you are continuously making reference to other thinkers, how could you dare to call yourself "original"? Why are you paying so much attention to the old philosophers words, when you said before that authority's argument should be critiziced too? I couldn´t reply anything except telling him that he was right in a 90%. 
    We can not say, properly speaking, that philosophical activity is a good example of creative thinking. All the opposite. Philosophy can be highly critical, deep and wise, but not too much original in its first steps. In fact, every serious philosophy scholars would agree with the  quotation of Confuncio, who said: thinking is important, but learning is even more essential. In their own words: 
He who learns but doesn´t think, is lost. But those who think, and never learn, are in great danger.
   This is an inconvenient truth that sometimes is difficult to accept for the First year students of Philosophy. Most of them are attracted to these studies because of its originality and its critical view but soon they realise that they have to put up with this confuncian quotation dressed on socratic arguments. For some of them, this means the end of their studies. For others, it means to accept reluctantly the socratic mayeutics: to be aware of our ignorance as a first step to wisdom. Therefore, silence, and not creativity, is the first step in the learning of philosophy. But the problem is not solved, and after some years of learning we have very little chances to create our own wisdom, to be original. We became experts on critics, we judge the words of others, but we don't create anything new.

     Unfortunately, this vision is quite true, and the fact is that creative genius are scarce in the history of philosophy, but we find lots of wise man. The wise man used to be an expert on lore, life, and old teachings, and he gives us all this wisdom as suggestions for a good life. Wise man were the typical confuncian thinker, the model of Greek philosopher or the medieval scholastic mind.
    The wise man and scholars were substitued by critical thinkers after Descartes. The best example in this long tradition is Kant. He was able to judge critically all the aspects of the philosophy of his time -metaphisics, ethics, epistemology-, and reform it according to the new use of reason in the 18th century. Even when his originality is undoubtly out of question, Kant is not the typical example of the genius, but a scholar with a gifted mind for analysis and new synthesis. What we know about his boring private life and personality doesn't show the typical standards for a creative genius. We could say here that genius personality are in cultural terms more accepted after Romanticism than during the Enlightment.  
However, there are first rate philosophical genius, even in the 20th century. Wittgenstein, Sartre, Russell or Chomsky could be included in this cathegory in one way or another.

    a) All of them had a divergent background. They don't identify themselves with the typical scholar rol (a University teacher), only concerned on philosophy and their career. They are coming from other studies or professional fields. Wittgenstein was an engineer, Chomsky is coming from Linguistics, Sartre was a secondary school teacher and a writer. Their experience out of the philosophy gave them hints and clues that were crucial to explore unknown fields in their time. It is difficult to think the "second Wittgenstein" without the gap in the decade of 1920, or the existentialism in Sartre without the war experience.

   b) They are able to give new and original contributions in very different fields of human Knowledge, not only philosophy. The last philosophical genius who was able to bright equally in different fields was Leibniz. John Stuart Mill or Karl Marx did the same on politics, economy and philosophy and ethics. Even when the new apportations were not so outstanding as before,  Sartre was an outstanding novelist, Russell and Wittgenstein gave important contributions in mathematical logic, and Chomsky did the same on the fields of linguistics and politics.   

c) They are extraordinary involved in the space and time
that were living. Most of them were concerned about justice, education, politics and society, and became  an important reference for the society at his time -no matter if they were wrong or right-. Wittgenstein is an exception on this matter but we couldn't say that his private life was not concerned with an ethical sense of living. Because they were so concerned with this high goals, they were most of times a complete failure for the people who was closer to them.  

d) Their professional career was always something with less importance than their contributions and goals. As other genius, they have the feeling that there is a goal they have to fulfill on their lives. Socratic coherence became something sacred for this people. Wittgenstein refused more than once, their life in Cambridge. Sartre did the same with the Nobel prize.

    Compared to them, we can find another outstanding philosophers (like Husserl, Zubiri, Heidegger, Gadamer, Rorty, Kuhn, Derrida, Bunge), even more important and coherent and with contributions that are as powerful as the others, but without this geniality and creativity. For sure, all of them can share one or two characteristics mentioned above, but not with the same intensity.

    We could add that individual creativity in the XXIth century is far more difficult than before. Even if I had any chances to say something new about "creativity and philosophy" this should be a delusion, and sooner or later I could find a entire monography talking about the same and precise subject we discuss about (Howard Gardner published a few years ago a book about this). Moreover, when we are talking about the work of a philosopher as an individual mind, like Habermas, for instance, we miss the point that "Habermas" is more a cultural trademark than a philosopher, and his books are only possible by hard and well-functioning  teamwork.   So, if someone dares to say that Wittgenstein -the model of creative and original philosopher in the 20th century- is dead, don't think only about his ideas, but on his creativity.  

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