Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Towers and stoves
posted by Jonathan Calder |
As things are, Descartes's stove and Montaigne's library tower have given us two ways of living and thinking that are at root divergent. Stove people think that you can strip everything away and rebuild reality from precepts; tower people reckon that writing about and exploring or refining beliefs is the best you can do. For tower people, the process of writing and arguing is what thinking is; it is not concluding.
Consciousness for tower people is being partly a body, partly a pen, partly a voice, partly a half-memory of someone else's voice, partly the thing that enables you to realise that you are all those things at once (although this bit of consciousness doesn't always function very well and needs a lot of encouragement), and partly a set of uneasy attitudes, ranging from shame to self-satisfaction, towards what in yourself is received and what seems immediate. Thinking is done not by starting from the beginning, but by thinking onwards and backwards and hoping that some clarification will emerge.
Philosophers on the whole used to be stove people, and would probably have professed austere incomprehension of the position I have just outlined; but since Wittgenstein's great migration from the deathly attempt to circumscribe the totality of what is by a string of propositions in the Tractatus to the language games of the Philosophical Investigations, there have been and are many philosophers of a wide range of political shadings (Michael Oakeshott, Richard Rorty, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum) who breathe the air of the tower far more easily than they do that of the stove. Maybe if this tendency continues, Montaigne will one day come to seem as significant a figure in the history of philosophy as Descartes.
Colin Burrows' review of Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher by Anne Hartle The Guardian 11 November 2003