Discovery, Invention and the Uses of Error
Here I consider what is (or should be) meant by the description ‘great’ philosophy and offer some broadly applicable criteria by which to assess candidate thinkers or works. On the one hand are philosophers in whose case the epithet, even if contested, is not just the product of doctrinal adherence among those who apply it. On the other are thinkers – however acute or technically adroit – to whom its application is inappropriate because their work cannot justifiably be held to rise to a level of creative-exploratory thought where the description would have any meaningful purchase. I suggest that great philosophy should be thought of as involving a readiness to venture speculative hypotheses beyond any limits typically imposed by a culture of ‘safe’, academically sanctioned debate. At the same time it must be subject to the strictest standards of logic and conceptual precision. Focusing on Derrida and Badiou I maintain that these criteria are more often met by philosophers in the broadly ‘continental’ rather than the mainstream ‘analytic’ line of descent. However the very possibility of meeting them, and of their being jointly met by any one thinker, is itself sufficient indication that this is a false and pernicious dichotomy.
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