Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought

Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought

John T. Lysaker

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226569567

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Taking the demand “know thyself" to heart, Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought argues that philosophy is best understood as an activity of writing, and that writerly choices influence its character in three principal ways. Reflecting on a range of texts from Plato, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein to Hegel, Butler, and de Beauvoir, the book claims that writing not only informs how thought develops, but also shapes the relations that texts have with readers. Moreover, the quantity and quality of one’s writing partially determines the transformative impact that one’s work can have on historical situations. The book thus insists that philosophy’s relation to writing must be at least as self-conscious as its relation to common opinion and established norms, and Philosophy, Writing, and the Character of Thought offers itself as an example of a thoroughly deliberate approach to philosophical prose. Considering each of the ways in which writing influences philosophy, the book explores genres like the aphorism, dialogue, and essay, as well as logical-rhetorical operations like the example, irony, and quotation. In dialogue with authors such as Benjamin, Cavell, Emerson, and Lukacs, it tries to revitalize philosophical writing, arguing that philosophy cannot fulfill its intellectual and cultural promise if it keeps to professional articles and academic prose. Instead, philosophy must embrace writing as an essential, creative activity, and deliberately reform how it approaches its subject matter, readership, and the evolving social practices of reading and reflection.