history and its annoying concept of time
December 1, 2002 05:45 PM

I've been reading this book about philosophy [Sophie's World, which is actually a novel about the history of philosophy], which calls up something that always bothers me with history.

In short, this Darwinist perspective that all events are strung together in a line.

That, to bring Darwin back into it, Darwin inherently builds on and surmounts Aristotle [which, okay, he likely did] and represents progress since Aristotle. I suppose we can agree on that. But can we agree that Descartes improved upon the geometry of post-Hellenic Egypt? I mean, we don't even know what exactly was lost when the library at Alexandria was burned. How do we know the Arabs weren't way ahead of Descartes, scientifically speaking?

Of course, it's not Darwin's fault. Just nineteenth century thinking in general. Need for progress over time, ourselves at present as the greatest achievement to date [evolutionarily speaking]. It's just Enlightened, Rational thought. It's the way we write textbooks and documentaries and ninth grade history papers. Cause must predate effect. Time has a forward arrow. Freud. Et cetera.

It's not surprising, then - though it is ironic - for an introductory philosophy text masquerading as a novel to stick to the progress party line.

But what might we gain if more international bestsellers would introduce not only the possibility that our existence could be a matter of perception, but also the idea that history (and time itself) could work the same way?

I should add, by the way, that I haven't actually finished the book in question, though I have (as usual) read the last two pages.

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your wicked thoughts

a book on western philosophy written without sticking to the concept of 'overarching progress' probably wouldn't make the best-seller list; as a society, we're very prone to disdaining anything wthout hierarchy. it'd be a fantastically interesting read, though.

these are the thoughts of Veronica on December 5, 2002 03:33 PM

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