Raymond Tallis on the Progress of Philosophy

Most importantly, philosophy starts from the beginning and remains close to its beginning, something for which it has been criticized. That science progresses while art does not is invoked as a reason for dismissing art as a failure. That Stravinsky cannot be regarded as an advance on Bach or Palestrina, nor Mondrian on Rembrandt or Palestrina, is not a criticism of contemporary artists.

Philosophy, likewise, does not progress in the literal-minded sense of getting “better” or in the more specific sense of clearing up problems: the mysteries of memory, the nature of general terms or universals and the relationship between sense experience, rational thought and the true nature of things have not been “solved” 2,5000 years after they were first posed in the tradition in which contemporary philosophers still argue with one another.

But of course philosophy does progress in the sense of changing the nature of questions, discovering new ones and arriving at question-answer pairs that we may call “awakenings”. And there is a laudable sense in which it does not “move on”: it stays close to its origins in astonishment at the world as it is immediately present to us.

Raymond Tallis, In Defense of Wonder and Other Philosophical Reflections (Acumen Press: 2012) pp. 14-15


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