Well, I'm not sure how my project to alienate all my readers before October 31st, 2009 is going, because I deleted my site meter, but the goal is to have zero people visit my blog on the day of my October 31st 2009 grand sacrifice. Along those lines, I am publishing this book review, which is going to be long and tedious, and then I am going to leave it up until next, Saturday night, I which time I will post a review of the Dum Dum Girls, Crocs, Best Coast Show @ Che Cafe (October 2nd, 2009.)
I would also commend you to the Blessure Grave, Trudgers, No Paws show at the Casbah on October 10th, 2009. It is going to be fun!
See you on October 3rd!!!
For my less academically inclined readers, I would like to present a couple of bullet points from this immense, amazing book:
1. You never know who people will remember in 50 years, and it's just as likely to be a nobody as the famous guy, so don't give up on you idea/project/art.
2. Popularity is a good indicator that your idea/project/art isn't sophisticated enough to be something that people will remember 50 years from now.
3. You only need a small network, but you need a network.
The Sociology of Philosophies is, in a word, brilliant. It's also amazing, transcendent, spectacular and thought-provoking. Randall Collins, a sociology professor at UPenn, wrote this book in an attempt to apply ideas about the sociology of knowledge (AKA epistemology AKA symbolic interaction theory) to the entire history of world thought, from the Ancient Greeks, to the Ancient Chinese, to the Ancient Indians, all the way down to Sartre and Foucault. This book is not about philosophy at all, rather it is an attempt to show how intellectual ideas develop in common ways across all societies and through-out history.
At the same time that Collins tackles a subject that is extraordinarily complex, he writes in a style that is as readable as the ideas are complicated. Collins starts by looking at the growth of philosophy in ancient times and just moves right on through all the way up to the present. Perhaps the main thesis that Collins carries is the idea that all of human intellectual thought consists of a battle between epistemology and metaphysics. Epistemology is the investigation of how we know what we know and metaphysics is the idea that there is some knowledge that is the key to the meaning of the universe, more or less. Epistemology vs. Metaphysics, over and over and over and over again.
The different forms that this battle takes are the result of the institutional structure and material circumstances of the specific culture where the debate occurs. Thus while the debate between epistemology and metaphysics takes place everywhere that abstract intellectual thought developed, there are limits to the number of successive generations that can carry forth a dynamic conversations. These dynamic conversations are carried on within specific human networks, the description of which takes up the majority of this book.
The human networks in turn, are very much impacted by the specific situation that the humans in the networks occupy. To take the modern, western, example, the development of research universities in Germany in the 1700's created a need for academicians of all kinds, especially philosophers, who used metaphysics to ride herd over the increasing specialization of academic discourse. In other words, Kantian idealism was at least in part the result of young Germans who wanted to get jobs as Philosophy professors in newish Universities in Germany.
Although Collins takes great pains to include non-Western civilizations, this book contains, at it's very heart, a lengthy explanation of the progress of Western Philosophy that is, by itself, among the most illuminating explanations of the subject I have ever encountered, surpassing Jurgen Habermas's Philosophical Discourse of Modernity and Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment by a wide, wide margin.
In Collins eyes, Western Philosophy is the story of an autonomous research University meeting changes engendered by "rapid discovery science" in the context of places like Berlin, Jena, Oxford and Cambridge. Starting with Kantian idealism, successive generations of philosophers have fought across the Epistemological /// Metaphysical divide for close to four hundred years now. In their never ending struggle to occupy the intellectual "space" created by the tremendous growth in educational institutions, opponents of Kantian idealism resurrected Scholastic (Christian Middle Ages) Epistemological arguments.
However- and this is almost exactly what I wrote on my blog the other day- the successors of the Kantian opponents don't really know anything about Scholasticism, and thus they are an example of "loss of ideas," one of several ways that Collins identifies intellectual communities of declining creativity. In fact, Collins notes that the institution of the university as laboratory for intellectual creativity is just as often not true as it is true (Ancient China had huge universities, they sucked.) Collins also postulates that since we don't know how history will regard our contemporary thinkers, it is entirely possible that people will look at this time period as being a mere pale echo of the early part of the 20th century.
Collins also drops a pretty big bomb on Sartre, Camus and French cultural theory generally speaking, noting that Sartre was the first "mass marketed" intellectual, and suggests that they may be the key to his current popularity and a reason he may not stand the test of time. I agree with that, by the way.
All in all, I found this book kind of hopeful in an odd way, and I will illustrate what I liked best about this book via the following paraphrased excerpt:
In 1820 when Arthur Schopenhauer was a young-ish man he traveled to Berlin and set up a series of lectures that was scheduled at the exact same time Kant was lecturing at the University of Berlin. At the time, people thought this was ridiculous. Schopenhauer was a nobody and Kant was the most famous philosopher in Germany. The lectures were a total failure, two people showed up, tops, sometimes no one showed up. Mean time, Kant drew hundreds- standing room only. Schopenhauer was literally laughed out of Berlin. Well, 200 odd years later Schopenhauer is just as relevant, if not more relevant, then Kant. Now, it makes perfect sense that Schopenhauer did what he did- people at the time were just too stupid to appreciate it.
Dedicated to classics and hits.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Book Review: The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change by Randall Collins
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