Scholarly article on topic 'A Constructivist Approach to the Historiography of Philosophy'

A Constructivist Approach to the Historiography of Philosophy Academic research paper on "Law"

Share paper
OECD Field of science
{"Historiography of philosophy" / "Philosophy of historiography" / "Philosophy of history" / Constructivism / "Art of concept creation"}

Abstract of research paper on Law, author of scientific article — Mihnea Antila

Abstract In the following text I propose a certain view of historiography of philosophy. My starting point will be the analysis of Richard Rorty regarding the historiography of philosophy. The first part will discuss Rorty's text and the differences between various ways of approaching the history of philosophy. Rorty's text is important because it reveals a lack of unitary vision when we are speaking about the best way in which we can write history of philosophy. This lack of unity implies that there are different frames of thinking historiography so we are entitled to say that the clashes between visions constitutes a whole new area of inquiry which we can call “the philosophy of historiography.” The following step is to distinguish the philosophy of historiography from the philosophy of history. We will see then, that one of the most important questions of philosophy of historiography is: what is philosophy? Before we start writing the history of philosophy, we should ask ourselves what is our view about the nature of philosophy. Following the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, my view is that philosophy is essentially “the art of creating concepts.” Viewing the philosophy in this way implies that the history of philosophy is a history of concepts. Since the concepts are constructed entities, and not discovered things, it follows that viewing the history of philosophy in this way, forces us to adopt a constructivist approach.

Academic research paper on topic "A Constructivist Approach to the Historiography of Philosophy"

Available online at

SciVerse ScienceDirect

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 71 (2013) 36 - 44

International Workshop on the Historiography of Philosophy: Representations and Cultural

Constructions 2012

A constructivist approach to the historiography of philosophy

Mihnea Antila

Faculty of Political Sciences, Philosophy and Communication Sciences, West University of Timisoara, Blv.V. Parvan 4, Timisoara, 300223,



In the following text I propose a certain view of historiography of philosophy. My starting point will be the analysis of Richard Rorty regarding the historiography of philosophy. The first part will discuss Rorty's text and the differences between various ways of approaching the history of philosophy. Rorty's text is important because it reveals a lack of unitary vision when we are speaking about the best way in which we can write history of philosophy. This lack of unity implies that there are different frames of thinking historiography so we are entitled to say that the clashes between visions constitutes a whole new area of inquiry which we can call "the philosophy of historio^aphy." The following step is to distinguish the philosophy of historiography from the philosophy of history. We will see then, that one of the most important questions of philosophy of historiography is: what is philosophy? Before we start writing the history of philosophy, we should ask ourselves what is our view about the nature of philosophy. Following the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, my view is that philosophy is essentially "the art of creating concepts/' Viewing the philosophy in this way implies that the history of philosophy is a history of concepts. Since the concepts are constructed entities, and not discovered things, it follows that viewing the history of philosophy in this way, forces us to adopt a constructivist approach.

© 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd

Selection and peer-re view under responsibility of Claudiu Mesaros (West University of Timisoara, Romania). Keywords: historiography of philosophy; philosophy of historiography; philosophy of history; constructivism; art of concept creation.

1. Introduction

When using the term "historiography," we should take into considerations two main aspects: either we refer to a set of historical literature which covers a certain subject, or we refer to particular aspects which are in direct relation with the methods that a historian applies in his work. Implicitly, when we consider a debate about methods, either we question which of the methods is better or more efficient than the others, or we question which is the most suitable historical method which allows us to have a better representation of the events that

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of Claudiu Mesaros (West University of Timisoara, Romania). doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.01.006

took place in the past; we place ourselves in a middle of a philosophical context, and this happens because we tend to make epistemological and ontological assumptions.

Things become more interesting when the main theme of the debate is actually the history of philosophy. I am making this statement because the history of a discipline must take into consideration the specificity of that certain discipline, and considering that we are talking about philosophy - a discipline which has as a main purpose problematization - then in a natural manner, the historiography of philosophy will not lack the difference of opinions. In other words, this part of the nature of philosophy which is the problematization, is being transferred into the manners that the history of philosophy is being approached. Considering the fact that there are many disagreements between philosophers regarding the answers that correspond to philosophical questions, we question even more which the real and important philosophical questions are, and which are the pseudoproblems. Or if there are perennial questions which any true philosopher should try to answer, or if, on the contrary, the questions which belong to philosophy are contextual - specific to a certain historical era - then it is clear that a history of philosophy will be determined by the possible answers that the author will take into consideration. Because of this, a history of philosophy will look differently compared to a history of science, and this happens because a history of philosophy is determined by a certain matrix, with a particular interpretation rule which can be different from author to author. For example, a history of chemistry will have the purpose to look at the facts and the events that are relevant for that discipline, so that the isolation of carbon dioxide made by Joseph Black will be treated equally as the isolation of oxygen accomplished by Karl Wilhelm Schule and Joseph Priestley. Someone who is writing a history of philosophy will select the authors that seem relevant to him - determined by his own philosophical views. I do not want the above statements to be interpreted in a relativist key - my scope is to emphasize the fact that a history of philosophy implies that the author is operating certain cuts, certain alterations, structures and ranks - organizing depending on his beliefs. So when we talk about a historian of philosophy, we can state that his work will be based on interpreting facts, events depending on an interpretation spectrum. All these things are suggested either implicitly or explicitly by Richard Rorty in his article called The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres [1]. Based on this aspect, I consider it necessary to resume the ideas that Rorty exposes in this particular article. In other words, I will take Rorty's text as my starting point, mainly because I consider his point of view fundamental for the debates about the historiography of philosophy. My thesis is that the American philosopher's text offers some guidelines that help create something we can call a philosophy of historiography of philosophy. Starting from this point, we can discern what the characteristics and the specific problems this kind of discipline has, and at the same time, how a philosophy of historiography can be different from the philosophy of history. Which can the relations be and which could be the specific differences.

Further on, the structure of my argument is based on the fact that the fundamental question of every philosophy of historiography is: What is philosophy? The answer that we give in relation to this question will offer us the standard. Starting from this standard, we will build the entire history of philosophy. The answer to this question will be the one that will separate the canon that we will impose, and that will help us create a map of philosophy. If we follow the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze in embracing the fact that the philosophical activity represents the art of creating concepts, the particular manner of a certain type of thinking which helps us enable the concepts to work together so that they open up new possibilities to think and to gather the richness of experience that life and reality offers us, than a position based on an epistemological point of view can only be a constructivist one. While the reality plays herself in a continuous becoming process, the philosophical thinking will have to keep up with this transformation; this constant remodeling will have to reconsider the concepts in order to offer a straight vision. I want to emphasize once more the fact that my conclusion makes sense only in the case in which we accept the premise of Deleuze and Guattari, the one that states that the purpose of philosophy is to create concepts - this being the specificity of this particular mode of thinking. On the other hand, if the answer to the question "what is philosophy?" will imply a return to universalist, essentialist, and transcendentalist elements, then my thesis loses its value.

2. Rorty's four genres of writing the history of philosophy

In his article, The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres [1], Richard Rorty frames four types - four manners in which the history of philosophy is being written. It is possible that Rorty's list is not an exhaustive one, but the American philosopher most likely succeeds to cover all the types of the historiography of philosophy. In any case, the structure of his exposure is based on the fact that he opposes in the first place two types of approach, and then the two of them will be presented in relation to a third synthesizing one. This is a classical Hegelian structure. The first two alternatives of writing history of philosophy are "the rational reconstruction" and "the historical reconstruction" [1]. The rational reconstruction implies formulating the arguments of the deceased philosophers so that they can be considered "colleagues with whom they can exchange views" [1]. The problem with this approach is that it leads to an anachronistic treatment of the dead philosopher that we choose to have as an ally, an approach that is not really correct. On the other hand, if someone does not take this step, "one might as well turn over the history of philosophy to historians - whom they picture as mere doxographers, rather than seek the philosophical truth" [1]. In conclusion, it seems that we have two options: either we apply the current philosophical vocabulary and we interpret the deceased philosophers using current terms, or we try to describe the greatest philosophers of the past considering the context and the specificity of the problems of the era they lived in. Even if the two approaches seem to be situated on irreconcilable plans, Rorty does not try to rank them hierarchically; more so, he believes they can coexist:

"there is nothing wrong with self-consciously letting our own philosophical views dictate terms in which to describe the dead. But there are reasons for describing them in other terms, their own terms. It is useful to recreate the intellectual scene in which the dead lived their lives -in particular, the real and imagined conversations they might have had with theii contemporaries" [1].

Referring to the historical reconstruction, Rorty considers it an enterprise type which does not lack importance. An epistemological dimension is created, which lies beneath the following questions: What is the main knowledge gain brought about by such a method? What is the utility of such an approach? As we can observe, there are arguments brought to the discussion, arguments that sustain the utility or the input of a method. Rorty's conclusion is that an approach which implies historical reconstruction is analogous with the work of an anthropologist who studies a primitive community - a community that uses another system of meaning - and who tries to determine which are the mechanism used by this community and which are the relations that are being established between the members of the community and foreigners. Similarly, in the historiography of philosophy such an exercise allows imagining possible interactions between different discourses - philosophical ones - and at the same time offer a better understanding of the ideas that belong to a certain philosopher. We are interested in having such a perspective because "we want historical knowledge of what unre-educated primitives, or dead philosophers and scientists would have said to each other [...] [it] helps us recognize that there have been different forms of intellectaal life from ours" [1]. On the other hand, the rational reconstructions - that is to say, the anachronistic approaches - in other words the works in which we have conversations with deceased philosophers have their utility in the fact that they help us purify the theories belonging to philosophers of the past, to filter them so that we can have a better representation of what is truly valuable in their theories and what their innovative spirit is formed of. In this sense, Rorty gives as an example the work of P.F. Strawson, The Bounds of Sense (1966). But choosing this direction means trying to bring the old philosophers as allies in the contemporaries' debates. This means that we will use their ideas to sustain conclusions that even they have not reached, because "we anachronistically say he [the dead philosopher] would have been driven back on a premise which he never formulated, dealing with a topic he never considered - a premise which may have to be suggested to him by a friendly rational reconstructor" [1]. So we will have to deal with more than one view of a philosopher. For example, Plato will be seen differently by an analytical philosopher who believes that the language analysis is the most important feature of philosophy, compared to another philosopher who might believe that "the philosophy of language is a passing fad" [1]. From this point of view, rational reconstruction

seems to be a more problematic enterprise compared to historical reconstruction, because philosophers can reach an agreement regarding the reconsideration of the theories belonging to a thinker only if he gives up his own opinion about the essence of philosophy. Even if at a first glance the rational reconstruction seems more complicated, I find that historical reconstruction also poses problems regarding the consensus among scholars, and this is because of the problem of our beliefs; in this way, a historical reconstruction made by a philosopher of language will look different from one made by a continental philosopher, because both of them have different opinions about the permanent characteristics of philosophy. In Rorty's words, each author will reeducate Plato in different manners.

Another problem that Rorty signals refers to the relation between the two historiography types. There is a difference between the historical reconstruction and the rational reconstruction that is translated in a matter of "finding out what the dead thinker meant and finding out whether what he said was true" [1]. This gives priority to the historical reconstruction: in order to establish what the philosopher meant we have to place his statements in the context of the way of thinking representative of those times. We are witnessing a narrowing of the term 'meaning,' which restrains its use only to a certain context - the context in which the statements we are referring to were already made. Even so, in order to understand a dead philosopher in his own terms, we must have a current understanding of the nature of the problems that the philosopher approached; like this we can establish the significance of his assertions: "whether we privilege the context which consists of what the assertor was thinking about around the time [...] depends upon what we want to get out of thinking about the assertion" [1]. At the same time - with regard to the problem of truth - it is essential we keep in mind that 'meaning' and 'truth' are two interrelated terms; so deciding on what is true depends on the judging policies in which we place a certain statement and on the acceptance criteria of that particular system.

The third genre which appears in Rorty's work is Geistesgeschichte. Geistesgeschichte represents that type of historiography where the one writing the history of philosophy is trying to prove a point. This is a type of historiography where "Hegel is paradigmatic" [1]. This type of historiography has a secondary rank, meaning that it is actually an instrument that the philosopher uses in demonstrating the theories he sustains. Here is where the idea that the history of philosophy is written depending on the author's belief becomes clearer. Compared to the history of science, the history of philosophy is characterized by significant disagreements regarding who "counts as a great dead philosopher," states Rorty [1]. With these considerations in mind, we can make a comparison between Geistesgeschichte and rational reconstruction, because both of them are using the history of philosophy merely as a tool for self-justification. But from a different point of view, we can also notice several key differences. Rational reconstruction is limited to only a "small portion of the philosopher's work [...] and [it is] written in the light of some recent work in philosophy which can reasonably be assumed to be about the same questions the great dead philosopher was discussing" [1]. While Geistesgeschichte aims to show what Rorty [1] calls "the big picture," here it also refers to the entire work done by a philosopher, and more specifically, to the relations that can be established between the dead philosopher's work and other important events and works of his time, and to the influence his ideas exert upon his followers. And while the rational reconstruction is centered upon solutions, Geistesgeschichte is situated at the heart of problematics. I am speaking here about Hegel and Foucault, because both of them are interested in describing 'the big picture,' although I am not quite sure whether the term Geistesgeschichte is a good description of what Foucault is doing in his history of ideas, as Rorty acknowledges as well. The geistesgeschichtlich histories are ways that allow different thinkers to justify their ideas. In another way, this type of historiography is a synthesis of the other two types, because geistesgeschichtlich histories are imposing a canon upon how one writes a history, upon who counts as a great philosopher and who as a minor one, and upon which are the questions that are truly philosophical. In contrast, the history of a specific science - such as biology or chemistry - does not require 'historical legitimation.'

Arriving at a conclusion, Rorty makes a statement which is also important for my argument. He contends that geistesgeschichtlich histories are useful because they can teach us a lesson. Looking back in history, we can observe that in other times there were questions that seemed perennial, while in our time we consider them

outdated. Thus, geistesgeschichtlich histories cast doubts over whether we can say that our questions and our philosophical problems are really important, universal and perennial ones, or whether they are just contingent ones. This conclusion states, once again, the relativist position that Rorty adopts, and at the same time, states a superior status of Geistesgeschichte historiography compared to the other two types.

The fourth type of philosophical historio^aphy refers to "doxography." This is the most common manner to write a history of philosophy, but, in Rorty's [1] opinion, the least valuable. This is because all the work is being done using an old canon. And the result is represented by "desperate attempts to make Leibniz and Hegel, Mill and Nietzsche, Descartes and Carnap, talk about the same common topics, whether the historian and his readers have any interest in those topics or nor" [1]. The problem with this type of writing history of philosophy is that it is based on the premise that philosophy is a specific mode of knowledge which has access to fundamental questions and problems. Each generation of philosophers hopes to finally discover questions which will require for the entire history of philosophy to be rebuilt in a manner in which every great philosopher will be treated as if he offered answers to these questions. But if we look closer, we can see that the Geistesgeschichte histories and historical reconstructions show us that things are not as we think they are. The questions that we have today are not the same as those of past philosophers. It is one thing to speculate and to ask ourselves how a certain philosopher would answer contemporary philosophical questions, and quite another to state that he actually answered these questions. To make a long story short, Rorty's [1] conclusion is that doxography is inefficient and does not offer any other added value to historical knowledge, thus, we should give up writing books such as A History of Philosophy.

Rorty's article is a seminal one but even so, his analysis regarding philosophical historiography is not the only one made. Among his predecessors we find the Australian philosopher John Passmore with his main articles The Idea of a History of Philosophy [2] and Philosiphy, Historiography of [3], the last one being an article published in Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Passmore' s second text is not very different from Rorty's paper, and we can say that certain aspects covered by the American philosopher are found also in Passmore's statements. But even so, there are also important differences between the two. Firstly, Passmore refers to history as a manner of "arguing with past philosophers" [3]. Writes following this style are more interested in defending their own position in contrast with other philosophers' views. As a result, we have an abstracted vision of history which is produced mainly because of the excessive interest in establishing a relation between their own ideas with past ones. Passmore gives Plato as an example: "he had much to say about his predecessors, but his attitude toward them was polerncal rather than historical" [3]. However, I believe that we can find the equivalent of 'polemical histoty' in Rorty's text, this being rational reconstruction. The second category of historiography which Passmore identifies is "doxography/' The doxographic model is imposed by Diogene Laertios who separates philosophers into 'schools,' ignoring the chronological order in most cases. Same as Rorty, Passmore considers this type of historiography unsatisfying, criticizing its lack of a substantial critical perspective, only offering a superficial vision. The third type of historiography is "the history as the passage to truth/' and Passmore mentions Dietrich Tiedemann as an exponent with his work, Geist der Spekulativen Philosophie (1791-1797). Tiedemann rejects Diogene Laertios' model and tries to apply a linear perspective - a chronological perspective with the main objective to "discover the leading principle in each philosophy, rather than to simply summarize its principle doctrines" [3]. Even so, Tiedemann's history is flawed because it tries to impose "regular systems on philosophers who were certainly innocent of any such systematic ambitions" [3]. But the most important exponent of this genre is Hegel, who considers that a history of philosophy must expose the relations between theories and the manner in which they are connected, and the way in which they succeed from one another. In addition to this, the historian has the duty to show how a philosophical system reaches out for the truth. A history is not only a collection of facts. If, for Hegel, any conflict between theories will be solved at certain moment in time, for the 'classificatory history' it is important to emphasize "the conflict's quite irreconcilable tendencies in human thinking" [3]. The last two types of historiography that Passmore talks about form the equivalent of Rorty's Geistesgeschichte history. In Passmore's [3] terms these two are called "cultural history" and

"problematic history/' Cultural history presents a philosopher by referring to a whole socio-cultural system which the philosopher is part of. On the other hand, problematic history represent a history of questions that different philosophers started from, and an analysis of the way they reached these questions (why these ones and not other ones).

3. Philosophy as an art of concept creation, a constructivist approach

After surveying Rorty's text, we can draw one important conclusion - an aspect that is useful for my argument. We observed that historiography in general - and the historiography of philosophy in particular - is a discipline not characterized by straight-forward things. There are various ways of how to write history, and it is obvious from Rorty's [1] and Passmore's [3] analyses that every historiographical instance has some advantages and some disadvantages from the point of view of the added value. There is no consensus among scholars regarding the best way to approach the history of philosophy. At a first glance, it would seem that confusion rules the domain of historiography since historiography is missing a unitary vision. But from my point of view, this lack uncovers something else - something implicitly or explicitly emphasized by Rorty: this whole problematic constitutes a new domain of research which we can call "the philosophy of historiography" [1]. When we are addressing questions such as 'Which historiographical method is the best method to describe the past?', "What is the nature of 'historical knowledge?', or 'Is historiography a science, and if so, then what kind of science is it?', we constitute a new area of inquiry where philosophers are entitled to offer answers. But can we say that this area of research is really new, or is it just another side of the philosophy of history? In other words, is there a true distinction between the philosophy of history and a discipline that we can call the 'philosophy of historiography' or is it just another language game? To find the answer to this question we should take each of these terms and see what stands behind them.

When using the term 'history/ confusion might appear. The confusion is generated by the ambiguity that is implied by its different meanings. When talking about 'history,' we could refer to a number of different things -for example, we can speak about 'history' as a discipline which deals with descriptions about past events, or we can strictly talk about past events. One of the authors addressing this problem is Aviezer Tucker in his "Introduction" to A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography [4]. He distinguishes between 'history' used only in the sense of past events and 'historiography' as the "result of inquiries about history, written accounts of the past" [4]. This could represent a hint which could be useful for unlocking the mystery of the difference between the 'philosophy of history' and the 'philosophy of historiography.' Tucker acknowledges the fact that the philosophical vocabulary does not offer a very clear distinction, even though "it [is] necessary to distinguish the philosophy of historiography from the philosophy of history" [4]. What is commonly used in the philosophical jargon is the difference between critical, or analytical philosophy of history, and substantive and speculative philosophy of history; yet, Tucker disagrees that these opposing types of philosophies would represent an accurate description of what the difference between 'philosophy of historiography' and 'philosophy of history' might be, because they generate more confusion and they are "too vague and value laden" [4]. A more accurate account would be to remain faithful to the distinction that we have just made - the one between 'history' as past events and 'historiography' as a description of past events. Indeed, some comparisons between the kantian critical project and historiography could be made, as both of them are interested in conditions of knowledge, but Tucker contends that the philosophy of historiography is "interested in much more than this Kantian project" [4]. It seems to be the same with the analogy between an analytical philosophy of historiography and an analytical philosophy: philosophy of historiography is certainly interested in analyzing the language, but there is much more than that. On the other hand, Tucker considers the term "speculative philosophy" to be a "term of abuse" [4]. So, while the philosophy of history mainly focuses on examining history, the philosophy of historiography is a foray into the ways in which we are talking about past events. It follows, then, that the philosophy of historiography is concerned primarily with questions of epistemology. As Tucker explains

elsewhere, "before philosophers can tell historians what they should do, they should get a good idea of the epistemic limits of all possible historiographies" [5]. If the philosophy of historiography is especially interested in epistemological questions, then the philosophy of history deals with problems like the following: is history contingent or is it necessary; is it linear or cyclical? It follows that the "philosophy of history parallels sub-fields of metaphysics that examine the ultimate constituent part of everything, such as the philosophy of nature" [4]. Of course, this is not a clear-cut distinction, because the philosophy of historiography is primarily concerned with epistemological problems, but it could also be interested in ontological ones, such as what is the nature of the object that we are studying? Or it might even ask questions like 'what is the nature of what we call <facts>?'; 'are they only discovered, or are they constructed?', or 'what is the role of interpretation in historiography?' Moreover, if we are talking about interpretation, then we have to go deeper and talk about theories of truth. And if we are talking about interpretation and truth, then we are sent back to the old debates referring to the opposition be^een 'explanation' and 'understanding.' So neither the philosophy of historiography is limited to epistemology, nor is the philosophy of history limited to metaphysics.

Tucker [5] divides the philosophy of historiography in three different categories: phenomenological, descriptive, and prescriptive. The phenomenological type is "a rigorous examination of the consciousness of disciplinary practitioners, such as scientists and historians" [5]. It is interested in observing how historians see their practice. Tucker is critical of this approach because it can be misleading; many scientists are not fully conscious of their own methodologies. He gives Newton as an example, when he presents his ideas in terms of the "dominant inductive philosophy of science, though Newtonian physics is clearly not inductive" [5]. The prescriptive philosophy of historiography has as a principal goal to put forth some normative principles. The problem is that these ideals "may be a description of the practices of a successful part of a discipline [...] whether or rot this description is accurate" [5]. Finally the descriptive position is the one which Tucker considers the most valuable one.

We have seen so far that under the tern 'philosophy of historiography' lies an entire set of specific problems which make an autonomous discipline rise. Keeping in mind that one of the specific questions which the philosophy of historiography has to answer is 'what is the nature of the object that we are studying?', it follows that in the case of the historiography of philosophy we firstly have to determine what is philosophy. In other words - which are the specific features of the activity we call 'philosophy'? The answers we give to this important question set the path which we are following when we write the history of philosophy. Moreover, the answer to this question constitutes what Delete calls a "plane of immanence" [6].

I would like now to look more deeply to a possible answer that we can give to the question stated above, and I will follow the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in setting a definition for philosophy. In what would be their last collaborative work, What is Philosophy? [6], Deleuze and Guattari are dealing with the question that also interests us. From the very beginning of their book, they clearly state their position regarding philosophy: "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts" [6]. Looking back in history, Deleuze and Guattari speak about what philosophy meant for the Greeks:

"other civilizations had sages, but the Greeks introduce these friends who are not just more modest sages. The Greeks might seem to have confirmed the death of the sage and to have replaced him with the philosopher - the friend of wisdom, the one who seeks wisdom but does not formally possess it" [6].

If the sage thinks in Figures, says Deleuze and Guattari [6], then the specificity of the philosopher is that he uses and invents Concepts. He is the friend of the concept and of wisdom, in the sense that between the philosopher and the concept an intimate bond is established. More simply, we could say that in every good philosopher lays latent the potentiality of concept creation - like in Deleuze's and Guattari's [6] example - in the good joiner we can find the potential of wood. What else exposes this intimate bond if not the very conditions of thinking itself -because we cannot think without using concepts, and we cannot think outside them. But Deleuze and Guattari warn us that "philosophy is not the simple art of forming, inventing, or fabricating concepts, because concepts are

not necessarily forms, discoveries, or products. More rigorously, philosophy is the discipline that involves creating concepts" [6]. Concepts are not like laws of nature, waiting out there to be discovered by someone. They have to be created, they have to be put to work always in new modes, they have to be remodeled in a way in which to give better accounts, and they have to bear the special mark of their creator. In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari give an interesting example: "Plato said that Ideas must be contemplated, but first of all he had to create the concept of Idea" [6]. This is not to say that although the concepts are created, they could acquire an existence in themselves and for themselves. They are always entangled in a web-like net of other concepts. There is no simple concept, because "every concept relates back to other concepts, not only in history, but in its becoming or its present connections. Every concept has components that may, in turn, be grasped as concepts" [6]. So we are dealing with an infinite series, and it is clear from this argument that concepts are not created ex nihilo. Another feature of concepts is that, although their parts are heterogeneous, there is something that gives them unity: "there is an area ab that belongs to both a and b, where a and b become indiscernible" [6]. Moreover, they interact on the same plane with other concepts in order to find new ways of thinking. Another important feature of the concept is that it is at the same time absolute and relative. It is relative when we are thinking of "its own components, of the plane on which it is defined, and of the problems it is supposed to resolve; but it is absolute through the condensation it carries out, the site it occupies on the plane, and the conditions it assigns to the problem" [6]. The important conclusion at which the two philosophers arrive is that "constructivism unites the relative and the absolute" [6]. This constitutes my argument - that philosophy is essentially an activity which involves the creation of concepts, an activity which offers us "knowledge through pure concepts" [6], and that these concepts are created and modified in the course of the history of philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari [6] speak about the Nietzschean verdict that you cannot know anything through concepts, unless you first give them birth. Keeping this in mind, we could propose a new type of historiography of philosophy, one which would account for a 'history of concepts.' In a way, this historiography would be like Rorty's Geistesgeshichte history, or intellectual history; the important thing is that such a historiography will be determined by a constructivist frame.

4. Conclusion

This paper takes as a starting point Richard Rorty's inquiry of the historiographies of philosophy. Surveying his text lead us to the conclusion that historiography of philosophy lacks a certain unitary vision of how to write history of philosophy. This suggests that these different views come from the fact that some authors have different philosophical opinions about what is the nature of philosophy as a discipline. This then, constitutes a new terrain of problematics, one which we can call the philosophy of historiography, distinct from the philosophy of history. So, before we begin to write the history of philosophy we should ask ourselves the fundamental question: what is philosophy? The answer that we will give to this question will set the path which we will follow. Imposing a certain canon on the way of approaching the history of philosophy means that we will have to interpret the history according to a matrix of interpretation. I think that the best way to treat the history of philosophy is to follow Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's ideas [6], and consider philosophy an art of creating concepts and, as a consequence, the history of philosophy will be a history which will account for the ways in which philosophers succeeded to put concepts to work, to create new concepts which responded to specific problems of their epochs. As long as we consider concepts as merely created things and not things that are waiting to be discovered, we are obliged to adopt a constructivist approach.


[1] Rorty, R. (2004). The historiography of philosophy. In R. Rorty, J.B. Schneewind & Q. Skinner (Eds.), Philosophy in history. Essays on the historiography of philosophy (pp. 49-76). New York: Cambridge University Press. Transferred to digital printing 2004.

[2] Passmore, J. (1965). The idea of a history of philosophy. History and Theory Beiheft: The Historiography of Philosophy, 5, 1-32.

[3] Passmore, J. (1967). Philosophy, Historiography of. In P. Edwards (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy (pp.226-230). Vol. VI. New York/London: Macmillan, p. 226-28

[4] Tucker, A. (2009). Introduction. In A. Tucker (Ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of History and Historiography (pp.1-7). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

[5] Tucker, A. (2004). Our knowledge of the past. A philosophy of historiography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-5

[6] Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (2009). What is philosophy? London/New York: Verso, p. 2-3; 5-7; 19-22

[7] Strawson, P. F. The Bounds of Sense: An Essay on Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason'. London: Methuen