Thursday, July 05, 2012

Philosophy as an Art

This paragraph from T.S. Eliot's "The Possibility of a Poetic Drama" has never left me. It many ways, it expresses the spirit of this blog:

In the works of Maeterlinck and Claudel on the one hand, and those of M. Bergson on the other, we have the mixture of the genres in which our age delights. Every work of imagination must have a philosophy; and every philosophy must be a work of art—how often have we heard that M. Bergson is an artist! It is a boast of his disciples. It is what the word “art” means to them that is the disputable point. Certain works of philosophy can be called works of art: much of Aristotle and Plato, Spinoza, parts of Hume, Mr. Bradley’s Principles of Logic, Mr. Russell’s essay on “Denoting”: clear and beautifully formed thought. But this is not what the admirers of Bergson, Claudel, or Maeterlinck (the philosophy of the latter is a little out of date) mean. They mean precisely what is not clear, but what is an emotional stimulus. And as a mixture of thought and of vision provides more stimulus, by suggesting both, both clear thinking and clear statement of particular objects must disappear.

Wittgenstein said that philosophy should be composed in the manner of poetry. I think he's right, but I don't think this means that philosophy is poetry. I agree with Eliot that philosophy is an art, and that it is the art of forming thought beautifully. Poetry is another art. Any attempt to conflate the two, which is often what is meant by people who declare philosophy to be an art, is only likely to obscure the problem, which is probably what they want. Thinking precisely, i.e., clearly, is difficult. Feeling precisely, i.e., intensely, is difficult. Beauty is difficult.


Presskorn said...

I like the Eliot-quote. It's reference to Bradley's Priciples of Logic, however, is peculiar, given that work's notorious reputation for unclarity.

Putting Bradley in the company of such masters as Aristotle and Hume, testifies to the extremely fashionable status of Bradley at the time (even Russell and Moore started out as speculative Bradlians). In a sense, it shows that even Eliot was subject to the fashion of his "age", which he speaks out against.

PS: You mean "philosophy" in the Wittgenstein-sentence.

Thomas said...

I'll have to look a Bradley, but, yes, it does sometimes come down to "taste".

PS Yes, thanks, fixed it.

Presskorn said...

Yes ,"taste" actually seems to be a better word than "fashion". The wiki article on Eliot reveals that he wrote a ph.d. on Bradley in Oxford from 1914-16 - and by that time Moore's Principia Ethica and Russell's Principia Mathematica (by now both staunch anti-Bradlians) had changed the tides of fashion.