One of my blog resolutions for 2014 was to lay the foundation for all the philosophical name-dropping I tend to do. It’s a habit born in an academic context. When you first start to learn about new philosophic concepts, sometimes it’s easier to get your point across by using a figure as a short hand for a certain set of assumptions and a particular outlook. You can gather up a whole world view and all its implications by simply calling it “Arendtian” or “Heideggerian” and people in the know will know what you mean.
This is great when you’re talking to other academics, but sometimes it makes people who aren’t in the know feel excluded, like they’ll never be able to understand what you’re saying. That’s almost never true. What’s really going on is that those who are using the figure’s name as a shorthand often lack the facility to explain themselves without this crutch.
When I do this, it’s often because I don’t think I can explain what I mean clearly and concisely enough, so I wrap the concept up into the citation, feeding two birds with one seed. To be frank, it’s a slightly lazy way of communicating, because it puts the onus on others to look up figures to decipher what I mean. To be even more frank, knowing this probably won’t stop me from doing it.
To address this, I’m going to start a series called “Philosopher Fridays”, where I pick a figure to which I consistently return (and which I’ll likely name-drop or have already name-dropped at some point) and explore what he or she has to offer to my understanding of story-telling and narrative. My posts won’t be comprehensive representations of the figures, but rather focus on what I’ve found most intriguing about them.
Check back next friday for the first installment on Medieval Islamic theologian Averroes. Also, I take requests, so don’t be shy.