Philosophy and history: is a relationship still possible?
The connection between philosophical and historical studies, characterizing in Italy a long tradition of thought and teaching, seems to have loosened over recent years and it is no longer agreed upon. On the one hand, history no longer seems to constitute for contemporary thinkers a subject for philosophical reflection as interesting as other forms of reality and branches of knowledge.
On the other hand, the historical dimension of philosophy seems to have undergone a conspicuous process of oblivion, with a tendency to construe philosophical activity as a discussion about problems which only apparently change over history and are rather to be considered non-historical, even eternal.
So, while philosophy of history has become a completely unfashionable topic, history of philosophy has been degraded to an ancillary discipline, useful at best in view of a more cunning personal practice of philosophy, but deprived of philosophical worth in itself and lacking sufficient recognition even by professional historians.
This implies a considerable change since the post-war period, when the historical study of philosophy, situated in a sort of ideal middleness between continuity and discontinuity with the neo-idealistic tradition of thought, almost seemed to form a high road for the renewal of the philosophical profession as it was previously practised in Italy. If its relationship with today's philosophy seems to have become more and more problematic, over recent years philosophical historiography has also been confronted with the development, in Italy and abroad, of historiographical disciplines which, while apparently akin to history of philosophy, actually try to overcome it by widening their field of interest beyond the boundaries of philosophy.
The relationship between history of philosophy and history of culture, history of ideas, history of concepts, intellectual history, still remains a matter of discussion, with special regard to the alleged tendency of the latter to weaken rather to strengthen the properly philosophical vocation of the historical study of philosophy. Moreover, history of philosophy can appear even more questionable if we conceive erudition at its distinctive feature, thus situating at its center a kind of retrieval and classification of historical materials which is utterly alien to a philosophy increasingly conceived by many as based on formal reasoning.
What is at issue in all these debates, however, is not just the fate of history of philosophy viewed as specialist discipline, but the very idea of philosophy, or in other words if and how much philosophy, with its authors and texts, has something to do with the wider sphere of individual, social, political and economic life in which it is inevitably immersed and by which it is conditioned in various ways; more specifically, if and how much philosophy is affected by the parallel development of other cultural phenomena, such as science, art, religion, etc. In question is whether and to what extent the historical context and the sources of a philosophical text are to be seriously taken in account in the process of its interpretation.
Philosophy, as indifferent to its historical dimension, is in the end profoundly different from a philosophy considered inseparable from its historical roots. It is true, at the same time, that a philosophy claiming for itself a kind of independence from historical roots and contexts is not able, by way of this simple declaration, to sever every link with such context and roots, nor to put avoid the fate of being studied, eventually, through historical lenses.
Topics of interest for submission include, but are not limited to:
- the relationship between philosophy and history, the latter being understood as both an object of philosophical reflection and as a more or less constitutive dimension of philosophical reflection itself;
- the history of philosophy as philosophical and/or historical knowledge;
- the relationship between history of philosophy and history of ideas, history of concepts, history of culture, history of science, intellectual history, archeology of knowledge, gender studies, etc.;
- the debate over history of philosophy in the last decades in Italy and abroad;
- the role of erudition, considered in its connection with the originality of thought and critical knowledge;
- the social, national and linguistic embeddedness of philosophy;
- the role of history of philosophy in relation with the status of philosophy in contemporary academia and withing the teaching of philosophy in institution of primary and secondary education.