"Learning How to See Again": Recovering a Place for Intellectual Vision in Philosophy

Richards, Benjamin, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brewer, Talbot, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

Man’s ability to see is in decline, says Josef Pieper. The essence of philosophy has been traditionally conceived as a synoptic enterprise – an effort to see how things hang together in the broadest possible sense; yet that sense of philosophy has ceased to be the predominant one in contemporary universities. With the loss of the synoptic conception of philosophy, we have also lost the idea that the most central and valuable aspect of philosophy is theoria – a kind of adoration in which one’s loving gaze is turned outwards to what exists outside oneself. What has been put in its place is a fragmented activity of questionable value. But the recovery of this older conception of philosophy – the recovery of our ability to see – is not so easily brought about insofar as its loss was not merely a unintentional lapse. Rather, such a recovery faces institutionalized moral opposition. In what follows, I first describe how the loss of the synoptic conception of philosophy, and its negative effects, is driven by a certain insular conception of institutionalized intellectual specialization. Second, by juxtaposing the pre-modern conception of philosophical activity with its modern alternative, I hope to make manifest the superior value of the former. Third, I seek to expose the often unstated moral objections that prevent the recovery of the traditional conception of philosophy, and, by bringing these moral objections to light, openly to confront them with alternatives. The language of vision is the thread that leads one through these three parts, and it is emphasized at every turn that seeing is a thoroughgoingly moral activity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
aisthesis, Aristotle, education, intellectus, Iris Murdoch, liberalism, ethics, aesthetics, moral philosophy
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