I continue to have a love/hate relationship with philosophy. It can be the most boring of all ways to spend time reading, a perfect sedative. It should be the most stimulating of conversations. I continue to maintain that we are all philosophers, but most of us don’t know it.
I am currently reading Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. I believe Durant is primarily known as an historian, along with his wife. He writes well. Even a good writer cannot always make philosophy worth reading. I started the book in July of 2020 and in spurts have made it as far as page 314, about half way through. I am currently on the chapter dealing with Immanuel Kant.
On Kant he basically says the average layman can’t understand him.
“Kant is the last person in the world whom you should read on Kant. Our philosopher is like and unlike Jehovah; he speaks through clouds, but without the illumination of the lightning flash. He disdains examples and the concrete; they would have made his book too long, he argued. (So abbreviated it contains some 800 pages.) Only professional philosophers were expected to read him; and these would not need illustrations.” page 277So he recommends others who will explain and of course goes on to give an overview himself.
One problem is all the picky definitions that you must embrace to follow his thinking. Giving definitions is not a bad idea. We need to know what words mean and often we don’t. Take this collection of ordinary words,
“Sensation is unorganized stimulus, perception is organized sensation, conception is organized perception, science is organized knowledge, wisdom is organized life: each is a greater degree of order, and sequence, and unity.” pages 295-6Maybe that lights your fire. Durant takes several pages explaining what this means. I have no idea how many pages Kant used.
I ran into this trying to read Spinoza’s Ethics: Obscure definitions in which I understand each word but the combination is confusing. It remains to be seen if I will get any further.
Part of the problem may be the inadequate translations. Few of us today could read the Bible if it was not translated well. The same goes for the Koran. Translation is always a stumbling block in any reading.
Is a great thinker really a great thinker if no one can understand him or is he just a guru? I guess that is a philosophical question.
Durant, Will. The Story of Philosophy. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., 1926.
homo unius libri