From Plato on, philosophy has had an uneasy relationship with expressive arts such as narrative, poetry, drama, music, painting, and now film. If philosophy today can learn from science, can it learn from the arts as well– or even instead? If so, what can it learn?
Does expressive art access truths, particularly ethical truths, that cannot be expressed any other way? If it does, what can ethicists and other philosophers say about these truths? If it does not, what differentiates expressive from merely decorative art?
Some philosophers insist with Wittgenstein that “whatever can be said at all can be said clearly”. In that case, are artistic uses of language such as metaphor and imagery just “colour”, as Frege called it – just ways of dressing up thoughts that philosophers, by contrast, should consider in their plainest possible form?
Recent UK graduates will no doubt have been disheartened to read that there are currently 70 graduates to every job that’s out there.
Anna Miller recently wrote on these pages about the challenges facing philosophy graduates and suggested a number of ways in which they might ‘de-stress’.
As a philosophy graduate, I think Anna is guilty of perpetuating a number of pernicious stereotypes about philosophy students in her article, and I mean to set the record straight. Rant continues here…
K-Punk (aka writer Mark Fisher) writes about possible responses to the BNP on his blog:
“Much of the BNP’s appeal derives from its granting of legitimacy to those feelings of resentment and aggrievement – yes, it says, you’re right to feel angry and betrayed…Here, class emerges…But this brief flash of class antagonism is immediately subsumed by race-logic”.
Later on he notes that any effective response to the BNP cannot simply argue with the BNP within the current framework, but seek to undermine the framework itself, this thing that sublimates class differences into racial differences. He describes this process using a particularly philosophically-loaded term: Narrative.
Narrative is that which gives structure to everyday human existence – it is historical, social. In After Virtue, Alasdair Macintyre argues that the self is a “narrative self” (as opposed to an “emotive self”) – identity is constructed by the myriad roles an individual plays in multiple systems. The good for an individual must therefore be “the good for one who inhabits these roles” (AV, 220). If Macintyre’s argument holds water, this means that social critiques – such as the one detailed in the previous paragraph – have not only political implications, but moral ones.
What is the relationship between narrative and philosophy? Can story-telling prompt us towards new ways of understanding? Or, do myths only serve to muddle an already difficult path?
French philosopher Paul Ricoeur offers one possible entryway into the above problem. The late phenomenologist suggested that separating ‘the story’ from the human experience is nearly impossible. The ideals of our myths inevitably seep into social mores and laws. Narratives help to mark the limits of human action, drawing the line between ‘heroes’ and ‘everymen.’ And, story-telling fundamentally shapes how one’s ‘history’ is remembered and re-told. In this way, Ricoeur presents the relationship between narrative and philosophy as the task of recognizing the impact of a phenomenon already-present.
Recent headlines reveal another candidate similarly influenced by the already-present role of story-telling: modern science. Inspired by one of Aesop’s fables (The Crow and the Pitcher), university scholars Christopher Bird and Nathan Emery experimented to see if the story might be empirically ‘true.’ Continue reading “The Crow and The Pitcher”