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Die Kolleginnen und Kollegen des Fachs Philosophie

The Contextualism of Philosophy

[Published in Martin Kusch (ed.), The Sociology of Philosophical Knowledge,
Kluwer: Dordrecht/Boston/London 2000 (= New Synthese Historical Library; 48), 179-191.]

Volker Peckhaus
Institut für Philosophie der
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg
Bismarckstr. 1, D–91054 Erlangen
E-mail: vrpeckha@phil.uni-erlangen.de

1. Introduction

Martin Kusch has called his book Psychologism (1995) "a case study in the sociology of philosophical knowledge" (subtitle); elsewhere (1996) he refers to it as an example for carrying out the sociology of philosophical knowledge. In his book he deals with the debate between philosophy and psychology by stressing socio-political factors in Germany between 1880 and 1920. He not only considers the philosophical arguments, "but also professional interests, struggles over professorial chairs, wars, and mentalities" (ibid., 83). The aim of this paper is to introduce a historical perspective into the discussion on the sociology of philosophical knowledge. The leading idea is that the sociology of philosophical knowledge presupposes a suitable historiography of philosophy for providing the data for its sociological analyses. This historiography is supposedly based on an open view of philosophy. Philosophy ought to be regarded not only as a sum of eternal truths, but also as the result of human activity in time. The philosopher as an acting human being is a member of society, is the object of personal, political, scientific and cultural influences. All these influences are relevant for the emergence of his philosophical ideas, concepts and conclusions. Considering these influences helps to explain, e.g., particular choices of philosophical topics at certain times, or the manner of specific argument. An important aspect for the hermeneutical interpretation of a text is the diagnosis of gaps in an author’s insight, perhaps because of lacking knowledge. Such diagnosis presupposes historical research which can give evidence for what an author knew or, at least, what he could have known. In spite of such advantages, the historical method is not generally accepted in the present main stream historiography of philosophy. In most cases historians of philosophy restrict their interest to the discussion of philosophical argument. They take them from history, but regard them as timeless. Their "histories" are in a certain sense a-historical.

There are alternative concepts, of course, which, e.g., consider sociological aspects by examining the development of philosophical ideas in their historical context. I prefer to call such concepts "contextual history", and not "sociology of philosophy" or "social history of philosophy" because the latter terms would be much too narrow to characterize the integrative scope of contextual history. Contextual history combines the traditional history of ideas with investigations into the personal, social, institutional and cultural conditions for the production of philosophical knowledge. It thus results in a history which is mainly concerned with the development of ideas, arguments and concepts, but bound to their time specific context.1 It thus provides the data or raw material for a philosophical analysis of historical argument which might abstract from circumstances determined by the time in which the argument can be found. Even the right wing Hegelian Johann Eduard Erdmann (1805–1892), a supporter of the idealist’s "apriori construction of history", stressed that he who constructs history cannot construct more than he knows empirically (1834, p. 51). "Analogy" is always "analogy to something" and "abstraction" is "abstraction from something". This "something" has to be known before the methods of analogy and abstraction can be applied.

In the following presentation I will show that this simple fact, known by the Hegelian school, seems to have been forgotten in the recent historiography of philosophy. The German discussion centers around an alleged predominance of the historical method in German contemporary philosophy. Critics say that this predominance leads to a lack of really systematic research in Germany, at least in comparison with Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy. My thesis is that the critics of the historical approach underestimate the fact that philosophy is evidently the result of doing philosophy, i.e., of the social activity of philosophizing. Considering this sociological aspect does not hamper a systematic interest but supports the understanding of the historical component of all of philosophy. In the second section I will distinguish between two ways of writing the history of philosophy and illustrate the tensions between the historiography of philosophy in general and systematic philosophy. In the third section I will argue that the claim for a "really" or "purely systematic philosophy" is an illusion which cannot be achieved. In concluding I will give some hints on the methodology of a contextual historiography of philosophy.

2. Two Ways of Writing the History of Philosophy

Two types of historiography of philosophy can be distinguished: The first type is the historical approach to philosophical problems and solutions of the past in the sense of a history of philosophizing. It deals with philosophy in its succession of concepts and systems, but associates it with its cultural, political, social and institutional contexts. Within this approach sociological questions can be raised and sociological methods applied. Philosophical knowledge is seen as a product of its time. It thus contradicts the understanding of many philosophers who formulate their systematical positions with the claim of eternal validity and not as occasional ad hoc solutions.

The second type is the philosophical approach to the history of philosophy. Texts dealing with philosophical problems and their solutions are analysed and interpreted with the aim of making them understandable and revealing their potentiality, but also causing the thoughts in historical argumentation to serve their purpose for today’s work in systematic philosophy. In the pure form of this approach the historian abstracts from the historical context of the text, i.e., the contingent circumstances of the formation and formulation of the thoughts expressed in the text. Such a procedure may lead to a presentation of the history of philosophy as a teleological progress of reason, or as the great philosophers’ collective, timeless and equal struggle with eternal philosophical problems.

This distinction of approach resembles Hegel’s distinction between the "original" history which the historian himself has experienced (and which is not discussed by Hegel), the "reflected" and the "philosophical" history. According to Hegel, reflected history coincides with the working field of the proper historical sciences. It regards historical, contingent, purely factual, past and external aspects (Hegel 1837, p. 3). In contrast, philosophical history represents the "reasoning view" of history (ibid., p. 12). It deals with necessary, general, actual and internal aspects. The choice of words shows that in Hegel’s view the external approach does not count as, or belong to, philosophy.

The two approaches to the history of philosophy are opposed to systematic philosophy which is determined as proceeding without any reference to history. Systematic philosophy aims at formulating specific philosophical positions by reflecting on principles and searching for foundations. Systematic philosophy does not coincide, however, with the search for philosophical systems. Systems of philosophy are formulated to bring the results of systematic philosophy into unified order.2

Tension occurs if the ways of dealing with philosophy and its history are regarded as disjunctive alternatives. Such tension can be found between systematic philosophy and the history of philosophy, but also between the two kinds of approach to the history of philosophy. I will illustrate the problems emerging from this tension with two examples. First I will discuss the intentional, one could even say, methodical ignorance of the philosophical historiography of philosophy in regard to the factual development of what was called "philosophy" at certain times. I will then argue against the reproach that German contemporary philosophers reduce philosophy to a "historical activity." I will show the vagueness of this reproach especially based on the observation that it is impossible to abstract completely from the historical dimensions of philosophy. If there is an emphasis on the historical aspect of philosophy this can only be seen as a matter of preference, and not as a methodological decision according to principles.

2.1 Ignorance Concerning Factual Development

In his paper "Die Philosophie und ihre Geschichte" (1991) Jürgen Mittelstraß warned about identifying philosophy with what had hitherto been regarded as philosophy. Such identification would be a philosophical error, because it would open the scene for relativism, the enemy of every rational order (1991, p. 17). Contrary to scientific disciplines, philosophy cannot refer to any other means than argument for securing the validity of its theorems. Only by considering arguments (which can of course be historical, i.e., taken from historical texts) can a philosophical theorem or a philosophical truth be verified. Mittelstraß writes that even if one accepts the historical aspects of these arguments, one should not demand a historical character of philosophy. On the contrary, such demand would silence all intentions to secure validity with the help of argument (p. 25). Therefore the history of philosophy should be a history of argumentation (ibid.), or, as he misleadingly calls it elsewhere, a history of reasons ("Gründegeschichte," cf. Mittelstraß 1981).

According to this understanding, it is not the task of philosophy to investigate its own historical development, especially if "historical development" is understood as a matter of fact, i.e., as the succession of "philosophies" in time, produced by philosophers living during their time who were at least influenced by contemporary philosophical discussion. According to Mittelstraß, the objects of the history of philosophy are the relationships between argumentation. Authors, as the originators of argument, have to move into the background. The context in which they have produced their philosophies, their motives of treating a certain topic, the occasions for and the conditions of their philosophical work are of no interest.

Mittelstraß claims that the discussion of argument from history is possible because of two presuppositions. He assumes that the originators of argument were searching for the truth, i.e., that they followed the same idea as the philosophers discussing their argument nowadays (1991, p. 27). Mittelstraß furthermore assumes that philosophers of history and their modern interpreters have at least a partially common understanding of philosophical problems and a common basis of distinction and argumentation.

The second supposition is much more problematic than the first, because the question to what degree historical and contemporary bases of distinction and argumentation overlap can be decided, but only historically by revealing historical constellations of problems and the conditions of specific historical argumentation. The historical situation as represented by historical data can then be compared with the modern situation. No assumption is needed. A "philosophical hermeneutic" on the basis of these suppositions as proposed by Mittelstraß runs the risk of using traditional philosophical propositions only as combinations of words which become arguments through the process of construction.

Mittelstraß criticizes what he calls the "historistic thesis", i.e. the assumption that the understanding of the historical world depends on the conditions of its own object, i.e., its history. He ignores that the way to a philosophical hermeneutic would not be barred by accepting this thesis. The methodological abstraction from the historical conditions of understanding a text and of the historical context in which the text to be understood has been formulated would still be possible. Although both approaches to the history of philosophy could be combined, even profiled historians like Mittelstraß deny the philosophical relevance of the fact that philosophizing is a phenomenon in time.3 Obviously, the reason is blind anti-historicism which ideologically blocks the use of historical methods while dealing with systematic questions.

2.2 The Relationship between Systematic Philosophy and the History of Philosophy

The historical approach is widely ignored in the methodological discussion among historians of philosophy, as Mittelstraß’s example shows. This may be, at least partially, due to the fact that the philosophical historiography of philosophy itself is increasingly becoming the target of criticism by "systematic" philosophers. The historian of philosophy is continually forced to give an account of his procedures.

It is generally assumed that German "mainstream" philosophy is closely bound to its tradition. Philosophy in Germany is often "philosophizing through’ an author," as Barry Smith put it (1991, p. 160). This is seen as an important difference to Anglo-Saxon philosophy. The "anti-historicists" of British philosophy since Newton (MacDonald Ross 1983, p. 443) are opposed to the "antiquarians of ideas"4 dominating German philosophy. This diagnosis is often associated with the reproach that German philosophy is in most cases not systematic.

The Munich philosopher Lorenz B. Puntel has directed this criticism (in English) in 1991 in a particularly bitter way. His accusations caused a great sensation when they were republished in a German version three years later in the popular journal Information Philosophie (Puntel 1994). Puntel aims at a critical description of the situation of the German contemporary philosophy. In the German version he uses italics for "German" to indicate that he is unable to characterize all German philosophy, but only the part that is practised by the majority of philosophers at German universities (1994, p. 20). He should also have set "philosophy" in italic type, because he restricts his criticism to the domain of theoretical philosophy, and doesn’t take practical philosophy, analytical philosophy, philosophy of science or other directions into consideration "which have at least formulated a systematic programme of their own" (p. 21). The remaining is, in a rather vague extension, German contemporary philosophy, which Barry Smith called, in a similar vague way, the "mainstream" of German philosophy.

Puntel claims that German philosophy has been almost completely reduced to a historiographical activity of a principally opaque character. This reduction is the reason for its international weakness. For most authors philosophy proper, i.e., systematic philosophy, becomes a future program which never commences (1994, p. 29). Thus, a characteristic mark of German philosophy is "its non-creativity or sterility" (1991, p. 150). "What is called contemporary German philosophy resembles for the most part an antique-shop rather than a workshop" (ibid., pp. 150–151).

Puntel distinguishes five directions of dealing with the history of philosophy, or more exactly with the philosophical approach to the history of philosophy—he consequently ignores the historical approach (called "Philosophiehistorie"). The directions are the resumptionist view (focusing on comments on philosophical texts), the super-metaphysical view (Heidegger), the hermeneutic view (Gadamer), the foundational view (Habermas), and the reconstructionist view which is, according to Puntel, at present extremely popular at German universities.

Puntel names his Munich colleague Dieter Henrich as the most prominent representative of the reconstructionist view. Henrich proposes investigating constellations in order to master the difficulties in understanding the great conceptions of classic philosophical teachers who might have even themselves been unable to master their own complex philosophies (cf. Henrich 1976, p. 9). He thus supports the demand that the interpreter of a text or a speech should attempt to acquire a deeper understanding than the author himself had of his writings. Such a demand was formulated already by Kant. It was adopted by Schleiermacher, Fichte, Schlegel, Dilthey and others.5

Of special interest for our topic are the methods suggested by Henrich of dealing with the problematic communicative relationship between an author and his text, and between an author and his readers (interpreters). He proposes a reconstructive method transcending the borders of pure textual interpretation by regarding thoughts which are not directly expressed in the text. The text is set into a net of "motives and problems of the constellations in which an author moved and became an independent thinker" (1991, p. 13). These investigations concern constellations of great theories in which concepts are formed and systems built and the constellations of philosophical conversation. These methods open the scene for a sociology of philosophical knowledge because they give access to procedures of knowledge formation within communicative situations, i.e., on genuinely sociological questions.

According to Puntel, Henrich formulates the methodology of what German philosophers are really doing when philosophizing, but he reduced philosophy to a hitherto unknown degree to a historical activity (Puntel 1994, p. 28). Puntel asks whether Henrich’s methods are still philosophy, whether they are already philosophy, or whether it is the real task of philosophers to use them. His answers are to the negative. It is a matter of course that Puntel’s standpoint excludes all considerations on the sociology of philosophical knowledge from the scope of philosophy.

3. The Illusion of "Really Systematic Philosophy"

In opposition to Puntel one could question whether the traditional distinction between systematic philosophy and the history of philosophy is still reasonable. One could question Puntel’s claim that there is something like a "decisive Rubicon" which definitely separates systematic philosophy from historical activity (Puntel 1994, p. 28). Puntel’s claim can be opposed by arguing that every "really systematically oriented philosopher" is making a fool of himself if he thinks that "philosophy as such" can be restricted to systematic philosophy.

Puntel’s picture of philosophy is an illusion because of the temporality of philosophy as an activity and the contextualism of philosophy and philosophizing . Taking these features of philosophizing into account may help to solve the tension between systematic philosophy and the historiography of philosophy, and it may help to rehabilitate the historical approach to the history of philosophy.

3.1 The Temporality of Philosophy as an Activity

    The object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a theory but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of elucidations. The result of philosophy is not a number of "philosophical propositions," but to make propositions clear.

These famous words can be found in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus logico-philosophicus (1922, p. 77, 4.112). They express a break with any philosophical system and the attempt to bind philosophy to an enlightening enterprise. According to Wittgenstein, writings on philosophical topics being the products of a philosophical activity are not philosophy but only collections of thoughts in linguistic representation. At the best these thoughts are sensible, but in most cases they need further elucidation.

Wittgenstein characterizes philosophy as an activity and refutes the possibility of teaching philosophy. In this respect his philosophy is similar to Kant’s. Even in his pre-critical period Kant stressed that philosophy cannot be learned, contrary to historical or mathematical sciences (cf. Kant 1765. In the "Architectonic of Pure Reason" of his Kritik der reinen Vernunft (KrV B 865, quote according to Kant 1929, p. 657) Kant affirms this opinion in respect to the distinction between philosophy and mathematics:

    Mathematics, therefore, alone of all the sciences (a priori) arising from reason, can be learned; philosophy can never be learned, save only in historical fashion; as regards to what concerns reason, we can at most learn to philosophise.

Learning to philosophize should result in the ability of autonomous thinking (Selberdenken). This is expressed in Kant’s lectures on logic where he writes: "the one who wants to learn to philosophize should [...] regard all systems of philosophy as history of the use of reason and as objects of exercising his philosophical talent" (Kant 1800, p. 26). Kant proves this by regarding real philosophical activities: Every philosophical thinker is going to erect his own edifice on the ruins of others. There has never been a philosophical work infallible in all its parts. Kant sees the main reason for the impossibility of learning philosophy in the fact that philosophy itself is not yet given. And even if it were given, all knowledge of it would be subjective and historical. The true philosopher "as an autonomous thinker", Kant continues, "has thus to use his reason in a free way for his own sake, and not in a slavish imitating manner" (1800, p. 25).

What are the consequences of the idea that philosophy exists only in the process of philosophizing, and that it can be identified with this process? One of the consequences is that all products of philosophical activity have only a historical value. This is also true for contemporary philosophies insofar as they can be discussed, i.e., insofar as they are objective in Popper’s sense, and it is also true for all fixed results produced in the process of autonomous thought.

As soon as the process of philosophizing is complete, the objective results of this systematic philosophical activity can only be accessed by using historical tools. Every discussion of philosophical results represented in talks or texts requires a historiographical activity. If "really systematic philosophy" is understood as "purely systematic philosophy," i.e., as philosophizing without any reference to history, it would have to proceed without any reference to something which had already been thought and written down. Even if a philosopher critically continues already codified thoughts, or if he controls the results of his own thinking by comparing them with the results of philosophical contemporaries or precursors, historical elements are brought into systematic philosophical work. Demanding "purely systematic work" forces the philosopher to continuously reinvent the wheel.

There is no doubt that such understanding of "really systematic philosophy" has no practical value. Thus, the sharp conceptual distinction between systematic aspects of philosophy and history in the context of philosophy has to be questioned. The historical aspects in philosophy go beyond teachable knowledge from the past because they invite us to reconsider philosophical argumentation and thus prepare us for autonomous thought.

On the other hand, the paradigm of philosophy as an activity comprises the elaboration of own position by dealing with tradition critically. In philosophy the historical element does not exclude the systematical. Historical investigation, even that recurring to sociologically relevant contexts of philosophizing, can be utilized for systematic interests. They can supply key-words, raw material and impulses for systematic efforts in philosophy. Even if, in Puntel’s vague terminology, "really systematic philosophy" does not coincide with purely systematic philosophy. There is no Rubicon between the history of philosophy and systematic philosophy. In philosophy, history and system appear to be the final points of a continuum. History without system is not philosophy, and system without history is utopian. Philosophical activity can be found between these two poles. Historical and systematic views are related when dealing with argumentation. They should not, however, be identified, because this involvement neither transforms a historical argument into a systematical one, nor allows a systematic argument to remove a historical fact. An argument taken from Kant’s transcendental philosophy can only be used as a systematic argument by abstracting from the fact that Kant was its originator. Such abstraction aims at elaborating the ideas contained in a text and perhaps at modifying the thoughts in order to adapt them to actual questions and problems. But after such modification the argument is no longer an argument by Kant, particularly if its connotations, its scope or its application have been changed.

3.2 The Contextualism of Philosophy and Philosophizing

The idea of a philosophia perennis would be misunderstood if it would be restricted to the eternity of philosophical problems. It has a dynamical element which can be determined, as Husserl did, "as continually becoming insofar as infinity belongs to the essence of science, but nevertheless essentially definite" (Husserl 1956, p. 6), or, as Karl Jaspers did (Jaspers 1932, p. 4; 1948, p. 124), as the continuing philosophical search for being oneself, or, as the everlasting dream for a final foundation of knowledge. The philosophia perennis is directed at target points of philosophical activity, which may never be reached, but which nevertheless can be the target of philosophical effort.

It may be argued that a philosophy which fails to find solutions for its problems in an eternal discourse doesn’t deserve support. But it is easy to show that philosophy has been able to gain its merits, e.g., in clarifying concepts, in developing methods and in formulating and justifying orientation in practice and science. It is thus possible to speak of progress in philosophy. Philosophy has not solved its great problems, but a lot of smaller ones. Such solutions found by philosophers were, however, of destructive nature in several areas. They led to the detachment of several disciplines, now called "positive," from the domain of philosophy. Heidegger hinted at the fact that even in the Greek era sciences emerged within the area created by philosophy. While emerging, these sciences detached themselves from philosophy (Heidegger 1969, p. 63). Such processes of detachment can be observed in mathematics and modern sciences in the 18th and 19th centuries, for psychology at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries. Even today there are some domains such as applied or practical ethics (especially ethics in medicine or business ethics) or the philosophy of the mind where philosophy is going to loose its dominance, one could even say, its control. Obviously, the way philosophy treats its problems results in the phenomenon that, if it is successful in dealing with some aspects, parts of these problems are taken out of its domain of competence. This can be interpreted as a latent crisis of philosophy, or as the search of modern philosophy for its "lost profession," as Hellmuth Plessner writes in Die verspätete Nation, a history of the fate of the German spirit, first published in 1935.6 Plessner writes (1982, p. 169):

    The fact that philosophy still exists today, although the progress in the specialization of sciences in the course of the 19th century caused philosophy lose its last field of work, is not least due to its fight against its own superfluousness, which is forced upon it.

It is the "idea of its critical profession" which has helped philosophy stand the challenges provoked by scientific development.

It should now be clear that the meaning of "philosophy" is continually changing, depending upon the position of what is called "philosophy" in the system of sciences. It is simply false to assume that (one of) the modern conception(s) of philosophy could be the forever unchanging final point of a development.

Not only the concept of philosophy, but also philosophizing itself is bound into contexts. Philosophical work is not only determined by the progress in the thoughts of the working philosophers but also by the heuristic which they follow, which may, however, not be explicitly formulated. It is determined by their tacit knowledge, accepted at their time, or by external factors to autonomous thinking like the discussion within the discipline or the reception of preceding or competing conceptions of treating a topic. In philosophy as in other sciences, it is professional practice to correlate one’s own work with the state of research. This is enough to give philosophy a tendency of relativity, although it nevertheless may continue to aim at the universal validity of its results. But philosophical results stand in a relationship to what is known, discussed or questioned at the time when they are achieved. This cross-section view on the knowledge of a certain period of time does not coincide with the cumulatively piled up results of knowledge production up to this period. The knowledge of a certain period is rather a part of the latter, the composition of which is connected even to contingent influences like the specific reading experiences of the authors writing during that period, the fashions, interrupted traditions, cultural facts, social and political demands. An understanding which aims at doing justice to the intention of the texts under consideration and which may become the basis for a hermeneutical understanding of the sense of these texts, cannot be reached without regarding what could be called "the contextualism of knowledge." Having this in mind does not mean denying the philosophical demands for universal and absolute validity of philosophical results. It is clear, however, that the conditions for fulfilling these demands are always related to the context of the knowledge of that time.

The objects and forms of philosophical work are sometimes determined by anniversaries, deadlines, contracts with publishing houses, teaching duties, etc. (institutional contextualism) or by biographical and social facts which may be responsible for the position of a philosopher in an institutional system (social contextualism). In these respects philosophy is by no means different from other sciences. These contexts influence the choice of topics as objects of philosophical work at certain times. A question about the reasons for such choices can only be answered by referring to these contexts which may be determined by contingencies. Those who consider the above mentioned question as philosophical or as philosophically relevant have to accept the historical method within philosophy.

4. Contextual History of Philosophy

What does the combination of the historical and the philosophical approach to the history of philosophy look like on an elementary level? Let us consider an example from Kant’s critical philosophy. Kant’s criticism is usually regarded, and this is supported by Kant’s own words, as being opposed, among others, to the rationalism of the Leibnitian-Wolffian school. On the other hand it is obvious that this school philosophy didn’t dominate German philosophy at the time of Kant’s turn to criticism to the same degree as a few years earlier. It was the time of eclecticism and popular philosophy, both of which were opposed to school philosophy. At that time, however, Kant was corresponding with one of the last representatives of the rationalistic philosophical tradition which emerged from Leibniz: the mathematician, physicist and philosopher Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728–1777). Lambert asked the younger Kant to collaborate in their common attempt to reform metaphysics, but his offer remained unanswered (cf. Kant 1922, p. 277). The reason was Lambert’s method of elaborating logic as an organon within an ars inveniendi for finding all truths and of using the "mathematical method" within metaphysics which he tried to construct axiomatic-deductively. Contrary to this approach Kant emphasized that logic should be a canon to judging possible truths. His opposition to the use of the mathematical method in philosophy, and all his considerations on the differences between mathematics and philosophy were directed, although rarely explicitly, against Lambert’s logic and metaphysics (cf. Lambert 1771). The results concerning the relationship between Kant and Lambert found by examining the context of knowledge, can be utilized for the interpretation of Kantian texts by adding the examples which Kant might have had before him when criticizing formal logic and the mathematical method.

Contextual history thus starts in a rather traditional manner with texts representing philosophical thought and argumentation. It does not stop with structural or philological analysis but regards the texts in their context. At least two types of context have to be distinguished: the context in which a text was formulated and the context in which it was noticed. It is evident that the authors’ own understanding may differ from the interpretation of later readers. It may be that its real effects were caused only by these later interpretations. How can the gap between the text and its context be bridged? It seems to be quite easy in cases following the first type. The context of the text coincides with the context in which its author worked. In the latter cases the context in which the interpreters of the text are working have to be considered. Contextual history thus has a strong biographical element. The historian attempts to understand a text by observing authors and interpreters in philosophizing. Authors and interpreters are placed into their network of social, institutional and scientific relationships, which of course, can be isolated, thus leading to a sociology of philosophical knowledge. The data material for a sociology of knowledge is a by-product of the historical approach.

Even contexual historiography will never reach the aim of the romantic hermeneutic to understand a philosophical text better than the author himself could understand it. Interpreters themselves are objects of history, they are part of a "Wirkungsgeschichte" as Gadamer put it (cf. Gadamer 1975, pp. 284–295). This can be acknowledged without following Gadamer who concluded that it is philosophically irrelevant to attempt an objective understanding of a text.

5. Conclusion

I support the acceptance of the above mentioned efforts of the historiography of philosophy, especially of the "historical" variant. The history of philosophy is an integrated part of the great philosophical project of searching for truth. The history of philosophy should, however, not be an end in itself. It should always attempt to utilize its results in systematic concerns. Such a methodologically oriented, historically proceeding historiography of philosophy does not belong "unequivocally" to the genre of history, as Bernard Williams claimed in his book on Descartes, 7 it belongs unequivocally to philosophy.

Notes

I would like to thank my Erlangen colleagues for the open discussion of earlier versions of this paper, especially Christian Thiel and Philipp W. Balsiger for numerous helpful comments. Mairi Barkei assisted me in producing a readable English.

1 The methodological conception of the Erlangen group of logic historians was elaborated in a research project (1985–1990) under the direction of Christian Thiel entitled "Case Studies towards a Social History of Formal Logic" (cf. Padilla-Gálvez 1991, Peckhaus 1986, Thiel 1996). The decision to rename our methodological conception "contextual history" instead of "social history" was due to the insight that a purely social or institutional history would not meet the requirements of the history of scientific disciplines which deals above all with the emergence and development of ideas (cf. Peckhaus forthcoming). For examples of contextual historiography of this nature in the history of the foundations of mathematics cf. Peckhaus 1990, 1994.

2 For the distinction between systematic philosophy and philosophical systems cf. Klein 1993.

3 Cf. the exposition of the problem in Schneider 1988, p. 666: "Anyway, the state of affairs is: the history of philosophy is a problem for philosophy."

4 Flew 1971, pp. 17–18. Antony Flew obviously evokes Friedrich Nietzsche’s criticism of the "antiquarian historiography". According to Nietzsche, history will degenerate from a reverent love of what is worth preserving or to be admired to a blind collecting mania and a restless scraping together of everything that has ever existed, if it is not inspired and enthused by the fresh life of the present (Nietzsche 1874/1972, p. 264). Nietzsche distinguishes "antiquarian" history from "monumental" history which proceeds from the eternity of historical magnificence, and "critical" history, which sits in judgement upon the past. All these kinds of history have their advantages, but they are pernicious in the excessive forms that Nietzsche found during his time. The excessive historical culture of 19th century Germany was not "true" culture, he writes, but a disturbance of the people’s health (p. 271).

5 For a list of references cf. Braun 1990, p. 235, note 42.

6 The 11th section is headed "Philosophie auf der Suche nach ihrem verlorenen Beruf" (Plessner 1982, p. 162).

7 Williams 1978, p. 9. In his unfortunate terminology Williams distinguished between the history of ideas which is history before it is philosophy, and the history of philosophy which replaces at a certain cut-off philological authenticity by the formulation of philosophical ideas.

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