Philosophical Temperaments

Philosophical Temperaments: From Plato to Foucault

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    Philosophical Temperaments
    Book Description:

    Peter Sloterdijk turns his keen eye to the history of western thought, conducting colorful readings of the lives and ideas of the world's most influential intellectuals. Featuring nineteen vignettes rich in personal characterizations and theoretical analysis, Sloterdijk's companionable volume casts the development of philosophical thinking not as a buildup of compelling books and arguments but as a lifelong, intimate struggle with intellectual and spiritual movements, filled with as many pitfalls and derailments as transcendent breakthroughs.

    Sloterdijk delves into the work and times of Aristotle, Augustine, Bruno, Descartes, Foucault, Fichte, Hegel, Husserl, Kant, Kierkegaard, Leibniz, Marx, Nietzsche, Pascal, Plato, Sartre, Schelling, Schopenhauer, and Wittgenstein. He provocatively juxtaposes Plato against shamanism and Marx against Gnosticism, revealing both the vital external influences shaping these intellectuals' thought and the excitement and wonder generated by the application of their thinking in the real world. The philosophical "temperament" as conceived by Sloterdijk represents the uniquely creative encounter between the mind and a diverse array of cultures. It marks these philosophers' singular achievements and the special dynamic at play in philosophy as a whole. Creston Davis's introduction details Sloterdijk's own temperament, surveying the celebrated thinker's intellectual context, rhetorical style, and philosophical persona.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52740-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    Peter Sloterdijk has the most provocative and daring temperament of theorists writing in the world today. With his ever expansive subject matter, Sloterdijk’s unblinking bravado and dazzling prose keep pushing thinking beyond the pale of static assumptions and into the creation of new worlds. And that is precisely what makes him dangerous: Sloterdijk believes in creating worlds, atmospheres, and ecologies beyond our assumed “world.”

    Perhaps the thread that unites Sloterdijk’s works over the past quarter of a century is his unique genealogy that transcends binaries and oppositions inherited from both Enlightenment secularism and Christian theology. In this way, he is...

    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. PLATO
    (pp. 1-13)

    In the famous 344th Aphorism of his Gay Science, entitled “In what way we, too, are still pious,” the anti-Platonist Friedrich Nietzsche erected a monument—as honorific as it is problematic—to the founder of the Athenian academy: “But you will have gathered what I am getting at, namely, that it is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—that even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year-old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato’s faith, that God is truth; that truth is...

    (pp. 14-17)

    In the fourth century bce, the genius of the European conception of knowledge revealed itself for the first time in its monumental completeness. Astonishing for the wealth of his interests, the scope of his writings, and the perspicuity of his conceptual distinctions, Aristotle stands like a portal figure of near-mythic force at the entrance to the high European schools of knowledge. Considering what he accomplished in his lifetime as a thinker and writer, the idea suggests itself that what would come to be called the university from the Middle Ages on was anticipated in the figure of a single man....

    (pp. 18-23)

    Augustine stands before posterity as the only intellectual personality of the early Christian era who is spiritually and psychologically illuminated down to the minutest detail—in fact, he may be the most clearly visible personality of antiquity, the only individual of world history before the Renaissance of whom we have close-ups, so to speak. This precarious privilege of transparent visibility does not mean that Augustine, clearly still bound entirely to ancient notions of the world and humanity, anticipated certain tendencies of modern individualism or aspects of modern portrait culture. And he is definitely not an existentialist ante litteram. That Augustine...

  8. BRUNO
    (pp. 24-26)

    Among the glittering series of Renaissance philosophers who began to lead early modern European thought out of the hegemony of all-powerful Christian scholasticism, the charred silhouette of Giordano Bruno stands out impressively. Ever since his death at the stake in Rome in February of 1600, his name—shrouded by rumors of pantheistic nefariousness and cosmological daring—has been a fixture in the annals of martyrdom of the modern free spirit. The vagaries of his posthumous fate have retained something of the erratic luster and misfortune of his life story. They create the impression that his followers and interpreters spent more...

    (pp. 27-31)

    Few periods in the history of thought have become as alien to contemporaries as the seventeenth century, which is usually presented by the history books as the founding era of modern philosophy. It is, in fact, hardly possible for those born and thinking later to project themselves into a time when figures like Francis Bacon, René Descartes, and Thomas Hobbes were still New Philosophers. Blinded by the historical import of the impulses that have come to be associated with these luminaries, we are barely still able to return with an unbiased eye to the epoch when what posterity liked to...

  10. PASCAL
    (pp. 32-35)

    To anyone who was trained through authors like Goethe and Nietzsche to think in terms of elective affinities and elective enmities across epochs, the Pascalian renaissance of the twentieth century presents itself as one of the most appropriate receptions in modern intellectual history. It is but a single step from the obvious to the necessary, and it was inevitable that the thinkers of Christian and non-Christian existentialism during the first half of the twentieth century sensed a kindred soul in Pascal. Did his own discomforts not anticipate those of our time? Was his melancholy not already that of a later...

    (pp. 36-40)

    Since the early nineteenth century, the public perception of philosophy in Germany has been shaped above all by two functional roles or character masks: that of the university teacher and that of the freelance writer. With German Idealism, a cluster of professors had occupied the heavens of grand theory; now, civil-servant idealists in the late-feudal state enshrined the precarious unity of throne and philosophy. In figures with the stature of Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, the type of the professor of philosophy attained the preeminent position within the res publica of the learned; Schelling’s gnosticizing princedom of theory provided a model...

  12. KANT
    (pp. 41-45)

    Immanuel Kant’s critical work launches the parallel action between the French Revolution and German philosophy that contemporaries already had taken note of as an epochal constellation. Indeed, in both movements—as in their shared preconditions, namely the industrial and monetary revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—there took place the breakthrough to the bourgeois age, which ever since has deserved to be called the modern world. The philosophy of Kant is bourgeois in several respects: it is civil, because it lays claim to the emancipation of philosophical thought from the tutelage of theology and of positive and revealed religion....

  13. FICHTE
    (pp. 46-51)

    Philosophy remains a fruitless enterprise without an awakening of the whole individual to it: among philosophers of the modern age, there is no one—with the exception of Martin Heidegger—who taught this insight with as much vehemence and profundity of principle as Johann Gottlieb Fichte. After him, no one could reach the focal point of essential thinking who had not torn himself away, in an existentially transformative turnaround, from his prior belief in the superiority of the things in front of him and outside of him. You must change your life: that is the cantus firmus of all thinking...

  14. HEGEL
    (pp. 52-58)

    One must be at the end of one’s rope to be able to speak the truth—this conviction is woven into all of Hegel’s work like a tear-resistant thread. With it, Hegel elevated the fundamental motif of Plato’s epistemology to monumental heights: realizing means remembering; comprehending means reconstructing. The thinker whose system has been described—not without good reason—as the consummation of occidental or Christian-Platonic metaphysics was by his very nature the metaphysician of perfection. After Hegel, thinking philosophically means bringing home the harvest of existence; but the only thing that makes it home is what can make itself...

    (pp. 59-63)

    The image of the philosopher Schelling is shaped above all by the shimmering myth of his youth. With a demonic-seeming self-assurance, the twenty year old assumed the leadership of German philosophy around 1800, which at that time, as the spiritual supplement to the French Revolution, as it were, represented the avant-garde of world thought. Writing in radiant prose, the young Schelling drafted a series of systemic sketches that performed, before the eyes of an amazed public, a celestial journey of speculative reason. He seemed to have discovered a process of speaking from the vantage point of the Absolute as though...

    (pp. 64-65)

    Schopenhauer was the first eminent thinker who left the Western Church of Reason. Alongside Marx and the Young Hegelians, it was he who carried out the revolutionary break in nineteenth-century thought in the most principled way. With him there begins the long agony of the good foundation; he bids a concise farewell to the Greek and Judeo-Christian theologies. For him, what was most absolutely real had ceased to be a godlike, reasonable, and just spiritual being. With his doctrine of the Will, the theory of the foundation of the world leaps from the kind of pious rationalism that had prevailed...

    (pp. 66-70)

    Historism and evolutionism—the two legacies of the nineteenth century to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—have seared into the conviction of the later-born the insipid tenet that every thought is the product of its time. Whoever accepts this seems at first to have struck a good bargain, for historism frees the individual from the monstrous weight of the philosophia perennis and offers the possibility of traveling through time with lighter baggage. It suffices to place oneself at the leading edge of the development as a way of dealing with the drawback of relativism, that of one’s own obsolescence. Historical...

  18. MARX
    (pp. 71-76)

    The history of Marx’s writings could tempt the contemporary commentator into the suggestive remark that all history is the history of battles among interpreters. In its origin, the mania of interpretation is a furor theologicus, and it flourishes best in a climate of militant monotheisms. Nowhere is this more clearly evident than in the history of Christianity, which has for eighteen hundred years, with an unparalleled power-hungry will to serve and understand, cultivated a small bundle of texts known as the New Testament. Like none other, the example of Christianity demonstrates the world history-making dominance of the interpreters over the...

    (pp. 77-81)

    An irritant to democrats and a folly to professors, the name Friedrich Nietzsche still makes the hearts of artists and revisionists beat faster. The reason behind the uneven history of how he has been received was planted by Nietzsche’s work itself—by taking from some more than they are willing to give up, and giving to others more than they can initially take. That is why the latter are fascinated and the former harbor reservations. If Nietzsche on the one hand undermined the traditional worldviews of moral earnestness, he on the other hand put into the world an aesthetic seriousness...

    (pp. 82-86)

    To the tricky questions of how much certainty humans need to find their bearings in thinking, some among the founders of modern philosophizing—above all, Descartes, Fichte, and Husserl—responded with the sonorous thesis that nothing less than absolute certainty is enough. With this claim, the project of philosophy as rigorous science—repeatedly picked up anew by the process of modernity—launched itself. It is in this very claim that the idea of philosophy as the ur-exercise of rigor has its final support. As a science prior to and above the sciences, rigorous authoritative thought seeks to demonstrate that the...

    (pp. 87-90)

    Barely half a century after the death of the philosopher, the name Ludwig Wittgenstein—like that of Martin Heidegger—is part of the intellectual mythos of the twentieth century. Even if Vico’s distinction between civil and monastic philosophy seemed to have become obsolete ever since the French Revolution, one is inclined to reactivate this distinction for Wittgenstein’s sake. How else could one interpret the emergence of the phenomenon that was Wittgenstein in the midst of an age of political philosophies and warring illusions than as the renewed eruption of thinking in the mode of eremitic aloofness from the world? Part...

  22. SARTRE
    (pp. 91-94)

    A little more than three decades after his death (on April 15, 1980), Sartre already appears like a monumental figure in the history of modern literature and philosophy. He, the man of words and books, has joined his ancestors, the classics, the immortals, the established authors. Only death, so it would seem, was able to keep him from rejuvenating himself; only the status as a classic deprived him of the possibility of continuing to contradict himself. Like few others, he was in love with the freedom to displease himself. His life gesture—dangerous for a philosopher, exhilarating for himself and...

    (pp. 95-100)

    The entire history of Western philosophy is nothing but a long series of footnotes to Plato: were it necessary to refute this well-known jest of the British late-idealist Whitehead, it would suffice to point to exceptions and contrary currents. It would be more convincing if one could invoke an alternative way of thought, one that had evaded the Platonic or—more generally speaking—the old-European project of metaphysical sciences of essences in its entire habit and deportment. In fact, since the establishment of middle-class society [bürgerliche Gesellschaft] in the later eighteenth century, such a revolution in the mode of thinking...

  24. NOTES
    (pp. 101-104)
  25. INDEX
    (pp. 105-114)