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Philosophy’s History

Philosophy is unusual in that philosophers today still read the work of philosophers who have died centuries ago. Biologists rarely consult Linnaeus or Darwin, but the works of Plato, Descartes, etc., contain insights that never seem to lose their power to move philosophical enquiry forward.

‘Consult’, though, is not quite the right word in philosophy either. Reading a piece of philosophy is not like checking up to see what the facts are. That would be impossible anyway, because philosophers of the past regularly disagree with one another.

Instead, present-day philosophers – including philosophy students – engage with earlier work in a critical way, trying to understand and evaluate the arguments on offer. Philosophy’s history is a rich reservoir of thought that can help us towards a defensible view on a topic, but it is ultimately we ourselves who must adopt a particular philosophical stance and make the case for doing so.

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