Kenneth Wain and the Lifelong Engagement with Education
17. Autobiography: Self-(re)-Education beyond Literature and Philosophy
The writing of this chapter is inspired by Stanley Cavell’s book, A Pitch of Philosophy (1996), which claims a necessary relationship between philosophy and autobiography. This claim resonates with my struggle over the years to reconcile my earlier interest in being a poet with my vocation to be a philosopher in my later years, a combination that was disallowed for me by the Anglo-saxon philosophical tradition into which I was educated and affirms a universal voice for philosophy against that of poetry that confesses to being subjective and autobiographical. Cavell claimed both that philosophy speaks in a universal voice and that its voice is autobiographical.
One of the books I was referred to when I was studying philosophy for a bachelor’s honours degree with London University in the early 1970s was Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy (1946/1971). which was still listed as a textbook. In its introduction, Russell criticised “most histories of philosophy,” where “each philosopher appears in a vacuum.” His history would:
exhibit each philosopher, as far as truth permits, as an outcome of his milieu, a man in whom were crystallized and concentrated thoughts and feelings which, in a vague and diffused form, were common to the community of which he was part. (1946/1971, p. 7)
This way of presenting the philosopher contrasts with the Cartesian image of the philosopher as a solitary genius isolated in his or her study with systematically dismantling the items of his or her existential situatedness...
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