Archaeology of Criticism



"Irony and play are . . . techniques for survival in a ‘well-regulated' world for those who have high moral aspirations which reach far beyond the Establishment's margins of tolerance. As Kierkegaard said, irony is the ‘mask of ethical passion'; like play, irony enables us to travel incognito through a world of small virtues and half-truths." [Xavier Rubert de Ventós, Self-Defeated Man: Personal Identity and Beyond 22 (New York: Harper Colophon, 1975)]

"[Irony is] an angle of vision from which we view ourselves. More than any other device, irony bridges the distance between our sense of vulnerability and our dreams of power. Irony both points out and yokes the endless disparities between what we say and what we do, between what we want and what we get." [Josephine Hendin, Vulnerable People: A View of American Fiction Since 1945 11-12 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)]

"The first step to understanding of men is the bringing to consciousness of the model or models that dominate and penetrate their thought and action. Like all attempts to make men aware of the categories in which they think, it is difficult and sometimes painful activity, likely to produce deeply disquieting results. . . .

Most men wander hither and thither, guided and, at times, hypnotized by more than one model, which they seldom trouble to make consistent, or even fragments of models which themselves form a part of some coherent or firm pattern or patterns. To drag them into the light makes it possible to explain them and sometimes to explain them away." [Isaiah Berlin, "Does Political Theory Still Exist?" in Peter Laslett, (eds.), Philosophy, Politics and Society: A Collection 19-20 (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1969)]

"In examining the knowledge of those around him, Socrates found not only were people making false claims to knowledge, but that these claims prohibited them from thinking critically. His task was then to purge people of their opinions, that is, of unexamined prejudgments that would prevent them from conducting an inquiry. Thus, Socrates's task was to bring others to an acknowledgment of their ignorance." [Larry Churchill, The Teaching of Ethics and Moral Values in Teaching: Some Contemporary Confusions, 53 J. Higher Educ. 296, 305 (1982)]

"Plato was the first to demonstrate the therapeutic use of language, in the dialogues of Socrates. In these dialogues, Socrates led his friends through discussions whose primary agenda was to make them aware of their misunderstandings of pivotal words and concepts, misunderstandings that resulted inevitably in a 'misrepresentation of reality' by which they were disoriented conceptually and perceptually.

Moreover, thinking they knew what in fact they did not, they were not conscious of the dislocation of values inherent in their misunderstanding. Socrates therefore sought to unravel, by dialectic, the components of the misunderstanding, to expose the linguistic flaw that was the foundation of the false construction of reality.

This was the first step toward a more adequate construction, and it was this step that Socrates retained, never permitting himself to rush ahead to the work of construction until the dismantling of false conceptions of reality had been completed. By so doing, Socrates demonstrated the potential of language to discover and analyze misrepresentations of reality. Language is primarily therapeutic or remedial." [Margaret R. Miles, Image as Insight: Visual Understanding in Western Christianity and Secular Culture 139 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1985)]

"The artistic attitude attempts to create, or rather, the artist in the artistic attitude attempts to create an image of a world in such a way that it can be experienced directly, intuitively, emotionally, and naively. The work of art is thus a representation of a total and complete world, a province of meaning complete in itself. . . ." [Joseph Bensman & Robert Lilienfeld, Craft and Consciousness: Occupation, Technique and the Development of World Images 18-19 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1973)]

"Today, each artist must undertake to invent himself, a lifelong act of creation that constitutes the essential content of the artist's work. The meaning of art in our time flows from this function of self-creation. Art is the laboratory for making new men." [Harold Rosenberg, Discovering the Present: Three Decades in Art, Culture, and Politics 218-219 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973)]

"How can third-level propositions about the nature of the world be challenged? We need dialogue, true dialogue. . . . True dialogue is unstructured, open, and it leads nobody-knows-where. It is based on a study of problems rather than of disciplines, of gestalts rather than partial knowledge; on a recognition that authoritarian relationships cannot exist in real education; and that faculty, students, and citizens must cooperate in the development of new knowledge. The result of this is that adults have to become humble--a difficult thing--and students have to become responsible, which is equally difficult. Dialogue requires at least a minimum of love and trust. Without these elements, individuals talk only from their heads. . . ." [Robert Theobald & Noel McInnis, "A Certain Education for an Uncertain Time," in Roy P. Fairfield (ed.), Humanistic Frontiers in American Education 194-201, at 201 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971)]

"[I]f the imagination is to transcend and transform experience it has to question, to challenge, to conceive of alternatives, perhaps to the very life you are living at that moment. You have to be free to play around with the notion that day might be night, love might be hate; nothing can be too sacred for the imagination to turn into its opposite or to call experimentally by another name." [Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence 43 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979)]


"We are starved for visions, hungry for understanding. We are caught up in the routines of life, distracted occasionally by the equally uninspired activities we call 'recreation' and 'entertainment.' What we as a nation have lost is the joy of thinking, the challenge of understanding, the inspirations as well as the consolations of philosophy." [Robert C. Solomon, The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy viii (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982)]

"[T]he role of metaphysical inquiry is to uncover the patterns and assumptions underlying our own outlook on the world, testing them for adequacy and coherence and, if necessary, devising new categories, models and conceptual schemes to serve us better. . . . It [metaphysical inquiry] becomes a kind of self-critical assessment of our own habitual ways of looking at the world and of classifying and organizing experience." [Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Law in Modern Society 38 (New York: Free Press, 1976)]

"Philosophy is the spelling out of individual commitments." [Patricia F. Sanborn, Existentialism 25-26 (New York: Pegasus, 1968)]

"[A]ll deep thought begins and ends in the attempt to grasp whatever touches one most immediately." [Søren Kierkegaard, The Journals of Kierkegaard 98 (1959) (as quoted in Patricia F. Sanborn, Existentialism 21 (New York: Pegasus, 1968))]

"At the very least, the philosopher should make men critically aware of their fundamental commitments and the consequences of their commitments." [Sidney Hook, The Quest for Being: And Other Studies in Naturalism and Humanism 2 (New York: St. Martians, 1961)]

"Philosophy, in the terminology of another age, is a general, not a special science. Its referential matrix is not the regional ontology of a science but a lived experience prior to all regional delimitation. Its statements, contingent on a subject's lived experience, evoke an insight and become meaningless when they are simply memorized and recited. Their task is to call up an experience, not merely to speak of it within a formally definable matrix, since it is the sense and not merely the fact of experience which is the proper object of philosophy." [Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature 53-54 (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984)]

"The task of philosophy is to describe the language games which we play successfully, and to cure the players from playing those which only lead to useless arguments over the meaning of words. . . .

Philosophical problems, according to Wittgenstein, are not empirical; they spring from an abuse of language. They are solved, not by giving new information, but by rearranging what we have always known in the light of what we learn about the workings of our language.

The task of philosophy is get language back on the right track." [Robert A. Samek, The Meta Phenomenon 122, 123 (New York: Philosophical Library, 1981)]

We take up philosophy "when a fundamental feature of experience emerges from mundanity as strange and cannot be explained, resolved, or expunged in terms of the framework which contains it. It may also be the case that elements of the framework either contradict each other or are found to be irreconcilable with each other." [Maurice Natanson, The Journeying Self: A Study in Philosophy and Social Role 15 (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1970)]

"[A] philosopher is a man who senses as it were hidden crevices in the build of our concepts where others only see the smooth path of commonplaceness before them." [Friedrich Waismann, "How I See Philosophy," in Charles Frankel, The Pleasures of Philosophy 282-300, 283-84 (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1972)]

"The desire to lead a philosophical life springs from the darkness in which the individual finds himself. From his sense of forlornness when he stares without love into the void, from his self-forgetfulness when he feels that he is being consumed by the busy-ness of the world, when he suddenly wakes up in terror and asks himself: What am I, what am I failing to do, what should I do?

That self-forgetfulness has been aggravated by the machine age. With its time clocks, its jobs, whether absorbing or purely mechanical, which less and less fulfill man as man [woman as woman], it may even lead man [woman] to feel that he [she] is part of the machine, interchangeably shunted in here and there, and when left free, to feel that he [she] is nothing and can do nothing with himself [or herself]. And just as he begins to recover himself, the colossus of this world draws him back again into the all-consuming machinery of empty labour and empty leisure.

But man as such inclines to self-forgetfulness. He must snatch himself out of it if he is not to lose himself to the world, to habits, to thoughtless banalities, to the beaten track.

Philosophy is the decision to awaken our primal source, to find our way to ourselves, and to help ourselves by inner action.

True, our first duty in life is to perform our practical tasks, to meet the demands of the day. But if we desire to lead a philosophical life we shall not content ourselves with practical tasks; we shall look upon the mere work in whose aims we immerse ourselves as itself a road to self-forgetfulness, omission, and guilt. And to lead a philosophical life means also to take seriously our experience of men, of happiness and hurt, of success and failure, of the obscure and the confused." [Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom 120-122 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951)]

"What is characteristic of philosophy is the piercing of that dead crust of tradition and convention, the breaking of those fetters which bind us to inherited preconceptions, so as to attain a new and broader way of looking at things. It has always been felt that philosophy should reveal to us what is hidden." [Friedrich Waismann, quoted in Charles Frankel, The Pleasures of Philosophy 299 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972)]

"Philosophy is an attitude of mind towards doctrines ignorantly entertained. . . . [Philosophy] reverses the slow descent of accepted thought towards the inactive commonplace." [Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought 171, 174 (New York: Free Press, 1968)]

"[Philosophy is] a way of framing distinctive sorts of questions having to do with what is presupposed, perceived, intuited, believed, and known. It is a way of contemplating, examining, or thinking about what is taken to be significant, valuable, beautiful, worthy of commitment. It is a way of becoming self-aware, of constituting meaning in one's life-world." [Maxine Greene, Teacher as Stranger: Educational Philosophy for the Modern Age 7 (Belmont, California: Wadesworth Publishing, 1973)]

"[T]he deeper problem is one of forgetting, of the covering-up of the moral sense of the cosmos and of human life therein beneath a layer of artifacts and constructs. Philosophy has many tasks, yet in our age the task of bracketing and seeing, of uncovering the forgotten sense of the cosmos and of our lives therein, may be one of the most urgent." [Erazim Kohák, The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Moral Sense of Nature 26 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984)]

"You think perhaps of philosophy as dwelling in the clouds. I hope you may see that she is able to descend to earth. You think that in stopping to pay court to her, when you should be hastening forward on your journey, you are loitering in bypaths and wasting precious hours. I hope you may share my faith that you are on the highway to the goal. Here you will find the key for the unlocking of bolts and combinations that shall never be pried open by clumsier or grosser tools. You think there is nothing practical in a theory that is concerned with ultimate conceptions. That is true perhaps while you are doing the journeyman's work of your profession. You may find in the end...that instead of its being true that the study of the ultimate is profitless, there is little that is profitable in the study of anything else." [Benjamin N. Cardozo, The Growth of the Law 23 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1924)]

"The philosopher is one who is reflective, concerned with understanding what constitutes knowing. . . ." [Michael Novak, Belief and Unbelief 55 (New York: MacMillan Co., 1965)]

"In order to understand the total function of the philosopher, we must remember that even the philosophical writers whom we read and who we are have never ceased to recognize as their patron a man who never wrote, who never taught, at least in any official chair, who talked with anyone he met on the street, and who had certain difficulties with public opinion and with the public powers. We must remember Socrates." [M. Merleau-Ponty, In Praise of Philosophy 34 (Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1963)(J. Wild & J. Edie trans.)]


  Contents: Archaeology of Criticism