Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Space and Philosophy

One of the lesser known but more interesting features of modern philosophical discourse is its perennial use of spatial terms to express philosophical insights and answer philosophical conundrums. A cursory reading of the modern philosophical tradition, from Descartes to Wittgenstein, will reveal that philosophical reflection about the nature and significance of space has provided the philosophical discourse of modernity with a set of foundational concepts with which the traditional philosophical problems of ethics, epistemology and metaphysics could be conceived and resolved. This leaves the historian of philosophy with an interesting question; why have spatial terms been such a central feature of the philosophical discourse of modernity? Perhaps this question can only be answered if we situate the philosophical discourse of modernity within the wider project of western colonialism. Perhaps the ‘crisis’ of philosophy in the 20th century is the consequence of its lack of function in a post-colonial epoch.

Neil Turnbull

1 comment:

  1. Habermas (see Habermas, 1990) tries to view the philosophical discourse of modernity as giving expression to a new form of historical ‘time consciousness’, and modernity has been defined form Baudelaire to Benjamin in terms of the changes in the day-to-day phenomenology of time . The modern experience of time is deemed to possess fundamentally different qualities in comparison to pre-modern varieties of temporal experience. Pre-modern societies, being largely based upon an agricultural mode of production, experienced time as cyclical - the repetitions of a natural order, so-called ‘Women’s time, being reflected in a non-linear, iterative, sense of time. Modern societies by contrast, being more future-oriented, tend to view time in a linear and progressive manner; the present is simply the ‘null point’ between a future that is not yet and a past that is irretrievably lost. Modernity then is a society of planners attempting to control the future and historians attempting to rescue the past. However, as Foucault as argued, this philosophical and cultural obsession with time was particular to the nineteenth century. If we define the philosophical discourse of modernity in its widest sense as being co-extensive with ‘modern philosophy’, beginning with the Enlightenment philosophes and continuing well into the Twentieth century, then it can clearly be shown that philosophy has been more concerned with the philosophical significance of space than time.

    Neil Turnbull