I’m a bit slow catching up with this, but here is a blog by Brian Weatherson, asking other philosophers the following:
In a typical philosophy curriculum, there are some history courses, and some courses that are not history courses. A course on Plato’s metaphysics is a history course; a course on recent work on causation is not. Some courses have a history component. When I teach scepticism at upper levels (or graduate levels), I start with Descartes and Hume. I’m teaching history at that point; I’m not doing so when I go over the recent debate between Jim Pryor and Crispin Wright.
In that sense of ‘history’, which parts of the curriculum do you think count as part of history of philosophy?
Here are the answers. Notice, especially, Jonathan Ichikawa’s answer:
Here’s an off-the-cuff theory: it’s history when subsequent developments have dramatically changed the way we read it. When I read Quine, I’m struck by the failure to distinguish necessity from apriority — a point that is only obvious in retrospect, for those of us who grew up with Kripke. To understand what’s going on in a historical work, you need to study at least a little bit of historical context — in particular, you need to appreciate the respect in which the philosophical resources of the author were impoverished, relative to our own.
If you’re not an analytic philosopher, you probably need me to tell you that the reason Ichikawa says this is because it’s obvious to analytic philosophers that philosophy has made tremendous progress. Thus Quine’s ‘philosophical resources’ were ‘impoverished relative to our own’, not to mention Plato who was basically flying blind, the poor thing. If you’re not an analytic philosopher you might not have known philosophy has made all this wonderful progress. If you’re impressed by how much medicine has advanced in the last couple of centuries, then prepare to have your mind blown by the philosophical breakthroughs I’m about to report. They come from Timothy Williamson’s book The Philosophy of Philosophy (p.280). Hold onto your hats:
It is widely known in 2007 and was not widely known in 1957 that contingency is not equivalent to a posteriority, and that claims of contingent or temporary identity involve the rejection of standard logical laws. The principle that every truth is possibly necessary can now be shown to entail that every truth is necessary by a chain of elementary inferences in a perspicuous notation unavailable to Hegel.
I know! And to think they’re cutting funding to philosophy research and supporting projects like this! Poor Quine, though – he didn’t have our cutting-edge tools. The crumbly old dinosaur couldn’t even distinguish apriority from necessity. That’s what makes him part of the history of philosophy. History? It would almost be better to say ‘prehistory’. Basically, Quine was living in the philosophical Stone Age, smashing rocks against his head to find out whether the mind is located in the body.
Then comes a revelation: Quine did distinguish apriority from necessity, as the next commenter after Ichikawa points out. So this whole exchange leads me to my own definition of history of philosophy. If a philosopher’s work is commented upon with grand confidence by philosophy professors who have not bothered to read it and do not know what is in it, then it belongs to the history of philosophy. For example, here are some gruntings from the philosophical caveman Bertrand Russell that seem to have been overlooked:
Our age is the most parochial since Homer. I speak not of any geographical parish: the inhabitants of Mudcombe-in-the-Meer are more aware than at any former time of what is being done and thought at Praha, at Gorki or at Peiping. It is in the chronological sense that we are parochial: as the new names conceal the historic cities of Prague, Nijni-Novgorod, and Pekin, so new catchwords hide from us the thoughts and feelings of our ancestors, even when they differed little from our own. We imagine ourselves at the apex of intelligence, and cannot believe that the quaint clothes and cumbrous phrases of former times can have invested people and thoughts that are still worthy of our attention.
I venture the heresies that there may be more to wisdom than facility in speaking the shibboleths of present-day academia, and that some of this wisdom might be found in the authors of the past. The next time philosophers tell you how far they have come, try asking them where exactly it is that they think they are going. If they are persuaded to admit their ignorance, I have no doubt they will do so in an impressively perspicuous notation, unavailable to Hegel.