Recent philosophy in the English language manifests a concern with the status and nature of the philosophical text which seems virtually unprecedented in Anglo-American thought. The very suggestion that the concept of the philosophical text ought to be taken seriously by philosophers (as opposed to publishers or literary historians) appears to be a recent addition to our world of discourse. For in the dominant tradition of Anglo-American philosophy, the philosophical enterprise has usually been construed as an open-ended inquiry, a posing and sharpening of questions, counter-questions, objections, and refutations in which the important thing is doing philosophy. So far this conception of the activity is in accord with the criticism of the written word in Plato's Phaedrus, although many of our philosophical colinguists have shied away from Socrates' insistence that such ongoing discourse must be dialectically oriented toward attaining a single, comprehensive, and systematic view of the totality of things. But even those with a penchant for systematic thought have generally proceeded in a manner which suggests that they could not acknowledge the irony of the Socratic and Platonic positions; for Socrates' critique of writing appears in a dialogue which has been written quite artfully and deliberately and which has attained the status of a cultural icon.
Copyright © 1985 Texas Tech Press. This article first appeared in The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 26, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 115-37.
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Shapiro, Gary. "The Man of Letters and the Author of Nature: Hume on Philosophical Discourse." The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 26, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 115-37.