The first philosopher who interested me was Bertrand Russell but I was a young and foolish teenager at the time. Then, at Monash University where went on to major in philosophy, I read, was lectured by and met Peter Singer. I appreciated both of these philosophers not only for their writing which clear and often aimed at the wider public and because of their political engagement. Russell’s popular writing engaged many issues from atheism to nuclear disarmament.
Philosophers are persons of interest. I don’t want to see them as secular saints, or exemplar human beings but just people who think too much or, at least, harder than most people. Often philosopher’s theories are wrong but that is what you learn in philosophy – how you can be wrong about what you might think is right. After majoring in philosophy at Monash and doing an MA in philosophy at La Trobe I had met and read a lot of philosophers
One thing that interested me about philosophers was that most philosophers are very interested and involved in things other than philosophy, unlike many other academics. Many philosophers are interested in science or politics and some are interested in the arts. This might appear just to be a point of trivia about philosophy but it is also one of the strengths of philosophers. (This can also be one of the great strengths of art, the wide-ranging interests and involvement of artists in other things.)
As I have noted on my About page, my art criticism has been influenced by Arthur Danto. I started to read Danto in my post-graduate studies and, as with Russell and Singer, I was also impressed with Danto’s activities outside of academic philosophy. Danto has been the art critic for The Nation, print making and running a New York gallery. Danto has been associated with the institutional theory of art but that would be a kind of mistake to associate him too closely. I have to agree with Carlin Romano in “Looking Beyond the Visiable: The Case of Arthur C. Dantwo” (Danto and His Critics, ed. Mark Rollins, Blackwell Publishing, 1993). Romano argues that a second Arthur Danto exists Romano’s “Dantwo” who is identical in almost every aspect to Danto but is not a Hegelian and more pragmatic. Would the real Arthur Danto please stand up?
On a serious note, I didn’t imagine when I started writing this post that philosophers would be topical subject but with the Federal Member for Mayo, Jamie Briggs attacking the work of Professor Paul Redding’s “The God of Hegel’s Post-Kantian Idealism” as a waste of taxpayer’s money, I am unpleasantly not surprised. (Read more about this on Ockham’s Beard.) The Federal Member for Mayo is not a philosopher, has no serious academic qualifications and represents the anti-intellectual, anti-science, sports-obsessed, religious and conservative Australian mob.
Finally, I would like to thank John McKenzie for his PH227.04 Introduction to Aesthetics at Monash University for introducing me to a critical way of thinking about art. Ultimately it was that course that lead to me writing this blog. (Melbourne artist Julian di Martino also took McKenzie’s course – anyone else?) It was McKenzie who first put some photocopied pages of Foucault into my hand; a rare event in a department dominated by Anglo-American philosophy. And why I’m on the subject of the interests and activities of philosophers; Foucault worked as a journalist, wrote literary criticism and was involved anti-racist campaigns, anti-human rights abuses movements and the struggle for penal reform.
What are your thoughts?