P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 27
10th March 2002
I. 'Foundations of Non-Classical Thinking' by Dmitry Olshansky
II. The International Society for Philosophers
III. Personal Reflections on the Shap Conference
I. 'FOUNDATIONS OF NON-CLASSICAL THINKING' BY DMITRY OLSHANSKY
'Il faut etre absolument moderne.' - Rimbaud
In this article, I describe the specific characteristics of the non-classical
paradigm of reading and compare it with the classical philosophy. 'Classical
philosophy' is here not restricted to ancient philosophy but is the form of
European metaphysics, which aims to gain clearness of definitions, accuracy of
argumentation, completeness of philosophical systems, hierarchy of
philosophical knowledge, and to be rooted in historical understanding of the
evolution of thought. That is why I believe that classical philosophy is close
to scientific principles. Science seems to provide the ideal scheme of such an
By 'non-classical' philosophy I mean the tradition of structural and
post-structural philosophy, which escapes, rather than rejects the systematic
character of philosophy. The main distinctive principle of non-classical
philosophy is this escaping from metaphysics, with its thinking in oppositions:
'good and evil', 'truth and lie', 'complete and coming-to-be'. There are no such
oppositions in non-classical philosophy; accordingly, all forms of philosophy
are acceptable. In my view, non-classical philosophy begins with Friedrich
Nietzsche's avoidance of the opposition between 'good' and 'evil' ('Beyond Good
and Evil'). That is why non-classical philosophy in my mind is still part of
classical philosophy, rather than being opposed to it: not the rejection of
classical philosophy, but the widening of the borders of the classical
I want to analyze the non-classical reading paradigm, because the sphere of
text reading, I think, is where the main difference between classical and
non-classical philosophy is shown. Of course, reading is the universal method
of working with text; but reading is not only a physical act, but also the
process of understanding as well as mastering the text and criticism. I share
with Roland Barthes the opinion that the text is formed by the reader rather
than by the author. I attempt, in what follows, to show how classical
philosophy is succeeded by the non-classical, and also, how classical positions
in philosophy are re-comprehended by non-classical ones.
Non-classical philosophy was formed not only as the opposition to classical
philosophy, but as the constructive reflection on it, that is, an attempt to
solve the problems posed by the previous epoch. In the end, non-classical
philosophy became not so much an overcoming of classical thinking traditions,
as continuation of it.
Non-classical philosophy does not reject these principles (although the prefix
'non' can entail this rejection), but puts the same question in another
perspective. This aspiration for re-comprehension of history from un-scientific
positions has been criticized by classical philosophers for its destruction of
scientific values. But here, it is more correct to say 'simulation' rather than
destruction. J. Baudrillard's notion, 'simulation,' is understood by classical
philosophers as synonymous with 'in-complete', therefore un-scientific and
un-true. But the very fact that classical philosophers attempt to criticize the
non-classical paradigm of reading a text from a scientific position shows that
their approach is tactless; tactless because the sphere of science and that of
knowledge are not the identical, which means there is a sphere of un-scientific
knowledge. This is the sphere that includes religious, mystical knowledge, the
acquisition of which entails neither conscious mental activity nor cognitive
work. Science is a method of acquiring knowledge, but not the only one.
This is to suggest that knowledge is not necessarily rational or, put more
specifically, scientific; knowledge and science are not identical terms.
Therefore, as non-classical philosophy postulates a position outside the
scientific sphere, all arguments coming from critics working within the
scientific position, who thereby deprecate anti-scientific values from that
point of view, are off the point.
Non-classical philosophy escapes from the opposition of scientific and
un-scientific, postulating principles of reading that are neither one nor the
other. Non-classical philosophy does not share the classical (scientific)
position; therefore, it does not enter into an argument with it. There is no
resistance from non-classical philosophy as such, because it rejects none of
the classical principles; it escapes the oppositional structure of 'scientific
vs. un-scientific', 'real vs. profane', 'proper philosophy vs. mere
philosophizing', etc. That is why it is so difficult for critics working within
the classical paradigm to recognize the merits of non-classical philosophers.
Non-classical philosophy, whilst acknowledging the scientific nature of
philosophy, re-establishes its philosophical position against such background.
Consequently, the non-classical tradition defines philosophy as the form of
out-of-scientific (neither scientific nor un-scientific) thinking. In this way,
the philosophical motivation of the classical epoch, for instance, which sought
to answer the global questions of truth, human being, God, etc., becomes
invalid. Non-classical philosophy refuses to answer these questions, because it
rejects the notion of a single answer. As time goes by, the meaning of such
global questions along with the way they are treated always changes. There are
many answers and many opinions. To such a crisis of increasingly numerous
philosophical systems, doctrines and ideas about truth, human being, God, one
can respond by acknowledging that every one of them is correct, insofar as
every position is unique in its own right. The fact that there are so many
different philosophies, so many different thinkers, is evidence of such a
crisis. So, philosophy as the form of universal truth creation, according to M.
To this I can add: classical philosophy dies; and yet, philosophy as a form of
dialectical thinking will go on. And non-classical philosophy in seeking after
another kind of reading is an attempt to withdraw from that crisis.
First of all, non-classic philosophy re-evaluates classical philosophy's
relation with science. Such scientific orientation was the form of adaptation
and mimicry. Science and the idea of 'ratio' were the authoritative discourse
for studies in the Age of Enlightenment. Knowledge was perceived as rational,
as scientific; and therefore, every sphere of human activity, which pretended
to be based on knowledge, had to be scientifically oriented. This tendency was
reflected in rational theology, rational psychology and rational cosmology,
which, when put all together, form Christian Wolf's philosophical system.
Reason and science served as a criterion of veritable of knowledge. Therefore,
philosophy had to become a science, too.
In order to prove scientifically that philosophy has cognitive value,
philosophy had to create a series of global questions, set up a methodology,
and invent special terms, building the hierarchy of philosophical knowledge. To
prove the validity of philosophy, it had to put on the mask of science. This
classical tradition created a new form of philosophy, constituted on the basis
of the opposition between 'clear vs. vague', 'argument vs. metaphor', 'science
vs. poetry'. Preference was always given to the first term of these oppositions.
Although non-classical philosophy escapes from such oppositions in overcoming
metaphysics, it still retains the dialectical principle of thinking. At the
same time, rejection of the scientific basis of philosophy is a tendency
visible in the aspirations of some philosophers of the 20th century who adopt
different forms of writing: fiction, poetry, and literary criticism. Albert
Camus, for instance, expressed such an idea, namely that the philosopher of the
20th century has to write novels. There is an obvious aspiration to the
non-rational sphere of creation.
However, these principles do not negotiate with philosophical experiences from
the past; non-classical philosophy, being more concrete in its approach, does
not aspire to answer the global questions which look for a unique answer. The
aim of this concrete non-classical philosophy is to read the texts in a broad
sense of the word, 'reading'. According to Jacques Derrida, there is nothing
outside the text and every human activity can be perceived as a form of
writing; and in this regard, every product of human work can be interpreted as
the text (Derrida 'On Grammatology').
It is necessary to examine the peculiarities of the non-classical mode of
reading philosophy. Classical philosophy investigated the historical and
scientific aspects of texts, i.e. concrete cultural context, which determines
the structure and evolution of written texts. It is necessary to know the
original language in which a given text is written not so much in order to
understand the sense of the text, as to analyze the cultural context. And it is
necessary to know the native history and language (Saussurian 'langage') of the
author. Although non-classical philosophy inherits this principle, it does not
treat the text as a self-identical entity, which classical philosophy does
insistently. The principle of self-identity regards a text as defined by the
frames of national language, culture and epoch. Classical philosophy insists on
this principle, which is why it demands that the reader carry out all the duties
I listed earlier.
For a non-classical reader, the text can be read, whether it remains
self-identical or not. Therefore one can read the text out of the epochal or
cultural context, as well as out of - that is, against - the author's position.
This principle was formulated by G. Bataille in the course of his reading of
Hegel; his point is, namely that we can read Hegel's works not only out of
German cultural context, but out of Hegel himself. Non-classical philosophy
does not reject the classical principles, but takes off ('Aufheben') the burden
of austerity, which insists in viewing the text as a self-contained totality.
Non-classical philosophy is premised upon the principle that the text is
determined by the given cultural context of the reader, not by that of the
author. When reading a text, a non-classical reader accentuates the very
process of reading, which depends on the reader's native language, culture and
the epoch in which he is present, but not on the self-identity of the text,
treated by classical philosophy as the immutable, total and stable code of
information, rigidly determined by the culture and epoch in which it was
written. Seen from the non-classical point of view, reading should not submit
itself to this code; on the contrary, this code can be determined by the
reader. Therefore non-classical philosophy resists the monosemantic (i.e.
self-identical) treatment of the text as well as the complete cognitive mastery
over it. Seen from the classical point of view, the reader is one who
understands all the senses created by the author; consequently, the sense of
the text is limited and static. A non-classic reader understands a text as a
dynamic system, which itself develops in the course of reading.
The main principle of non-classical reading is proposed by Barthes (and also by
Umberto Eco) who argues that the text is formed by the reader rather than by the
author. There are no limits or completion to the text, because it is created by
the process of reading, which is as endless as the present itself. At the same
time, non-classical philosophy inherits the principle of cultural determinism
from classical philosophy. It acknowledges that the reader's interests are
determined by his mother tongue and present culture. Senses of a text are
formed by the reader's language, culture and epoch, not by the author's. To
this extent, the writer, as well as the reader, is subject to cultural
Non-classical philosophy, especially poststructuralism, is premised upon the
principle that writing ('ecriture') is not submitted to thinking (or, likewise,
to logic and truth). Writing is the universal form of human activity, and
thinking itself (taken as an act of creating truth and objectivity) can be
treated as a form of writing. If, as Derrida says, writing is more primary than
thinking, reading is not the process of deciphering encrypted thoughts, but,
itself, paradoxically, a form of writing. When reading a text, the
non-classical reader creates another text, which is a treatment of the first
one. The reader is always a writer. This idea is very close to that of Barthes,
who maintains that a text is formed by the reader rather than by the author.
That is why non-classical philosophy does not aspire to answer the global
question of thinking, but is devoted to reading and treating texts.
Non-classical philosophy treats philosophy as a method of reading, not as a
method of explaining the world, which classical philosophy insisted on doing.
In this regard, I can make sense of Barthes's thesis about the author's death,
namely that there is no one sense of the text created by the author and his
cultural mentality. There is no one treatment of the text. Barthes uses the
image of the author inclusively: it contains culture, epoch, and mentality of
writer - all at once. The author symbolises the self-identity of the text: it
is the power that, by giving self-identity to the text, ensures its integrity.
So, to read a text from the classical point of view is to attempt to read it
from the author's point of view by assuming his mental position. By contrast,
Barthes postulated ('declare') the non-authorial basis of a text: it means that
there is no such power which gives self-identity and gathers a text into one.
Therefore, we can read a text without considering its self-identity, and
likewise, without considering its authorial power.
Non-classical philosophy, according to Derrida, interprets a text as a totality
of human products, and all human activities are forms of writing. In
non-classical philosophy, there are no borderlines between the text, reading
and the treatment of the text, because the process of reading depends on, and
is determined by, the present. Changing the present culture and mentality of
the reader entails changing the course of reading and treatment. There are no
limits and completeness of the text, because the text is created by a process
Non-classical philosophy considers objectivity as a product of concrete
culture. Therefore, there is no objectivity as such. There are many kinds of
objectivity created by different cultures and epochs. But this consideration
does not reject scientific thinking or scientific method, but takes it as
merely one of the forms of writing.
(c) Dmitry A. Olshansky 2002
Urals State University
II. THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR PHILOSOPHERS
"..to enrich our lives, and the lives of those around us
through the study of philosophy." - Pathways web site
On the last day of February, with the click of a mouse the International
Society for Philosophers was launched. There was no fanfare. there were no
solemn speeches. The aim of the Society: to promote philosophy and its
practical benefits throughout cyberspace.
The International Society for Philosophers will be a sister organization to the
Philosophical Society of England, providing a forum for discussion and debate in
cyberspace to complement the growing number of local Philosophical Society
groups meeting around the UK as well as overseas. The International Society has
now taken responsibility for running the Pathways and Diploma programs,
reflecting the massive increase in interest in the Pathways correspondence
courses from outside the UK and via the internet.
I have heard it said that the internet is the home of hype and immodest
ambitions. For every web site that is growing and thriving, there is a ghost
town of sites half-built, frozen in disuse. Down any cyber street you will find
monuments to personal vanity, comic and grotesque, relics of enthusiasms that
flared briefly then burned themselves out, get-rich-quick schemes that rapidly
went bust. Anyone with half an hour to spare can learn how to make their pipe
dream a cyber 'reality'.
None of this inclines me to pessimism. The International Society for
Philosophers is not venturing on its voyage alone, but with the steady support
and good will of all those who have contributed to and participated in the
Pathways programs over the past seven years.
Amongst the hundred or so applications for membership that I have received
since the Society was launched, have been many offers of help with the
day-to-day running of the Society, or writing a Constitution, or formulating
aims and objectives, or designing a web page, or designing a logo for the web
page - the list goes on. I will be replying to each e-mail individually. Here I
would just like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has written to me
for their encouragment and support.
In time, the International Society for Philosophers will have its own web site,
with an online philosophy conference open to all members of the Society. (This
follows the successful second launch of the Pathways Conference which has
received an impressive 134 electronic postings in just two months.) There will
also be topical articles, an archive of Fellowship dissertations, and a contact
board to enable members with similar interests to form e-mail discussion groups.
If anyone has any more ideas, just let me know!
If you haven't joined yet, all you need to do is submit the blue form at:
If you are already a Pathways student or a member of the Philosophical Society
of England, there is no need to submit your details a second time. Just let me
know that you would like to join the International Society for Philosophers.
Please note that you are not a member until you apply.
I look forward to hearing from you!
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2002
III. 'PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON THE SHAP CONFERENCE' BY PAUL CLARK AND MIKE WARD
I brought along a friend from our Chesterfield Group to the Conference; not
without fear and trepidation I must add, for the two of us.
We had a couple of concerns. One was whether or not we would be out of our
depth in terms of Philosophical discussion and thus become non-participants.
The other, not unrelated to the first, was whether we could be part of the
'Workshops' and contribute to their output.
However we bit the bullet and thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. I suppose the
motivating factors were a first for us at a Philosophical Conference, and a
conference which was discussing the same subject matter as our group: Morality.
It is true that we tried to add some sensible contribution to the debates, but
where these became too technical for us we approached them as a form of
Of the three papers presented we enjoyed most the one on Nietzsche, but maybe
that was due to a level and style that best mirrored our capability; each of
the papers caught our interest and have added to our understanding of the
possibility of morality.
The workshops were not as intimidating as our fears suggested but were
Where we found the most benefit was in the informal discussions that took
place, often for hours on end with no diminution of interest. Indeed, these
could have continued except for the demands of sleep and the next day.
The accommodation was excellent and so too was the food.
We met many people that were interesting as individuals new to us, as well as
being interesting for their views on morality. It was therefore with some
sorrow that we heard from Mike Bavidge that we had most likely attended the
last Shap Conference. Indeed one individual had been going to Shap for over two
decades so this announcement must have been particularly meaningful.
All l that we can say is that if you get something together for next year we
would look forward to meeting up with you all again.
(c) Paul Clark 2002
It will take me some time to absorb the content of the presentations...I'm
feeling rather overwhelmed with the volume of ideas raised.
However, both the format and location of the conference was very good with
ample time given for discussion on the issues raised in the presentations. The
order in which I would rate the presentations (not the content) was Toby,
yourself then Michael.
From a personal viewpoint...philosophy has and still does worry me. The fear I
have is getting so deep into the forest of philosophy that I loose sight of the
wood. I listened to a number of discussions over the weekend that left me
wondering from which planet these people had come - still it would be very
boring if we all thought in the same way, I guess.
All closed groups develop a language of their own, a sort of verbal shorthand,
'Kantian this' or 'Humean that' can create a feeling of exclusion which does
little to improve its accessibility to newcomers - if getting newcomers is on
the agenda! We all slide into this verbal shorthand and I'm no exception but
that only makes it understandable not acceptable. Personally I would also like
to ban name-dropping or references to published works as answers to questions -
they're not answers, they are responses. If there is a point to be made then
simply make it without saying 'X wouldn't agree with that'.
Of all the workshops sessions the last one with yourself seemed to be the most
productive with some interesting perspectives being voiced. Again this is
another criticism I have of philosophy (or maybe philosophers) a complete lack
of visual aids or diagrams. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, I
suspect its much more than that and it certainly quickly fixes ideas in my
mind, although I've heard it said that whilst everyone has a photographic
memory not everyone has a film in the camera :-)
Thanks for your contribution to a challenging weekend.
(c) Mike Ward 2002
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