The intellectual sclerosis of ageing philosophers

With Leibniz, inevitably, as with almost all ageing philosophers, a certain amount of intellectual sclerosis set in, too. In his later years, the elements of the metaphysical system he first outlined in the Discourse became so self-evident to him that he often saw no need to argue for them. they became a fixed part of his reality, and his deepest philosophical pleasure came less from formulating his propositions than from seeing their truth reflected back to him in the statements and activities of others.

The Courtier and the Heretic, Pg 260

To what extent should we read philosophy in terms of the biographies of philosophers? I’ve been thinking about this question recently for a few reasons. One is that I’m about to hand in a PhD about studying biographies which has raised more questions for me than it has answered. Another is that I’ve been reading a lot of Nietzsche recently and am quite taken with his interest in the “hidden history of philosophers” (Ecce Homo: 3). I also read The Courtier and the Heretic, an excellent psychobiography of Leibniz, which in many ways embodied a Nietzschean understanding of how to study a philosopher’s life and work. What interests me is how you read someone’s work in terms of their life without reducing the former to the latter. I like the argument made in the quote at the start of this post because it ties intellectual tendencies to specific life course factors without reducing one to the other.

2 thoughts on “The intellectual sclerosis of ageing philosophers

  1. In COSMOPOLIS: THE HIDDEN AGENDA OF MODERNITY Toulmin connects Descartes search for a realm of pure reason to his personal experiences of religious intolerance, esp following the assassination of Henri IV. [Of course, Descartes is mistaken, as per Damasio, DESCARTES ERROR …but that is not the issue here]

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