13 October 2005

Philosophical Calisthenics

Roderick Firth once told me that the other Roderick had the practice of reading from Aquinas' Summa Theologiae every morning for ten minutes, 'to put himself in the right frame of mind for doing serious philosophy'. I later had the occasion to meet Chisholm, at a dinner in honor of him, and I asked him whether this story was true. He confirmed that it was, and that his practice was as described.

Sir William Hamilton and other biographers of Thomas Reid report that Reid, when he retired from the University of Glasgow and was able finally to write out his lectures (providing further hope for all of us!), used to begin his day working through problems in calculus, to get his mind ready for philosophy.

So here is my lighthearted question to readers of Dissoi Blogoi. Do you know of other philosophers who disciplined themselves with such 'philosophical calisthenics'? How did they do so? What sorts of subjects and materials could work for this, and why? Would the rigorous analysis of a poem serve as well as the rigorous translation of a text from Aristotle? Does mathematics have a favored position, and, if so, are all branches of mathematics equally serviceable? (Is geometry better than calculus? Axiomatics better than more informal approaches? What about logic or set theory?) Why must something other than philosophy as we usually do it be used as preparation for philosophy? (Or was Chisholm's goal to write like Aquinas, if possible?)

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find that a Big Fatty tends to do the job.

Anonymous said...

I can offer no testimonia from the lives of emiment philosophers I have known, but I can tell you that the practices of beginning one's working day with mathematical exercises is fairly widespread in other disciplines. A nobelist economist of my acquaintance tunes up with Euler progressions & problems in prime number theory. I like to work ODE's or progressions for 30 minutes every morning. Understand that the purpose here is as much attaining a level of calm & emotional stability as it warming up one's cognitive skills. Analytic philosophy especially profits from this sort of discipline. I would never attempt a difficult argument in Plato or Aristotle withut priming myself with some mathermatics.

Thornton said...

Does reading the Boston Globe count? Sometimes reading the letters page there requires careful exegesis and anger control.

Anonymous said...

philosophy is not mathematics...

Michael Pakaluk said...

Lighthearted answers, all.

One might add: there's benefit, too, in doing problems that have answers, either the benefit of increased confidence that, in philosophy, one will eventually work through to a solution, or the benefit of being able to maintain the illusion that philosophical problems are like problems that have answers.