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Title: Errant thought : on philosophy and its past
Author: Wetherall, Graham
ISNI:       0000 0004 9357 9962
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis consists of two major strands. The first addresses a series of questions concerning philosophy’s relation to its own past, chief among them: Why does philosophy have a history? And how can philosophers take account of their past, situating the mselves as part of an ongoing tradition? The second strand constitutes an investigation of the concept of error. What is error? How can we explain its origin, and to what extent is it a necessary feature of thought? Contrary to initial appearances, I show that these two sets of questions are intimately connected. Throughout the modern era, accounts of thought’s historicity have frequently hinged on the concept of error. It is by appeal to the concept of error—and thereby to the idea that thought sometimes goes astray, falling short of truth—that a vast majority of modern philosophers have attempted to explain the historicity of thought. To ask after the ground of historicity and the status of philosophy’s past thus requires us to pose the question: what is error, and how does it arise? An examination of accounts of human errancy thus allow us to better understand the nature and scope of thought’s historicity. As such, the thesis constitutes both a history of philosophy’s approaches to its own past, and a history of the concept of error. It takes the form of a critical reconstruction of this conceptual constellation, with a view to renewing the question of the relation of philosophy to its past by way of a reappraisal of the nature of error. The thesis is divided into four chapters, each of which is dedicated to a major figure from the Western tradition: Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Heidegger. In each case, I demonstrate that their respective approaches to the question of philosophy’s historicity is reflected in the status of error in their thought. For both Descartes and Kant, the historicity of thought arises from the tendency of thought to fall short of truth. It is thus thanks to error, conceived of as a kind of epistemological waste product, that philosophy becomes historical. It is the task of philosophical method to overcome this shortfall, thus liberating philosophy from its historicity. I argue that this attitude prevails in many philosophical quarters to this day, making of thought’s historicity at best a secondary matter. By contrast, Hegel and Heidegger both adopt approaches according to which historicity is intrinsic to the nature of truth itself. I show how Hegel’s concept of negativity on the one hand, and Heidegger’s notion of ontological errancy on the other, come to supplant the notion of epistemological failure, treating historicity as a fundamental characteristic of being. I argue that this notion of a ‘history of truth’ allows for a new relation between philosophy and its history, in which the latter is not merely dismissed as a kind of accidental waste-product of thought. At the same time, I show how both Hegel and Heidegger’s specific approaches to the history of philosophy are characterised by shortcomings which prevent them from adequately responding to the questions they raise. In spite of these shortcomings, I argue that philosophy ought not abandon the idea of a connection between historicity and error. Instead, it is necessary to raise the question of the status of error anew, while at the same time seeking to expand the scope of the history of philosophy beyond the confines of the Western tradition.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council ; Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General) ; BD Speculative Philosophy