Joseph Kosuth

Topics: Conceptual art, Art, Aesthetics Pages: 15 (6110 words) Published: August 12, 2013
Art After Philosophy (1969) Joseph Kosuth

The fact that it has recently become fashionable for physicists themselves to be sympathetic toward religion . . . marks the physicists’ own lack of confidence in the validity of their hypotheses, which is a reaction on their part from the antireligious dogmatism of nineteenth-century scientists, and a natural outcome of the crisis through which physics has just passed. –A. J. Ayer. . . . once one has understood the Tractatus there will be no temptation to concern oneself anymore with philosophy, which is neither empirical like science nor tautological like mathematics; one will, like Wittgenstein in 1918, abandon philosophy, which, as traditionally understood, is rooted in confusion. –J. O. Urmson.

Traditional philosophy, almost by definition, has concerned itself with the unsaid. The nearly exclusive focus on the said by twentieth-century analytical linguistic philosophers is the shared contention that the unsaid is unsaid because it is unsayable. Hegelian philosophy made sense in the nineteenth century and must have been soothing to a century that was barely getting over Hume, the Enlightenment, and Kant.1 Hegel’s philosophy was also capable of giving cover for a defense of religious beliefs, supplying an alternative to Newtonian mechanics, and fitting in with the growth of history as a discipline, as well as accepting Darwinian biology.2 He appeared to give an acceptable resolution to the conflict between theology and science, as well. The result of Hegel’s influence has been that a great majority of contemporary philosophers are really little more than historians of philosophy, Librarians of the Truth, so to speak. One begins to get the impression that there “is nothing more to be said.” And certainly if one realizes the implications of Wittgenstein’s thinking, and the thinking influenced by him and after him, “Continental” philosophy need not seriously be considered here.3 Is there a reason for the “unreality” of philosophy in our time? Perhaps this can be answered by looking into the difference between our time and the centuries preceding us. In the past man’s conclusions about the world were based on the information he had about it – if not specifically like the empiricists, then generally like the rationalists. Often in fact, the closeness between science and philosophy was so great that scientists and philosophers were one and the same person. In fact, from the times of Thales, Epicurus, Heraclitus, and Aristotle to Descartes and Leibnitz, “the great names in philosophy were often great names in science as well.”4 That the world as perceived by twentieth-century science is a vastly different one than the one of its preceding century, need not be proved here. Is it possible, then, that in effect man has learned so much, and his “intelligence” is such, that he cannot believe the reasoning of traditional philosophy? That perhaps he knows too much about the world to make those kinds of conclusions? As Sir James Jeans has stated: . . . When philosophy has availed itself of the results of science, it has not been by borrowing the abstract mathematical description of the pattern of events, but by borrowing the then current pictorial description of this pattern; thus it has not appropriated certain knowledge but conjectures. These conjectures were often good enough for the man-sized world, but not, as we now know, for

those ultimate processes of nature which control the happenings of the man-sized world, and bring us nearest to the true nature of reality.5

He continues:
One consequence of this is that the standard philosophical discussions of many problems, such as those of causality and free will orof materialism or mentalism, are based on an interpretation of the pattern of events which is no longer tenable. The scientific basis of these older discussions has been washed away, and with their disappearance have gone all the arguments . . .6

The twentieth century...
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