“Anti-Intellectualism”

So I’m proofreading the final proofs of our anthology before it goes off to press and I got caught up re-reading Romano Muñoz’s “Neither Irrationalism nor Rationalism but Critical Philosophy.” Originally, Carlos and I were hesitant to include this essay because Romano Muñoz is otherwise a relatively minor figure in our grand narrative. But it nicely captures the Ramos-Caso conflict – and for that reason serves as a nice transition between the first and second wave of Mexican philosophy in the 20th century – and now that I read it again, I realize that there’s a lot more going on that met our eyes (at first).

First, I never really understood what historians and commentators meant by “anti-intellectualism” or “irrationalism,” as it was used to describe the work of Caso and Vasconcelos, as they were inspired by Bergson, Schopenhauer, Tolstoy…. Yes, I understood that its contrast was “rationalism” and that it had something to do with the fundamental role of the spirit, intuition, revelation, and “genius” in philosophy. But I didn’t really “get it.” That is, it didn’t click that what these guys were up to was trying to capture and articulate what Plato was wrestling in trying to capture the philosophical role of the muses (and of poetry more generally).

In this sense, I think Romano Muñoz made a nice contribution in arguing that wisdom – as opposed to science – requires both intuition and reason, and the former before the latter.

Second, Romano Muñoz sets up the contrast between Caso and Ramos by writing:

I belong to a group of thinkers who believe that a philosophical attitude is a temperamental thing. ‘The history of philosophy,’ as William James puts it, ‘considered in its greatest texts, is nothing but the clash of diverse human temperaments.’

If I’m remembering correctly, this line is lifted from James’s “The Sentiment of Rationality.” If this is right – I’ll check later – that in itself is a cool connection worth exploring: if nothing else, it deepens the question about the relation between our philosophers and the (North) American Pragmatists. But more to the point, I think it’s worth thinking more seriously about the possibility that some of the major conflicts in the history of philosophy – like that between Caso and Ramos – are not fundamentally conflicts between epistemologies or methodologies, but between personalities. Some personalities are driven toward the mysterious, the hidden, the call of the spirit, the mystical. Others are driven to measure, analyze, coordinate, classify, etc. It might turn out, as Gaos argues in another piece we translated, that philosophy is “the psychology of the philosopher.” (I’ll let you know when I’m done proofreading Gaos.)

Third, the phrase makes me think about the anthology and philosophizing more generally. When I take a look at anything I’ve written – my dissertation is the best example – I have the strangest feeling. For one thing, I have almost no memory writing it. I have a few memories of places I was when I wrote it, but no memory of the thought process of writing it. Put differently, I only have a third-personal relation with it. Forgive the comparison – trust me, I have no delusions of lumping myself into his camp – but Kierkegaard describes the same relationship with many of his own texts. But worse, I am surprised by many of the ideas or turns of phrase in there, like I don’t recognize myself in the words at all, or just the simple feeling of surprise. Perhaps I am one of the mystical personalities whom Romano Muñoz describes and this is one of the symptoms of my psychology, that is, of my philosophy. And perhaps this is the real meaning of “anti-intellectualism” – to signify that some of us study philosophy and philosophize at a subconscious level, for better or worse.

In any case, I am having the same feeling proofreading our anthology. Already, reading it is full of discovery, the uncanny, and of surprise – even though Carlos and I put it together and this is now my umpteenth time combing trough it all. The connections are coming into view, but I have no idea how we saw them earlier.

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