Philosophy against Misosophy



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Marking a Decade

Update 2014


On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of this site, I am pleased to report the publication of my article “C. L. R. James: Herbert Aptheker’s Invisible Man,” in the Fall 2013 issue of the CLR James Journal.  It arrived in the mail two days ago, and I purchased access to the online version of my essay this morning (sort of an anniversary present to myself).  Hazily aware for four decades of C. L. R. James (1901-1989), author of The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, the umpteenth sighting of his name in my reading material (this time it was in a piece by Dwight Macdonald) over the course of a few months in 2012 triggered an odd reverie and query. (In the late thirties and early forties Macdonald and James’s circles partly overlapped.)

Herbert Aptheker (1915-2003), once one of the leading intellectuals in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), was a ground-breaking Marxist historian of American slave revolts.  So why hadn’t James’s work figured into his writings (virtually all of which I had read before I was twenty)?  Why hadn’t James’s name ever crossed Aptheker’s lips during our many conversations about the early years while I served as one of his research assistants in the early seventies? After some research I concluded that Aptheker’s neglect of James was deliberate.

At first, this slight was inexplicable to me, given Aptheker’s dominant scholarly interest in slave revolts and the relationship of the ones he studied to the one James had given book-length treatment (“the only successful slave revolt in history,” he wrote). It is perfectly explicable, however, in terms of Aptheker’s Stalinism and James’s Trotskyism, and this fact ought to affect the reception of Aptheker’s scholarship.  

(It also partly explains why I, then Aptheker’s comrade as well as assistant, never asked Aptheker about James. If James’s work lay beyond Aptheker’s horizon, it lay beyond mine as well.  Psychologically, all things Trotskyist were beyond the pale for me as for him, but that doesn’t excuse my lack of curiosity about things that exceeded Aptheker’s frame of reference. When I left the Party in 1975, breaking with Marxism soon thereafter, I felt no need to get up to speed on the Trotskyist writers I had undervalued while a Stalinist.)

Further research showed me that many admirers of both Aptheker and James never adverted to the former’s scan-dalous disregard of the latter, even when they would mention both men in the same essay, same paragraph, or same sentence.  Here was enough material for an article, I thought.  I was fortunate to have the fruit of my one-off excursion into history meet with the approval of Brown University Professor Paget Henry, editor of the above-named Journal, in the nick of time to make this issue.

After that bit of good news, however, I suddenly found myself unable to write anything longer than an email message.  This “block” lasted through the rest of 2013. This debility induced particular frustration when I learned that William F. Vallicella had honored last year’s anniversary essay, “Philosophy against Misosophy,” with a critique entitled “Anthony Flood on Philosophy as Misosophy.”  Even though Bill set the stage by asking (somewhat irrelevantly, in my opinion) what might motivate someone to move from philosophy to religion (as though that’s what I claimed to be doing); summarily rejected instead of engaged the dialectic that it was my purpose to explore; and suggested that I’m “tampering” with apparently sacrosanct terminological convention, I invite interested readers to read his essay undistracted by my reply (now well underway), at least until the latter is ready for prime time.

My previous essay and its forthcoming sequel do not promote the rejection or abandonment of philosophy. Rather they express a particular metaphilosophy, a Christian one. But metaphilosophy is part of philosophy, which I understand normatively, not merely descriptively, as the discourse arising out of the love of wisdom rather than the love of foolishness or “philomoria.” (One barbaric neologism deserves another, I always say).  According to my emerging Christian metaphilosophy, misosophy, the hatred of the Wisdom of God who is Christ, entails philomoria.

The many analytical tools that misosophers have devised are serviceable, but they presuppose a worldview that they profess to reject but only suppress self-deceptively. I am calling attention to the consequent cognitive (and ethical) dissonance and self-deception. I thank Bill for the goad of his criticism. It has forced me to clarify what I mean when I say there is an antithesis between covenant-keepers and -breakers among those who practice the discourse traditionally called “philosophy.”  He represented his  side of the dialectic with characteristic skill, forcefulness, and grace.  And as I may have failed to make my point with the necessary clarity, I must assume some responsibility for his misinterpretations.  My essay-in-progress will do a better job. Whether it will do a sufficient one, others must judge.

My re-thinking of philosophy over the past two years continues to “regiment” the rest of my thinking, and this must result in a reevaluation of what I have (mis)spent decades trying to accomplish in philosophy, religion, and politics.  I would say that I may one day write my own Retractationes, if the allusion to Augustine’s classic were not insufferably immodest.* I may come up with a more suitable title. Or at least wait until I’m seventy-two.

Anthony Flood

January 17, 2014

(This site’s 10th anniversary) 

* “For a long time I have been thinking over and planning a task which, with the help of the Lord, I am now beginning, because I think it should be postponed no longer: namely, to review my writings, whether books, letters, or tractates, with a kind of judicial severity, and to indicate, as if with a censor’s pen, what displeases me.” Retractationes, CXLIII, 2. Trans. J. G. Pilkington in The Nicene and Post- Nicene Fathers (First Series), I, 490; as cited in Meredith F. Eller, “The Retractationes of Saint Augustine,” Church History, 18:3 (Sep 1949), 172.  Eller does, however, advise the reader that the “word ‘retractationes’ is not the equivalent of the English word ‘retractions’; better translations would be ‘review,’ ‘retreatment,’ or ‘revision.’ It is very seldom that Augustine is compelled to ‘retract’ anything.” In my case it would be much less seldom.