Two views of philosophy

The following is David Lewis's characterization of philosophy:

One comes to philosophy already endowed with a stock of opinions. It is not the business of philosophy either to undermine or to justify these preexisting opinions, to any great extent, but only to try to discover ways of expanding them into an orderly system. [...] There is some give-and-take, but not too much: some of us sometimes change our minds on some points of common opinion, if they conflict irremediably with a doctrine that commands our belief by its systematic beauty and its agreement with more important common opinions. (Counterfactuals, p.88)

I am not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, this goes against my conviction that philosophy is by nature self-critical; on the other hand, I have to admit that what Lewis says is true of many philosophers, including himself.

Compare this with the following passage by Foucault:

After all, what would be the value of the passion for knowledge if it resulted only in a certain amount of knowledgeableness and not, in one way or another and to the extent possible, in the knower's straying afield of himself? There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks, and perceive differently than one sees, is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all. [...] what is philosophy today --- philosophical activity, I mean --- if it is not the critical work that thought brings to bear on itself? In what does it consist, if not the endeavor to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, instead of legitimating what is already known? (The Use of Pleasure, p.8)

I find myself agreeing with Foucault, though I am not sure to what extent philosophical reflection can change one's fundamental world view. Yes, "to the extent possible", but what is that extent? So, this is inspirational, but I am not sure how true it is of actual philosophers.

I am torn between these two views of philosophy.


How to read Foucault

I had read a few introductory books on Foucault and did not find any of them very helpful. Yesterday I picked up this one by Jonanna Oksala, entitled How to Read Foucault. and liked it immediately after reading just the first two chapters. It is one of the books in the "How to Read" series published by WW Norton & Company, all of which are fairly short (just around 100 pages).

The book is very clearly written and informative, but what I was most impressed with so far is how quickly it succeeds in presenting Foucault as an intriguing and important thinker. Some of the things it highlights are instructive as to how one should read Foucault's writings. Here is an example:

Foucault once noted in an interview that, while there were truth books and demonstration books, his books were experience books. By this he meant that the experience of reading potentially changed the reader and prevented him from 'always being the same or from having the same relation with things and with others'. (p.24)

This is actually Foucault's own advice, and I am glad that I saw this in Oksala's book before I start to read Foucault's writings.


Kundera's definition of novel

Here is how Kundera defines "novel" in his The Art of Novel :

The great prose form in which an author thoroughly explores, by means of experimental selves (characters), some great themes of existence.

I like this definition, particularly the idea that characters in a novel are the author's experimental selves.


The paradox of tolerance

It is a truism that anyone who is tolerant is against intolerance. This truism will, however, turn into an apparent paradox if it is put this way: anyone who is tolerant is intolerant of intolerance. It seems that a tolerant person is necessarily intolerant in some respect, and this is supposed to be paradoxical.

I am not sure I understand why this is paradoxical. First of all, it is not clear that a tolerant person has to be tolerant of everything. Tolerance is a matter of degree. Perhaps we have to say that a tolerant person who is intolerant of intolerance is not completely or perfectly tolerant, but it is not paradoxical to say so. Secondly, we may distinguish between reasonable tolerance and unreasonable tolerance, and hold that tolerance of intolerance is unreasonable, and hence that it is all right for a tolerant person to be intolerant of intolerance.

In any case, I doubt that the truism that anyone who is tolerant is against intolerance is equivalent to the apparently paradoxical claim that anyone who is tolerant is intolerant of intolerance. To be tolerant of a view, a value, or an action, one does not have to accept it or agree with it; one only has to refrain from trying to suppress it or interfere with it. So it is possible for one to be against something and still be tolerant of it. I am, for example, against religion, but I am certainly tolerant of it.

The truism is thus not paradoxical, and the apparently paradoxical claim does not seem true. So, where is the paradox?