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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?

The major philosophers in history— Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Kant and Hegel—have not given a name to their philosophy.

The trend of philosophers giving a name to their philosophical system is less than two hundred years old—it took off in the 19th century and became a widespread phenomenon in the 20th century when almost every popular philosopher and his sidekick were bestowing a name to their system.

Auguste Comte coined the name “Altruism” for his philosophy in the 1850s. C. S. Peirce used the word “Pragmatism” for the first time in the 1870s. Later on Pragmatism was developed into a philosophical system by William James and John Dewey. In the 1920s and 1930s, the philosophical system of “Logical Positivism” was developed through the efforts of philosophers like Moritz Schlick, Hans Reichenbach, Kurt Grelling, Walter Dubislav, Karl Menger, Kurt Gödel, and a few others.

In the early 20th century, there was the rise of the “Analytic Tradition” of philosophy due to the efforts of Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, G. E. Moore, Gottlob Frege, and the Logical Positivist philosophers. Søren Kierkegaard, who is generally regarded as the first Existentialist philosopher did his work in the 19th century, but Existentialism became popular in the 20th century when Jean-Paul Sartre appropriated the term “Existentialism” to describe his own ideas.

The fiction writer Ayn Rand started using the term “Objectivism” in the 1960s to describe her philosophy of reason and individualism. In the 1980s, Jacques Derrida coined the term “Deconstructivism” to describe his postmodernist ideas of art and culture.

The most important quality of these 19th and 20th century philosophies, which have a unique name, is that they evoke the feeling of cultism. Auguste Comte had initially conceived Altruism as a spiritual movement—he even planned to build churches to propagate the altruist doctrine. Pragmatism under James and Dewey had a cult like atmosphere. In Logical Positivism and the Analytic Tradition the key philosophers were treated like some kind of omniscient God.

In the heydays of Existentialism, Jean-Paul Sartre was treated as an intellectual pope of the world whose every word must be regarded as the gospel truth. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism has been charged by several intellectuals of having a cult like environment in which the top Objectivist philosophers are deified. Jacques Derrida’s Deconstructivism has worsened the problem of cultism in the postmodernist movement.

The question that I ask in the title of this article is: "Should a Philosophical System Have a Name?"

My answer is that it is wrong to give a name to a philosophical system. A philosopher has the copyright to the books and essays he writes and the lectures that he delivers, and that is enough to safeguard the integrity of his work and his legacy. The philosophy that distills out of his works, is in essence, his way of describing man’s place in the world—it does not need a name. If a philosopher gives a name to his philosophy, he is essentially starting a cult.

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