As of this Thursday, Love of All Wisdom will be three years old. I’m happy with the way the blog has been working out – the ideas I’ve been able to get out to the world, and the discussion they’ve provoked both in the comment forums here and in other places (in person, on social networking sites, and even earning me an invitation to publish in a journal). I thought this would be a good occasion to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: explain the scheme of tags and categories I use to classify blog posts. There’s so much written here now that I doubt many people are going to read it all; I only intend it to expand in the future. And the tags and categories – listed to the right of this post in the pages’s sidebar – are a good way to explore the topics that are of most interest to you. I’m not sure how many readers have used these much – I’m guessing not that many, as I haven’t explained it before. (The review of my blog declared “His categorization is helpful, but only if you understand his classification system. Which I don’t know that I do.”)
I’ve felt for a while that an explanation merits its own post, because categorizing philosophy is itself a philosophical project. Every blog in the field will have a different list of tags and categories, and that’s as it should be. Even the very fact of having tags and categories – of being able to easily group all the posts on a given related topic – is worth some reflection on its own. If the literary form of philosophical writing makes its own claims, as Martha Nussbaum has suggested, then such easy categorization may well allow us new possibilities and new ways of thinking. They might be viewed suspiciously by the likes of Derrida, for whom classification is always problematic, but I’m no follower of Derrida. I do think it’s worth reflecting on our classifications, though, and that’s what I’d like to do here.
In my case, I use the tags – the “cloud” of names and topics of varying sizes – to represent individual authors and thinkers above all, as well as texts that are anonymous (like the Bhagavad Gītā) or effectively anonymous (like the Yoga Sūtras, which are said to be authored by Patañjali, but we have no information about him outside the text so that “Patañjali” simply means “the author of the Yoga Sūtras”). I tag a post with their names any time the post makes significant reference to their ideas (not just a single offhand mention). So you can click on any author’s name and see all the posts where I’ve written about that author. Highlighting authors in this way isn’t a neutral choice, as postmodern authors like Lacan or Barthes might point out – they’ve proclaimed the “death of the author” and want to get away from the idea of authorship. But I disagree with such approaches; I’ve discussed in the past how looking for an author’s coherent worldview is one of the most important and helpful methodological choices a philosopher can take.
The tags also refer to other proper names, like the SACP; and they also link to those categories, like architecture and technology, which cross the bounds of my more formal category list – architecture, for example, always involves both place and aesthetics, at a minimum.
As for the categories themselves – the long indented list below the tags – these are ways of classifying philosophical reflection that fit more comfortably, overall, into a hierarchical structure of sub-categories. There are two main sorts of categories here: traditions and topics. (The former, in my case, include the entries under “Asian Thought” and “Western Thought”; the latter, the entries under “Theoretical Phil”, “Applied Phil”, “Practical Phil” and “Method”.) This dual division, into topics and traditions, could become the source of some confusion, but I think it’s absolutely necessary given my own philosophical approach, one that consciously acknowledges the reasons for the enduring divide between analytic and “continental” philosophy, yet still – as my very first post announced – seeks to transcend them. For an analytic philosopher, philosophy is fundamentally divided into problems and sets of problems, like ethics and epistemology; most philosophy jobs and job seekers in the US, when they require or announce a philosophical specialization, identify those specializations in these terms. Continental philosophers, on the other hand, specialize in thinkers and periods – 18th-century Germany, say – which is a reason they’ve often found themselves at home in departments of language and literature, where the context of a place is important. Since I care about both, the majority of my posts will be identified with categories of both kinds – both Islam and metaphysics, for example.
Within each of these categories there are many smaller decisions, not all of which I have space to talk about. For example, even though I write on the blog all the time of premodern traditions typically called “Hindu” (like Yoga and Vedānta), there is no category for “Hinduism”, only for “Modern Hinduism”; that’s because I take the very idea of a premodern Hinduism to be a mistake. (I’m similarly skeptical of the concept of “religion”, though I have a tag for the subject with many entries; but those entries all deal either in some way with the extremely widespread concept of religion, not with the phenomena classified under the rubric.)
What I think is likely to be my most controversial decision here, one I’m not entirely happy with, was to include natural science and social science as their own traditions of inquiry, analogous to Christianity or Buddhism. I do believe that natural science has a special normative weight, a claim to truth higher than most other approaches. But having a higher and special claim to truth is also what’s claimed by Christianity and Buddhism, and I don’t want to prejudge the inquiry against them. And I do think that scientific inquiry constitutes a
The method category probably needs special attention, since that’s another place where I take a meta-step reflecting on basics. There are only two subcategories to method, but they’re important ones: “metaphilosophy”, meaning reflection on the nature of philosophy itself and how to do it, and “M.T.S.R.” The latter is an abbreviation, relatively common in the field of religious studies, for “method and theory in the study of religion” – reflection on what it is to be a scholar in the field of religious studies, and how that should be done.
Outside of the “problems” and “traditions” categories, I’ve placed two other main category headings: “blog admin” and “practice”. The former is posts about the blog qua blog – service outages, redesigns, that sort of thing. The latter is, in a way, a “problems” category of its own – but unlike the other “problems” categories, it is outside the purview of philosophy as usually studied in analytic departments. These are the ways we actually attempt to live our philosophies – including “religious” practices like meditation, but also “secular” practices of self-improvement like therapy and physical exercise. Here too, by drawing a conceptual link between these practices, the classification is not neutral.