I have often found myself somewhat bewildered by the philosophy of the early- to mid-20th century, associated above all with the names of Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein. These two thinkers cast their shadow widely over the traditions of philosophy that followed – Heidegger over “continental” philosophy, Wittgenstein over analytic. (The split between the two traditions was not nearly as pronounced in their day; in many respects they helped create it.) They are far apart in many respects, but they do share at least two tendencies I have strongly disliked – an indifference to ethics and concerns about the good life, on one hand, and a rejection of the bulk of philosophy that came before them on the other. I have tended to view these two tendencies as going hand in hand – but do they?
I’ve been thinking anew about Heidegger and Wittgenstein from perhaps an unusual angle: Chad Hansen’s fascinating A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought. I don’t yet know early Chinese thought well enough to assess whether Hansen’s account of it is accurate. But I can at least say that Hansen, like Nietzsche, is more interesting and thought-provoking even when he’s wrong than most people are when they’re right. Continue reading