Philosophy is a long nightmare…

Philosophical errors are not mistakes of judgement, they are not hypotheses that are false or theories that are wrong, but theories instead based on a certain kind of wrongness, a kind that, once revealed, casts into almost total irrelevance any thought based upon them. But this means, in effect, that by contrast with the history of science, where what came before was a stage in the discovery of what we now know, as the present itself is a stage in what will come to be known, the whole history of philosophy will be treated by the new philosopher as so much illusion and, hence, not part of a cognitive development.

The present is like waking from a dream, and the dream is not part of waking experience but an aberration from it, belonging to an irrelevant realm of experience, a symptom of cognitive disorder rather than a piece of cognition in its own right. And this explains why the original philosopher feels that history begins with him. Begins and ends with him, it might be better to say, for, having shown the way, he has in effect shown all there is to show: The way leads to an end so conspicuous that it is almost pedantic actually to enter on the path.

So, internally speaking, philosophy does not have a real history. It is given all at once and, if right, it need never be undergone again.  Or, more dramatically yet, the history of philosophy is a long nightmare from which philosophy longs to waken, and from which it seems at any given point to the working philosopher that he has awakened—even if, from the cruel vantage point of his successors, it will instead seem as if he had been but part of the nightmare.

-Connections to the World, Arthur C. Danto.


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