In this paper, the author offers an overview of some methods that have thus far been used in research on the history of philosophy. From the perspective of philosophical importance, the paper further discusses which kinds of methods are relevant or irrelevant. The examples which are specifically examined in this paper are those of Harry Wolfson, an expert in Medieval Philosophy who treated the history of philosophy exclusively from the view point of diachronic influences; Martial Gueroult, the renowned historian of twentieth century France who studied the internal structure or ‘order of reasons’ of several great philosophical systems of the past; and Jonathan Bennett who examined the history of modern philosophy in the manner of analytic philosophy. After indicating the problem with Wolfson’s method, as well as the difficulty with the idea of Dianoématique which Gueroult developed while producing his monumental works on great philosophers, the author concludes that another possible philosophically significant approach is a method which consists of analyzing the internal structure of some of the past’s philosophical doctrines (like Gueroult and others) and daring (unlike Gueroult) to criticize weaknesses, e. g. an inconsistency, in them. The author calls this method “non-idolizing or de-idolizing structuralism.”
In the first part of this paper, in order to reconsider the significance of the history of philosophy, I examine its relationship with philosophy in three respects. First, the history of philosophy aims to examine the beginning (archē) of philosophy. By revealing its beginnings (not only in ancient Greece), we can start to engage in a new philosophy. Second, the history provides us with philosophical texts that encourage our thinking. We find there rich resources of reasoning and ideas on philosophical issues. Third, this history shows us our own position in two ways. It presents a set of philosophical concepts, problems and frameworks that we inherit from past philosophers. Also, an examination of this heritage reveals our own position within philosophy.
In the second part, I critically survey the various candidates for “first philosopher” in ancient Greece. Each thinker, from Thales to Plato, has supporters and good justification for being considered the first. Then, in the third part, I propose a new perspective, “compound eye history”, in which we investigate plural lines of thinking. Each distinct line started from a new problem raised by a philosopher and developed through critical or positive responses by his contemporaries or later thinkers. I envisage 10 “plots” or lines of ancient philosophy by which we can conceptualise that whole intellectual activity of human life and wisdom.
It is commonplace to distinguish two different approaches to the history of philosophy. According to the first approach, the point of studying a text from philosophy’s past is to learn something philosophically important for us today from it. In contrast, the second, more history-oriented approach refuses to read the past philosophical text for the sake of one’s own philosophical interest. For proponents of this approach, the text can be understood only if it is situated in its context in a broad sense. In this discussion, it is sometimes suggested (by Richard Rorty, for instance) that the two approaches do not constitute a dilemma; we can and must do both independently of each other. This suggestion of coexistence, however, would cause a problem for the second approach. Preferring to be exempted from the question of truth in discussing a past philosopher, proponents of this approach would be forced into a distorted understanding of philosophy’s past. In order to avoid this consequence, the present paper proposes a third approach to the history of philosophy, in which we can deal with philosophy’s past historically and philosophically at the same time.