Stone, Theodore: How Would We Rewrite Philosophy’s Canon?

We commonly see the birth of Modern Western Philosophy as one dominated by those with beards. White, male and a bit on the rambling side. However, after dusting off a thin layer of an individual’s philosophical development, such as with Descartes or Locke, one begins to find a far more diverse community lying beneath these aforementioned philosophers. Correspondence between themselves and figures such as Teresa of Ávila, Elisabeth of the Palatinate, and Damaris Cudworth Masham reveal deep and often revolutionary insights into their works, and demonstrate how these major contributions were not from the mind of a single thinker, but instead developed through sustained communication, with many major insights that we often credit to the author in fact being developed by those they correspond with. Unfortunately, thanks to historical practices of whitewashing underprivileged groups from history, this case is not popularly known. However, if we wish to author a true History of Philosophy, one that gives credit where credit is due, is it not the case that we must reexamine who we treat events such as the origination of the contents Descartes’ Meditations? But how would we go about rewriting the canon? What good would it do, and why should we do it? The answer I wish to put forward is that we should see philosophical contributions - such as Descartes’ cogito ergo sum and Locke’s political philosophy - as not the work of the individual, but instead as a form of communal discovery. Whilst the individuals described inarguably popularised these concepts, it is nonetheless imperative that we acknowledge the source of their development, as well as their popularisation. Because of this, it is perhaps wise to move away from seeing certain developments in Philosophy as a wholly individualistic affair. This argument carries two merits. Firstly, it allows us to better-understand the ways in which these universally appraised additions to Philosophy originated, and thus how such notions are formed. Secondly, it presents us with a more inclusive History of Philosophy that better-represents those who have been historically mistreated throughout its course. As such, I will conclude that, if we wish to see a representative and inclusive History of Philosophy, we must further embrace the collectivist nature of philosophical discussion, to better demonstrate how the discipline is not simply shaped by recreating Rodin's sculpture, but through a far more communal, interactive, series of developments.