Return to Enquiry Learning Main Page
Return to Resources Menu
A range of philosophical positions that may be adopted by a researcher - diagram by John Schostak
(The diagram can also be read in conjunction with the paper 'A Tentative Mapping of 'Philosophical positions'')
Reading the Diagram
The diagram can be read in many different ways, depending upon the background knowledge, agenda, viewpoints of the reader. You can begin with the questions - who are we, etc... What are the kinds of answers that may be made to each of those questions. There was a time when all such questions might have been only answerable through the stories told in myths - creation myths that answered the key questions of how did it all begin, who made us...
From myth one may move then to some form of instituted religion that both tells the stories of beginnings and of the revelation of laws. Such laws, divinely given, cannot be challenged but of course their universal nature can be interpreted for the particular circumstances of people's lives. But not anyone can do the interpreting - priests and other learned people may adopt the role of mediating and interpreting. Kings may assume the position of divine appointments able to act on behalf of the Divine Being. The revelations may describe how the whole world, or all that there is - Totality - came into being. Of course, rather than a sovereign and Divine Being, there may simply be a dictator, the Master who commands through power. If power cannot be aggregated into one person acting alone then there may be a kind of dispersal of power across a monarch and the aristocracy which sets up the conditions for a broader based oligarchy - that is rule by a few powerful people, say industrialists, landowners and so on.
These possibilities, of course, still exist. there are kings, princes, dictators and powerful families who are able to extert varying degrees of influence over the world, particular nations or regions. In each case, the basis for the rule is power, whether this power comes from the command of armies or wealth or the faith and beliefs of the people.
As a central challenge to all this is Reason. In western philosophy, the name of Descartes symbolises the move to modern forms of thinking, the Age of Reason, or The Enlightenment, Modernity. It is a fundamental challenge to what may now be termed the pre-modern era. Descartes adopted a position of doubt towards what had commonly been thought of as 'knowledge', 'truth', 'reality'. What, he claimed, could not be dounted was the very act of adopting the act of doubting which led to the conclusion that at least the thinking subject can be said to exist: I think, therefore I am. It marks a radical position against all that was believed traditionally. Kant saw Reason as the basis for freedom, as argued in his article on the Enlightenment.
Reason, however, can be used for many purposes. It can be employed to reinforce the positions of the powerful who govern sovereign states, that is, states that can create and enforce laws governing their territories and can defend these by militaries. Within these states people can take their parts that contribute to the whole as subjects or citizens or the People. Those who refuse to take part may be seen as 'outsiders', 'mad', 'bad' or simply rendered invisible, inaudible.