Is philosophical creativity combinatorial?

Henri Lefebvre


The seduction of philosophy arises from the fact that the philosopher can, with a great freedom of choice, draw from this reserve of paradigms whatever he needs for expression or formulation. The wealth of this reserve contrasts with the severity of constraints (syntagmatic, that is to say, logical). The philosophical operation thus contains several phases: drawing from the reserve (that is to say, from this or that class of signifiers), confrontation between the elements selected, elaboration under rigorous constraints (which eliminates certain combinations in the name of the fundamental demand for coherence). Each philosopher conducts these operations in his own manner, as a function of his problematic, which he receives from his predecessors or obtains from his age. This analysis (for philosophy as for praxis, several analyses are possible!) offers us three elements: one coming from the philosophy of the past (problems, concepts), the other from the philosopher’s environment, and a third from the exploration of the possible, which he transmits to his successors (concepts, problems, projects).

The seduction of philosophy hides more than one trap. In its time of withering away, it becomes an intellectual game, a relatively easy combinatory, which facilitates the recruitment of philosophers and gives them the illusion of following the path of great creators, those who discovered an enlightening or productive combination, those who poetically employed a symbolism. How is philosophy taught? How does one penetrate into past philosophy, into philosophy in general and into each particular doctrine? By way of paradigms, and also by the syntagmatic connection, taking logical rigour as implicit or explicit reference. The paradigms of philosophy make it possible to conceive the internal architecture of each system: its own combination of symbols, concepts bound together with an optimum degree of rigour, categories that are legitimately or illegitimately postulated. They reveal to us the code with which the historian can subsequently decode (decipher) messages. The structural study of philosophies and of the conceptual architecture of systems is successful. Do its promoters clearly understand that this success seals the withering away of philosophy, by reducing it to the status of a dead language?


SOURCE: Lefebvre, Henri. Metaphilosophy, translated by David Fernbach, edited with an introduction by Stuart Elden. London; New York: Verso, 2016. Excerpt from Chapter 7: Philosophy as Message.


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