Friday, August 17, 2007

Philosophy of politeness

Way back in the 18th century Montesquieu quipped that “The English are busy; they don’t have the time to be polite.” Later on, toward the end of the 19th century Henry Bergson gave a lecture on good manners to French students. He divided politeness into three kinds: of manners, of the spirit, and of the heart. Similarly, Max Scheler, his contemporary, exhorted anybody who would aspire to wisdom to cultivate empathy (Einfulblung) and sympathy (Mitfublung).

José Ortega y Gasset was of the opinion that philosophy ought to educate desire as well as the mind. Closer to our times we have the American philosopher Richard Rorty who in the 90s complained that philosophers in general had become not smarter, but meaner, more pugnacious, more argumentative and rationalistic and much less imaginative; while Umberto Eco has quipped sardonically that some wish to see truth naked, at any cost, but truth is a very modest and well mannered maiden and eludes the curious voyeur.

From this rather absorbing meditation on politeness, its different facets and its value in philosophical -- especially philosophical discussions.

Thanks to Book Forum for the pointer.