Philosophy and Its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy

In “Philosophy and Its Moods: Oakeshott on the Practice of Philosophy,” Kenneth McIntyre continues the discussion of Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy begun by Boucher but takes a somewhat different view. Though he admits that Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy as a fundamentally skeptical activity devoted to relentless interrogation of the conditions of human understanding remains unchanged throughout his career, he also maintains that there is a subtle shift in Oakeshott’s conception of philosophy away from the emphasis on criticizing modal abstraction in Experience and Its Modes to a more pluralistic defense of the autonomy and validity of the modes of experience in “The Voice of Poetry” and On Human Conduct. In addition, he contends that the later Oakeshott abandons the notion of philosophy as unconditional, presuppositionless knowledge and conceives of it instead as a conditional practice that, like any other practice, rests on traditional or tacit knowledge. In this regard, he suggests that Oakeshott’s later conception of philosophy has much in common with the outlook of ordinary language philosophers such as Austin, Ryle, and the post-Tractatus Wittgenstein.

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