Another NDPR Review: J. Colin McQuillan reviews Sean Gaston’s The Concept of World from Kant to Derrida. The weakest part of the book, I found, was a reduction of any thinking of the world prior to Kant (and even after) to some “tradition.” While it’s true there’s an ordering of the kosmos in post-Platonic thought, it’s another to say that’s the only thought of the “world” until Kant came along–even in Plato, given how the Timaeus is almost vertiginous in the “likely story” it gives. As McQuillan writes:
The history of the concept of world is a worthy subject, but one might question the dismissal of “metaphysical” concepts of the world with which Gaston begins his history. Dispatching ancient Greek thought, medieval theology, and early modern philosophy in the space of a few sentences is less common and less welcome than it used to be, not only because the falsehood of such sweeping claims about the history of philosophy is readily apparent, but also because contemporary philosophers are less committed to a view shared by many analytic and continental philosophers in the 20th century — the idea that metaphysics is a monolithic edifice that should be torn down and consigned to the past. Historians of ancient, medieval, and early modern philosophy have shown that there is not only a diversity of views on metaphysics during these periods, but also that there is much to be gained by studying Plato’s Timaeus and its reception, debates between Muslim and Christian scholars about Aristotle’s views on the eternity of the world, the mechanistic view of nature Descartes proposes in Le Monde, and Leibniz’s pre-established harmony. Should readers really believe that there is only one “metaphysical” concept of world at work here?
That said, the reviewer’s conclusion that what’s really missing is Kripke and Lewis (with a dash of physical cosmology) just says that one should have a book that covers everything (I guess it is about the world!) without saying what that would have added other than covering wholly other areas of philosophical discourse.