Often it happens that a writer will change their position over time. For example a consummate materialist in youth may temper their outlook with a pinch of idealism in more advanced years.

This state of affairs prompts several questions that may be answered by a literature survey: To which school of thought do more experienced/(older) philosophers gravitate? Is there some sort of balance maintained between new ideas and old adherents? Do statistics on these numbers tell us something of philosophical interest that is not otherwise easy to cognate? Can predictions be made on the future position of a philosophy writer?

Question: Is there any publication comparing earlier and later positions of philosophers?

Is there something like anthropology of Philosophy? (not Philosophical anthropology)

  • I guess what you want is the survey where philosophers are somehow categorized by their age and then see what positions each of them support, in percents. But I'm not sure such one exists. Yet. And not only age, but overall state of humanity changes the results over time for the whole society. – rus9384 Jan 31 '19 at 15:12
  • @rus9384 Mostly their tendency over time; do older philosophers become more idealistic, do old philosophers leave more room for "God", is there more propensity for synthesis, over thesis, among the more experienced. I'm tempted to conjecture that most would moderate their earlier views, but know of no comparative study. As you say "zeitgeist" changes, but is there a relation with 'anthropological' factors among philosophers? The philosophic value I see: Can we learn something from the possible convergence/divergence of lifetime ideas? - Its a "experimental philosophy" type question. – christo183 Jan 31 '19 at 16:20
  • Well, if you ask contemporary young and old, that's not solely a tendency of how individuals change. It is also dependent on generation change. Research that indicates the change in individuals would either be based on self-report ("earlier I thought...") or are too long for actual research. – rus9384 Jan 31 '19 at 20:50
  • Here are two philosophers you may find of interest. Nicholas Maxwell and Mario Bunge. Bunge suggests "big questions", and we could call Maxwell a philosopher who took an interest in wisdom. ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom/aboutme ; YouTube Bunge: m.youtube.com/watch?v=wHkuERXNu94 – Gordon Mar 3 '19 at 20:48
  • As far as I know Bunge is a materialist but I have not read much of his work. – Gordon Mar 3 '19 at 20:50

There is an obvious example with Heidegger.


After Being and Time there is a shift in Heidegger's thinking that he himself christened ‘the turn’ (die Kehre). ...

At root Heidegger's later philosophy shares the deep concerns of Being and Time, in that it is driven by the same preoccupation with Being and our relationship with it that propelled the earlier work. In a fundamental sense, then, the question of Being remains the question. However, Being and Time addresses the question of Being via an investigation of Dasein, the kind of being whose Being is an issue for it. As we have seen, this investigation takes the form of a transcendental hermeneutic phenomenology that begins with ordinary human experience. It is arguable that, in at least one important sense, it is this philosophical methodology that the later Heidegger is rejecting when he talks of his abandonment of subjectivity. Of course, as conceptualized in Being and Time, Dasein is not a Cartesian subject, so the abandonment of subjectivity is not as simple as a shift of attention away from Dasein and towards some other route to Being. Nevertheless the later Heidegger does seem to think that his earlier focus on Dasein bears the stain of a subjectivity that ultimately blocks the path to an understanding of Being. This is not to say that the later thinking turns away altogether from the project of transcendental hermeneutic phenomenology. The project of illuminating the a priori conditions on the basis of which entities show up as intelligible to us is still at the heart of things. What the later thinking involves is a reorientation of the basic project so that, as we shall see, the point of departure is no longer a detailed description of ordinary human experience. (For an analysis of ‘the turn’ that identifies a number of different senses of the term at work in Heidegger's thinking, and which in some ways departs from the brief treatment given here, see Sheehan 2010.)

Sheehan's The Turn: https://www.academia.edu/34868772/THE_TURN_-_ALL_THREE_OF_THEM

Also, Freud considerably changed his thought with Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

  • Do you perhaps know of a list or a comparative study of such examples? – christo183 Jan 31 '19 at 13:08
  • @christo183 No, but you might get a list of answers to your question here. – Chris Degnen Feb 1 '19 at 11:08
  • 2
    At the end of his life Heidegger read Dr. Suzuki on Zen philosophy and commented, 'This is what I have been trying to say in all my writings'. . – PeterJ Mar 3 '19 at 12:10
  • @PeterJ That's interesting - I got the impression he had taken on those ideas a bit sooner than that. Even putting Being under erasure is rather like the Tâo that can (not) be spoken. – Chris Degnen Mar 3 '19 at 13:12
  • @ChrisDegnen - Yes, I also feel he was always heading in the direction of the perennial view, but I suspect it was only on reading Suzuki that he realised this. Until then he may have thought he was inventing something. I'm a fan of his but his work is made redundant if we leap straight to the philosophy.of Zen and its philosophical foundation as explained by Nagarjuna. I think this may have been what he realised on reading Suzuki. As with so many earlier philosophers one wonders what his view would have been had he had internet access. . – PeterJ Mar 3 '19 at 13:25

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