Understanding more about philosophy

In my reading on visual culture, I find the philosophical ideas are referred to, often without explanation and an assumption of familiarity. Photography can be concerned with everything and its conceptual framework is wide-ranging, making it a challenge to fully grasp all aspects.

It is impossible for me to study philosophy in any depth within the context of this photography course, but having never studied the subject I needed to fill gaps in my understanding of philosophical thinking so I can at least contextualise philosophical references when I come across them. I needed an over-view of thinking.

As a first step, I read Stephen Trombley’s A history of western thought . This tracks the evolution of Western thought and observes the connections between the various strands. A mini-mindmap of the book is attached.

The interplay between historical events and philosophical thinking is emphasised throughout the book. Nothing operates in a vacuum, even some what appears to be obscure philosophical thinking. Thinking is always contested – often aggressively and oppressively. The dominance of Christianity over thinking for centuries is an example of this, with its crusades, inquisitions and book bans. Power relations lead to self-interest in promoting certain perspectives. Thought evolves in response to events and knowledge – there is rarely a single moment in time that marks a change in thinking. For example, the enlightenment is described as ‘a tendency’ rather than a movement.

Trombley suggests that there are three thinkers that have influenced c20th thought more than any others – Darwin, Marx and Freud; respectively providing new frameworks for thinking about evolution (and therefore Christian beliefs); social relationships of capitalism (previously thought of as pure economics without the humanist perspective); and notions of human consciousness (how we may not be fully aware of our thinking that is influenced by the subconscious).

I have the overall impression that many original philosophical texts are dense and not straightforward to understand. A part of a course in photography, a general understanding of relevant thinking is mostly sufficient for my understanding. There are only a few texts so concerned with visual culture that would call for reading as original works, but overviews of the thinking of certain philosophers is something I will look at.