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Priest On Hegel and Dialetheism

During the workshop “On Contradictions” organized at the University of Padua on December 12th to 13th 2013 Elena Tripaldi and Alessandro Esposito interviewed Graham Priest on his education and his relation to Hegel. The latter was discussed also by Michela Bordignon in the course of the workshop. They asked him as well about his political ideas, especially with regard to the recent controversies on research funding in Australia.

We give here a transcription of the interview.

E: You often say that many thinkers were dialetheist before dialetheist theory was actually formulated. Could you draw us a quick genealogy of dialetheism throughout history of Philosophy?

P: There were many dialetheist before the contemporary thinkers. But I think the most obvious one is Hegel. One could disagree about that, but I think he must be the major thinker in the history of western philosophy who was a dialtheist. After that the point is how you do find them. But clearly so many ancient philosophers were dialetheists, we know that because Aristotle attacked them. You read Aristoteles attacking all people who admitted contradiction like Pitagoras and Heraclitus. It is not clear how faithfully he interpreted them, but he certainly interpreted them as dialetheists. After that time, I guess, it gets more contemptuous. I think the neoplatonists were dialetheists, like Plotinus. Maybe some of the medieval neoplatonists like Cusanus could be considered dialetheists as well. That is pretty enough from then on in western philosophy. Eastern Philsophy has a different story, many Asian philosophers were dialethiests.

A: One of your main touchstones in discussion is Hegel, how and when did you meet Hegel first?

P: When I started teaching Philosophy I knew nothing about philosophy. I knew something about logic and I became interested in dialetheism because of the logical paradoxes and related things. But of course I was in a Philosophy Department, so I was talking to philosophers and I was learning about philosophy. At the time I had friends who were interested in Marx so I read a lot of Marx. I think Marx was a dialetheist, even though not as obviously as Hegel. I got interested in Marx’s political philosophy, but obviously you cannot understand Marx without understanding Hegel, so I started to read Hegel (the Logic and the Phenomenology): it was very very difficult to understand. I could read Hegel while at the same time having absolutely no idea of what was going on and suddenly there’s a paragraph that is clear. You see it and you go: “Oh my God! That is exactly it”. I wish I understood more of Hegel, I always looked at Hegel for inspiration about dialetheism and logic.

E: Lately Heidegger has been referred to by most thinkers and scholars as “the bad guy” in recent history of Philosophy. Also yesterday during the debate following your talk the name showed up more than once. Even though you stopped the buzz by saying you are not an Heidegger scholar, what is your relation to Heidegger, if there’s any at all? What do you think it is his relevance in both to history of philosophy and dialetheism?

P: Well, I think every great historical philosopher has been wrong in a way, but that doesn’t mean completely wrong. They always have very good ideas and questions. I think Heidegger is one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. This is very synthetic, but I think that probably the two greatest philosophers in the twentieth century are Wittgenstein and Heidegger. These are the guys that should be read in five-hundred years. Again, I knew nothing about Heidegger until some friends of mine said that some of his claims were similar to my writings. He poses very important questions, some of which can be answered through dialetheism. So I appreciate Heidegger very much. The existentialism, like the notion of “Angst”, the fear of death, not so much. But as I said, no great philosopher gets it all right, however most great philosophers have good things you can learn from.

A: Dialetheism is a doctrine that seems – loosely speaking – to have openness and “hospitality” – to use a word that was much exploited by some contemporary philosophy – amongst its peculiar characters. What is then its relation towards oriental thought, also one of your passions since you practice karate-do? And mostly, could one see dialetheism in a way as part of a socio-political battle for tolerance and integration? Or otherwise, do you see other political implications of your philosophy?

P: The easier answer is no. Of course there are connections but not directly. I think that Hegel was a dialetheist but there is more about Hegel than that, and I’m not an hegelian when it comes to political philosophy. What is more important for me is the connection between dialetheism and buddhism (although I’m not a buddhist either). There is a strong connection between buddhist metaphysics and its ethical implications, and ethics is closely related to politics. In a similar way, the political consequences of dialetheism are not direct, they go though several different levels such as metaphysics and ethics. So there are several steps instead of a direct connection.

E: On our blog we hosted a post on the controversy about research founding started the past 5th September by Jamie Briggs. He designated some fields of philosophical research as “ridiculous things” which are not worth founding. This concerned mainly Continental Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion, but the debate was extended also to Humanities in general. Did you follow the controversy? What is your opinion? Do you think there is more to the question than mere economics and politics, namely a specific a conception of the world?

P: I think that these statements entail a rare amount of idle judge. I think it’s a great mistake to identify education with immediate economic relevance. If it doesn’t have immediate economic relevance than they think it’s pointless. This means just to misunderstand the very meaning of education. The real point is that politicians don’t understand anything about research funding, what they understand is getting elected. So they say things which they think will get them votes. You should not make judgments about things you don’t understand. Briggs knows nothings about it. I actually wrote a dialogue between Socrates and Tony Abbott, the prime minister of Australia. It’s about these issues and the value of philosophy.

The video of the interview can be found here.

Interviewers: Elena Tripaldi , Alessandro Esposito

Video Assistant: Desiree Mele

Helped in Transcription: Andrea Gambarotto

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