Thursday, April 16, 2020

Misosophy: hatred of wisdom. A label applied to Voltaire, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Papists, Positivists, and Calvinists

Misosophy, n. Hatred of wisdom. So says the OED. The earliest use of the word cited by the OED is in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's posthumously published "Notes of Hooker" (in the 1830s).  Coleridge there writes,
There are, and can be, only two schools of philosophy, differing in kind and in source. Differences in degree and in accident, there may be many; but these constitute schools kept by different teachers with different degrees of genius, talent, and learning; — auditories of philosophizers, not different philosophies. Schools of psilology (the love of empty noise) and misosophy are here out of the question.
About forty years before Coleridge's coinage, Bertrand Capmartin de Chaupy wrote a book called  Philosophie des lettres, qui aurait pu tout sauver. Misosophie voltairienne, qui n'a pu que tout perdre, which translates roughly as Philosophy of letters, which could have saved everything. Voltairian misosophy, which could only lose everything. (Paris, chez Mme. Dufresne, au Palais royale, 1790, 2 volumes)

"Misosophy" pops up  in a philosophical dictionary in 1878:
MIS, MISO.-1. (Gr. [...], to hate;) in a number of compounds, as misagathy, hatred of the good; misandry and misanthropy, hatred of men; misarety, hatred of virtue; misogyny, misology, misosophy, misotheism. 2. From the Germanic languages, denoting wrong, failure, defect, as misdeed, mistrust, misuse. (Charles Porterfield Krauth, A Vocabulary of the Philosophical Sciences: [Including the Vocabulary of Philosophy, Mental, Moral and Metaphysical, by William Fleming, from the 2d Ed., 1860: and the 3d, 1876, Ed. by Henry Calderwood, LL. D.], Sheldon & Company, 1878, p. 770)
The word appeared in religious controversies. For instance, here's the barrister Henry Thomas Braithwaite in 1872: "That therefore is misosophy which discourages spoken petitions to the Throne of Grace on the plea that a Spirit cannot hear words." (Esse and Posse: A Comparison of Divine Eternal Laws and Powers [London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1872], p. 252)

In 1880, the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne used the term in a dig at Carlyle. I can't resist quoting the whole intriguing passage:
Four principles of thought, we may say, are here impeached and impugned: a double enemy is assailed by the lover of faith and reason, love and hope, in the militant materialism of Papists and Positivists; by the lover of justice and mercy, humanity and freedom, in the Catholic philosophy of de Maistre and the Calvinistic misosophy of Carlyle. And if the sarcasms on theology seem to any reader more keen and violent than the satire on any other form of unbelief or infidelity to the truth as here conceived, he should remember that superstition with a lining of materialism is surely a worse thing than materialism stark naked; and that while it is palpably possible to be a materialist without being a Christian, it is implicitly impossible to be a Christian without being a materialist. ("Victor Hugo: Religions et Religion," Fortnightly Review no. 162 [June 1, 1880], p. 763)
WHEW! A few years later, Henry Hayman slaps the label on German pessimism, especially the thought of Schopenhauer and Hartmann("Pessimism," The Churchman No. 62 [November, 1884], pp. 113-125, at p. 124)

In these late 19th-Century cases, the authors take themselves not to be introducing a new word when they use "misosophy," unlike some later authors. For example, the word was re-invented (or reconstructed from the ancient Greek roots) by the Congregationalist theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth in 1915. He wrote, "Its Christianity has at heart always protested against its philosophy, or rather, if one may coin a word, its misosophy." (P. T. Forsyth, "Faith, Metaphysic, and Incarnation," The Methodist Review [September, 1915], p. 701

I cannot tell whether Gilbert Ryle thought he was coining a new term when he wrote the following: "A fraternity of persons of kindred credulities could only constitute a school of 'misosophy'." ('Taking Sides in Philosophy,' Philosophy 12 [Jul., 1937]: 317-332, at 318-319) His decision to flag the term with quotation marks suggests that he might have (thanks to Bernard Kobes for this observation).

Seyyed Hossein Nasr attributes the coinage of the word (or of its German equivalent) to Hermann Türck, a 19th-Century critic of Nietzsche. Here's Nasr:
The result has been the creation of philosophies which, from the traditional point of view, could only be called monstrous and which can only be characterized as what the German scholar H. Türck has called 'misosophy', that is, the hatred rather than love of wisdom and which others have considered as 'antiphilosophy'. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred: Revisioning Academic Accountability, State University of New York Press [19889], p. 43)
Türck did this in applying the term to his opponents (Nietzsche, Stirner, and Ibsen), contrasting these putative egoists with persons of true genius.

In The Way of Phenomenology(Pegasus [1970], p. 23, n. 4) Richard M. Zaner credits Gabriel Marcel with inventing the word. Zaner cites Marcel's book Man against Mass Society. (Regnery, [1952], trans. G. S. Fraser) Marcel's book (Les hommes contre l'humain) appeared first in French in 1951. (La Colombe) Since the libraries are closed, I cannot find hard copies of Marcel's book (in translation or in the original French), so it is difficult to determine what Marcel wrote. Based on some web searching, Marcel seems to have written (in G. S. Fraser's translation) of a
civilization in which technical progress is tending to emancipate itself more and more from speculative knowledge, and finally to question the traditional rights of speculative knowledge, a civilization which, one may say, finally denies the place of contemplation and shuts out the very possibility of contemplation, such a civilization, I say, sets us inevitably on the road towards a philosophy which is not so much a love of wisdom as a hatred of wisdom: we ought rather to call it a misosophy. (Man Against Mass Society, p. 48)
Finally, there is Gilles Deleuze's remark in his 1968 book Différence et répétition: "Everything begins with misosophy." (Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, [1994])


2 comments:

Markku N. said...

Interesting! Wonder what that de Chaupy book is about. Not much information available online and the little I can find is, unsurprisingly, in French.

praymont said...

I'm afraid I'm in the dark about the Chaupy book, except that the author seems to dislike Voltaire.