The Loss and Recovery of Practical Philosophy

Stephen Toulmin, in a paper titled “The Recovery of Practical Philosophy” (in this paper I highlight both ‘loss’ and “recovery” – the loss of the tradition of practical philosophy and the need to return to a rethought form of it) shows how “one particular style of philosophizing – a “theory centered” style, which poses philosophical problems, and frames solutions to them, in timeless and universal terms”, and which is tied in turn to a “quest for certainty”, was taken as the defining agenda of philosophy from the 1650s (Toulmin1988). Toulmin foregrounds the loss or the setting aside of “four sets of topics and spheres of thought” in seventeenth century philosophy: the “oral”, the “particular”, the “local”, and the “timely”.

We would like to argue that what is purloined, largely in developmental practices, are
the perspectives of the particular (as against universalist paradigms of development), the local (Dhar and Chakrabarti 2019) as against globalism and temporal limits (as against the timeless dimensions of the “good”). While studies in development is focused largely on the “intelligent” (see Aristotle) and on ‘knowledge production’, it, at most, develops a theoretical take on the good. But doesn’t get so much into what Marx designates dirtying one’s hands. Developmental practices in the sector largely focus on the good without perhaps rigorous reflection on what is good, the dynamic nature of the good; its relationship with the good is largely pragmatic. Each needs the other; practical philosophy could be the cusp where each comes to dialogue. In that sense, the alternative is in practical philosophy. One needs to inaugurate the perspective of practical philosophy in our prop root practices, as against the mainstream/main stem focus on mere interventions, easy solutions and quick cures (what one needs to cure oneself of are the paradigmatic ‘cures’ in the development sector). Or perhaps, the prop root practices inaugurate the perspective of practical philosophy. While Toulmin locates the moment of loss in European enlightenment modernity, we present the history of philosophy in terms of at least four originary losses (Dhar 2018). The four losses, in addition to the ones Toulmin foregrounds, inaugurate for us the rethought turn (or the aboriginal turn) in practical philosophy.