Monday, November 30, 2015

Forging Philosophy

    NH to DSL:
    I recently read “The Art of Forgery”; a history of several famous forgeries in art, literature and religious relics. Some comments and a question.
    Forgery seems a most postmodern crime, for what is deceptive is not the art - for a good forgery is indistinguishable from the original - but its provenance, which is a story attached to the artwork. Lately art detectives have given up on art expertise as effective forgery-detection, and instead rely of physical forensics; but that to me is an admission of defeat.
    You could make the case that all art is forgery. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”.
    Consider a painting, beautiful and reputedly by a master, and therefore worth a million dollars. One day its provenance is debunked, and its market value falls to a thousand dollars. Then the painting’s debunker is himself debunked; the painting’s honor is triumphantly restored, as is its market value. Is the painting’s beauty only worth $1000, and its reputation the other $999,000? This of course links to the fictitious nature of money.
      The book also mentions written forgeries, such as ‘lost’ Shakespeare plays; and also the Donation of Constantine. The last proves that some forgeries can last centuries and have major effect. So what else that’s so that isn’t so?
       If literature can be forged, then can philosophy? Imagine this scenario: a previously-unknown philosophy student posts on the Web two unknown works by a famous philosopher; both as text and as photo-scan. One of those works really was written by the famous philosopher, but the other one was written by the student. The student claims that both originals were destroyed in a fire; this arouses suspicions. Experts inspect the photo-scans and say that both were written either by the famous philosopher, or by a skilled forger. (Which the student admittedly was.) They also concur that both works were indeed expressions of the famous philosopher’s thought, or of a learned disciple; and that the first work (genuine) was a minor amusement, but the second work (forged) was a masterpiece. On the basis of this they accuse the student of forging the first work. The student then produces the originals of both works, which had not been destroyed in a fire after all; forensic examination proves that the first, inferior, work was genuine, the second, superior, work was forged by the student. And finally, to complete the scandal, it turns out that the student was _not_ a disciple of the famous philosopher, but was in fact a harsh critic, and that the student’s forgery, merely by existing and succeeding, refuted a core tenet of the famous philosopher’s thought! Is the student a philosopher? Has any crime been committed?
    The above paragraph reminds me of Alan Sokal’s “Social Text” hoax. Can you think of other philosophical hoaxes, frauds and forgeries? They needn’t involve financial gain - who ever makes money from philosophical thought? - for with most art forgers, money-gain takes second place to honor or glory or revenge.

     DSL to NH:
     This is what comes first to mind, if only because of his appelation:
     In general, there are numerous passages in the “ancients” which have been demonstrated to be inauthentic interpellations by later commentators, etc. Not being a textual historian of philosophy, and being familiar with only modern critical editions of ancient philosophical works, I can’t cite any specific such passages; I only know that such have existed.

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