PhilosophyPlus: On the Edges of Thought

This website presents articles on the relation between thought and life in philosophy and literature, thought being an author’s view on life in general and his or her own life specifically, and life the life and disposition of the author as it is found in writing (his/her own words or the testimony of others).

In the philosophical works I focus on, the authors present a view on the world and life that has an impact on how they live (and die). This effect can be found in their own work (as they themselves mention it), or in the descriptions others have given of them. Here the general view is shown to have personal consequences. In the work of the (philosophically minded) poets I studied it is the other way around. The poet starts with his or her own life and observations and thereby presents a view of life that has meaning for all. In both cases I address the intersection of world view/thought and experience/life. This point is often found at the edges of both: God, mysticism, the meaning of life, death. What ‘truth’ can arise there?


My name is Johanna Schakenraad.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I studied philosophy and theology at Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and received my PhD at Utrecht University. I am an independent scholar in philosophy and work as a freelance writer, editor and teacher.




Review: Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking – Willemien Otten

In Thinking Nature and the Nature of Thinking Willemien Otten discusses a concept of nature that differs from the concept that dominates current discussions on nature within theology, science and environmental studies. We find ‘thinking nature’ in the work of two ‘eccentric’ thinkers, Johannes Scottus Eriugena (9th century) and Ralph Waldo Emerson (19th century) but there are also elements of this line of thought in the work of other theologians and philosophers. Otten shows that this alternate way of thinking nature can be a powerful contribution to the present debate on nature, creation and environmental issues.

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Review: The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair – Joël Dicker

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by the Swiss author Joël Dicker was immediately after its publication in 2012 a great success. It was shortlisted for, and awarded, several prestigious literary prizes, which is remarkable in view of the obvious flaws of the novel. But the criteria seem to have changed, as well as the literary discourse as a whole. From this postmodern discourse The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair emerges as a (new kind of) masterpiece.

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The Matter of Souls: Philosophical Aspects of Wuthering Heights

Many interpretations of Wuthering Heights have focused on the love of Catherine and Heathcliff and neglected Catherine’s love for Edgar Linton. Both Edgar and Heathcliff represent values in human life. Catherine’s unwillingness or inability to choose between material pursuits and her true self gives the novel its tragic import. In the second part of the novel Heathcliff faces the same dilemma. For both the only way out is death, when they will be reunited. The world view that underlies the novel is a platonic philosophy, which can also be recognised in Emily Brontë’s poetry and in her life (and death).

The Myth Reversed – Reflections on the poetry of Sylvia Plath

The poems of Sylvia Plath form a remarkable unity. Many critics have argued that they can be read as part of a story, with a meaning that transcends the meaning of the individual poems. In this article I will focus on the meaning critics have found in the poetry of Sylvia Plath as a whole.Ted Hughes has called Plath’s poems ‘chapters in a mythology’.  Judith Kroll has studied this mythology, which is based on the works of Graves and Frazer. The mythology in Plath’s poetry is a mythology (literally) of her own. Because it applies primarily to Plath herself, her life (and death) are crucial to the interpretation of it.

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Poetry and Philosophy: Richard Rorty on Philip Larkin’s ‘Continuing to Live’

In the second chapter of Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, called ‘The Contingency of Selfhood’, Richard Rorty uses the last part of a poem by Philip Larkin (1922-1985), Continuing to Live to clarify his ideas about the self. Rorty places Continuing to Live against the background of what he sees as the battle between poetry and philosophy. Philosophers seek the truths of life, eternal truths that hold for all ages and places, whereas poets celebrate individuality and contingency. Larkin however had found an eternal truth that dominated his life and his work as a poet. Death is the utmost truth that thought can never pass. It leaves ‘nothing to be said’.

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Living in Silence: the End of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Lecture on Ethics

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus logico-philosophicus starts as a book on logic and (the limits of) language. Initially it was read as a work on logic, aiming to put an end to nonsensical language and all kinds of metaphysical speculation. But the book has also an ethical purpose and mentions the ‘mystical’ several times. Wittgenstein sets out to show that these are subjects we cannot speak (and should be silent) about. So what do these remarks mean? Wittgenstein emphasizes that these are his remarks (‘my propositions’), and this turns out to be crucial for understanding the fundamental paradox in his work.

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Johannes Scottus Eriugena: The End of Thought

In the Periphyseon Johannes Scottus Eriugena (± 810 – 877) intends to collect all available knowledge of his time about the universal subject called ‘nature’ (natura). Nature comprises both God and creation. God has created everything, but he is also the end to which all creation returns. In the Periphyseon Eriugena follows this course (of processio and reditus) of nature. His own description is also a movement towards God and in this way it is the account of a mystical ascent. But the final unification with God is beyond knowledge and words. The end to which Eriugena points lies beyond the Periphyseon, in what is not written and Eriugena explains why he has not been able to lead us all the way. Eventually he takes a position outside his own discourse by addressing his reader in the epilogue. The reader is left with the wealth of knowledge and insights that the Periphyseon has imparted, and a concomitant sense of the vastness of what lies beyond his reach.


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Wittgenstein as a Wild Mystic

In The Practice of Everyday Life Michel de Certeau (1925-1996) discusses Wittgenstein’s model of ordinary language. Certeau points out the primary historical context of Wittgenstein’s thought. This science of the ordinary is defined by foreignness. Wittgenstein himself always remained a foreigner, away from home. Wittgenstein’s position resembles the situation of Labadie the Nomad that Certeau describes in The Mystic Fable. It is the position of the wild mystic.

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Finite Infinity: Paradox in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

The American poetess Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) lost faith in God and eternal (revealed) truth when she was in her teens. This compelled her to find truth and meaning for herself, which she did in her poetry. For Dickinson poetry is the expression of thought (rather than feeling). She pushes thought to the extreme and to the conflicting consequences she presents in her poems. Sometimes she deliberately goes beyond the limits of thought (‘I heard a Fly buzz – when I died’). Especially In the poems where she handles the themes most important to her (God, religion, death, loneliness, but also her own position as a poet) we find the inconsistencies approaching logical paradoxes. But still they are all possibilities.

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