Studying philosophy through its history is one of the few elements of my intellectual biography I have been adding again and again to all versions of my cv (and I have written many!) and I really believe that philosophy needs to be linked to its history and that history of philosophy needs to engage philosophically with its contents. Now, the last claim is almost incontroversial, since all historians of philosophy agree that they need to be (at least: also) scholars of philosophy.
The first claim, instead, encounters frequent objections. The last time I read one such objections, it came from a younger colleagues suggesting that one should rather weight the independent strength of an argument. This is an admirable task to undertake, but I wonder how one will be able to appraise an argument unless one has been training herself in their history. I might be too pessimistic, but let me be skeptic about anyone’s autonomous philosophical capacities.
Ibn al-Nafīs might be right and an isolated child might be able to refine his faculties on a lonely island until he can rival with learned people. But can this happen also in our infotainment-polluted world? I doubt it. Without history, a self-proclaimed philosopher will just lack the depth to appreciate the degree of innovation of her ideas, possibly thinking she is a genius only to discover at the first journal rejection that several people before her have already discussed the same argument centuries back.
On Ibn al-Nafīs you might want to read Marco Lauri’s forthcoming article on Confluence and, meanwhile, this presentation.