The Philosophical Method

It seems to me that philosophy is distinguished from other endeavors by the method that it adopts. This is not unusual, as science is usually identified by the scientific method. But what is the philosophical method? This question is obviously controversial but I think a good case can be made that the philosophical method involves a commitment to reason and argument as a source of knowledge.

In its earliest form it was often argued that reason could discern facts about reality that were in opposition to the way that the sense revealed reality to be. This was taken as evidence that only reason was a source of knowledge (this is rationalism). So Parmenides argued that though reality appeared as a plurality that was in constant change in actuality it was a static unity that never changed. The reason that we are supposed to adopt this radical position is that positing the reality leads to a contradiction (that of something coming from nothing or opposites existing in the same place at the same time).

This may make it seem as though empiricists who see philosophy as continuous with the sciences (or as I prefer, see science as natural philosophy) are not really doing philosophy anymore. They are doing science, or at least advocating that they should be doing science. But this is wrong. The empiricist is using the philosophical method because their belief in empiricism is based on reasoned argument. Hume’s arguments are just as good as any rationalists; perhaps better!

The philosophical method then involves a commitment to the following:

A good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe p

What counts as a good argument (or even an argument at all) will be debated but everyone agrees that if there is a good argument with the conclusion that p then there is a reason to believe that p. This also lets us see how it is that science is a type of philosophy. The scientific method presupposes the philosophical method with the restriction that good arguments come from empirical testing of theory. So though Einstein used thought experiments to come up with relativity no one believe it until there was empirical confirmation.

Even this doesn’t preclude the rationalist from agreeing that the scientific method presupposes the philosophical method. They may hold that we have to do science because we are not omnicient. But a purely rational being that new every physical fact (i.e. the position of every fundamental unit of physics and the laws that govern them) that being could deduce what was possible and actual a priori.  

So the identification of the philosophical method with a commitment to reason and argument as a source of knowledge (or at least justification for people to believe) seems reasonably viable.

About these ads

20 thoughts on “The Philosophical Method

  1. I’d like to broaden the palette a bit. Let’s say philosophical method clearly involves the search for knowledge. It also paradigmatically involves the careful framing and analysis of arguments. The question is what work are these arguments doing? I think that if you characterize the philosophical method, in general, as relying on arguments as a source of knowledge you leave out too many philosophers. For instance, sceptics are prone to use arguments as a device to unsettle the confidence with which we believe ourselves to know this or that. And it is not always the case that the sceptic goes on to argue for an alternative to our common-sense knowledge attributions. Likewise, the Chinese tradition often advocates a sort of intuitive grasp of morality, so that arriving at the knowledge of how to act in a situation is not seen as the end product of rational deliberation. Philosophers in this tradition as diverse as the Confucians and Daoists were often similarly suspicious of the value of reasoning in the pursuit of knowledge (perhaps not globally, but certainly this is often their attitude about the knowledge that matters most, e.g. moral knowledge). I’ve recently begun to wonder whether there needs to be any such thing as The Monolithic Philosophical Method.

  2. To a point, I agree with Colin.

    While it is true that setting a narrow definition for the philosophical method may seem to leave out some philosophers (many may think that Nagarjuna would be one such philosopher). If we look closely at this group many like Nagarjuna will infact fall well inside the above definition. So in the end even those who advocate intuition over rational deliberation (although Nagarjuna is not one of these) will probably still agree that “A good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe p”.

    I think that the case of the philosophical method involves a commitment to reason and argument as a source of knowledge still holds true. However, perhaps we need to broaden the terms of what constitutes “reason and argument”?

  3. This is any interesting question to raise. I don’t think that there is any philosophical method; and I doubt that philosophy is distinguished from other disciplines by method, since I’m a big advocate of philosophers using any method that fits the topic. Rather, what distinguishes philosophy is its tradition: namely, that it is in the tradition of Socrates rather than the Sophists (although it need not be Socrates & the Sophists in particular, since any other analogous tradition will count). But what distinguished Socrates and the Sophists was not so much their methods (for which we should be thankful, since our methods are pretty clearly closer to those of the Sophists than to those of Socrates, just due to the fact that Sophists were more like academics than Socrates was), but their ends.

    But I do agree that science is experimental philosophy; that we don’t still call it that is arguably just an accidental shift of languge due to university reforms in the nineteenth century.

  4. I can’t decide what I think about this definition. Depending on how I look at it, it is either pretty adequate, or leaves out some big chunks, such as potentially ethics or phenomenology. Part of the problem is that not all philosophy is just shooting for “knowledge,” so while argument may be a good source of knowledge, if you are instead trying to create a defensible system of justice (Nussbaum) or describe the phenomenon of birth (Arendt), knowledge may not play as central a role as it seems to in the definition. This however, sort of hinges on how you interpret those tranditions/arguments/etc.

    There certainly is something unique about the way an academically trained philosopher thinks though. Any philosopher who has tried to have a philosophical discussion with a non-philosopher has some intuitive knowledge of this mechanism. The one thing I do like about this definition is that it seems to me the philosophical method is one which is a method of problem solving. This is its distinct difference from scientific method, which is a method of hypothesizing and accuracy testing. Those two things *can* solve problems (and almost always are aimed that way by scientists) but the philosophical method isn’t inherently tied to hypotheses or accuracy (I’m thinking here of a distinction between accuracy and truth a la Gadamer). however it is focused on things very similar to hypotheses and accuracy, which is why I feel this topic is so tricky.

  5. “I think that if you characterize the philosophical method, in general, as relying on arguments as a source of knowledge you leave out too many philosophers. For instance, sceptics are prone to use arguments as a device to unsettle the confidence with which we believe ourselves to know this or that”

    Hi Colin, yeah I think you got a good point. I tempered this a bit when I explicitly formulated the proposal. The idea is that a good argument witht the conclusion that p is a reason to believe that p. You are right that it might not count as knowledge that p depending on how you feel about knowledge and whether we can have it. So the skeptic is using the philosophical method, according to me, if they are using arguments for their position (any hostorical skeptic in the Western tradition will count as using the philosophical method on this reading of what the medthod is).

    “Likewise, the Chinese tradition often advocates a sort of intuitive grasp of morality, so that arriving at the knowledge of how to act in a situation is not seen as the end product of rational deliberation. “

    Right but what are the reasons given for believing this when someone else disagrees? Is there then ‘rational deliberation’, arguments given? If so then the Chinease tradition is using the philosophical method. If not, not.

    “I’ve recently begun to wonder whether there needs to be any such thing as The Monolithic Philosophical Method.”

    Of course there does! That is, at least if philosophy is actually suppposed to be anything more than the collection of the opinions of various white males.

    Hi Loden Jinpa, thanks for the comment!

    Yeah, I agree with what you are saying. I think I made the same point above. Is that what you had in mind?

    Hi Brandon,

    “I’m a big advocate of philosophers using any method that fits the topic.”

    Can you give an example of one of these methods that does not rely on argument?

    “Rather, what distinguishes philosophy is its tradition: namely, that it is in the tradition of Socrates rather than the Sophists…But what distinguished Socrates and the Sophists was not so much their methods…but their ends.”

    I think you are partially right about this Brandon. It is true that the sophists and the Socratic tradition are distinguished by thier ends. But the sophists certainly were engaged in using the very same method as the Socratic bunch, as you yourself point out. Why deny that their method was the philosophical method?

    Hi Dru, thanks for the comment!

    “Depending on how I look at it, it is either pretty adequate, or leaves out some big chunks, such as potentially ethics or phenomenology.”

    I don’t see why ethics necessarily gets left out, but I do see the worry about phenomenology. Usually, as far as I understand it,m they are engaged in a descriptive task (at least Sartre was)…and if that is the case then they will not be using the philosophical method as I defined it…sometimes I think this is bad, other times I think it is exactly right…

    Again, maybe I am raising hackles because of teh claim about knowledge. As I have said, though, my real point was simply that arguments that P count as good reasons to believe that p and Nussbaum and even(!) Arendt meet that.

  6. Richard, within traditional Chinese philosophy there is some direct argument for the intuitive nature of good moral judgment, but I think that this is beside the point. My point was that if the thesis is correct, then making good moral judgments is not a matter of rational deliberation. This would mean that a large sub-discipline of philosophy — ethics — is not best advanced by use of argument, but rather by the use of moral intuition by moral experts. Now perhaps you want to say: if this be the case, then ethics is not a part of philosophy it is some other type of inquiry. But this seems to me like it would be an arbitrary distinction to make.

  7. I think you are partially right about this Brandon. It is true that the sophists and the Socratic tradition are distinguished by thier ends. But the sophists certainly were engaged in using the very same method as the Socratic bunch, as you yourself point out. Why deny that their method was the philosophical method?

    I don’t think it was the very same method precisely because they disagreed so sharply about ends; in fundamental principle the two groups cared about entirely different things — the Sophists about getting what they wanted, and the Socratics, at least in principle, about things like justice and truth. Given such a divergence in goals, as each side understood them, it would be virtually impossible for them to have the same method. But certainly we blend the two, and certainly, whatever our goals, our approach is more closely analogous to that of the Sophists than to that of the Socratics. There’s a fairly striaghtforward reason for denying the Sophists, at least as Plato saw them, the claim of philosopher, and it lies precisely in their goals, to which reason, justice, virtue, truth, etc., were all incidental: none of those values were running the show, and if they got in the way, they’d be revised so as to be more conveniently subservient to the sophistical will. If you honestly think reason, truth, and justice are really incidental to the question of whether you are doing philosophy, then perhaps you would think the Sophists philosophers. But we can also regard that as a reductio of that particular criterion for being a philosopher. If a criterion makes the Sophists as philosophical as Socrates, it’s wrong.

  8. Hi Colin,

    Suppose that there were some biologists who argued that species classification was done by intuition by experts. Would this count as doing biology? Not obviously. Now, it is true that experts have better intuitions than non-experts but there is alot of evidence from cogitive science that these intuitions are the result of an internalized theory and are the result of unconscious reasoning processes. One could then see the Chinease position as one of advocating that we should master the appropriate theory so that the judgments become automatic (‘intuiotions by experts’).

    But if this is rejected and they insist that reason plays no role and that it is solely a perception like intuition that is the reason that some act is right or wrong or whatever, then I would not be committed to saying that ethics was not part of philosophy. I would be committed to saying that perhaps normative ethics weren’t a part of philosophy. But why is that arbritrary? But even this doesn’t seem completely right, unless I am misunderstanding the position (which I may well be since I know nothing about it and am basically running on an analogy to rational intuitionism), for surely reason and argument will be involved in extending and applying the basic moral intuitions, right?

    Brandon,

    I just don’t see how different ends matters at all to what methos these guys are using. I agree that there is a political sense in which we would not want to call the sophists ‘philosophers’. As you say they were not interested in justice and truth…of course this is in the sense that they thought there were no such things or that really they were relative…but in another sense they are of course interested in these topics.

    It is because Socrates and Thrasymachus are each using the same method that Socrates is able to best him in argument. Thrashymachus is convinced of his position because of an argument (the one he give Socrates). They may not agree on what counts as a good argument in just the way you point out; the sophists seem to think that a good argument=’one that convinces’ while the Socratics think a good argument=’one that captures/preserves truth’ (Socrates bested him on both definitions). Do you really think that Zeno, Thrashymachus, and Democritus aren’t philosophers? I just don’t see any reason to think that except as I said, for poltical reasons.

  9. No; I think the terms ‘philosophical’ and ‘philosopher’ are pretty clearly equivocal, with the primary sense being that established by the Socratics.

    Contrast the case of Thrasymachus (or Gorgias, or Polus, or Hippias), whom Socrates is able to defeat precisely because he is inconsistent in his approach, with Callicles, whom Socrates is not able to defeat at all — precisely because Callicles is the most consistent sophist with whom Socrates argues in the entire Platonic corpus. Callicles argues (in fact, some, like Nietzsche, have pointed out that he argues more than Socrates, who starts transitioning from argument to story-telling) but his reasons to believe p are not things that Socrates can or will recognize as reasons at all (and vice versa if you were to switch them). For Callicles arguing is what you do to look good and get what you want; for Socrates, arguing is what you do to become just and wise. Gorgias and Polus get shut down by Socrates because they each want in different ways to have both and are willing, for different reasons, to concede something to dialectic; Callicles honestly doesn’t care about dialectic or virtue (in any sense other than that in which it means whatever he pleases), and so the pure case of Sophist is not amenable to Socrates’s dialectical approach at all. You can find commonalities between the two because (e.g.) they are both speaking language and trying to convince, but you have to get very abstract to do so, and at the very abstract level you can show anything to be similar to almost anything else.

  10. So, consider a plastic surgeon who is in it for the money and women and a plastic surgeon who wants to genuinely help people with self-esteem issues. According to you only one of these is a doctor because only one of these truely has the aims of Hippocrates? That sounds odd to me.

    I agree with some of what you say about Callicles. He is definately an antithesis to Socrates, but I just do not see how their different aims distinguish what theyare doing. Callicles advances and argument in the Gorgias the argument is presented as a reason to believe Callicles’ position.

    Here is a nice quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Callicles;

    For all its ranting sound, Callicles has a straightforward and logically valid argument here: (1) observation of nature can disclose the content of ‘natural justice’; (2) nature is to be observed in the realms where moral conventions have no hold, viz among states and among animals; (3) such observation discloses the domination and exploitation of the weak by the strong; (4) therefore, it is natural justice for the strong to rule over and have more than the weak.

    Why isn’t this the right way to see what Callicles is doing? It is true that Socrates and Callicles start from different assumptions about the nature of morality and the world but they are both clearly using the same method to establish their conclusions. If anything the Socrates/Callicles debate shows the limitations of the philosophical method.

  11. I don’t see why the doctor case would be considered parallel; consider a cosmetic surgeon instead who isn’t interested in knowing anything about health, surgical procedures, physiology, or anatomy, unless it happens to conform to his preconceived notions. Is he doing cosmetic surgery? Only insofar as he happens by accident to overlap with what a real cosmetic surgeon would do. That is, the real parallel is between quacks and doctors, not selfish doctors (who will at least concede that they can’t make things up as they please) and selfless ones. Of course, that makes it sound like there are just two groups; but people can be partly legitimate and partly quacks (those are arguably the most dangerous kind quacks). And so here. Callicles et al. can be called ‘philosophers’ on an analogy with Socrates et al.; but anything univocally shared between them is incidental to what either would consider philosophical.

    Socrates isn’t using the same method as Callicles; it’s precisely with Callicles that he changes methods. Nietzsche points out somewhere, rightly, in my view, that with Callicles Socrates keeps changing the subject rather than directly arguing with him. Moreover, Socrates begins to use myths and starts using his mocking jokes rather more heavily. Whenever Callicles puts forward an argument (which is only here and there), Socrates moves to a related but definitely distinct subject and tries to argue on that ground. Part of the reason is that Callicles, by his admission, doesn’t care about any of it — he’s arguing not in order to discover truth, nor because anything Socrates could possibly said would dissuage him, nor because he thinks dialectic a good way of exploring issues, but entirely because he he wants to show how ridiculous Socrates is. (It’s worth pointing out, incidentally, that Callicles would be insulted by being called a philosopher; he considers philosophy a childish endeavor.)

    You asked me the question about the plastic surgeon; here’s a counter-question. Suppose Tom and Jeff are arguing about whether classic Hollandaise sauce uses egg yolks or egg whites, and Tom says to Jeff, “Clearly it uses egg yolks. You can tell this from three things: (1) It is usually yellowish in color. (2) If it were made with egg whites, it would be fluffy, but it isn’t fluffy. (3) I’ve seen the recipe in a cookbook, and it clearly said it was made with egg yolks.” This is a good argument for the conclusion that Hollandaise sauce uses egg yolks. So on your view Tom and Jeff are doing philosophy?

  12. I think we may ultimately disagree about how to read the Gorgias. I see it as partly a set up for the Republic and so is probably intentionally meant by Plato to be frustrating and end badly. Also, I think it can be partly seen as an example of what happens when one wants to convince someone. Socrates declares that if he can convince Callicles then he will know his view is the truth so he switches methods towards the end as a result of his passion for convincing Callicles. Callicles is arguig to get to the truth. He thinks that the real truth is that justice is a way that the meek have to control the strong. This is the natural sense of justice. The Socratic view ‘turns our lives on their heads'; this is a concern for the truth. They disagree about what the truth is. And when Callicles objects to ‘philosophy’ I take it that he means the Socratic-pie-in-the-sky kind of moral theory, not the use of argument as a source for justification of beliefs.

    On my view Tom and Jeff are using the philosophical method. So too they would have been using the scientific method if instead of that argument Tom had said “well, let’s see which it is. If it is made with egg whites then it would have x calorties per serving, if egg yokes then y calories. How many calories per serving does classic Hollandaise sauce have? X? Well then, there you are”. Does this mean they are doing science? I don’t think so, but they are using the scientific method. So also in your example I think they are using the philosophical method, though they may not be doing philosophy. Of course, I am also inclinded to say that they are doing philosophy, since using the method, but it is just really boring philosophy…

  13. And when Callicles objects to ‘philosophy’ I take it that he means the Socratic-pie-in-the-sky kind of moral theory, not the use of argument as a source for justification of beliefs.

    This would be a big difference; I don’t think Callicles is interested in justification of beliefs at all. Beliefs don’t have to be justified: some are revealed by nature (those are the beliefs of the superior) and the rest are just ‘tricks and charms’ of the inferior, no matter what arguments back them up. Clever and intelligent men don’t sit around arguing or ‘whispering in corners with boys’ as he calls it once; they do what they want and get what they want. Callicles is very explicit about the reason he is arguing with Socrates; he thinks Socrates is grandstanding and that Gorgias and Polus foolishly let themselves be outwitted by him. When Socrates starts doing the same thing to him, he simply stops arguing. Likewise, one of the features of the Gorgias that we know goes back to Socrates himself (because it is mentioned in non-Platonic sources) is that Socrates ultimately claims to defend his view of justice not by argument but by his living a life of justice. In that sense, I don’t think the Gorgias can be seen as ending badly: it is precisely this contrast that we get at the end of the Gorgias, between the kind of life advocated by people like Callicles, who are the sort will end up dragging someone like Socrates into court and guaranteeing that he dies, and the kind of life advocated by Socrates, who thinks nothing terrible can happen to a genuinely good man.

    I don’t think there is any ‘scientific method’, any more than a ‘philosophical method’, so the analogy in your last paragraph doesn’t help any. But by your criterion, it seems to me, ‘philosophy’ simply becomes a redundant word; it just means ‘having something or other to do with reasoning’. That’s well and good, but then we need words for what everyone else means by ‘philosophy’….
    :)

  14. Well, like I said, we disagree on how to read the Gorgias. I see Callicles as involved inexactly what you say he is not but even so not much hangs on it. Whether you want to call what Callicles is doing philosophy or not, surely Zeno and Democritus are doing it!

    “But by your criterion, it seems to me, ‘philosophy’ simply becomes a redundant word; it just means ‘having something or other to do with reasoning’. That’s well and good, but then we need words for what everyone else means by ‘philosophy’….”

    No, it means something much more specific than that. It means being committed to argument as a source of the justification (or lack thereof) of beliefs. If that is not what everyone else means, then it should be…but I guess if you really want a word for what you mean by ‘philosophy’ I guess it would be ‘histo-sociology’ by which I mean that the way you use the word it seems to be nothing more than being in a certain historical lineage or belonging to a group of such people. By your own admission, most of the people who do philosophy today would not count as doing philosophy according to you (I mean people like Dan Dennett, Ned Block, John Searle, etc)

  15. No, you’ve misread me entirely, particularly as you represent me in the last sentence (which is so absurdly contrary to my actual view that I hardly know where to begin in response to it). We are not talking about ‘historical lineages’ or ‘belonging to a group'; the question, as far as that goes is whether we are going to use the word ‘philosophy’ (1) in a way that is useful (I still don’t think yours is, being way too broad to be useful for anything); (2) that recognizes the historical facts of philosophy as a movement (which I think yours ignores); and (3) allows us to make the right value judgments by making sense, for instance, of the Socratics being more properly philosophical than the Sophists (which I don’t think yours does, since it forces us into the perverse situation of reading the Sophists as at least as philosophical as, and perhaps more philosophical than, Socrates; particularly since your reading of Callicles requires attributing to him exactly the two things he criticizes Socrates for: philosophy and refuting).

    There is no point in the entire comments thread above at which you can say “by my own admission” most people doing philosophy today don’t count as doing philosophy; I said nothing of the sort. The closest I said to anything remotely like it was in my comment that in terms of method philosophy done today is mostly closer to the way the Sophists worked than Socrates; which is just straightforwardly true. Since I’ve already said I think defining philosophy by ‘method’ is a non-starter to begin with, this obviously has no implications for who counts as a philosopher. Dennet et al. are clearly more in the Socratic tradition than the Gorgian, and in a far more robust way than a shared commitment to the notion that good arguments for a claim are reasons to believe it (a notion that does not divide philosophers from nonphilosophers but reasonable people from complete idiots — with regard to your claim about it’s being more specific than just ‘something to do with reasoning’, do you think that any reasoning doesn’t involve the presumption that an argument for a claim, if good, is a reason to believe it?). Your suggested characterization of philosophy, I would suggest, trivializes what these people do, making it ‘philosophical’ not by hard work of good habits of reason and intellectual discipline, but by setting the bar so low that even an argument about the ingredients of Hollandaise sauce counts as philosophical.

  16. “No, you’ve misread me entirely, particularly as you represent me in the last sentence (which is so absurdly contrary to my actual view that I hardly know where to begin in response to it).

    So, you think that Dennett is concerned with justice and truth? Harmann? Graham Priest? Kripke? In fact of all of the philosopherso of the last century only Russell seems to count as actually being a philosopher. You may not have said that, but doesn’t it follow from the claims you made? Namely, the claim that it is the ends that matter and that in paticular it was the ends of Socrates that mattered. This Aristotelean view about how to demark a discipline results in excluding most if not all contemporary philosophers from being philosophers.

    “We are not talking about ‘historical lineages’ or ‘belonging to a group’”

    So, when you said “what distinguishes philosophy is its tradition: namely, that it is in the tradition of Socrates rather than the Sophists” you didn’t mean it?

    “the question, as far as that goes is whether we are going to use the word ‘philosophy’ (1) in a way that is useful (I still don’t think yours is, being way too broad to be useful for anything)”

    It is useful for distinguishing philosophy from other kinds of methods for achieving justification for belief, like for instance divine revelation…

    “(2) that recognizes the historical facts of philosophy as a movement (which I think yours ignores);”

    Well, I disagree. I think it actually takes better account of the historical facts of philosophy as a movement; a movement that began with Thales NOT Socrates.

    “and (3) allows us to make the right value judgments by making sense, for instance, of the Socratics being more properly philosophical than the Sophists (which I don’t think yours does, since it forces us into the perverse situation of reading the Sophists as at least as philosophical as, and perhaps more philosophical than, Socrates; particularly since your reading of Callicles requires attributing to him exactly the two things he criticizes Socrates for: philosophy and refuting).

    This is clearly question begging. “the right value judgement” is exactly what we are disputing. But as I have said there is a political sense of ‘philosopher’ in which it would be wrong to apply the term to Callicles, but this is not how the word is used anymore.

    “Your suggested characterization of philosophy, I would suggest, trivializes what these people do, making it ‘philosophical’ not by hard work of good habits of reason and intellectual discipline, but by setting the bar so low that even an argument about the ingredients of Hollandaise sauce counts as philosophical.”

    Well, I just don’t understand why you say this at all.The way I have it makes it precisely the case that good philosophy is the work of “good habits of reason and intellectual discipline”. But I do not see philosophy as some grandiose thing that only Socrates can do. The philosophical method is just a way to answer questions, nothing more, nothing less. Just like the scientific method is simply a way to test hypotheses nothing more nothing less. These methods have been used by people forever, they are really nothing new. Of course in the example you gave there is nothing interesting concluded but still we are bound, by the method, to accept the conclsion if we accept the premises. This may yeild uninteresting results when applied to the hollandaise case, but it certainly isn’t uninteresting in other cases; cases involving truth and justice. But there isn’t anything special about these kinds of questions. What is special is the method. I just can’t see how the extreme usefullness of this method is supposed to count against it.

  17. In fact of all of the philosopherso of the last century only Russell seems to count as actually being a philosopher.

    I have no idea what’s underlying this very negative view of the ends of contemporary philosophical inquiry; I would say the past century has been very inconsistent, but even I wouldn’t go this far, and I am not a fan of most of it. I think that if you asked Dennett if any of his work was intended to contribute to justice and knowledge of the truth, he’d be pretty adamant that at least some of it was. That I disagree about whether it is usually successful on either point wouldn’t lead me to say that Dennett is primarily motivated by a will to power rather than an interest in what is true (the latter being something that he well recognizes he can’t redefine to be more convenient).

    Moreover, I’ve already said that (1) there are other ends than justice and truth — it’s simply handy to talk of those because they are the obvious and paradigmatic cases; (2) this notion of philosophy, unlike yours admits of more and less, and also admits of partial cases; and (3) even people who are not philosophers in the most proper sense can be given the name philosophers by analogy, where they happen incidentally to have similarities to the more paradigmatic cases. Unlike you, I don’t think there is a univocal way of characterizing philosophy; I think trying to characterize philosophy univocally, e.g., by one method, ends up mischaracterizing the historical facts about how philosophy has developed from the very beginning. Philosophy is a very big family of very different approaches to the world; some of these are more distant and some are less distant from the root stock; some are family in one way but not in another way. The reason for holding up the Socratics is not that only Socratics can be philosophers (I explicitly said that it didn’t have to be the Socratics when I first raised the point) but that due to their circumstances they were forced to differentiate themselves as philosophers more sharply, in opposition to the Sophists, and thereby became extraordinarily eminent examples of philosophy (and have usually been recognized as such).

    There is, of course, nothing question-begging about the ‘right value judgment’ point; to claim that Callicles is as philosophical as, or more philosophical than, Socrates is a sign of not knowing what one is talking about on the subject. Your basic position, it should be pointed out, is not committed to it; the only thing that commits you to it is your interpretation of Callicles, which is entirely contrary to the explicit claims Callicles makes. And I have pointed out several reasons for thinking this (what Callicles actually says, for instance). (Callicles is not using ‘philosopher’ in the political sense — he is very explicit that the problem with philosophers is precisely that they waste time arguing rather than focusing on more important things like gaining renown — so that whole point is irrelevant.)

    It seems to me, with regard to your last paragraph, that you are simply changing the division that is usually treated as the dividing line between philosophy and non-philosophy to a dividing line between ‘uninteresting philosophy’ and ‘interesting philosophy'; and rather than making it a division of practice, you make it a division of your personal taste. I, on the other hand, would rather argue the ingredients of Hollandaise sauce than the extraordinarily uninteresting arguments of Ned Block, but I would still consider the latter important because it is philosophy, and the former lacking this particular type of importance, because on my view whether something is important doesn’t depend on whether it conforms to my taste.

    I’m also not clear on how this is supposed to be a ‘method’. “A good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe p” isn’t a method; it’s a truism. If it weren’t in any way, shape, or form, a reason to believe p, we wouldn’t consider it a good argument for p. Commitment to this claim isn’t a method; it’s just the opposite of utter stupidity.

  18. I’m also not clear on how this is supposed to be a ‘method’. “A good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe p” isn’t a method; it’s a truism. If it weren’t in any way, shape, or form, a reason to believe p, we wouldn’t consider it a good argument for p. Commitment to this claim isn’t a method; it’s just the opposite of utter stupidity.

    Hey Brandon, I just reread this last comment of yours and noticed the last point here (sorry, you may not even be paying attention to this anymore…) which strikes me as a very strange criticism. By this reasoning the scientific method wouldn’t count as a methos wither. That we should test a hypothesis with experiments seems as much a truism as my claim about arguments. The fact that commitment to the philosophical method is just the opposite of stupidity argues for the value of the method, not against it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s