"Philosophy is disfunctional" - Hallq

by bohm 27 Replies latest jw friends

  • bohm

    Philosophy is disfunctional


    I’m now convinced that, as an academic discipline, philosophy is dysfunctional. The source of the problem is that, as Peter van Inwagen once said, “Philosophers do not agree about anything to speak of.” (Some philosophers might not agree with him about this, but from what I’ve seen, van Inwagen is right–see also some hard data here).

    When I say this causes problems, I don’t mean that for philosophy to become functional we need to force philosophers to agree somehow. That would do more harm than good. But the lack of agreement among philosophers still causes problems. Most obviously, it makes philosophy not so useful to non-philosophers, since they can’t figure out what to believe based on expert consensus. But it also encourages perverse behavior by philosophers.

    Here’s why: while philosophers pride themselves on caring about producing good arguments and getting at the truth, if they don’t agree what arguments are good or what the truth is, they can’t reward each other for doing either of those things. So philosophers aren’t under any pressure to get anything important right, and I don’t think they’re under any significant pressure to actually produce good arguments. What they are under pressure to demonstrate cleverness, and demonstrate being in tune with philosophical fads and cliques.

    Pressure to be clever is a problem because clever does not equal right. Clever can be the enemy of right. As a very wise contributor to Less Wrong once said: “Any idiot can tell you why death is bad, but it takes a very particular sort of idiot to believe that death might be good.” So if you’re worried about being mistaken for just any idiot, take the position that any idiot can see is wrong.

    Consider an example that seems too silly to be real. If I hold up two fingers and ask “how many fingers am I holding up?” saying “two” will not demonstrate cleverness. It only shows that you are conscious, speak English, and can see straight. If you want to be clever, you might say something like, “I don’t know how many fingers you’re holding up, because who really knows anything, anyway?”

    Not that that’s actually a very clever answer. It’s sophomoric. But consider this answer: “The problem of external world skepticism has yet to be adequately addressed by philosophers. Many contemporary philosophers simply dismiss it, but I think these dismissals fail to adequately grapple with it, or even understand the real nature of the problem. However, I also believe that recent work in philosophy has made considerable progress towards solving the problem.” There, now we’re talking. So much better than just saying “two.”

    The problem is especially bad when it comes to publishing. As one of my professors at Notre Dame once remarked, there is no such thing as the journal of one-sentence dissents. So, you might be able to publish a paper that develops a complex argument premised on the claim that p, even if your only support for p is to claim that there’s a philosophical consensus that p. However, there is no place where you can publish a short paragraph that says, “here are some prominent philosophers that think not-p, so there’s hardly a consensus and p needs some other support.”

    In other words, it is sometimes easier to publish a complex argument with one glaring flaw, than it is to publish something that succinctly and decisively points out the flaw. And because “publish or perish” is the rule in academia, this means philosophers have an incentive to spend more formulating complex arguments that may or may not have real merit, and not much incentive to point out obvious flaws in other people’s arguments.

    Incidentally, this also you can’t trust major philosophy journals to have all the best arguments on both sides of a philosophical issue. For example, many of contributors to this book and this book do an excellent job of pointing out the problems with William Lane Craig’s moral argument, but you’ll never see those criticisms in a “serious” journal article, because they’re so utterly obvious. For the same reason, you can’t assume that the academics who’ve published on an issue are the ones you should listen to.

    Now, Craig isn’t the best example, since the specific flavor of terrible that is his moral argument is unusual in philosophy. So instead, let me quote something I said in a blog post written more than a year ago about respected philosopher Lawrence BonJour (note that in retrospect, I think this post was the beginning of the end of my career as a philosophy grad student):

    In his book on the subject, In Defense of Pure Reason, he surprisingly only devotes a couple of pages to what he calls his main arguments. This was accompanied by a bold declaration that his arguments are so obvious that he doesn’t understand why they haven’t been more influential. In the precis of the book he wrote for the Philosophy and Phenomenological Research symposium on it, he summarizes his arguments in a couple of paragraphs that don’t quite match the arguments presented in the original book, and finally in his response to criticisms made by contributors to the symposium, BonJour admits he didn’t initially have a clear idea of what he was trying to say.

    Again, the trouble is that there’s no glory in pointing this out, while BonJour’s book manages to be fairly impressive in spite of the main arguments being muddled. Meaning, this is a case where “good arguments” and “will enhance a philosopher’s status” fail to correlate.

    Though I’m less sure about this, I suspect the lack of any real consensus among philosophers explains some of the cliquishness of contemporary academic philosophy. Lack of agreement creates a vacuum to be filled by cliques that seem to think only their own opinion counts when determining the verdict of enlightened philosophical opinion. That, and showing you’re hip to this fad or that clique’s shibboleth is another way of showing cleverness.

  • botchtowersociety

    Your post is an epic pile of philosphizing bullshit.

  • sabastious

    He disagrees with the existence of philosopher's disagreements. This is one of the most generalized conclusions I have heard in a while. Philosophy is an intellectually safe place where there IS no right or wrong. If philosopher's start agreeing too much we call that religion!


  • Terry

    Philosophy is love of wisdom.

    It asks the question: "What do we know and how do we know it?"

    That cannot be dysfunctional.

    The approach can be.

    Understanding, first of all, that we tackle a problem by first defining it saves you a lot of trouble.

    Perhaps you should have started there.

  • bohm

    BTS: I think i will file that in meta...

    seb: " Philosophy is an intellectually safe place where there IS no right or wrong. ". i think that is his point exactly.

    terry: well, that may be true -- but i think many see philosphy as a way to draw sound conclusions about the world, including philosphers, and i see his critisism in that light.

  • sabastious
    seb: "Philosophy is an intellectually safe place where there IS no right or wrong. ". i think that is his point exactly.
    I’m now convinced that, as an academic discipline, philosophy is dysfunctional.

    Anyone who calls philosophy an "acedemic discipline" misses the foundation and central reasoning for philosophy's existence: that there truly are no conclusions because anything can potentially be on the chopping block when new information comes to be. Just because we can get a degree in it does not make it a discipline.


  • bohm

    sab, you are free to define words any way you like, but to be fair you should properly prefix your objection with the words: "I choose to use the word philosophy in an entirely different way than everyone else, and with that definition he is wrong".

    An academic discipline, or field of study, is a branch of knowledge that is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined (in part), and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties to which their practitioners belong.

    Fields of study usually have several sub-disciplines or branches, and the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous. [ 1


  • sabastious
    sab, you are free to define words any way you like, but to be fair you should properly prefix your objection with the words: "I choose to use the word philosophy in an entirely different way than everyone else, and with that definition he is wrong".

    Perhaps you are right that I have my own definition.

    In order to TEACH something some sort of curriculum must be constructed, correct? In order to construct a curriculum we must have some sort of order to the data we have collected. Philosophy has a truly open ended curriculum and data collection process and should be placed in a very different academic category than, say, Algebra or History.

    What you and I have uncovered here is a miscategorization of philosophy, but where do you categorize something that, by definition, cannot really be categorized? How do you teach it? That sounds like something philosophy can answer!


  • unshackled

    Not to spin your thread off topic bohm...but thought I'd add that Stephen Hawking says philosophy is dead...in fact, those are the first words in his book The Grand Design. He goes on to say:

    "Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge."

  • bohm

    sab: I dont see how the categorization in wikipedia is connected with how functional or disfunctional philosophy is as an academic disipline... i think his argument has to do with the kind of attitude which he see in philosophical work.

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