[FOM] definition of and progress in philosophy
lancem at georgetown.edu
Sun Mar 18 22:03:05 EDT 2007
"The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how
things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in
the broadest possible sense of the term. Under "things in the
broadest possible sense" I include such radically different items as
not only 'cabbages and kings', but numbers and duties, possibilities
and finger smaps, aesthetic experience and death. To achieve success
in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to
'know one's way around' with respect to all these things, not in that
unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way
around before it faced the question, 'how do I walk', but in that
reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred."
Wilfrid Sellars ("Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man")
Sellars, I think, is basically correct. Philosophy seeks
understanding in the broadest sense. As such it is the generator of
new ways of thinking, new things to think about, new ideas about what
goes in various regions of reality, and how regions relate. WHen
something gets well enough developed philosophically that it amounts
to a detailed substantive view of something, of some region of
everything, others who are not interested in the synoptic vision take
this specific bit up and run with it. Philosophers let them,
happily, and move on to what remains obscure, speculative, or just
hard. (And then smile to themselves when technicians make snarky
comments about the lack of precision in philosophical thinking about
undeveloped and previously undreamt of connections.)
Progress in philosophy? Here's a few inventions:
democratic theory, political science generally, sociology, logic
cognitive science, psychology generally, natural science, physics in
particular, decision theory, linguistics, ...
More or less everything -- interestingly with the possible, and
arguable, exception of non-foundational mathematics.
The interesting question here is what the next big spin-off will be.
(I have a couple guesses, but that's for a book more than a post.
Professor of philosophy
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