[FOM] methodological thesis

Rupert McCallum rupertmccallum at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 30 01:23:12 EDT 2008

--- Harvey Friedman <friedman at math.ohio-state.edu> wrote:

> I would like to discuss a methodological issue related to philosophy.
> THESIS. Suppose that a philosophical paper P, in any part of  
> philosophy, consisting of informal prose, without new formalisms or  
> new theorems or new formal conjectures, represents intellectual  
> progress. Then there exists a paper Q with the following properties.
> 1. Q focuses on associated new formal definitions, new formalisms,
> new  
> formal conjectures, and new theorems.
> 2. Q has a relatively small amount of informal prose.
> 3. Q can be written using the current level of practice in formal  
> methods and foundational thinking.
> 4. P is fully subsumed by Q.


> Proposed COUNTEREXAMPLES to this thesis would be greatly appreciated.
> The challenge to me would be to subsume the proposed P paper into the
> subsuming Q paper.
> Harvey Friedman

You say "any part of philosophy", so that gets me thinking about
examples in normative ethics. (Perhaps this isn't a part of philosophy
:) ). Shelley Kagan's "The Limits of Morality" attempts to say
something about the question of whether what he calls "moral
constraints and options" can be justified, and Peter Unger's "Living
High and Letting Die" attempts to say something about the question of
how extensive our obligations are towards people in the poorest parts
of the world. They strike me as representing intellectual progress in
the sense that they present interesting arguments that deserve serious
consideration. But doing a subsuming Q paper; well, I'd be interested
in what that would look like.

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