[FOM] methodological thesis

Harvey Friedman friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Thu May 1 03:58:22 EDT 2008

Here are replies to Studtmann, Heck, and Chow, whom I thank for  

On Apr 30, 2008, at 10:11 AM, Studtmann, Paul wrote:

> Just two quick questions about this thesis.  How would you formalize  
> the concept of philosophical progress?  If the concept of  
> philosophical progress cannot be properly formalized, does it not  
> follow by your thesis that your thesis does not represent  
> philosophical progress?

In the THESIS, I wrote "intellectual progress". I wrote "philosophical  
progress" later in the posting, in error.

Intellectual progress is a basic concept that transcends  
"philosophical progress" and "mathematical progress" and "scientific  
progress", etcetera.

The putting forward of that THESIS in my posting does represent  
intellectual progress. Of course, it is an extremely short P rather  
than any kind of Q. Obviously if it is elaborated properly by my  
standards - something I certainly haven't done - then it would become  
a Q. It would have, among other things, lots of examples of mine and  
others, where Q's supplant P's.

On Apr 30, 2008, at 11:08 AM, Richard Heck wrote:

> The only difference seems to be the restriction "represents  
> intellectual
> progress" in the Thesis. So it looks as if the stronger thesis is that
> formal methods are applicable where there is no intellectual progress.
> So the weaker thesis is just that formal methods are applicable to  
> every
> philosophical problem where there is a possibility of intellectual
> progress. Or am I missing something?

I am not fully comfortable with the phrase "formal methods" but don't  
have a good short substitute. I prefer to use "systemizations". Formal  
methods have already gotten an unfair reputation. It is incredibly  
more varied, deeper, and more powerful, than what is normally done  
under its banner.

With that caveat about the phrase "formal methods", I would  
reformulate your restatement replacing "there is a possibility of"  
with "there has been".

> Counterexample 1: John Rawls, /Theories of Justice/
> Counterexample 2: Peter Strawson, /Individuals/
> Counterexample 3: Willard Van Orman Quine, /Word and Object
> /Counterexample 4: Thomas Kuhn, /The Structure of Scientific  
> Revolutions/
> Counterexample 5: Saul Kripke, /Wittgenstein on Rules and Private  
> Language/
> Counterexample 6: Saul Kripke, /Naming and Necessity/
> Counterexample 7: David Hume, /A Treatise of Human Nature/
> Counterexample 8: Immanuel Kant, /A Critique of Pure Reason/
> I can't think of any formal systematization of the insights in these
> books that would "fully subsume" them. That is absolutely not to say
> that formal work can't be inspired by them, or important to the
> assimilation and development of the insights contained in those books.
> But it is asking far too much of formal methods to ask them to do all
> the work.
I haven't the slightest idea why you would think that any of these  
works are counterexamples. Can you give us just some sample insights  
from some of these that constitute intellectual progress, but which  
you think are not subsumable with appropriate systematizations  
combined with a relatively small amount of prose? I don't mean "no  

On Apr 30, 2008, at 1:56 PM, Timothy Y. Chow wrote:
> This looks to me like a proposed *definition* of "intellectual  
> progress"
> rather than a "thesis."

As I said earlier, in my response to Studtmann, "intellectual  
progress" is a basic prior concept.

It is of course an interesting challenge to go deeply into its meaning  
- both theoretically and in practice.
> The Declaration of Independence could be considered a "philosophical
> paper" that "represents intellectual progress," but its significance  
> has
> to do with the time and place of its formulation and its impact on  
> human
> history, so I do not think it makes sense to "subsume" it by a text  
> that
> exists in platonic eternity, dissociated from the particular social
> context of its composition.

This is quite different. This document is not a paper in the sense  
that I am talking about. It is primarily an event. As a piece of  
political philosophy only, I believe that it is not a counterexample.
> In other cases, a paper may represent progress because it is written
> especially clearly or compellingly, even though the ideas that it
> elucidates are, in some sense, contained in previous documents.  The
> formal nature of Q would necessarily mean that its expository value  
> could
> not supplant the expository value of P.

Again, quite different. I could reformulate the THESIS so that I am  
using only a careful notion of paper. But I don't think we need to do  
this in order to join the serious methodological issue.
> The above "counterexamples" can be eliminated by saying that this  
> kind of
> "progress" is not what was intended by the phrase "intellectual  
> progress."
> That is why I see the "THESIS" as really a definition of that term.

I do not agree that the THESIS is a definition of intellectual  
progress. I think that the THESIS is formulated decently enough  
(obviously it can be improved) to join the serious methodological  

Harvey Friedman 

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