Agnes Callard on why there is progress in philosophy

Here is her take, here is one excerpt:

Instead of gauging progress by asking what “we” philosophers agree about, one should ask whether someone who wants to do philosophy is in a better position to do so today than she would’ve been 10 or 100 or 1000 years ago?  The answer is: certainly.

And:

But if philosophical thinking is getting better and better—more precise, truthful, articulate, deep—why should we still read Aristotle or Maimonides?   The reason we need to do the history of philosophy is precisely that philosophy has made massive amounts of progress in Tyler’s sense of the word: it has filtered into, shaped and organized commonsense, ordinary thought.  Indeed, it constitutes much of that thought.

And:

So you are pretty much constantly thinking thoughts that, in one way or another, you inherited from philosophers. You don’t see it, because philosophical exports are the kinds of thing that, once you internalize them, just seem like the way things are. So the reason to read Aristotle isn’t (just) that he’s a great philosopher, but that he’s colonized large parts of your mind.

Finally:

It is not the point of philosophy to end philosophy, to ‘solve’ the deep questions so that people can stop thinking about them.  It is the point of people to think about these questions, and the job of philosophers to rub their faces in that fact.  Of all of philosophy’s achievements, perhaps the greatest one is just sticking around in the face of the fact that, from day one, anyone who has plumbed the depths of our ambitions has either joined us or … tried to silence, stop or kill us.  This is an “old debate” indeed.

There is much more at the link.  And here is my original post on the topic.  Here is my earlier Conversation with Agnes Callard.

Comments

"You don’t see it, because philosophical exports are the kinds of thing that, once you internalize them, just seem like the way things are."

OK, so what new ideas have philosophers given the world since 1960 (six decades) that we have internalized and don't give philosophers credit for?

60 years is too soon to tell. The idea has to migrate from the academy to the intellectual leaders to the broader intelligent and educated folk then to the beepeur and the beepeuse (checkout folk). Each move can take a couple of generations. However, Roger Scruton’s analysis of sexual desire might be on track to have such an effect. Or David Wiggins’ re-imagining of elements of Nicomachean ethics.

Modal logic might well also answer your question. Saul Kripke’s work includes relevant candidates that may meet your criteria, in due course.

I was just going to add that there may be breakthroughs in logic that I wouldn't know about (and highly doubt I'd understand them.) Why isn't 60 years long enough?

Why isn’t 60 years long enough? See my answer above. 60 years is quick. In Ireland it’s taken 2000 years to stop the Church of Rome, an institution in which all the officeers are exclusively of the male sex, dictating what women can do with their bodies.

In Ireland it’s taken 2000 years to stop the Church of Rome, an institution in which all the officeers are exclusively of the male sex, dictating what women can do with their bodies.

No, it's taken two-thousand years to manufacture a world addle-pated enough that murder-for-hire is conceptualized as an exercise of personal autonomy, tarted up with rhetorical flourishes like 'what women can do with their body'. It's also a reasonable wager that the vast majority of academic philosophers are pleased with this. Which is why you shouldn't take academic philosophers seriously.

Or indeed take oneself too seriously.

Why isn’t 60 years long enough? See my answer above. 60 years is quick. In Ireland it’s taken 2000 years to stop the Church of Rome, an institution in which all the officers are exclusively of the male sex, dictating what women can do with their bodies.

and men, Epi. the Church, quite famously, teaches morality, which has direct consequences on what women, and men, can do with their bodies (if they listen to the "Church of Rome"). That you've fallen for this formulation "what women can do with their bodies", suggests you are "progressive", which might be why you need to believe in progress in philosophy. Belief though, does still require evidence.

Nagel and his bat.
Searle and his Chinese Room.
Maybe Nozick.

Searle's Chinese Room argument was refuted a long time ago.

Interesting. When and by whom? I’d like to read up on that.

I find Dennet's responses fairly persuasive, although I can't remember where he made them. He argued that the brute intuition motivating Searle's argument is much less compelling if you consider that the room would need to be larger than the size of the know universe and take billions of years to process a few sentences.

The notion of paradigms and paradigm shifts comes immediately to mind.

And more generally the realization that scientific research is a human activity, and thus social. Although the people who realize that are likely to also give credit to philosophers.

Thomas Kuhn wrote his book in 1961/1962 so barely meets the requirement of post 1960 but then again his PhD was in physics and seen as a historian at the time. He wasn't part of academic philosophy.

More importantly, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions has been criticized by physicists including Steven Weinberg and David Deutsche, claiming Kuhn's description of scientific debate was wrong: At all levels of receiving new information, physicists argue fiercely and the growing evidence is why they change their minds over time. There is no social aspect that plays a significant role.

James Comey is a Cuck!

I recently took an Ancient Philosophy course focused on Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the pre-Socratics. I saw zero evidence of any criticism of those ideas from a modern perspective. The experience reinforced my view that philosophy is largely bunk.

By “no criticism”, do you mean to say that those ancient ideas are now embedded in everyday assumptions?

I see this (popular philosophy) booklet as a sign of progress in philosophy:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/oct/30/why-world-does-not-exist-markus-gabriel-review

It's a refreshing mixture of analytic and continental thinking. And it mostly uses modern philosophy to comment on older ideas (Kant, Hegel etc.) that the author finds indefensible from the modern position.

And the author has also an interesting view on progress: he states that progress is not only possible in science, but also in art, literature and even skateboarding (I agree). If you also include progress in sports you can see that progress can mean: higher achievements, new discoveries but also increased variety and novelty. When talking about philosophy, which type of progress do we mean?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Why-World-Does-Not-Exist-ebook/dp/B01176Q4Y6/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

If that is the best defense that can be made for philosophy ... well, I guess we have our answer of Tyler’s post.

Progress in 18th century philosophy: Kant's discovery of the limitations of human reason. Rousseau's analysis of man and society as non-rational beings.

Progress in 19th century philosophy: Nietzsche's discovery that post-Kantian thought ultimately leads to nihilism.

Progress in 20th century philosophy: Wittgenstein shows that language limits the range of philosophical (esp. metaphysical) discourse. Strauss discovers the pre-modern world i.e. monotheisms and ancient Greek rationalism as alternatives to modernity.

21st century progress in philosophy: too early to say.

"anyone who has plumbed the depths of our ambitions has either joined us or … tried to silence, stop or kill us."
Wait, are the baristas trying to kill philosophers? Really though, philosophy has one of the highest ratios of people that seriously studied it to people actively engaged in it of any discipline.

The contemporary philosopher Maureen Dowd makes the point that there's nothing left to believe in now that so-called tech is being exposed for the con that it is (Grifters Gone Wild is the title of her latest column). Vaporware, indeed! Of course, religion has been on a downward slide since the Beatles. Government has been the subject of ridicule since Ronald Reagan. Now people hate the media, they hate education, they even hate the FBI. There's no institution left. Maybe Moses was nothing more than a con artist. Maybe the ancient philosophers were nothing more than con artists. Maybe Jesus was nothing more than a con artist. Maybe the Founders were nothing more than con artists. Maybe the industrialists were nothing more than con artists. Maybe the bankers were nothing more than con artists. Maybe the boy wonders (and the single girl wonder) are nothing more than con artists. Maybe Trump is not an aberration, and all presidents (Washington, Lincoln, the whole lot) have been nothing more than con artists. Where's the savior when you need Him (or Her)? Maybe the philosopher Peter Thiel is right, and Trump is the savior, who will light the fuse and blow it all up, so we will have hope that what comes next will be better than what's been. Of course, every good con needs . . . . suckers!

You have the right to your opinions. And, I was somewhat "okay" with your dissing of Jesus, Moses, Thiel, Trump. But, going after Washington is far beyond the pale.

"Contemporary philosopher" threw me off kilter enough that I didn't remember who Maureen Dowd was until I found the article. Good one.

You might enjoy this, which seems based on an essay by contemporary philosopher Galen Strawson:

http://tablet.oakpark.com/News/Articles/5-22-2018/Ego-and-pride-are-no-match-for-chance-and-luck/

Interesting that Libertarians are broken out in that underlying essay, and tied to the idea of determinism.

https://www.naturalism.org/philosophy/free-will/luck-swallows-everything

Here's Ross Douthat on the everybody hates everybody culture that is ours. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/26/opinion/sunday/free-speech-nfl-protests-trump.html His solution? Shut up, already! It's an updated version of the philosophers' dictum that if you are not part of the solution, you must be part of the problem.

Where is the Trump diss?

OK, there's progress - let's say I accept this as fact. But is it quantifiable? Is it measurable? And if it is - what is the metrics? Philisophers can't tell us forever that "we are a different kind of science - we don't have those kind of things".

Short answer, no. Not important. And when I last checked, the physicists hadn’t yet worked out the exact value of the Dirac number. Not all important things can be quantified. For exsmple love ks important, but only a fool would bother to try to quantify it. And innany case, how is progress in a natural science quantified? It isn’t. No one argues that Newton and Leibniz’s calculus was one unit of progress and Gödel’s incompleteness theorem was 63% of a unit. No one cares to prove that the discovery of Telomeres was exactly half (or thrice) as valuable as the discovery of the malleus, the incus and the stapes or the cochlea. Perhaps a few econometricians measure the progress of their discipline quantitatively.

The Higgs boson particle was shown to exist a few years ago so there has been a clear advance in particle physics within the past 60 years.

Indeed. Apologies if I misunderstood, but I had thought the challenge was to quantify progress.

I'd like to know Robin Hanson's take on philosophy having "colonized large parts of your mind".

I think "colonized" has a somewhat unusual technical meaning in philosophy. Originally, it was a biological term that referred to the processes in the colon whereby waste material is turned into sh/t. Philosophers then extended it metaphorically, to refer to the intellectual processes whereby crap ideas are produced. Hence, when Callard says that Aristotle colonized your mind, she means that he turned you into a sh/t-for-brains.

This is fine. By that I mean this is excellent in terms of internal consistency and internal valuation.

But my mind goes back the times I've heard people say "we shouldn't ask economists (etc.) this question, we should ask philosophers."

Well, they have to be interested in the question.

More evidence that "what is truth" is a hot topic with the public, at a nuts and bolts level:

https://twitter.com/kjhealy/status/1000731737989804032?s=19

"Of all of philosophy’s achievements . . . "

List and discuss. Asking for a friend.

>It is not the point of philosophy to end philosophy, to ‘solve’ the deep questions

Of course not! The very last thing we want is any kind of metrics associated with your paycheck. Talk about a nightmare. Almost a "standardized testing" level nightmare.

No, the goal here is to just keep paying you to sit around and pontificate, and create web links to other people who do the same thing, ad infinitum -- all while urgently declaring how important it is. Sort of like a "climate scientist."

1/3 correct, troll rejected.

"Progress" is the temporal myth sponsored by modernity's apologists that we live already, and incontestably so, in an irreversible future.

"Philosophy" itself we can valorize at least on an interim basis as "a muscular exercise of throat, jaw, tongue, and brain."

If academic philosophers are busy "believing" in "progress" in mid-2018 CE, they might profitably begin to address the subject of temporality, perhaps extrapolating Zeno's paradox to argue that temporality itself stands still.

Aristotle's contemporaries supported slavery, we don't. I am willing to call it progress even if we don't do exotic things such as drinking hot water, banning pork and worshipping cows.

And we’ve learnt that eating beans does not cause the souls of the departed to leave our bodies by the back door.

Rebecca Goldstein in *Plato at the Googleplex*:

"Philosophical progress is invisible because it is incorporated into our points of view. What was tortuously secured by complex argument becomes widely shared intuition, so obvious that we forget its provenance. We don’t see it, because we see with it."

That really doesn't square with a society worried that it might have gone "post-truth."

I love philosophy (especially the philosophy of law, or "jurisprudence"), but this statement in Callard's essay is pure nonsense:
<>

First, if philosophy has made progress, there is no reason the read the old masters like Aristotle or Aquinas. Instead, we read the old masters precisely because of the eternal (and unresolved) questions they originally posed. In short, we read them precisely because we have made so little, if any, progress in philosophy.

(Note: if we define philosophy as the posing of important questions, then I am certainly willing to say we have made progress.)

Secondly, the quote above presumes the conclusion that she is supposed to be trying to prove.

Here is the quote I was referring to as nonsense:
"But if philosophical thinking is getting better and better—more precise, truthful, articulate, deep—why should we still read Aristotle or Maimonides? The reason we need to do the history of philosophy is precisely that philosophy has made massive amounts of progress in Tyler’s sense of the word: it has filtered into, shaped and organized commonsense, ordinary thought."

Unimpressive argument that is mostly assertions as to what is most important. Lots of areas of philosophy are no longer part of philosophy because of the progress of science. No one for example would read Aristotle to understand the physical world. It would be interesting for someone, e.g., to consider how much of the philosophy of mind is left with the progress of cognitive science. Do people, for example, still read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason to get an understanding of the workings of the mind? What does each contribute? Would be more interesting for Callard to focus on something specific rather than making these empty generalizations.

It’s worse than “empty generalizations”; her arguments are conclusory (see above). On the question of progress in philosophy, here is a better place to start: http://consc.net/papers/progress.pdf

nice article, thanks for this information

Where has all the wisdom gone? Progress all depends on knowledge, experience and values. Do we have a duty to destroy the next generation?

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