[FOM] methodological thesis

Harvey Friedman friedman at math.ohio-state.edu
Tue Apr 29 13:13:11 EDT 2008

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.

Note that this THESIS is subtly different from the stronger THESIS  
that I am *NOT* putting forward: that formal methods are applicable to  
every problem in philosophy.

Basically, I am saying that philosophical progress of any real kind is  
always followed, or is realistically follow-able, by formal, or  
formally systemized, progress.

Most philosophers believe (or would believe if they looked into it)  
that what I do is not philosophy. On the contrary, what I do is  
appropriately viewed as philosophy of type Q, that subsumes any type P  
philosophy that does or could have preceded it.

In other words, I omit writing the P papers, keeping their essence in  
my head, to be used to create Q papers. Only the Q papers are then  

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

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