[FOM] methodological thesis

Richard Heck rgheck at brown.edu
Wed Apr 30 11:08:51 EDT 2008

Harvey Friedman 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.
> 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.
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?

> 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.
Apparently, I'm not missing something.

> 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.
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/

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.

With that said, I'd even add:

Counterexample 6: Saul Kripke, /Naming and Necessity/

And of course, it would have been even easier to list these:

Counterexample 7: David Hume, /A Treatise of Human Nature/
Counterexample 8: Immanuel Kant, /A Critique of Pure Reason/

Additional counterexamples are easy enough to generate. They don't even 
have to be books.

Richard Heck

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