[FOM] methodological thesis

Timothy Y. Chow tchow at alum.mit.edu
Wed Apr 30 13:56:35 EDT 2008

Harvey Friedman wrote:

>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.  

This looks to me like a proposed *definition* of "intellectual progress" 
rather than a "thesis."

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.

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.

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.


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