[FOM] methodological thesis
Timothy Y. Chow
tchow at alum.mit.edu
Wed Apr 30 21:25:15 EDT 2008
Marcin Mostowski makes some excellent points. Let me note, however, that
he subtly shifted the topic from "intellectual progress" to "philosophical
value." If, as I suggested, we take Friedman's "THESIS" to be a
*definition* of "intellectual progress," then perhaps the real thesis to
be discussed is whether "intellectual progress," so defined, should be
equated with "philosophical value."
It seems clear to me that the answer is no. Gian-Carlo Rota had a lot to
say about this topic in his famous essay, "The pernicious influence of
mathematics upon philosophy" (reprinted in _Indiscrete_Thoughts_). I will
mention just one or two ideas here. Imprecision can be a positive virtue.
Even fans of intellectual progress in Friedman's sense may find certain
imprecise philosophical papers of great value, due to their suggestiveness
and fruitfulness. (This happens in mathematics, too: The terms "large
cardinal" and "sieve," to take just two examples, are most useful when
they are *not* defined precisely.) Failures can also have value, even
when the failures cannot be codified formally.
On Thu, 1 May 2008, Marcin Mostowski wrote:
> Richard Heck seemingly gives a few counterexamples.
> Counterexample 2: Peter Strawson, /Individuals/
> This example supports rather the Friedman thesis.
Indeed, it surprises me that Heck's picks were biased towards what we
might call "analytic philosophy," since analytic philosophers are the most
likely to agree with Friedman. Even if we put aside things like the
Communist Manifesto as being the "wrong kind of counterexample," something
like Hegel's "Phenomenology of Spirit" is surely a more promising
candidate. I don't think anybody, even the world's biggest fan of Hegel,
believes that there's any hope of extracting the "precise meaning" of this
text. Nevertheless it inspired a great deal of other philosophical work,
both pro-Hegelian and anti-Hegelian, and thus contributed indirectly to
intellectual progress in Friedman's sense.
Perhaps a more tenable thesis would be that the philosophical value
of a work of philosophy should be measured according to how much it
*contributes*---whether directly or indirectly, whether positively or
negatively---to intellectual progress in Friedman's sense. Even that
thesis is controversial, but at least it stands a chance of being
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