Maverick Philosopher: In Praise of Blogosophy
by Bill Vallicella Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Philosophy is primarily an activity, not a body of doctrine. If you were to think of it as a body of doctrine, then you would have to say there is no philosophy, but only philosophies. For there is no one universally recognized body of doctrine called philosophy. The truth of course is one not many. And that is what the philosopher aims at: the one ultimate truth about the ultimate matters, including the ultimate truth about how we ought to live. But aiming at a target and hitting it are two different things. The target is one, but our many arrows have fallen short and in different places. And if you think that your favorite philosopher has hit the target of truth, why can't you convince the rest of us of that?
Disagreement does not of course prove the nonexistence of truth, but it does cast reasonable doubt on all claims to its possession. Philosophy aspires to sound, indeed incontrovertible, doctrine. But the quest for it has proven tough indeed. For all we know it may lie beyond our powers. Not that this gives us reason to abandon the quest. But it does give us reason to be modest and undogmatic.
Philosophy, then, is primarily an activity, a search, a quest. Somewhere deep in the bowels of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Kant remarks that "Philosophy cannot be taught, we can at most learn to philosophize." I agree. It cannot be taught because it does not exist as teachable doctrine. Philosophy is not something we profess, except perhaps secondarily; it is something we do. The best professors of philosophy are doers of philosophy.
How then should we do philosophy? Conversation face-to-face with the like-minded, intelligent, and sincere is useful but ephemeral and hard to arrange. Jetting off to conferences can be fun especially if the venue is exotic and the tab is picked up your department. But reading papers at conferences is pretty much a waste of time when it comes to actually doing productive philosophy. Can you follow a technical paper simply by listening to it? If you can you're smarter than me.
So we ought to consider the idea that philosophy in its purest form, its most productive form, is 'blogosophy,' philosophy pursued by weblog. And there is this in favor of it: blogging takes pressure off the journals. Working out my half-baked ideas here, I am less likely to submit material that is not yet ready for embalming in printer's ink. Posted at 09:32 AM in Blogging, Metaphilosophy Permalink
Philosophy, then, is primarily an activity, a search, a quest.
Independent philosopher Jeff Meyerhoff has a paper titled "Arguments beyond reason", where he says:
"It's commonly thought that once the participants in a rational discussion have exhausted all rational means of coming to agreement there is nothing more to do except to agree to disagree. By following a line of thought justified by current outcomes in contemporary analytic philosophy, I argue that there is a further investigation that rational discussants can pursue which is called for because our deeply held beliefs are held for non-rational rather than rational reasons. I further argue that this exploration into the basis of belief — rather than the belief itself — does, contrary to the genetic fallacy, affect truth and objectivity. While distasteful for most intellectuals to contemplate, the basis of individual beliefs in personal psychologies makes necessary the individual and joint exploration of the irrational"
One of the arguments used by Meyerhoff (to support his position) is:
"If we examine our reasons for believing what we believe beyond the reason-giving we do to defend our beliefs we find the animating core which motivates us to have the beliefs that we have and deploy the reasons that we do. The reasons we give for believing as we do are not the real reasons we believe because they always ultimately end in circularity, regress or assumptions. Since all belief-systems if pursued far enough will end in circularity, regress or assumptions we cannot say that reasons are what ultimately cause us to believe. There must be something else which causes us to adopt our particular chain of reasons or web of beliefs. Since in terms of their ultimate rational foundation our belief system is as good as an opposed belief-system, there must be something else which causes us to choose, and which holds us to, our particular belief-system. What is characteristic of us is not only the combination of beliefs we have woven together, since everyone does that with greater or lesser originality, but why we adhere to this, rather than that, belief-system. In our rational discussions there is a way in which we completely miss the point since it is not the reasons we are deploying that cause us to believe. If we are trying to convince another person or challenge our own beliefs then we should, for more efficiency, go to the source of the belief, which is the emotional and psychic need to have the world be the way we believe it is" http://www.philosophos.com/philosophy_article_96.html
As far I disagree with some of Meyerhoff's ideas, I think he's right about the "non-rational" motives of beliefs (including, philosophical beliefs). His thesis explain why highly brillant philosophers, discussing about the same problem, can't get a rational agreetment about it, according to the truth and the best arguments for it. But it rarely ocurrs.
Meyerhooff's thesis also explain David Lewis' assertion "philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively". The reason is that one position considered "decisively refuted" by many (e.g. substance dualism), isn't considered refuted by others (like Bill Vallicella, Edward Feser or a non-professional philosopher like me). Are we more rational, wise, intelligent or informed than the others anti-dualistic philosphers? It could be the case or not, but I doubt it's the core of the problem.
Given that refutation is a technical concept in logic, we'd expect that rational philosophers be agree when a thesis is "refuted conclusively" or not. But even in that simple logical question they disagree! (suporting partially, again, Meyerhoff's thesis)
Meyerhoff's thesis, pushed it consistently throught its ultimate implications, could imply relativism. But even relativism isn't "conclusively refuted"; in fact, there is contemporary defenses of it in analytic philosophy. One of them can be seen here:
For the record: I'm a firm believer in realism, I believe in objective truth, I support substance dualism and I think positions like eliminativism (and other forms of materialism) are probably false. However, I'm not 100% sure that my reasons to believe in them are totally due (only) to rational motives, and these doubts tend to get stronger when I see informed professional philosophers (wiser than me) defend views that (in my opinion) are completely absurd or ridiculous. Posted by: Jime Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 02:47 PM