Unlike scientists, who can more easily think of themselves as devoted to *discovering the correct answer to some question,* I think we philosophers tend to see ourselves as devoted to *defending a particular answer* to some question. In our case, the question is often vague or ill-formed. It's hard to see ourselves as engaged in a communal search for the truth about X when see myself as chiefly engaged in defending view Y and you see yourself as chiefly engaged in defending view Y*.
That got me thinking about whether philosophy is really about searching for the truth and the difference between rationalizing and reasoning.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to rationalize is to "attempt to explain or justify (behavior or an attitude) with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate." Rationalizing, in this rather pejorative sense, is more like making excuses and is usually done after the fact. For example, after I eat chocolate, I might rationalize my action (i.e., make an excuse) by saying that chocolate has antioxidants. But that is not why I ate chocolate in the first place. To put the same point in terms of beliefs, rather than actions, we could say that to rationalize is to find excuses for our beliefs.
Unlike rationalizing, reasoning (i.e., to reason) is drawing conclusions from evidence or reasons. To put the point in terms of beliefs, we could say that to reason is to find beliefs that are worthy of acceptance.
Now, it seems that, at times, philosophy has been more about rationalizing than reasoning. Here are a few examples:
- Philosophy of religion: Starting with the belief that God exists and trying to find reasons (or excuses) for this belief.
- Metaphysics: Starting with the belief that human beings have free will and trying to find reasons (or excuses) for this belief.
- Epistemology: Starting with the belief that we know certain facts and trying to find an analysis of knowledge that accommodates this belief.
- Philosophy of Science: Starting with the belief that science is a rational enterprise and trying to find a philosophy of science that accommodates this belief.
- Ethics: Starting with the belief that we are obligated to do only what we can do and trying to find a moral theory that accommodates this belief.
Are these fair characterizations of these philosophical projects? If so, is this a problem? Are we philosophers like the proverbial drunk searching for a lost item under a lamppost?