I wonder what everyone here makes of Eric Schwitzgebel's post over at The Splintered Mind on whether the latter half of the 20th Century was a philosophical Golden Age. I'm more on the side of those who think it was a dark age, not a golden one. Why? A few reasons. First, I'm inclined to agree with the following commenter that there were probably few, if any, "game changers" that will profoundly change how philosophy is done for hundreds of years to come (in other words, there are no Descartes/Kants/etc. -- note: I think, contra the commenter, that Kripkean modal logic and semantics may be an exception):
We need to distinguish between depth and Breath: late 20 century anglo-american has many wonderful thinkers, but does it have a thinker or two who changed the philosophical paradigm, not just in one or two areas, but in most if not all areas of philosophy? It seems to me that a golden age has to have one or two thinkers of this caliber, in addition to many other lesser but still powerful thinkers. When Descartes, for instance, unfolded his program he introduced conceptualizations that even his philosophical enemies were forced to use, for hundreds of years. Is this going to be the case with Kripke or Lewis? Will the conceptualizations of possible world semantics be obligatory even for its opponents, or will one be able to continue to articulate other respectable semantic programs without much bother? I suspect the latter.
Second, I am inclined to agree with the following commenter that the latter half of the twentieth century ushered in a period of rigor fetishation:
The rigor of arguments, and such. I am not sure whether that's exactly a good measure. The way I tend to think about it is rather whether or not a philosopher opens a new way of thinking about something - a way that then proves fruitful for at least some time to come. This is one of the reasons why Plato is so great. It's true that a lot of his arguments are weird, terrible or unclear or have odd presuppositions. But his writings are full of new and original ideas about how to think about things - in fact, many times he comes up with the idea that something is a subject to think about - in terms of principles and explanations - in the first place - the idea of soul, language, or art (etc.). Similarly, Aristotle realizes that we could have normative rules for thinking, and so on. This is very different from simply working out various versions of an already established idea, usually by slowly filling up the logical space of possible options or more refined -isms. It's one thing to think of various possible versions of materialism, quite another to come up with the idea of materialism in the first place. I am no expert, but I would suspect that the same holds of people like Kant or Descartes. So, looking back at 1950-99, is there a philosopher that really open a new way of thinking for us? Maybe Kripke? I am not sure.
Finally -- and I realize my judgments here are probably very idiosyncratic -- I tend to think that the latter half of the twentieth century ushered in a lot of very misguided philosophical ideas that have, for the time being at least, become rather dominant positions in different areas of debate (I shy away from mentioning them, for fear of becoming a pariah! -- though see here for one example).
However, let let me also say this: I am optimistic that we may soon enter into a philosophical Golden Age. For three related developments strike me a serious potential "game changers":
- David Chalmers work on verbal disputes (which I think stands to reveal that a lot of late-twentieth century and twenty-first century philosophical disputes are primarily verbal).
- Justin Fisher's related work on pragmatic conceptual analysis, in which Fisher argues for a new approach to conceptual analysis, one not based on "intuition" (the dominant methodology of the past 75 years or so at least)
- Experimental philosophy: which, I think, combined with Chalmers' and Fishers' work, promises to spark a kind of "philosophical revolution" comparable to the scientific one.
What do the rest of you think?