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10/25/2012

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Chike Jeffers

Thanks very much, Brad! I've just finished listening to Thomas Baldwin's comments and the question period afterward. One of the interesting points in the question period is his use of a mining metaphor to describe the difference between progressive and stagnant debates in philosophy. I wonder how apt people find the metaphor...

Brad C

Hi Chike,

I think this suggests a good attitude to take towards debates that have become a bit scholastic and seem to be dying a slow "flogging the dead horse" death. The mining metaphor would encourage us to at that point go back and read the history of various debates and discussions and to look for paths not taken. It would also encourage us to step back and figure out what motivated anyone to care about the larger framing issues in the first place and to then approach them in one particular way.

Of course the pressure to publish, and the mounting responsibilities of life, makes that sort of healthy attitude hard to sustain.

That point also brings to mind a general worry: that the increasing pressure to publish early and often (e.g., in graduate school) may impede the overall quality of scholarship over time.

Marcus Arvan

I really recommend listening to Tim Mulgan's talk (editor of Phil Quarterly). His discussion of distinguishing true philosophical progress from passing fashions is really, really good, as well as very funny.

He focuses on Locke's two treatises, and on how he's famous today for the Second Treatise, but it was his *First* Treatise (his refutation of Filmer's defense of the divine right of kings) that was regarded during Locke's time -- and by Locke himself -- as the most important part of his work.

He then relays a few "sobering lessons" (both of which I largely agree with):

(1) If you adopt the criteria that philosophers today use to measure true progress, then there's really been no major philosopher since Kant who is truly, profoundly important.

(2) Major philosophers are like buses. We naturally think this is a good time for philosophy, but in history hundreds of years go by between truly great philosophers. Is today really a good time for philosophy, or will we be seen in hindsight as a bunch of hair-splitters?

(3) What often seems cutting-edge at any given time seems terribly dated and worthless just a few years later.

(4) There are also fashions about what is the "core" and "periphery" of philosophy. Nowadays M&E are considered core philosophy but, as Schneewind argues in The Invention of Autonomy, but throughout most of philosophical history the central question(s) of philosophy were much different (primarily the relationship between God and morality -- about which Mulgan makes a *very* funny remark about how you might think it is a waste of time debating the relationship between two things that don't exist;)

(5) There's a real possibility that Rawls might come to be seen as irrelevant as Filmer -- particularly if the future results in a "broken world" where (e.g. because of climate change, etc.) Rawls' assumptions of reasonably favorable conditions/conditions of justice aren't obtainable. Interesting stuff. Mulgan suggests that our main moral concepts -- talk of rights, entitlements, etc. -- are predicated upon a world of plenty. Will future philosophers and people find these notions hopelessly quaint?

Anyway, take a listen!

Chike Jeffers

As I recall, the criteria referred to in (1) were adapted from Randall Collins' important book The Sociology of Philosophies, which Mulgan is right to encourage philosophers to take a look at.

Marcus Arvan

Chike: thanks for pointing that out!

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