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though i hear you, i think you overstate the case a bit- for coherence is necessary even if it isn't sufficient.

as you point out, all sorts of coherent systems may be constructed without being true (e.g. astrology) or interesting (e.g. chmess). but that's just to say coherence isn't sufficient for what we're going for.

nonetheless, coherence is necessary, and it is a fair criticism to say certain piece-meal approaches which think of philosophical progress as producing isolatable facts (e.g. 'the world consists of substances and properties', or 'knowledge ain't jtb) which accumulate via the collective endeavors of individuals are missing something. that is, failing to satisfy a necessary condition of philosophical progress...

Andres Ruiz

But suppose Science is truth tracking. While the "garbage in, garbage out" model may be true, if the purpose of philosophy is to incorporate the findings of the sciences into an ever more coherent picture of the world, then this truth tracking process will be inherited. If we have true beliefs as inputs from the sciences, then refining them and making them more coherent won't quite lead us astray. Or put another way, mere coherentism won't give you a true picture of the world, by itself. But if you *apply* coherentism to a truth tracking process, might things be different?

David Shope

I read Goldstein as advancing a kind of German idealist narrative in this piece. So I think part of the point, especially as concerns social and moral progress, is that there's nothing strictly *out there* the be matched up with. It's not about matching up our ideas with the world, but about overcoming self (and social) alienation.

Unlike in the case of science, the friction in her narrative comes from the demand to have reasons that we can all understand (ourselves first and then others). So any move towards universality is a move towards truth.

In other words, I think Goldstein would bite that bullet and not consider it an objection. It doesn't matter whether we're playing chess of chmess as long as we're all playing the same game consistently.

Perhaps there's also an idea here to the effect that unlike the particular games of chess and chmess, when it comes to the game of being humans in a universal society there's only going to be one game in town at the end of the day (echoes of Hegel here).

Of course, this being a brief article there are lots of unclear details. So who knows!

Marcus Arvan

Andres: great points! But in that case there are two worries:

(1) If philosophy needs to depend essentially on science to have truth-tracking inputs, doesn't this speak strongly against the rationalistic, armchair, intuition-based methodology that seemingly dominates philosophy today and in favor of a much more empiricist approach to philosophy based on scientific observation (which I advocated for on basically these grounds in a recent post)?

(2) if it's science that tracks the truth, why not just (or mostly) do science?


Is it even plausible to suppose that philosophy has a track record of ever increasing coherence? That seems false even if we focus just on the last hundred years or so, or the last twenty.

She says we have "progress" in this kind of thing:

"Every increase in our moral coherence—recognizing the rights of the enslaved, the colonialized, the impoverished, the imprisoned, women, children, LGBTs, the handicapped ...—is simultaneously an expansion of those to whom we are prepared to offer reasons accounting for our behavior."

But she doesn't explain why this is to count as coherence. For example, philosophers may _agree_ that slavery or colonialism is wrong, or that women or handicapped people have certain rights. But there's no indication that they agree on this _because_ they share any particular set of moral principles. On the contrary, they offer wildly different and incompatible reasons for these shared beliefs. Some think the shared beliefs are justified by utilitarianism, others think they're justified by deontology or virtue ethics. Others think they're not justified by anything more basic. And so on.


I think political philosophy has made progress towards important truths. Philosophers no longer argue for slavery and dictatorship, right? Doesn't this constitute progress towards an important truth?


Mert: Maybe it does represent progress. But is that kind of progress based in any kind of increased coherence? Is it based in any kind of epistemically impressive achievement of philosophers -- rather than, perhaps, philosophers just jumping on a cultural bandwagon without having any better rational basis for their new beliefs than philosophers in the middle ages had for theirs? (In other words, I'm pretty sure that there's moral progress in a society deciding that slavery is wrong. That could well happen without any kind of philosophical progress whatsoever.)


Ambrose, as to your first question, no, it's not a progress that is based in any special way on coherence, that was unclear of me.

As to your second question, although the moral progress of a society deciding that slavery is wrong could conceivably happen without any philosophical argumentation, I don't think philosophers are *merely* jumping on a cultural bandwagon. Philosophy has had important roles in articulating the ideas that led to moral and political progress over the past few centuries.

I was trying to emphasize that even something as simple as the absence of philosophers arguing for slavery or dictatorship, should count in favor of philosophy making progress, despite, as you rightly emphasize, that they'd still disagree over a lot.

But this still counts as progress. Avoiding falsehoods, such as the claims that slavery and dictatorship are good, is the same as gaining truths, namely the truths that slavery and dictatorship are bad.

Marcus Arvan

Mert: I'm inclined to agree with you (viz. that political philosophy is one of the few areas of philosophy in which demonstrable progress has been made). However, for a more skeptical view, see e.g. this TED talk on China: https://www.ted.com/talks/eric_x_li_a_tale_of_two_political_systems

Whatever progress Western political philosophers may think we have made, there is still *a* case to be made for Socrates' original theory of the just city! ;)


"I don't think philosophers are *merely* jumping on a cultural bandwagon. Philosophy has had important roles in articulating the ideas that led to moral and political progress over the past few centuries."

I agree with the second sentence, but I don't think it provides much support for the first claim. Philosophy has had an important role in articulating all kinds of ideas -- including all kinds of ideas that people nowadays regard as totally crazy or bad. The question is why certain ideas articulated by philosophers happen to get picked up and promoted by the wider culture. For example, why did Locke's ideas end up being influential at the time they did rather than, say, the ideas of religious reactionaries? Maybe the reason is just that his ideas fit better with projects or ideals of the wider culture which are themselves not caused by philosophical progress.

As for the point that moving towards truth is progress, I agree. I also agree that rejecting slavery is an example of this. But I suspect that people moved towards the truth in that respect for very non-philosophical reasons: religious convictions with no real rational basis, feelings or experiences, political power struggles, etc. Then they picked the philosophies -- e.g., Lockean liberalism -- that seemed best to fit with the prior direction of the culture. At least that's possible, and not disproved by the fact that philosophers articulate moral-political ideas which the wider culture adopts...


Tagged: http://rustbeltphilosophy.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-meta-games-i-can-see-clearly-now.html

Justin Caouette

Some of you might be interested in this conversation


It relates very closely with the initial article, blog post, and further discussion.


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