Disclaimer: I am not committing to any of the claims in this blog post. All I’m saying is that if I were to commit, this is what I would commit to saying.
Philosophy has changed a lot since Plato. One change that I particularly disagree with is the way philosophy is often practiced in writing and conference papers: with a great deal of caution and qualifications. While I prefer big ideas that challenge the way we normally think, this type of philosophy is not encouraged in the profession.
Instead, a good philosophy paper is supposedly one that presents an airtight argument from a set of premises to a conclusion. If no one can find a flaw in the argument, it doesn’t seem to matter if everything else is absurd. All one has to do is to explicitly state that one is not committing to the premises, and not to the conclusion either. Is this really the best way to do philosophy?
Imagine a contemporary version of Plato, starting one of the dialogues by saying: “I am not saying that the Forms are real. All I am arguing is that if they were, this is what they would be like.” How much fun would that be? And what are the philosophical virtues?
Personally, I am far more interested in an argument for ‘A’ or ‘B’ than in an argument for ‘B follows logically from A’. Of course, one might use such an argument to argue against a position, for instance by showing that something absurd follows from it. But then we should at least be willing to commit to exactly that: “Yes, the conclusion is absurd, and yes, this is a good reason to deny the premise.”
Big philosophical ideas needn’t come in the form of airtight arguments. They needn’t even be true. Plato’s Forms, Descartes’ dualism, Hume’s analysis of causation – the reason why this is great philosophy is because they change the way we think about the world. We might not agree with them, but it takes a lot of philosophical work to offer a good alternative. And that seems to me more philosophically valuable than logical consistency or validity.