Thursday, July 05, 2007

Philosophical Paradigms

How is (some) philosophy done? What examples spring to mind as classic illustrations of philosophical methodology? To get the ball rolling...

(1) Conceptual analysis, and counterexamples "intuited" through thought-experiments. E.g. JTB analysis of knowledge, and Gettier cases.

(2) The use of formal methods ("logic and language") to resolve ambiguities, and make claims clear and precise. E.g. Russell's joke. (Any better examples?)

(3) Mapping logical space, to correct mistaken assumptions -- in particular, highlighting ignored possibilities (e.g. unchanging time, or Parfit's distinction between 'equality and priority') and unseen implications (e.g. how property entails coercion).

[I think this is what most philosophy amounts to, really - which explains how philosophical progress is possible - it's simply a matter of overcoming sloppy thinking.]

(4) Perhaps a variation on #3, is just spinning a good story, i.e. offering a coherent theory that seems plausible or intellectually appealing, for lack of any more "objective" criteria. We find this in normative philosophy, I guess, whenever it appeals to the reader's "intuitions" about what's right or good (or whatever). [What would be a good example?]

What else can we add to this list?


  1. You might add recounting a "good story". Teaching the history of philosophy can be very fruitful.

    What should top the list is asking good questions. I can't imagine practicing philosophy without a lot of questions, good or bad, in mind.

  2. Perhaps "recounting the process of coming up with a good story."

    I'm thinking of Plato here, and attempts to exhibit the confusions, wrong-turns, emotional blocks, personal conflicts etc. that make up an informal discussion about a philosophical topic.

  3. I would second what's been said, and also add one that I particularly like:

    Offering an interpretation that draws out the philosophical content of literature, music, art, etc.

    Eg: Martha Nussbaum on Proust and Henry James; Robert Pippin on the same; Alexander Nehamas on Thomas Mann; Rorty on 1984 (even if he gets it wrong!); Michael Tanner or Roger Scruton or various other philosophers on Wagner; Adorno on just about anything; etc.

  4. I would agree with jared, asking good questions definitely needs to be included in this list. The Socratic method: just keep asking questions until you uncover the basic assumptions of a philosophical claim or problem.


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