Monday, October 25, 2010

Nothing to show

Peter Hacker:
Philosophy does not contribute to our knowledge of the world we live in after the manner of any of the natural sciences. You can ask any scientist to show you the achievements of science over the past millennium, and they have much to show: libraries full of well-established facts and well-confirmed theories. If you ask a philosopher to produce a handbook of well-established and unchallengeable philosophical truths, there’s nothing to show. I think that is because philosophy is not a quest for knowledge about the world, but rather a quest for understanding the conceptual scheme in terms of which we conceive of the knowledge we achieve about the world. One of the rewards of doing philosophy is a clearer understanding of the way we think about ourselves and about the world we live in, not fresh facts about reality.

(See OLP & Literary Studies Online for more.)


  1. Maybe. (I'll have to think about the point about reality.)

    I told my wife to start telling people I'm a conceptual engineer (rather than philosopher). (I stole that from Blackburn's little book Think.)

  2. Maybe is right. There's a book called What Philosophers Know that argues (as far as I know--I haven't read it yet) that analytic philosophy has established various truths in the not-too-distant past. If that's right, Hacker is wrong. And if Hacker is certainly right, then there are "well-established and unchallengeable philosophical truths." So he'd be wrong.

    I do think he's basically right, but he might exaggerate the distinction between concepts and facts, and I suspect we have a less systematic conceptual scheme than he might think we do.

    I'm not sure whether philosophers are conceptual engineers or conceptual tour guides. And tour guides who quite often get lost at that. Maybe I'm just a bad engineer.

    I was disappointed that Blackburn didn't follow up Think with a book on ethics called Behave.