The initial responses to Unger's interview about his book accused him of being a hypocrite, of being obnoxiously rude, of saying things that have been said before by Rorty and others, and of overlooking all the work in philosophy that is not mainstream analytic philosophy. What struck me was the difficulty people seemed to have in coming up with obviously non-empty or non-trivial work to present as a counter-example. My favorite response was this:
The idea that contemporary academic philosophy (n all of its roots and branches; for instance, political philosophy), when compared to the diverse fields of the sciences (physical sciences but also mathematics, cosmology, biology, applied sciences such as medicine and biomedical research, technology, engineering, psychology, neuroscience, the social sciences, information theory, computer programming, etc.) fails to make clear, unambiguous contributions to our stock of knowledge about the world, only makes sense if one first assumes that science itself is primarily about clear, unambiguous advancements to knowledge. Yet clearly a great deal of science itself fails to make any such contribution.Philosophy is like science because a great deal of science fails to contribute to our knowledge, and so does philosophy! Actually, though, the point of the comment is right (so I retract my snark): whatever value contemporary philosophy has is surely outside the scope of unambiguously producing new knowledge. But this means that we need to give up the idea of philosophy as being like science.
Several comments mention Gary Gutting's book What Philosophers Know, but this (a book that I have read) does not deal with unambiguous advancements to knowledge made by philosophers. It deals with the ideas of people such as Quine, Rawls, and Rorty, that is, people who have certainly been influential and have many admirers but whose ideas are neither universally accepted as true nor universally rejected by other philosophers. It should perhaps be called What Many Philosophers Agree On.
Brian Leiter writes:
I want to second the recommendation of Gary Gutting's book. Another possibility, of course, is that there are relatively few substantive results reached by so-called analytic philosophers, but that its value resides elsewhere: in intellectual hygiene, one might say, clarity of thought and reasoning, something in short supply in many other fields (as physicists are endlessly reminding us with their pronouncements).This is surprisingly (to my mind) Wittgensteinian, although of course there is room for different ideas about what counts as clarity. And Wittgenstein comes up also in this response by Marcus Arvan (who I don't think of as a Wittgensteinian, which is why this is relevant, although I can't say I know his work well):
I've been thinking more and more lately about a worry about analytic philosophy that traces back at least to Wittgenstein, and which is enjoying a resurgence (see e.g. Millikan's Dewey Lecture, Avner Baz' recent paper which I commented on here, and Balaguer's paper on compatibilism and conceptual analysis, which I commented on here). The worry is simply this: analytic philosophy is, by and large, predicated on a systematic misunderstanding and misuse of language.We have also seen John Searle describing contemporary philosophy as being "in terrible shape." He calls it boring and lacking in insight. People have been saying this kind of thing for as long as analytic philosophy has existed, but could a new stage in its history be about to begin? Or will these complaints be soon forgotten? I wonder. I don't think we're about to witness a new golden age of Wittgensteinianism, but it might be more Wittgenstein-friendly than what we've seen in the last few decades. Or, of course, nothing much at all might change.