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About the project

What is philosophy?

The above-mentioned question has been of great interest to philosophers in recent years. The discussion about the nature of philosophy, and especially about the philosophical methodology has been gaining more and more ground in contemporary philosophy. Timothy Williamson’s Philosophy of Philosophy starts with the sentence: “This book grew our of a sense that contemporary philosophy lacks a self-image that does it justice.” (Williamson 2007: ix). Only nine years later in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Methodology (Cappelen, Szabo-Gendler, Hawthorne 2016) starts with the sentence “Philosophical methodology has been a hot topic recently. (I hear they’re devoting entire handbooks to it!)” (Dever 2016: 3). Besides the Oxford’s Handbook  from 2016, there were other prominent publications like The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology (D’Oro, Overgaard 2017) and The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophical Methods (Doly 2015) which attest to the growing interest for the subject of metaphilosophy and philosophical methodology. However, even though the subject has attracted significant interest, we believe that the discussion has not yet reached satisfying results. Our goal is to contribute to that discussion with novel philosophical and methodological insights.

Our contribution to the discussion about the nature of philosophy and its methodology will have as it’s starting point the most commonly held views. We will discuss these views and try to estimate whether they are tenable. The views we will evaluate are the following:

(1) Philosophical questions are those that do not yet have a standard methodology.

(2) Philosophy is science, the difference between the two is a matter of degree, not of kind.

(3) A synoptic view according to which the goal of philosophy is to create an all-encompassing picture of the world.

(4) Philosophy is its history.

(5) Philosophy is a kind of conceptual analysis.

(6) Philosophy is a reflection about the way in which we justify our beliefs and actions.

We will analyze well known and typical philosophical arguments and try to show to which understanding of philosophy they fit best. For example, how to understand the well-known Plato’s One over Many argument for the existence of the universals? Is it put forward as an inference to the best explanation (view 2), as a conceptual clasification (view 5), or as a justification of belief (view 6)? This kind of analysis we will apply to other well-known philosophical arguments: Moore’s test of isolation for determining whether a value is intrinsic. McTaggart’s argument that time is not real, Mackie’s argument from queerness against the existence of moral properties, Benacerraf’s argument against Platonism in mathematics, Black’s thought experiment with two balls aimed at refuting Leibniz’s Law, etc. Although most contemporary authors favor the view of Philosophy as conceptual analysis (5), the focus will be on the views (2) and (6) because we believe that they are the most promising ones. Of course, the question is what will the detailed analysis show, and whether there is a single answer to the question What is philosophy?

Generally, the methodology of our project consists in the following. On the one hand, there are different understandings of what philosophy amounts to. On the other hand, we are dealing with the typical and influential philosophical arguments. Our aim is to explore how and where these well-known arguments fit with respect to different understandings of philosophy. In ethics, this method is known as the reflective equilibrium – confronting the general rule with the particular cases, in order to reach a consistent and coherent overall picture of what philosophy is. A common view of philosophy is that philosophy is conceptual analysis. However, the analysis of a number of examples shows that philosophical claims are not about the concepts but rather about the things in the world. If this analysis is tenable, we have to reject (or significantly modify) the view that philosophy is conceptual analysis. In other words, the analysis might show that the common understanding of philosophy as conceptual analysis is false. Here is the illustrative list of examples:

(a) John Searle has arguably dervied ought from is (Smith ought to pay $5 to Jones). In the background there was a philosophy of ordinary language. However, this is very strong argument in favor of ethical naturalism – the view that values are nothing but natural facts. And this is very strong, substantial thesis about the ontological status of values. (Searle 1964)

(b) John Mackie’s Argument for Queerness supports very strong, substantial thesis that values are not something that exists sui generis. (Mackie 1977)

(c) Benacerraf’s problem is an argument that shows that mathematics cannot be about abstract entities because if it were, mathematical knowledge could not be possible. (Benacerraf 1973)

(d) Causal theory of knowledge – the insight that we cannot have knowledge about the things that we are not in the causal contact with. Is this a claim about the concept of knowledge or a claim about the knowledge itself? (Goldman 1967)

(e) Reduction of A-statements about time to B-statements (that “today” means “27.9.2022.”) is a matter of meaning and language, but the aim of the discussion is to find out about the time itself. Is there really A-series in time? Not only in the way that we think about time, but, out there, in time itself. The fact that semantic reduction is not possible is a reason to believe that transient now objectively exists, not only in our concepts. This tension is fundamental to the so called New theory of time which tries to avoid ontological implications of the semantical argument. (Although A-series is conceptually irreducible to the B-series, the truth makers of the A-series are in the B-series.) (Mellor 1998)

(f) Moritz Schlick claimed that Berkeley did not analyze apple itself but the concept of an apple. But if the claim is that an apple is nothing but a bundle of sensations, then this is a claim about the apple itself, not about the concept of an apple. (Schlick 1932)

(g) Logical behaviorism was put forward as an analysis of the concept of mental state. But in fact it leads directly to mental antirealism – the thesis that mental states do not exist. If mental states are nothing but dispositions for behavior, then they do not exist, or at least, they do not exist in the sense in which we usually think that they exist. (Hempel 1949)

Hence, this is how the methodology of the proposed project would look like. On the one hand, general understanding of philosophy, on the other hand, analysis of the particular cases. General understanding is acceptable iff it embraces well the particular cases.