We should examine and articulate the methods of philosophy more thoroughly and exhaustively. Katrina Hutcheson "Sages and Cranks: the difficulty of identifying first-rate philosophers," in Women in Philosophy: What Needs to Change, ed. by K. Hutchinson & F. Jenkins (Oxford, 2013) 120.
This post is an indirect reflection on Women in Philosophy--a very sobering, edited volume that Paul Lodge insists I read from cover to cover. (In addition to Jennifer Saul's already famous paper, I have now read about half dozen chapters in it.) I describe four properties of analytical philosophy. Except for the first two, these are not intrinsic to our philosophy, but they all help (without aiming for completeness) characterize the analytical tradition, which has impressive longevity; so sociologically they are not merely contingently related.
- A common way of thinking about analytical philosophy is to see it as oriented toward problem-solving akin to the way that, say, Kuhn describes puzzle-solving in the (progressive and reasonably mature) sciences (see, e.g., Neil Levy's approach; recall). However, neither the non-trivial articulation nor the solving of such problems can really be -- pace Hutchinson's call -- subject to a method, even though there is an arsenal of good tricks, intuition pumps, and a deep analytical tool-box that can be brought to bear on them.* (Often philosophical breakthroughs consist of seeing what known trick can be applied in novel fashion.) If it were methodical, we would see a lot more and more rapid progress. Philosophical skill still relies on creativity and good judgment. In the narratives we tell ourselves we contrast this normal scientific attitude on problem-solving (including chest-thumping claims about clarity and rigor (recall)) with the confusion, poetic nonsense, and charlatanry of other traditions. What we rarely also say is that the function of this problem-solving focus (with its division of labor) is (a) to avoid the dangers of systematicity. For it's not as if analytical philosophy has offered evidence that it has the resources to solve the antinomies.+ This did not matter during the founding and anti-metaphysical eras of the tradition; today no amount of cost-benefit analysis, metaphysical modularity, or inference to the best explanation can hide the vulnerabilities in even our most earnest attempts at metaphysical reflection (recall). The other, related function is (b) to allow one not to answer or seek out known objections to one's position (see the next three points; recall).
- The non-methodical nature of analytical philosophy is also on fine display in the modern practice of analysis (so I am not talking about Russelian logical analysis or Carnapian explication here (recall)); the rules of the game are often very murky. (I am not worried about the role of intuitions here.) What counts as a successful analysis is itself often contestable. It is, unless explicitly stipulated, never entirely clear if analysis is merely meant to explain what is already out there, as it were, or also a normative practice. (Recall this post on Strawson vs Carnap; and my exchange with Dennett here and here.) Moreover, even extremely skilled analysts routinely forget, or pretend to forget, that when they are doing analysis of intentional objects or social kinds, they ought not simply assume that their practice has no bearing on the thing so analyzed.
- Citation practices in much of analytical philosophy are a form of status signalling as opposed to, say, a means of recognizing priority or making one's intellectual scaffolding visible. (It may have its origin in Cambridge philosophy's wish to distinguish itself from its philological roots.) Among the established, citation is a means of establishing one's approved conversation partners;** not citing X is part of the game--the insiders can track the moves that have been made opaque, while the barriers to entry (which require figuring out these moves) have been increased. Among the not established, citation practices are aspirational; they signal which club one wishes to belong to. [I have lost track of the many times when, as a referee, I pointed an author to anticipations of their ideas (no, not by me) in fairly recent scholarship--most of which happily ignored in final publication.] These very citation rules are left opaque, so that the non-insider is both effectively silenced and bewildered (aided by the fact that our purportedly leading journals all exhibit journal capture symptoms while leaving some room for totemic, non-in-crowd-papers). Recognizing this feature of our citation practices helps explain the systematic patterns of exclusion (of women, of non-Anglo-thinkers, etc.) that are visible in ongoing citation practices within the profession, including the purportedly leading journals. (It also provides convenient cover for the proud anti-intellectualism that is still not uncommon in a certain generation of the profession.) I leave it to the reader's imagination how my own citation practices in this very post exemplify these rules!
- If analytical philosophy were just about the quality of our arguments, we could just point at them without much further rhetoric. As my previous three points suggest, our practice betrays us here. For, one of the recurring themes of the Women in Philosophy volume, is that the "adversarial style" of professional philosophy debases into a "contest of wills," and the recurring "verbal smackdown" (Marilyn Friedman, 27; see also Helen Beebee's section on the "Seminar as a Philosophical Battleground"). It's not just analytical philosophy's shabbos goys (Geach) and the academically privileged consiglieri (Ernest Nagel, Williamson) that engage in name-calling and hyper-aggressive rhetoric; it's the near-world-historical-big-shots, too. For example, as a friend reminded me, one striking feature of Kripke's Naming and Necessity is the repeated assertion that Lewis's counterpart theory (not the modal realism) is bizarre, intuitively bizarre (45),and has intuitive bizarreness (76). I have to admit that just by re-reading Kripke's hostile description of Lewis's position, I cannot come to share his intuitive judgment. (In part because I think self-identity and transworld identity are, well, not the very same.) But even if I (rigid or counter-part Schliesser) were to agree with Kripke's position,++ it remains that Kripke is not especially respectful toward Lewis's position; in fact, he is downright sneering. Perhaps, that's just what it is to be Kripke-the-authorial-persona? But I wonder how many of the hagiographic admirers of Kripke discreetly overlook this feature of his work or, worse, enjoy it a bit too much?***