Why Isnít There More Progress in Philosophy?
(Excerpt: theses or arguments?)

David J. Chalmers

Burton Dreben once memorably said to me (on the only occasion that I met him, in St. Louis around 1994): ďGreat philosophers donít argueĒ. He went on to elaborate that none of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Carnap, or Quine really give arguments for their views. Of course this is not strictly true, but I think his point was that in these philosophers, the real work is not done by arguments for a thesis, but by the thesis itself, or the framework it is embedded in. A refined version of his claim (suggested to me by Gene Callahan) might say: great philosophers may argue, but their arguments are not what makes them great. A part of Drebenís thought, as I understood it, was that since arguments are so easily rebutted, giving arguments is a sign of weakness. Itís better to simply assert and develop a thesis. Then oneís readers have to engage with the thesis itself, without the cheap distraction of rebutting arguments for the thesis.


SOURCE: Chalmers, David J. ďWhy Isnít There More Progress in Philosophy?Ē [p. 17], published in Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Van Inwagen, edited by John A. Keller (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 277-298 (this quote, p. 290). See also philpapers.

Abstract from Chalmers’ site:

Philosophy 1:3-31, 2015. Also in (T. Honderich, ed.) Philosophers of our Times, and in (J. Keller, ed.) Themes from Peter van Inwagen. The first part of this paper tries to isolate various ways in which philosophy makes progress and ways in which it makes less progress than the hard sciences. The central notion involves convergence to the truth on the big questions. The rest of the paper asks why philosophy makes less progress in this way. A number of answers are canvassed, but I think the question is still open.


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