Workshop on Progress in Philosophy




12:30: Lunch

13:40 - 15:10: Nancy Bauer (Tufts) and Mark Richard (Harvard): “On Getting Things Right: A Dialogue on Philosophical Progress”

15:20 - 16:50: Patrick Greenough (St Andrews): "Philosophy: In Sickness and in Health"

17:00 - 18:30: Paul Horwich (NYU): "Three Forms of Philosophy and Three Forms of Progress"



09:30 - 11:00: Herman Cappelen (Oslo/St Andrews): "Progress and Disagreement in Philosophy: An Optimistic Perspective"

11:10 - 12:40: Laurie Paul (UNC Chapel Hill/St Andrews): “Learning How to Play with Others"

Lunch break

13:50 - 15:20: Bjørn Ramberg (Oslo): "Doing It For Ourselves: Philosophy Personal and Impersonal"

15:30 - 17:00: Roundtable. Chair: Barry Smith (London)




Nancy Bauer and Mark Richard: “On Getting Things Right: A Dialogue on Philosophical Progress”

Bauer believes that philosophy makes very little science-like progress. Richard endorses a Quinean view of philosophy on which philosophy is continuous with science. Bauer and Richard agree that science-like progress, whether it has happened or might happen, is less important than the progress philosophers ought to aim to make with respect to the enterprise of making rational thinking, in all its forms, attractive in the real world.


Patrick Greenough: "Philosophy: In Sickness and in Health"

Let us take a metaphor seriously: that long-standing philosophical puzzles and paradoxes are kinds of disease, kinds of cognitive sickness. Once we do, we can view philosophical resolutions of such puzzles and paradoxes as being akin to the various ways in which we may treat a disease. In the first half of this talk, I trace the long history of these ideas (in Tarski, Chihara, Hume, Descartes, Wittgenstein, Nussbaum, Williamson, the Hellenistic philosophers, and others), draw out some key features of the metaphor, and argue that argue that it can help make sense of philosophical plurality, progress, and disagreement. One particularly important distinction turns out to be between non-specific and specific treatments or medications. Another, concerns the distinction between partially understood versus fully understood treatments. I then argue that these medical distinctions can help us understand how we can respond to the three most intractable groups of philosphical paradoxes: the Sceptical Paradoxes, the Sorites Paradoxes, and the Semantic Paradoxes. In particular, I offer a plea for a certain kind of Minimalism whereby the claim is that philosophical progress has been hampered by only looking for specific, non-minimal, non-neutral treatments of intractable paradoxes, when in fact there can be minimal, non-specific, theory-neutral solutions available too. Indeed, these latter solutions are often the best we can hope for. If a slogan is needed, let it be: sometimes a philosophical aspirin is cure enough.


Paul Horwich: "Three forms of philosophy and three forms of progress"

I’ll be focusing here on three brands of philosophy – each of them falling within the analytic tradition:

  • Scientistic philosophy – which aims (like science) at theoretical truth. But the data to be explained aren’t perceptual and the phenomena to be investigated aren’t naturalistic.
  • Clarificatory philosophy – which avoids theory, and aims merely to eliminate confusion and to resolve paradoxes.
  • Naturalistic philosophy – which aims to contribute to scientific understanding.

I’ll be attempting to identify and explain the kinds of progress that have been made (and have not been made) in these forms of philosophy over the last 150 years.


Herman Cappelen: "Progress and Disagreement in Philosophy: An Optimistic Perspective"

A certain kind of pessimist about philosophy tends to focus on two related complaints about philosophy and its history: (i) Philosophy makes no progress and (ii) It is plagued by irresolvable disagreements. It compares poorly, this pessimist says, to hard sciences like physics and to formal disciplines like Mathematics.  

I disagree. The pessimists couldn’t be more wrong. First, I think Massive Progress is true:

Massive Progress: Philosophy has made massive progress: i.e., philosophers have found the answers to some of the most important and interesting questions humans can ask themselves.

The pessimist thinks widespread and persistent disagreement is awful and reflects poorly on philosophy. I disagree. I think that Pro-Divergence is true:

Pro-Divergence: Lack of convergence is not a negative.

I go further to counter the pessimist: 

Strong Pro-Divergence: Lack of convergence is a good thing


Laurie Paul: “Learning how to play with others"

I will discuss a way to approach interdisciplinary work. Too much of what people try to do when they attempt to be interdisciplinary is just a form of what I'd describe as "disciplinary imperialism”. That is, we try to force nonphilosophers to think about interesting ideas in terms of the way these ideas have been philosophically framed by the past 30 (or 300) years of discussion. But that's often the wrong way to build out ideas. Instead, the discussion should start from a neutral, intuitive position, where members of different fields work as a team to develop the basic issues. After that, it is usually most productive for specialists to take the basic ideas in whatever direction they favor, usually by developing them in their own discipline-specific ways. For philosophers, this often means developing a conceptual framework. I’ll then illustrate my thesis by presenting a concrete example: a short draft paper on how problems with radical preference change connect with concerns involving the counterfactual semantics underlying causally-based experimental work in social science.


Bjørn Ramberg: "Doing It For Ourselves: Philosophy Personal and Impersonal"

Let’s say that impersonal philosophy aims for general knowledge. There is of course a lot of disagreement among impersonalists about what counts as philosophical knowledge, how to get it, and to what extent—if at all—it is achievable. So questions of progress will, for impersonalists, be contested. Generally, though, from the impersonalist perspective, the value of philosophical achievements (however they are described and assessed), stands in no interesting relation to the lives of individuals participating in the quest that brings them about. However, there is also an impulse in philosophy, going back to the ancients, that’s personal in nature. It’s brought into view through the suggestion—in itself impersonal—that the very activity of philosophical reflection may figure as part of what makes a human life worthwhile. What notion of philosophical reflection could be at play here? What are its aims?  How is it measured? What good might come of it for the individual? And how might this personal dimension of philosophy—if we can make sense of it—be related to the impersonal one?


Herman Cappelen, Patrick Greenough and Bjørn Ramberg
Published Aug. 20, 2015 11:41 AM - Last modified Jan. 13, 2016 4:45 PM