Epistemology & Philosophy of Science
2019, Volume 56, Number 2
Guest Editors – Vadim V. Vasilyev & Anton V. Kuznetsov
Vadim V. Vasilyev. Metaphilosophy: History and Perspectives.
In this paper I discuss a prehistory of the recent metaphilosophical research and provide an overview of its most important areas. I review the ways of understanding of philosophy by the authors of the Early Modernity and contemporary continental philosophers and outline a trajectory of metaphilosophical discussions in analytic philosophy of 20th century. I try to show that the recent surge of metaphilosophy research in it could be explained by a search for a new identity of analytic philosophy after wide disappointment in the “linguistic turn,” as well as after criticism of Quine and his followers of various aspects of the common method of conceptual analysis, and expansion of the field of inquiry. I argue that contemporary analytic philosophy is much closer to the classical and modern tradition than to the early analytic philosophy. And the most important question for contemporary metaphilosophers seems to be a question about possible substitutes of an old-fashioned conceptual analysis. Some authors propose to get rid of armchair methods at all and follow experimental line of research. This, however, could be destructive to the philosophy as a separate discipline. That’s why it is important to pay utmost attention to those philosophers who try to save armchair philosophy. As Timothy Williamson is one of the most interesting authors working in this vein, I asses his role in the recent metaphilosophical research. I give a brief review of his book “Doing Philosophy” (2018) and draw attention to the fact that its main ideas are briefly expressed in his paper “Armchair Philosophy”, published in this issue of the journal. I claim that the importance of Timothy Williamson’s work is best explained by its role in realizing that philosophers now have to make a hard choice between dissolving philosophical methodology in methods of experimental sciences and trying to find way of justification of armchair philosophy.
Timothy Williamson. Armchair Philosophy.
The article presents an anti-exceptionalist view of philosophical methodology, on which it is much closer to the methodology of other disciplines than many philosophers like to think. Like mathematics, it is a science, but not a natural science. Its methods are notprimarily experimental, though it can draw on the results of natural science. Likefoundational mathematics, its methods are abductive as well as deductive. As in the natural sciences, much progress in philosophy consists in the construction of better models rather than in the discovery of new laws. We should not worry about whether philosophy is a priori or a posteriori, because the distinction is epistemologically superficial.
Daniel C. Dennett. Philosophy or Auto-Anthropology?
Timothy Williamson is mainly right, I think. He defends armchair philosophy as a variety of armchair science, like mathematics, or computer modeling in evolutionary theory, economics, statistics, and I agree that this is precisely what philosophy is, at its best: working out the assumptions and implications of any serious body of thought, helping everyone formulate the best questions to ask, and then leaving the empirical work to the other sciences. Philosophy – at its best – is to other inquiries roughly as theoretical physics is to experimental physics. You can do it in the armchair, but you need to know a lot about the phenomena with which the inquiry deals.
Joshua Knobe. Philosophical Intuitions Are Surprisingly Robust Across Demographic Differences.
Within the existing metaphilosophical literature on experimental philosophy, a great deal of attention has been devoted to the claim that there are large differences in philosophical intuitions between people of different demographic groups. Some philosophers argue that this claim has important metaphilosophical implications; others argue that it does not. However, the actual empirical work within experimental philosophy seems to point to a very different sort of metaphilosophical question. Specifically, what the actual empirical work suggests is that intuitions are surprisingly robust across demographic groups. Prior to empirical study, it seemed plausible that unexpected patterns of intuition found in one demographic group would not emerge in other demographic groups. Yet, again and again, empirical work obtains the opposite result: that unexpected patterns found in one demographic group actually emerge also in other demographic groups. I cite 30 studies that find this sort of robustness. I then argue that to the extent that metaphilosophical work is to engage with the actual findings from experimental philosophy, it needs to explore the implications of the surprising robustness of philosophical intuitions across demographic differences.
Daniel Stoljar. Williamson on Laws and Progress in Philosophy.
Williamson rejects the stereotype that there is progress in science but none in philosophy on the grounds (a) that it assumes that in science progress consists in the discovery of universal laws and (b) that this assumption is false, since in both science and philosophy progress consists at least sometimes in the development of better models. I argue that the assumption is false for a more general reason as well: that progress in both science and philosophy consists in the provision of better information about dependency structures.
Anton V. Kuznetsov. Armchair Science and Armchair Philosophy.
Williamson defends armchair philosophy by likening it to armchair science – they have the same echelon of results and use such a priori methods as model building and conditional analyses. More, if a priori methods are accepted within science, then they acceptable in philosophy – thus, armchair philosophy is justified. However, I am not swayed by this reasoning: there could be non-armchair philosophers who use these a priori methods. So, there are two options – revise the notion of armchair philosophy or add more details to the aforementioned reasoning.
Timothy Williamson. Reply to Dennett, Knobe, Kuznetsov, and Stoljar on Philosophical Methodology.
The paper replies to replies by Dennett, Knobe, Kuznetsov, and Stoljar to the author’s ‘Armchair Philosophy’.
Vadim V. Vasilyev. Afterword to the Panel Discussion on Armchair Philosophy.
In this paper I discuss Timothy Williamson’s panel paper “Armchair Philosophy”, the objections of the participants of the panel discussion and other possible reactions to it. The correspondence of the content of Williamson’s paper to the main themes of his book “Doing Philosophy” is shown, as well as the greater emphasis of his paper on the method of model building, upon which he bases his hope for the future of armchair philosophy. The analysis of the responses to the paper by Williamson received from Daniel Stoljar, Joshua Knobe, Daniel Dennett, and Anton Kuznetsov shows, however, that the version of the armchair philosophy proposed by Williamson does not raise much objections among principal opponents of the armchair approach and thus does not promote an a priori methodology that this kind of philosophy is supposed to defend and promote. More effective defense would require the use of a conceptual analysis that promises getting a priori or conceptual truths. Williamson, however, doubts the prospects for productive conceptual analysis. Nevertheless, the author of this afterword tries to show that the traditional conceptual analysis can be improved and that it is possible that such an improved analysis would perform its function of promoting the radical armchair philosophy much more effectively. Instead of clarifying some more or less interesting concepts conceptual analysis might aim at clarifying our natural beliefs, such as belief in causal dependance of ordinary events, in independent existence of the objects of our experience, in identity of some objects, in other minds, etc. In the process of such a clarifying we can also try to understand some non-trivial relations between our natural beliefs. The author provides an example of such an analysis, resulting in getting a truth which has all the marks of necessary conceptual truth, claiming there are a lot of similar truths to be found.
EPISTEMOLOGY & COGNITION
Axel Gelfert. Beyond The ‘Null Setting’: the Method of Cases in the Epistemology of Testimony.
Epistemologists of testimony have tended to construct highly stylized (so-called “null setting”) examples in support of their respective philosophical positions, the paradigmatic case being the casual request for directions from a random stranger. The present paper analyzes the use of such examples in the early controversy between reductionists and anti-reductionists about testimonial justification. The controversy concerned, on the one hand, the source of whatever epistemic justification our testimony-based beliefs might have, and, on the other hand, the phenomenology of testimonial acceptance and rejection. As it turns out, appeal to “null setting” cases did not resolve, but instead deepened, the theoretical disputes between reductionists and anti-reductionists. This, it is suggested, is because interpreters ‘fill in’ missing details in ways that reflect their own peculiarities in perspective, experience, upbringing, and philosophical outlook. In response, two remedial strategies have been pursued in recent years: First, we could invert the usual strategy and turn to formal contexts, rather than informal settings, as the paradigmatic scenarios for any prospective epistemology of testimony. Second, instead of “null setting” scenarios, we can focus on richly described cases that either include, or are embedded into, sufficient contextual information to allow for educated judgments concerning the reliability and trustworthiness of the testimony and testifiers involved. The prospects of both of these approaches are then discussed and evaluated.
Dustin Olson. Epistemic Progress Despite Systematic Disagreement.
A number of philosophers argue that because of its history of systematic disagreement, philosophy has made little to no epistemic progress – especially in comparison to the hard sciences. One argument for this conclusion contends that the best explanation for systematic disagreement in philosophy is that at least some, potentially all, philosophers are unreliable. Since we do not know who is reliable, we have reason to conclude that we ourselves are probably unreliable. Evidence of one’s potential unreliability in a domain purportedly defeats any first-order support one has for any judgments in that domain. This paper defends philosophy. First, accepting that science is rightfully treated as the benchmark of epistemic progress, I contend that a proper conception of epistemic progress highlights that philosophy and science are relevantly similar in terms of such progress. Secondly, even granting that systematic disagreement is a mark of unreliability and that it does characterize philosophy, this paper further argues that evidence of unreliability is insufficient for meta-level, domain-wide, defeat of philosophical judgments more generally.
LANGUAGE & MIND
Esther Goh. The Argument from Variation against Using One’s Own Intuitions as Evidence.
In philosophical methodology, intuitions are used as evidence to support philosophical theories. In this paper, I evaluate the skeptical argument that variation in intuitions is good evidence that our intuitions are unreliable, and so we should be skeptical about our theories. I argue that the skeptical argument is false. First, variation only shows that at least one disputant is wrong in the dispute, but each disputant lacks reason to determine who is wrong. Second, even though variation in intuitions shows that at least one disputant has the wrong intuition in the thought experiment, it is not evidence of unreliability of any disputant’s intuition regarding the philosophical theory being tested. So, variation in intuitions is not good evidence that one’s own intuitions are unreliable. One reply from the literature in peer disagreement is that we should conciliate if we cannot determine who is wrong. I argue that these disagreements are instead unconfirmed peer disagreements (i.e., no good reason to take or dismiss disputants as an epistemic peer, inferior or superior). I argue that if you have a strong intuition about a case, then it is rational for you to remain steadfast. Thus, variation in intuitions does not call for skepticism.
Alexander L. Nikiforov. Problems of Metaphilosophy – a View from Aside.
The paper discusses several problems of metaphilosophy that were explored in the philosophical literature in Russia. Metaphilosophy tries to understand what is philosophy, what problems philosophers are dealing with, which methods they employ in their investigations, the nature of philosophical statements and so on. Philosophers in Russia tended to think of philosophy as a special type of worldview that exists together with the ordinary worldview and religious worldview. The author defines worldview as a collection of basic beliefs about the surrounding world, society, human being, the relations existing between individuals and society, about values and ideals. It is underscored that a worldview is always somebody’s worldview (it belongs either to an individual or a social group). The worldview problems explored by philosophers remain the same throughout thousands of years; what changes is how they are stated in different times. Every human being faces these problems if she has realized herself as an autonomous being and the reality splits for her into the I and the non-I. All philosophical problems revolve around three basic questions: what is the non-I (i.e. nature and society)? - this is the ontological question; what is I? (the anthropological question); what relations exist between the I and the non-I (the epistemological, axiological, ethical and other questions). The author also explores several stages of a philosophical investigation: an internal dissatisfaction with existing solutions, a search for a new perspective (meaning, idea, interpretation), development of the found solution. The author points at a number of characteristics that make philosophy different from science: philosophical statements and conceptions cannot be verified or refuted by experience, they are not universal. It is argued that the notion of truth in its classical interpretation cannot be applied to philosophical statements because the latter cannot be true or false. The author concludes that philosophical statements or conceptions express the subjective opinion of a given philosopher about the world and the human being. An obvious evidence for this is the existing pluralism of philosophical systems, schools, and trends.
CASE STUDIES – SCIENCE STUDIES
Vladimir N. Porus. The Philosophical Status of “Metaphilosophy of Science”.
Interdisciplinary studies of science form a “living” organism, in which every part performs its function and is connected with other parts. Philosophy of science plays a role of the “think-tank” of that organism. It is a generator of the sense that connects the functions of its separate parts into a systematic unity. It can be called the consciousness of science. Metaphilosophy of science is related to philosophy of science in the same way as philosophy of science itself is related to science. Within metaphilosophy of science the propensity of philosophy of science to self-reflection is implemented. Metaphilosophy of science makes relevant the issues that relate to the philosophical significance of the processes taking place in the so-called “trading zone” (in the sense of P. Galison). These trading zone is a place where scientists, science-of-science theorists and philosophers exchange their ideas. The interaction between philosophy and metaphilosophy of science takes place in the course of a competition among various philosophical interpretations of the results received within the studies of these “trading” processes. Institutional, methodological, historical and culturological studies get a philosophical interpretation and become the source of metaphilosophical ideas. Metaphorically, one may say, that metaphilosophy of science is the self-consciousness of philosophy of science. The very idea that metaphilosophy of science is a participant of the process occurring in the “trading zone” puts an end to a meaningless pile of “metalevels” that very often characterize philosophical discussions of science.
Johnnie R.R. Pedersen. Normative Ethics: an Armchair Discipline?
This paper discusses a challenge to normative ethics motivated by experimental philosophy. Experimental philosophers object to the perceived “armchair” or a priori nature of philosophy, claiming it should rather be empirical or naturalistic. The paper investigates the application of this claim to normative ethics. Dubbing the application of the experimental philosophers’ contention to normative ethics “the Armchair Claim,” I distinguish descriptive and normative versions of this challenge, and consider their merits as comments on the method of normative ethics (descriptive versions), and as comments on how normative ethics should be done (normative versions). Characterizing normative ethics as essentially involving the use of the method of reflective equilibrium, I show how the versions of the Armchair Claim that I distinguish either misconstrue normative ethics, or are committed to meta-ethical views that are controversial. To bring home the latter point, I contrast two meta-ethical positions, and show how, on one such view, naturalism, the descriptive version could be correct, whereas on another, intuitionism, it would be false. The normative version, in turn, is consistent with naturalism, but begs the question against the intuitionist since she argues that normative ethics cannot be empirical. The upshot is that a conclusive assessment of the Armchair Claim will have to await the resolution of disputed issues in meta-ethics. However, normative ethicists can get on with their work since reflective equilibrium is unaffected by such debates.
Markéta Jakešová. The Question of Reflexivity.
This article aims to critically examine three approaches to reflexivity in philosophical texts, specifically the case when the textuality becomes its own topic. The first approach is when there is no reflexivity at all. It is just describing how – according to the author – things are. As an example of this approach I take German media philosophy. This tradition is specific because reflexivity is supposed to be its very topic. However, the media philosophers succeeded in touching the indefinability of mediality itself. Another method is to question one’s own and possibly also the reader’s position. I have chosen Annemarie Mol’s empirical philosophy as the example here. The problem is that despite following the “ontological turn”, the author remains (probably inevitably) also to a large extent trapped in the fact that he/she describes the world, that is, in subject/object dichotomy and therefore, in epistemology. The third way to write aims to make readers feel what the author tells. My example here is the varied work of Walter Benjamin whom I for the purpose of this article consider more as a prophet rather than the precise thinker who he (also) by all means was. While using the second approach myself, I discuss advantages and challenges of the three and find their points of touch.
Teodor I. Oizerman. On the Meaning of the Question “What Is Philosophy?”.
Theodor Oizerman’s article “On The Meaning of the Question‘What is Philosophy?’” was first published in the journal “Voprosy filosofii”, 1968, vol. 11. Since that the issue has become a bibliographical rarity and still does not exist in a digital form. Other versions of the article were rewritten in the form of book chapters and transformed in the context of the current situation. This proposed publication bases on one of the older versions, which, is, on the one hand, close to the original author’s intention, and on the other hand, lacks a certain dependence on the ideological context. The text, however, includes some critically important arguments appearing only in later editions. In general, the article is of central significance in terms of its place in the Metaphilosophy concept proposed by Oizerman, which later the following books have manifested: “The Problem Of The History Of Philosophy”(1969, 1983), “The Foundations For The Theory Of The Historico-Philosophical Process” (1983, in co-authorship with A.S. Bogomolov), “Philosophy As A History Of Philosophy” (1999), “Ambivalence Of Philosophy” (2011); “Metaphilosophy: Theory Of The Historico-Philosophical Process” (2009). A number of references due to the difficulty of reading the archived article text have been omitted or taken from new editions. The text has been prepared and edited by Ilya T. Kasavin.
Andrey A. Veretennikov. McTaggart: Reality in Idealism.
Article is dedicated to the description and analysis of metaphilosophical and scientific contexts of the McTaggart paper ‘The Unreality of Time’ (1908) and drawing connections to the ‘analytical’ style of his pupils – B. Russell and G.E. Moore. Main line of argument against the reality of time is presented and analyzed. By the positive relation of McTaggart to the work on ethics by G.E. Moore and negative – to philosophical implications of the special theory of relativity author shows the movement for the autonomy of philosophy or ‘antipsychologism’. Question of a different understanding of the term ‘reality’ in Moore and McTaggart is posed and resolved.
John Ellis McTaggart. The Unreality of Time.
This text is a translation of an article by British idealist J.E. McTaggart “The Unreality of Time” published in the journal Mind in 1908. Author argues for the unreality of time by employing his typical methods – rejection of reality of contradictory objects, difference between real and existent, etc. This paper became a standard of excellence of McTaggart analytical style and is a classic example of British absolute idealism. The translation was made by Andrey A. Veretennikov.
Alina O. Kostina. Normativity, Expertise and Epistemological Paternalism in the Philosophy of Science.
For almost 50 years the journal Metaphilosophy has been publishing research on a wide range of philosophical issues from the fundamental questions of ontology, epistemology and the philosophy of science to applied studies on ethics, technology and STS. The following review focuses on a number of key questions that have become the stumbling block for investigations in epistemology, philosophy and methodology of science and STS. The spotlight here is on the issues of reestablishment of normativity in philosophy of science, related to the PSP turn; new perspectives on the “armchair philosophy” and the ex cathedra principle; the misuse of scientific data by the philosophers of science; experimental philosophy and the “undermined” authority of philosophical expertise; and also we’ll find out how epistemic paternalism may become a virtue of research practice.