The French warmed to Hegel very slowly, despite a number of attempts from the early nineteenth century on to import his thought. In particular, the neo-Kantianism that dominated the French university from the Franco-Prussian War until just before the Second World War had a strong antipathy to absolute Idealism. The founder of the neo-Kantian school, Jules Lachelier, is said to have told his students: ‘They'll be no Hegel here as long as I’m around.’ The neo-Kantians had persistently rejected Hegel's philosophy on the grounds that its ultimate telos in Absolute Spirit's all-encompassing self-knowledge was incompatible with the irreducible reality of finite human freedom. A genuine move towards Hegel began with the publication in 1929 of Le malheur de conscience dans la philosophie de Hegel by Jean Wahl, who taught history of philosophy at the Sorbonne from 1927 to 1967. Wahl's books on Hegel and Kierkegaard were an important influence on the development of existentialism. Later, Wahl worked closely with Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze and was a good friend of Lévinas.
Four years after Wahl's book on unhappy consciousness, Alexandre Kojève began teaching his famous seminar at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. This seminar, which ran from 1933 to 1939, was at various points attended by Bataille, Lacan and Merleau-Ponty, and, although notes on his lectures were not published until 1947, they from the beginning exerted considerable influence through informal dissemination. Whereas Wahl took Hegel's section on unhappy consciousness as the key to understanding his system, Kojève's reading was based on the chapter of the Phenomenology on the master–slave dialectic. But, like Wahl, Kojève provided ways of toning down Hegel's absolutism, reading the dialectic in terms of a purely human struggle. Wahl and Kojève also bridged the apparent distance of Hegel from Marx and Heidegger by offering humanist readings of the latter two thinkers. The result was a Hegel of extreme interest to the rising generation of existentialist thought at mid century.
For at least the first half of the twentieth century, there was no such thing as the philosophy of religion among analytic philosophers. Most analytic philosophers rejected religion as at best rationally gratuitous and at worst meaningless and, in any case, saw no need for serious, prolonged philosophical discussion of its ideas and status. This situation began to change around 1950, as witnessed by the still remarkable volume edited by Anthony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre, which gathered papers by philosophers (a roughly equal mix of believers and non-believers), all working in the analytic tradition and sharing “a concern with theological questions, and a conviction that these call for serious and particular treatment” through philosophical analysis and argument. The editors noted that they would have liked to described the pieces they collected as essays in “the philosophy of religion,” but did not do so because “this expression has become, and seems likely for some time to remain, associated with Idealist attempts to present philosophical prolegomena to theistic theology” (viii). Their title spoke instead of “new essays in philosophical theology.”
Although the volume represents a new opening to religious questions, it still presents religion as distinctly under siege from analytic philosophy. A dominant issue is whether religious language even meets the standards of meaningful discourse, and although there are several discussions of theistic proofs, no one defends their soundness. Even the essay by the Christian co-editor, Alasdair MacIntyre, attacks arguments from religious experience.
There is no doubt that John Rawls' A Theory of Justice effected a major transformation in philosophical thinking about political and ethical topics. It is often noted that he revived the enterprises of political philosophy and normative ethics, both of which had languished under the earlier analytic regimen of meta-analysis. He also reversed the polarity of discussions in normative ethics. When his book appeared, utilitarianism was the dominant view among analytic ethicists, but, as Samuel Scheffler notes, “utilitarianism's predominant status has been open to serious question ever since A Theory of Justice set forth his powerful alternative vision.”
Our concern in this chapter is with the philosophical means whereby Rawls achieved his transformation of ethical and political thought. How did he make his case for his theory of justice and what can we learn about the nature of philosophical inquiry from Rawls' achievement? Unlike our previous case studies, this one deals with a lengthy book and our relatively brief foray will hardly put us in a position to judge what specific philosophical knowledge he has or has not achieved. We will, however, find a deeper understanding of how convictions can function in philosophical argument.
THE ORIGINAL POSITION AND ITS CONSTRAINTS
The ultimate goal of A Theory of Justice is to establish the truth of two principles, together expressing a conception of justice that Rawls argues should regulate the basic political, social, and economic structures of society.
I knew from the beginning that the title of this book would set me up as a straight man for witty colleagues: “What Philosophers Know – that'll be a short book, won't it?” Or, a bit more subtly, “Shouldn't that title be a question?”
It's not that philosophers lack disciplinary pride. They are quite impressed with how smart they are – in contrast, say, to historians, who, as a member of their clan once pointed out to me, are impressed by how much they know. Of course, the history of philosophy has at regular intervals thrown up imposing monuments of cognitive pretension. Almost every great philosopher claims to have put us on a path to sure knowledge. But the claim is always to have been the first to do this, so that each successive monument is built on the ruins of all the others. As a result, perceptive outsiders (and most insiders, for that matter) have made the disagreement of philosophers a byword.
The failure to reach agreement suggests a failure of argument. Philosophy, especially analytic philosophy, sees itself as distinctively committed to rigorous argumentation. We teach our students how to argue, claim to establish our views by argument, and criticize opponents for offering arguments that are invalid or based on dubious premises. The days are long gone when adequate philosophical argument had to be valid deduction from self-evident premises. We allow that a good philosophical argument may be inductive or based on premises expressing widely shared common-sense judgments.
In this concluding case study, I turn to the work of Richard Rorty on the nature of philosophy. Rorty began as a practitioner of analytic philosophy and always gave it a central role in his thinking. Nonetheless, after the publication of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), he became a bête noire for many analytic philosophers, who saw him as trying to undermine their enterprise by irresponsible defenses of outrageous claims. Others, myself included, find his work an engaging meld of erudition, penetration, and iconoclasm, which, even at its most problematic, always informs and stimulates. For our purposes, Rorty's work is of particular interest for its distinctive mode of philosophical argumentation, for the skeptical view of traditional philosophy defended by that argumentation, and for a perspective on the nature of the truth attained by philosophical knowledge.
RORTY'S PRAGMATIC METAPHILOSOPHY
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature remains the only fully and systematically developed expression of Rorty's views on the nature of philosophy. However, his position significantly changed over the last quarter-century, and he came to prefer explaining and defending his ideas not through unified treatises but in a mosaic of independent essays on intertwined topics. I begin by examining a set of four such essays, which Rorty grouped together, under the general heading “Philosophy's Place in Culture,” in the collection he published shortly before his death in 2007.
TWO SORTS OF KNOWLEDGE?
A lot of our knowledge derives from sense experience: from what we see, hear, touch, etc. Other things we know – about mathematics and logic, for example – seem quite independent of sense experience; we know them simply by thinking – about, for example, the definition of a triangle or the meaning of the term “implies.” Philosophers have long recognized this fact by a distinction between knowledge that is a posteriori (derived from sense experience) and knowledge that is a priori (derived from mere thinking, independent of sense experience). This distinction concerns the ways in which we know. Two further distinctions suggest themselves, one concerning what our knowledge is about (its content) and the other concerning its stability (or, to use the standard logical term, its modality). First, there is a distinction between knowledge about the world we encounter through our experience and knowledge derived from the meanings of the concepts (or words) we use to think. Philosophers, at least since Kant, have called knowledge about the world synthetic, and knowledge about meanings analytic. Second, there is a distinction between knowledge that is contingent (about what can change, such as the color of a leaf) and knowledge that is necessary (about what cannot change, such as the fact that blue is a color).
Philosophers have focused intensely on these distinctions, not only because they seem important for understanding knowledge in general but also because they seem crucial for understanding the nature of philosophical knowledge itself.
The previous three chapters have a distinctly skeptical conclusion: in three of the most admired and cited examples of recent philosophical argumentation, the arguments did not establish the conclusion intended. This does not, however, mean that Quine, Kripke, and Gettier have not achieved important philosophical knowledge. In this chapter, further looks from different angles will reveal their real cognitive achievements.
QUINE: IMAGINATION AND FRUITFULNESS
Quine's “Two Dogmas” did not provide an effective argument against the claim that there is no analytic-synthetic distinction. Although his discussion was very effective in changing minds, it did not achieve this by the objective force of Quine's arguments. It does not, however, follow that the achievement of “Two Dogmas” was merely sociological or psychological, not cognitive. It was a significant cognitive achievement, although one rather different from what the author and his audience took it to be.
What was this achievement? What did the community of analytic philosophers come to know as a result of Quine's discussion? From sections 1–4 of “Two Dogmas,” one thing we learn is that there is no way of defining “analytic” except via a small circle of similar terms (“necessary,” “synonymous,” etc.). Quine doesn't strictly prove this, but he shows that many of the obvious approaches don't work and leaves readers with a challenge to do better. This sort of “challenge argument,” although seldom noted, is particularly prominent (and effective) in contemporary analytic philosophy, where repeated failure to meet a much-discussed challenge is a good reason for thinking that the challenge cannot be met.
Some positions widely held by analytic philosophers seem obviously false. Materialism, for example, seems to deny our overwhelming sense that our conscious experiences have qualitative features (what they are like for us) that make them something beyond quantifiable states and events in our brains and nervous systems. Likewise, compatibilism seems to deny the obvious fact that we are free in the sense of not being determined by external causes to act as we do. The primary source of both puzzling doctrines is science. We incline towards materialism because scientific accounts seem to require that consciousness be nothing beyond matter. Given a complete set of the relevant scientific laws, it would seem that we could derive every truth about consciousness. We can maintain the obvious truth that we are conscious, but only by agreeing that, despite our distinctively qualitative experience of consciousness, it is in the end nothing beyond quantitative material processes.
Science is likewise the source of our backing away from our common-sense view of freedom. There seems to be good reason to think that scientific laws determine everything about us, including our free actions. Given a complete set of scientific laws, it would seem that we could derive every truth about our free actions. In order to save the apparently obvious truth that we are free, it seems we must accept the implausible idea that freedom can somehow be compatible with complete scientific determinism.
It is by now a banality that Thomas Kuhn's book on scientific revolutions itself precipitated an intellectual revolution. Certainly, the book has had a startlingly wide influence. As John Zammito says, “no other work in the history of philosophy of science has been so widely read, discussed, or appropriated by the entirety of the literate public” (52). And even beyond the literate public, we may think, noting that “paradigm” has become part of standard business babble or – as I serendipitously read in today's newspaper – that a rock star earnestly avows that her new album is a “paradigm-shift” for her.
But the question remains of where, if anywhere, Kuhn's effect was deep enough to be judged truly revolutionary. Certainly not in the history of science, where Kuhn himself purported to be offering nothing that historians had not known and been practicing since Koyré. Not even, it might seem, in philosophy of science, to which Kuhn intended his book to be a contribution. There he undeniably created a major stir, but, as Zammito notes, “by 1980, it is fair to say, Kuhn had become a marginal figure for the philosophy of science” (53). More than twenty-five years later the judgment of marginality seems reaffirmed. The grand Kuhnian issues of rationality and truth are no longer central to the discipline. Most of the best philosophy of science consists of highly specialized discussions in the conceptual foundations of specific disciplines, particularly physics, biology, and cognitive science.
In January 1970, just about twenty years after Quine's revolutionary APA paper, Saul Kripke gave a series of lectures at Princeton that launched a counter-revolution. “The impact of the lectures,” Scott Soames tells us, “was profound and immediate, and over the years their influence has grown.” In drastic contrast to Quine's paper, Kripke's lectures provided, among other things, “a compelling defense of the metaphysical concepts of necessity and possibility … forceful arguments that there are necessary truths that are knowable only aposteriori, and apriori truths that are contingent … and a persuasive defense of the intelligibility of essentialism – i.e., the claim that it makes sense to characterize objects as having some of their properties essentially.” Soames' view of Kripke's effectiveness is widely shared. As Christopher Hughes puts it, “Certain Kripkean views [the metaphysical views mentioned by Soames as well as many of Kripke's key claims in the philosophy of language] … are, if not uncontroversial, as close to uncontroversial as any interesting views in analytic philosophy.” This consensus is all the more remarkable because, especially regarding necessity, Kripke rehabilitated positions that seemed to have been definitively buried by analytic philosophers from Frege, through the logical positivists, to Quine. Given analytic philosophers' commitment to rigorous argument as the hallmark of their discipline, we might expect that Kripke's lectures will be models of compelling argument.
The question I've posed in this book is why people outside the discipline of philosophy should pay attention to what philosophers say, and my answer is that philosophers know things about topics that are important to non-philosophers. In this conclusion I first summarize the view of philosophical knowledge that has emerged from my case studies and then offer the example of religious belief as one illustration of the essential role philosophical knowledge should play in non-philososphical thinking.
A PICTURE OF PHILOSOPHICAL KNOWLEDGE
On any account, philosophy is concerned with our convictions – beliefs about fundamental human issues that are deep-rooted in our experiences and practices. According to the view that I've called philosophical foundationalism, the project of philosophy is to provide compelling arguments for or against our convictions, so that our beliefs and lives can be put on a solid rational basis. But, I have maintained, one of the most important achievements of recent philosophy has been to discredit this foundationalism. Philosophers themselves have given good reason to believe that our convictions do not require (and are unlikely, in any case, to receive) compelling philosophical justification. This, of course, is hardly news to most analytic philosophers. Nonetheless, our commitment to rigorous argument as the principal engine of philosophical inquiry often implicitly brings us back to the foundational model, even though we know we have little hope of finding the sort of premises that will make this model effective.
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