Monday, December 17, 2012

Good philosophy is not bad


Plato: A not bad philosopher?

What is good philosophy? What is bad philosophy? These questions occurred to me after having disproved the Lottery Paradox. For how can it happen that a thesis like the Lottery Paradox persists so long, while in my opinion it is so easy to refute? Is it really such a bad kind of philosophy as I think it is, or does it have strong points as well? Since I do not have a thorough formal philosophical training, because it was another route that led me to philosophy (which is not unusual for philosophers), I cannot fall back on theoretical insights or procedures that I had learned during my education, nor do I have such books. What I did therefore is what most people do today, I think: I googled my questions. However, it didn’t help me for I found a lot on the philosophy of the good and the bad but nothing about what good or bad philosophy might be. The only thing I found was that philosophy must not be inconsistent, but that’s obvious, I should say. Moreover, inconsistency may be a criterion for bad philosophical reasoning but consistent reasoning is not good just for that. It would be bad philosophy to contend the latter, since there are other factors that can make an argumentation wrong even if it is consistent. This thought is in line with Karl Popper’s brilliant idea that fundamentally it is possible to refute a theory, but that it is never possible to prove it. If this idea is applied to my questions, it means that one cannot say what good philosophy is, although one can say “that is bad philosophy”. Or rather, one can say “that is a bad philosophical argumentation”. Then one comes into the fields of argumentation theory and methodology and their rules. Or even more, then applies what Paul Feyerabend says: “Anything goes”, namely that any argumentation, also non-standard, that undermines another argumentation makes the latter a bad one (basically, for the thesis is founded on certain suppositions, like that the former reasoning is correct).
Does this mean that we can say nothing about what good philosophy is, but that we can say only that a case of philosophy is “not bad”? By chance, recently I received a contents alert from a philosophical journal that drew my attention to the article “Bad Analytical Philosophy” by Pascal Engel. The first sentences read: “Most analytic philosophers agree that good philosophy ought to satisfy certain minimal requirements: it should be clear, precise, well argued, putting forward an explicit thesis and exemplify the principle that truth emerges more readily from error than from confusion. Everyone agrees that it should be also interesting, relevant, reasonably original, rigorous, and that it should advance theoretical or critical proposals on the problems and puzzles which have shaped the analytic tradition or which are the object of current concern. Many philosophers are confident that when these basic desiderata are met, analytic philosophy cannot be bad. Nevertheless we all know that there is bad analytic philosophy.” And I want to add here: what is valid for analytical philosophy is valid for philosophy in general as well. However, in the light of Popper’s idea that we cannot positively prove a theory, that good philosophy cannot be guaranteed when we follow the requirements listed by Engel. These requirements can be guide lines at most. They’ll never reach the status of criteria that make philosophy good when strictly applied, although it will be possible to lay down criteria that make philosophy bad (even if these will not be exhaustive).
Where does this get us? The upshot is that there is no good philosophy, or rather: logically we cannot say that a piece of philosophy is good but only that it is not bad at most. But maybe this is a case of bad philosophy.
Source: Pascal Engel, “Bad Analytical Philosophy”, in Dialectica Vol. 66, N° 1 (2012), pp. 1–4: p. 1

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