…and what is it that you do do?

A metaphilosophy and methodology round-up in four parts:

1. Jonathan Ichikawa, guest-blogging at Schwitzgebel’s The Splintered Mind, asks “What do analytic philosophers analyze?

2. Regular Splintered readers know that Schwitzgebel posts a lot (and well!) on questions like “Do ethicists behave better than the rest of us?” I wonder how best to phrase analogous questions about epistemologists and metaphysicians. How about “Do epistemologists believe better?”? And “Do metaphysicisns have a better grip on reality?”?
3. I love this remark by Denis Des Chenes from a while ago at Leiter Reports:

I must admit that when I read some analytic philosophy (and some history of philosophy too) I ask myself what anyone who wasn’t wholly immersed in the debate would find in it. The standard defense against that sort of jibe … is to say that epistemology or whatever is a specialized discipline that, like physics or mathematics, has good reason to employ its own jargon and that has, as a pursuit, value in its own right; it need not justify its existence to outsiders.

That’s all well and good. But physics and mathematics have striking, stable results and notable applications to back up their claims of value. What does metaphysics have to offer? Physicists, moreover, have done a very good job of popularizing even the more esoteric reaches of their science—think of Stephen Weinberg’s or Brian Greene’s books. Is there any popularization of metaphysics as it is done now, or of epistemology, that compares to them? Would we value such a work if someone troubled to write it?

4. Perhaps not the popularization that Des Chenes asks for, but relevant nonetheless, is Timothy Williamson’s manuscript on philosophical methodology available here: [Link to ms]. Spoiler alert! The following is from the penultimate paragraph:

Philosophy has never been done for an extended period according to standards as high as those that are now already available, if only the profession will take them seriously to heart. None of us knows how far we can get by applying them systematically enough for long enough. We can find out only by trying.

Abstraction in Leather and Wood

Abstraction in Leather and Wood. 2007. Pete Mandik.

8 Responses to “…and what is it that you do do?”

  1. Ken Aizawa says:

    Do philosophers of humor tell better jokes than the rest of us?
    Do philosophers of sex and love have better sex or make better lovers than the rest of us?
    Do philosophers of sport win more often than the rest of us?
    Do skeptics know less than the rest of us?

    That’s probably enough ….

  2. Let me wager: Very likely, quite possibly, maybe not but I bet they play more sports, and probably yes if belief is necessary for knowledge and skepticism is wrong.

    Ken, I can’t tell from your comment whether you take the answers to these questions to be obviously no, and thus that it should also be obviously not plausible to suppose that ethicists would behave better. If so, consider my comments above to be a challenge to the first move in that argument. I’m actually not convinced by the second move in that argument, either.

    Maybe you can clarify, then?…

  3. Funny — now looking back on your remark, Ken, I don’t get the sense that you were suggesting the argument I thought you might be suggesting. Maybe you were just riffing on Pete’s idea. (And I didn’t take Pete to be suggesting that argument.)

    Probably I’m just hypersensitive about this stuff today, given some unpleasant email exchanges I suffered this morning!

  4. Ken Aizawa says:


    Sorry, I was posting these kind of tongue in cheek. I was riffing on Pete’s comment. Maybe they were funnier to me at the time, because I was thinking, although not writing, “Do philosophers of sex smoke after sex?” I confess. I’m old, but I’m still immature.

    But, I wouldn’t be surprised if each of these questions go different answers.


  5. Ken Aizawa says:

    Do philosophers of sport win more often than the rest of us?

    On this one, it seems to depend a lot on sociological facts.

    Maybe thinking more deeply about philosophical issues helps one win. Then again, maybe it takes away from things like aerobic conditioning or weight training that might be more helpful in enabling one to win.

    Or, it could be that thinking about the value of winning makes one decide that only certain forms of winning are worthwhile, so that some should not be pursued. In such a case, maybe one will choose to lose or resign, rather than win in some ways that should not be pursued. So, a philosopher of sport might win less than the rest of us.

    Or, why might one go into philosophy of sport? Maybe because one was not a good athlete in the first place. Or maybe one was a good athlete and wants to understand what that was all about. (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone in the philosophy of sport.)

    And there is some question about who “the rest of us” are. And there is “winning more”. It could be that philosophers of sport play more sports, so just win more than the rest of us in terms of the absolute number of victories, but are worse players.

  6. I agree, Ken, that this has to be done on a case-by-case basis. Sorry my sense of humor went missing yesterday!

    Of course, if philosophers of sport play more then they probably will win more — even if their winning *percentage* isn’t so good!

  7. Ken Aizawa says:

    No problem. It wasn’t all that funny.