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Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no

Keywords a priori truth chess graduate students Hebb Philosophy is an a priori discipline like mathematics or at least it has an a priori methodology at its core and this fact cuts two ways On the one hand it excuses philosophers from spending tedio

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Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no






Presentation on theme: "Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no "— Presentation transcript:

Abstract Manyprojectsincontemporaryphilosophy areartifactualpuzzlesofnoabidingsignicance,butit istreacherouslyeasyforgraduatestudentstobelured intodevotingtheircareerstothem,soadviceisprof- feredonhowtoavoidthistrap. Keywords aprioritruth,chess,graduatestudents, Hebb Philosophyisanaprioridiscipline,likemathematics, andthisfactcutstwoways.Ontheonehand,itexcuses philosophersfromspendingtedioushoursinthelabor theeld,andfromlearningdata-gatheringtechniques, statisticalmethods,geography,history,foreignlan- guages...,empiricalscience,sotheyhaveplentyof timeforhoningtheirphilosophicalskills.Ontheother hand,asisoftennoted,youcanmakephilosophyout ofjustaboutanything,andthisisnotalwaysablessing. Consider,asaparadigmofaprioritruths,thetruths andtherearemountainsofotherempiricalfactsabout chess,abouthowpeoplehavebeenplayingitforcen- turies,oftenusehandsomelycarvedpiecesoninlaid boards,andsoforth.Noknowledgeoftheseempirical factsplaysanindispensableroleintheactivityof workingouttheaprioritruthsofchess,whichalsoexist inabundance.Allyouneedtoknowaretherulesof white(16pawnmovesandfourknightmoves);aking andlonebishopcannotachievecheckmate,andneither canakingandloneknight,andsoforth. 1 Workingout theseaprioritruthsaboutchessisnotchildsplay. Provingjustwhatisandisnotpossiblewithintherules ofchessisanintricatetask,andmistakescanbemade thatgetperpetuated.Forinstance,afewyearsago,a computerchessprogramdiscoveredamatingneta acapture.Thisdisprovedalong-standingtheoremof chessandhasforcedachangeintherulesofthegame. Itusedtobethat50moveswithoutacapturebyeither sideconstitutedadraw(stalemate),butsincethis lengthymatingnetisunbreakable,andleadstoawin, itisunreasonabletomaintainthefty-movestalemate. (Beforecomputersbeganplayingchess,nobody imaginedthatthere could anywherenearthislength.)Allthiscanbepretty interesting,andmanyhighlyintelligentpeoplehave devotedtheirmindstoinvestigatingthissystemofa prioritruthsofchess. Somephilosophicalresearchprojectsorproble- matics,tospeakwiththemoreliterarytypesare ratherlikeworkingoutthetruthsofchess.Asetof mutuallyagreeduponrulesarepresupposedand seldomdiscussedandtheimplicationsofthoserules studentsattendingtheBrownUniversityGraduatePhilosophy ConferenceonFebruary16,2002,andmyowngraduate studentsatTufts.Ithankthem,andcolleaguesatTuftsand elsewhere,forvaluablereactionsandsuggestions. D.C.Dennett( & ) CenterforCognitiveStudies,TuftsUniversity,Medford, MA02155,USA e-mail:Daniel.Dennett@tufts.edu 1 AfewdaysafterIwrotethis,thechesscolumnintheBoston achievecheckmatewithaloneknight.Butingeneral,itisnot possible.Thespecialcaseisshownintheaccompanyinggure. Topoi(2006):3941 DOI10.1007/s11245-006-0005-2 123 RESEARCHARTICLE Higher-ordertruthsaboutchmess DanielC.Dennett  SpringerScience+BusinessMediaB.V.2006 areworkedout,articulated,debated,rened.Sofar,so good.Chessisadeepandimportanthumanartifact, aboutwhichmuchofvaluehasbeenwritten.Butsome philosophicalresearchprojectsaremorelikeworking outthetruthsof chmess .Chmessisjustlikechess exceptthatthekingcanmovetwosquaresinany direction,notone.Ijustinventeditthoughnodoubt othershaveexploreditindepthtoseeifitisworth playing.Probablyitisnt.Itprobablyhasothernames. Ididntbotherinvestigatingthesequestionsbecause althoughtheyhavetrueanswers,theyjustarentworth mytimeandenergytodiscover.OrsoIthink.There arejustasmanyaprioritruthsofchmessasthereare ofchess(aninnity),andtheyarejustashardtodis- cover.Andthatmeansthatifpeopleactuallydidget involvedininvestigatingthetruthsofchmess,they wouldmakemistakes,whichwouldneedtobecor- rected,andthisopensupawholeneweldofapriori investigation,the higher-order truthsofchmess,suchas thefollowing: 1.Jones(1989)proofthat p isatruthofchmessis awed:heoverlooksthefollowingpossibility... 2.Smiths(2002)claimthatJones(1989)proofis awedpresupposesthetruthofBrownslemma (1975),whichhasrecentlybeenchallengedby Garnkle(2002)... Nownoneofthisischildsplay.Infact,onemightbe abletodemonstrateconsiderablebrillianceinthe groupactivityofworkingoutthehigher-ordertruthsof chmess.HereiswhereDonaldHebbsdictumcomesin handy: Ifitisntworthdoing,itisntworthdoingwell. Eachofuscanreadilythinkofanongoingcontro- versyinphilosophywhoseparticipantswouldbeoutof workifHebbsdictumwereruthlesslyapplied,butwe nodoubtdisagreeonjustwhichcottageindustries shouldbeshutdown.Probablythereisnoinvestigation inourcapaciousdisciplinethatisnotbelievedbysome schoolofthoughttobewastedeffort,brilliance squanderedontakingineachotherslaundry.Voting wouldnotyieldresultsworthheeding,anddictatorship wouldbeevenworse,soletathousandowersbloom, Isay.Butjustremember:ifyouletathousandowers bloom,counton995ofthemtowilt.ThealertIwantto offeryouisjustthis:trytoavoidcommittingyour preciousformativeyearstoaresearchagendawitha shortshelflife.Philosophicalfadsquicklygoextinct andtheremaybesometruthtotheruleofthumb:the hotterthetopic,thesooneritwillburnout. Onegoodtesttomakesureyourenotjust exploringthehigher-ordertruthsofchmessistoseeif peopleasidefromphilosophersactuallyplaythe game.Cananybodyoutsideofacademicphilosophy bemadeto care whetheryourerightaboutwhether JonescounterexampleworksagainstSmithsprinciple? Anothersuchtestistotrytoteachthestuffto uninitiatedundergraduates.Iftheydontgetit,you reallyshouldconsiderthehypothesisthatyoure followingaself-supportingcommunityofexpertsinto anartifactualtrap. Hereisonewaythetrapworks.Philosophyisto someextentanunnaturalact,andthemoreintelligent youare,themorequalmsandreservationsyouare likelytohaveaboutwhetheryougetit,whetheryoure doingitright,whetheryouhaveanytalentforthis disciplineandevenonwhetherthedisciplineisworth enteringintherstplace.SobrightstudentJonesis appropriately insecureaboutgoingintophilosophy. IntriguedbyProfessorBrownsdiscussion,Jonestakes astabatit,writingapaperonhottopic H thatisgiven anAbyProfessorBrown.Youvegotrealtalent, Jones,saysBrown,andJoneshasjustdiscovered somethingthatmightmakesuitablelifework.Jones beginstoinvestinlearningtherulesofthisparticular game,andplayingitferociouslywiththeotheryoung aspirants.Hey,weregoodatthis!theysay,egging eachotheron.Doubtsabouttheenablingassumptions oftheenterprisetendtobemufedorsquelchedfor thesakeofargument.Publicationsfollow. Sodontcountonthevalidationofyourfellow graduatestudents or yourfavoriteprofessorstosettle theissue.Theyallhaveavestedinterestinkeepingthe enterprisegoing.Itswhattheyknowhowtodo;its whattheyaregoodat.Thisisaprobleminotherelds too,ofcourse,anditcanbeevenhardertobreakout of.Experimentalistswhomasteratechniqueandequip anexpensivelabforpursuingitoftengetstuckllingin theblanksofdatamatricesthatnobodycaresabout anylonger.Whataretheysupposedtodo?Throw awayallthatexpensiveapparatus?Itcanbeanasty problem.Itisactuallyeasierandcheaperforphiloso- pherstore-tool.Afterall,ourtrainingisnot,in general,high-tech.Itsmainlyamatteroflearningour wayaroundinvariousliteratures,learningthemoves thathavebeentriedandtested.Andherethetrapto avoidissimplythis:youseethatsomebodyeminent hasassertedsomethinguntenableordubiousinprint; ProfessorGoofmakerscleverbutawedpieceisa sittingduck,justtherighttargetforaneye-catching debutpublication.Goforit.Youweighin,alongwitha dozenothers,andnowyoumustwatchyourstep, becausebythetimeyouveallcitedeachotherand 40 D.C.Dennett 123 respondedtotheresponses,youreabuddingexperton HowtoDealwithHowtoDealwithResponsesto Goofmakersminoroverstatement.(Andremember, too,thatifGoofmakerhadntmadehisthesisalittle toobold,heneverwouldhaveattractedalltheatten- tionintherstplace;thetemptationtobeprovocative isnotrestrictedtograduatestudentsonthelookoutfor asplashyentranceintotheeld.) Ofcoursesomepeoplearequitecontenttonda congenialgroupofsmartpeoplewithwhomtoshare thefunofdiscovery,thepleasuresofcooperation, andthesatisfactionofreachingagreement,asJohn Austinonceputit(seeAustin1961,p.175),without worryingaboutwhetherthejointtaskisworthdoing. Andifenoughpeopledoit,iteventuallybecomesa phenomenoninitsownright,worthstudying.As BurtonDrebenusedtosaytothegraduatestudentsat Harvard,Philosophyisgarbage,butthehistoryof garbageisscholarship.Somegarbageismore importantthanothergarbage,however,anditshardto decidewhichofitisworthyofscholarship.Inanother lecturepublishedinthesamebook,Austingaveusthe followingsnidemasterpiece: Itisnotunusualforanaudienceatalectureto includesomewhopreferthingstobeimportant, andtothemnow,incasethereareanysuch present,thereisowedaperoration.(Ifsand cans,pp.23031) Austinwasabrilliantphilosopher,butmostofthe verypromisingphilosopherswhoorbitedaroundhim, nodoubtchucklingatthisremark,havevanished withoutatrace,theiroh-so-cleverworkinordinary- languagephilosophydulypublishedandthenutterly anddeservedlyignoredwithinafewyearsofpublica- tion.Ithashappenedmanytimes. Sowhatshouldyoudo?ThetestsIhavemen- tionedseeingiffolksoutsidephilosophy,orbright undergraduates,canbemadetocareareonly warningsigns,notdenitive.Certainlytherehave been,andwillbe,forbiddinglyabstruseanddifcult topicsofphilosophicalinvestigationwellworthpur- suing,inspiteofthefactthattheuninitiatedremain unimpressed.Icertainlydontwanttodiscourage explorationsthatdefytheambientpresumptionsabout whatisinterestingandimportant.Onthecontrary,the bestboldstrokesintheeldwillalmostalwaysbemet bystonyincredulityorridiculeatrst,andthese shouldnotdeteryou.Mypointisjustthatyoushould notsettlecomplacentlyintoaseatonthebandwagon justbecauseyouhavefoundsomebrilliantfellow travelerswhondyourworkontheissueasunignor- ableasyoundtheirs.Youmayallbetakingeach otherforaride. Reference AustinJL(1961)Apleaforexcuses,inhisPhilosophical papers.OxfordUniversityPress,Oxford,pp.175204. Higher-ordertruths 41 123