Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no - PDF document

Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no
Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no

Abstract Many projects in contemporary philosophy are artifactual puzzles of no - Description


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 ID: 3475 Download Pdf

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Abstract Manyprojectsincontemporaryphilosophy areartifactualpuzzlesofnoabidingsigniřcance,butit istreacherouslyeasyforgraduatestudentstobelured intodevotingtheircareerstothem,soadviceisprof- feredonhowtoavoidthistrap. Keywords aprioritruth,chess,graduatestudents, Hebb Philosophyisanaprioridiscipline,likemathematics, andthisfactcutstwoways.Ontheonehand,itexcuses philosophersfromspendingtedioushoursinthelabor theřeld,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 theseaprioritruthsaboutchessisnotchild’splay. Provingjustwhatisandisnotpossiblewithintherules ofchessisanintricatetask,andmistakescanbemade thatgetperpetuated.Forinstance,afewyearsago,a computerchessprogramdiscoveredamatingnet—a acapture.Thisdisprovedalong-standing‘‘theorem’’of chessandhasforcedachangeintherulesofthegame. Itusedtobethat50moveswithoutacapturebyeither sideconstitutedadraw(stalemate),butsincethis lengthymatingnetisunbreakable,andleadstoawin, itisunreasonabletomaintaintheřfty-movestalemate. (Beforecomputersbeganplayingchess,nobody imaginedthatthere could anywherenearthislength.)Allthiscanbepretty interesting,andmanyhighlyintelligentpeoplehave devotedtheirmindstoinvestigatingthissystemofa prioritruthsofchess. Somephilosophicalresearchprojects—orproble- matics,tospeakwiththemoreliterarytypes—are ratherlikeworkingoutthetruthsofchess.Asetof mutuallyagreeduponrulesarepresupposed—and seldomdiscussed—andtheimplicationsofthoserules 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.Thespecialcaseisshownintheaccompanyingřgure. Topoi(2006):39–41 DOI10.1007/s11245-006-0005-2 123 RESEARCHARTICLE Higher-ordertruthsaboutchmess DanielC.Dennett  SpringerScience+BusinessMediaB.V.2006 areworkedout,articulated,debated,reřned.Sofar,so good.Chessisadeepandimportanthumanartifact, aboutwhichmuchofvaluehasbeenwritten.Butsome philosophicalresearchprojectsaremorelikeworking outthetruthsof chmess .Chmessisjustlikechess exceptthatthekingcanmovetwosquaresinany direction,notone.Ijustinventedit—thoughnodoubt othershaveexploreditindepthtoseeifitisworth playing.Probablyitisn’t.Itprobablyhasothernames. Ididn’tbotherinvestigatingthesequestionsbecause althoughtheyhavetrueanswers,theyjustaren’tworth mytimeandenergytodiscover.OrsoIthink.There arejustasmanyaprioritruthsofchmessasthereare ofchess(aninřnity),andtheyarejustashardtodis- cover.Andthatmeansthatifpeopleactuallydidget involvedininvestigatingthetruthsofchmess,they wouldmakemistakes,whichwouldneedtobecor- rected,andthisopensupawholenewřeldofapriori investigation,the higher-order truthsofchmess,suchas thefollowing: 1.Jones’(1989)proofthat p isatruthofchmessis Ŗawed:heoverlooksthefollowingpossibility... 2.Smith’s(2002)claimthatJones’(1989)proofis ŖawedpresupposesthetruthofBrown’slemma (1975),whichhasrecentlybeenchallengedby Garřnkle(2002)... Nownoneofthisischild’splay.Infact,onemightbe abletodemonstrateconsiderablebrillianceinthe groupactivityofworkingoutthehigher-ordertruthsof chmess.HereiswhereDonaldHebb’sdictumcomesin handy: Ifitisn’tworthdoing,itisn’tworthdoingwell. Eachofuscanreadilythinkofanongoingcontro- versyinphilosophywhoseparticipantswouldbeoutof workifHebb’sdictumwereruthlesslyapplied,butwe nodoubtdisagreeonjustwhichcottageindustries shouldbeshutdown.Probablythereisnoinvestigation inourcapaciousdisciplinethatisnotbelievedbysome schoolofthoughttobewastedeffort,brilliance squanderedontakingineachother’slaundry.Voting wouldnotyieldresultsworthheeding,anddictatorship wouldbeevenworse,soletathousandŖowersbloom, Isay.Butjustremember:ifyouletathousandŖowers bloom,counton995ofthemtowilt.ThealertIwantto offeryouisjustthis:trytoavoidcommittingyour preciousformativeyearstoaresearchagendawitha shortshelflife.Philosophicalfadsquicklygoextinct andtheremaybesometruthtotheruleofthumb:the hotterthetopic,thesooneritwillburnout. Onegoodtesttomakesureyou’renotjust exploringthehigher-ordertruthsofchmessistoseeif peopleasidefromphilosophersactuallyplaythe game.Cananybodyoutsideofacademicphilosophy bemadeto care whetheryou’rerightaboutwhether Jones’counterexampleworksagainstSmith’sprinciple? Anothersuchtestistotrytoteachthestuffto uninitiatedundergraduates.Iftheydon’t‘‘getit,’’you reallyshouldconsiderthehypothesisthatyou’re followingaself-supportingcommunityofexpertsinto anartifactualtrap. Hereisonewaythetrapworks.Philosophyisto someextentanunnaturalact,andthemoreintelligent youare,themorequalmsandreservationsyouare likelytohaveaboutwhetheryougetit,whetheryou’re ‘‘doingitright,’’whetheryouhaveanytalentforthis disciplineandevenonwhetherthedisciplineisworth enteringintheřrstplace.SobrightstudentJonesis appropriately insecureaboutgoingintophilosophy. IntriguedbyProfessorBrown’sdiscussion,Jonestakes astabatit,writingapaperonhottopic H thatisgiven an‘‘A’’byProfessorBrown.‘‘You’vegotrealtalent, Jones,’’saysBrown,andJoneshasjustdiscovered somethingthatmightmakesuitablelifework.Jones beginstoinvestinlearningtherulesofthisparticular game,andplayingitferociouslywiththeotheryoung aspirants.‘‘Hey,we’regoodatthis!’’theysay,egging eachotheron.Doubtsabouttheenablingassumptions oftheenterprisetendtobemufŖedorsquelched‘‘for thesakeofargument.’’Publicationsfollow. Sodon’tcountonthevalidationofyourfellow graduatestudents or yourfavoriteprofessorstosettle theissue.Theyallhaveavestedinterestinkeepingthe enterprisegoing.It’swhattheyknowhowtodo;it’s whattheyaregoodat.Thisisaprobleminotherřelds too,ofcourse,anditcanbeevenhardertobreakout of.Experimentalistswhomasteratechniqueandequip anexpensivelabforpursuingitoftengetstuckřllingin theblanksofdatamatricesthatnobodycaresabout anylonger.Whataretheysupposedtodo?Throw awayallthatexpensiveapparatus?Itcanbeanasty problem.Itisactuallyeasierandcheaperforphiloso- pherstore-tool.Afterall,our‘‘training’’isnot,in general,high-tech.It’smainlyamatteroflearningour wayaroundinvariousliteratures,learningthemoves thathavebeentriedandtested.Andherethetrapto avoidissimplythis:youseethatsomebodyeminent hasassertedsomethinguntenableordubiousinprint; ProfessorGoofmaker’scleverbutŖawedpieceisa sittingduck,justtherighttargetforaneye-catching debutpublication.Goforit.Youweighin,alongwitha dozenothers,andnowyoumustwatchyourstep, becausebythetimeyou’veallcitedeachotherand 40 D.C.Dennett 123 respondedtotheresponses,you’reabuddingexperton HowtoDealwithHowtoDealwithResponsesto Goofmaker’sminoroverstatement.(Andremember, too,thatifGoofmakerhadn’tmadehisthesisalittle toobold,heneverwouldhaveattractedalltheatten- tionintheřrstplace;thetemptationtobeprovocative isnotrestrictedtograduatestudentsonthelookoutfor asplashyentranceintotheřeld.) Ofcoursesomepeoplearequitecontenttořnda congenialgroupofsmartpeoplewithwhomtoshare ‘‘thefunofdiscovery,thepleasuresofcooperation, andthesatisfactionofreachingagreement,’’asJohn Austinonceputit(seeAustin1961,p.175),without worryingaboutwhetherthejointtaskisworthdoing. Andifenoughpeopledoit,iteventuallybecomesa phenomenoninitsownright,worthstudying.As BurtonDrebenusedtosaytothegraduatestudentsat Harvard,‘‘Philosophyisgarbage,butthehistoryof garbageisscholarship.’’Somegarbageismore importantthanothergarbage,however,andit’shardto decidewhichofitisworthyofscholarship.Inanother lecturepublishedinthesamebook,Austingaveusthe followingsnidemasterpiece: Itisnotunusualforanaudienceatalectureto includesomewhopreferthingstobeimportant, andtothemnow,incasethereareanysuch present,thereisowedaperoration.(‘‘Ifsand cans,’’pp.230–31) Austinwasabrilliantphilosopher,butmostofthe verypromisingphilosopherswhoorbitedaroundhim, nodoubtchucklingatthisremark,havevanished withoutatrace,theiroh-so-cleverworkinordinary- languagephilosophydulypublishedandthenutterly anddeservedlyignoredwithinafewyearsofpublica- tion.Ithashappenedmanytimes. Sowhatshouldyoudo?ThetestsIhavemen- tioned—seeingiffolksoutsidephilosophy,orbright undergraduates,canbemadetocare—areonly warningsigns,notdeřnitive.Certainlytherehave been,andwillbe,forbiddinglyabstruseanddifřcult topicsofphilosophicalinvestigationwellworthpur- suing,inspiteofthefactthattheuninitiatedremain unimpressed.Icertainlydon’twanttodiscourage explorationsthatdefytheambientpresumptionsabout whatisinterestingandimportant.Onthecontrary,the bestboldstrokesintheřeldwillalmostalwaysbemet bystonyincredulityorridiculeatřrst,andthese shouldnotdeteryou.Mypointisjustthatyoushould notsettlecomplacentlyintoaseatonthebandwagon justbecauseyouhavefoundsomebrilliantfellow travelerswhořndyourworkontheissueasunignor- ableasyouřndtheirs.Youmayallbetakingeach otherforaride. Reference AustinJL(1961)‘‘Apleaforexcuses,’’inhisPhilosophical papers.OxfordUniversityPress,Oxford,pp.175–204. Higher-ordertruths 41 123

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