Tag Archives: descriptive vs. revisionary

Derek Parfit

Strawson describes two kinds of philosophy, descriptive, and revisionary. Descriptive philosophy gives reasons for what we instinctively assume, and explains and justifies the unchanging central core in our beliefs about ourselves, and the world we inhabit. I have great respect for descriptive philosophy. But, by temperament, I am a revisionist. […] Philosophers should not only interpret our beliefs; when they are false, they should change them.

Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, Oxford, 1984, p. x

Brian Leiter

Professional philosophy, like any hierarchical organization, also displays unpleasant bureaucratic features, such as cronyism and in-breeding. Philosophers often describe their discipline as being an especially “critical” one, yet much of the time philosophers are deeply uncritical, more so than most might believe. As Hegel appreciated, most philosophers tend to capture their time in thought, that is, they end up giving expression to and trying to rationalize the most deep-seated beliefs of their culture (vide Hegel himself, not to mention Kant). Much philosophy takes quite seriously our ordinary “intuitions”—untutored and immediate responses to particular questions or problems—in ways that might be thought suspect. Much philosophy fits the mold of a recent book by an eminent philosopher, whose publisher describes it as “reconcile[ing] our common-sense conception of ourselves as conscious, free, mindful, rational agents” with “a world that we believe includes brute, unconscious, mindless, meaningless, mute physical particles in fields of force”. But why think such a reconciliation is in the offing? Too often, the answer is unclear in philosophy.

Brian Leiter, The Future for Philosophy, New York, 2004, pp. 20-21