Tag Archives: philosophical methodology

Nick Beckstead

[O]ur moral judgments are less reliable than many would hope, and this has specific implications for methodology in normative ethics. Three sources of evidence indicate that our intuitive ethical judgments are less reliable than we might have hoped: a historical record of accepting morally absurd social practices; a scientific record showing that our intuitive judgments are systematically governed by a host of heuristics, biases, and irrelevant factors; and a philosophical record showing deep, probably unresolvable, inconsistencies in common moral convictions. I argue that this has the following implications for moral theorizing: we should trust intuitions less; we should be especially suspicious of intuitive judgments that fit a bias pattern, even when we are intuitively condent that these judgments are not a simple product of the bias; we should be especially suspicious of intuitions that are part of inconsistent sets of deeply held convictions; and we should evaluate views holistically, thinking of entire classes of judgments that they get right or wrong in broad contexts, rather than dismissing positions on the basis of a small number of intuitive counterexamples.

Nick Beckstead, On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future, doctoral dissertation, University of Rutgers, New Brunswick, 2013, p. 19

J. J. C. Smart

The reason why there are hardly ever completely knock-down arguments, except between very like minded philosophers, is that philosophers, unlike chemists or geologists, are licensed to question everything, including methodology.

J. J. C. Smart, ‘Ockhamist Comments on Strawson’, in Anthony Freeman (ed.), Consciousness and its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?, Exteter, 2006, pp. 158-159

Mark Balaguer

Whenever you’re trying to discover something about the nature of the world, you can always proceed straight to the point at hand, without having to determine the meaning of some folk expression, by simply introducing some theoretical terms and defining them by stipulation. Thus, for example, if you just want to know what the solar system is like, you can forget about folk terms like ‘planet’ and introduce some new terms with clearly defined meanings. And if you just want to know what human decision-making processes are like, you can simply use terms of art like ‘Humean freedom’ and ‘L-freedom’ and so on and proceed straight to the point at hand, trying to determine which of the various kinds of freedom (or “freedom”) human beings actually possess without first determining the ordinary-language meaning of the folk term ‘free will’. And if you’re in a situation where you already know all the relevant metaphysical facts but don’t know what some folk term means, then you can describe the metaphysical facts using technical terms with stipulated definitions, and so your lack of knowledge of the meaning of the folk term shouldn’t be treated as a genuine ignorance of (nonsemantic) metaphysical facts.

Mark Balaguer, Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2010, pp. 34-35

Michael Huemer

It is not the case that whenever an argument deploys a premise that directly and obviously contradicts an opponent’s position, the argument begs the question. Still less is it true that whenever a consistent opponent would reject at least one of an argument’s premises, the argument begs the question.

Michael Huemer, Ethical Intuitionism, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2005, p. 69

David Enoch

Often when reading philosophy one gets the feeling that the writer cares more deeply about his or her conclusion than about the argument, so that if the argument can be shown to fail, the philosopher whose argument it is will simply proceed to look for other arguments rather than take back his or her commitment to the conclusion.

David Enoch, ‘An Outline of an Argument for Robust Metanormative Realism’, Oxford Studies in Metaethics, vol. 2 (2007), p. 23

David Schmidtz

Wherever I go, whether my audience consists of local students, congressional staffers, or post-Soviet professors, when I present the TROLLEY case and ask them whether they would switch tracks, most will say, “There has to be another way!” A philosophy professor’s first reaction to this is to say, “Please, stay on topic. I’m trying to illustrate a point here! To see the point, you need to decide what to do when there is no other way.” When I said this to my class of post-Soviet professors, though, they spoke briefly among themselves, then two of them quietly said (as others nodded in agreement), “Yes, we understand. We have heard this before. All our lives we were told the few must be sacrificed for the sake of many. We were told there is no other way. But what we were told was a lie. There was always another way.

David Schmidtz, Elements of Justice, Cambridge, 2006, pp. 175-175

C. D. Broad

It appears to me that the best preparation for original work on any philosophic problem is to study the solutions which have been proposed for it by men of genius whose views differ from each other as much as possible. The clash of their opinions may strike a light which will enable us to avoid the mistakes into which they have fallen; and by noticing the strong and weak points of each theory we may discover the direction in which further progress can be made.

C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory, London, 1930, pp. 1-2

David Papineau

It can’t possibly be a good idea to assess philosophical theories by the extent to which they preserve everyday intuitions. The trouble is that everyday intuitions are often nothing more than bad old theories in disguise. Any amount of nonsense was once part of common sense, and much nonsense no doubt still is. It was once absolutely obvious that the heavens revolve around the earth each day, that the heart is the seat of the soul, that without religion there can be no morality, that perception involves the reception of sensible forms, and so on. If philosophy had been forced to respect these everyday intuitions, we would still be in the intellectual dark ages.

David Papineau, ‘The Tyranny of Common Sense’, The Philosophers’ Magazine, no. 34 (April-June, 2006)

Robin Hanson

When large regions of one’s data are suspect and for that reason given less credence, even complex curves will tend to look simpler as they are interpolated across such suspect regions. In general, the more error one expects in one’s intuitions (one’s data, in the curve-fitting context), the more one prefers simpler moral principles (one’s curves) that are less context-dependent. This might, but need not, tip the balance of reflective equilibrium so much that we adopt very simple and general moral principles, such as utilitarianism. This might not be appealing, but if we really distrust some broad set of our moral intuitions, this may be the best that we can do.

Robin Hanson, ‘Why Health is not Special: Errors in Evolved Bioethics Intuitions’, Social Philosophy & Policy, vol. 19, no. 2 (Summer, 2002), p. 179

Stephen Stich

The idea that philosophy could be kept apart from the sciences would have been dismissed out of hand by most of the great philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries. But many contemporary philosophers believe they can practice their craft without knowing what is going on in the natural and social sciences. If facts are needed, they rely on their “intuition”, or they simply invent them. The results of philosophy done in this way are typically sterile and often silly. There are no proprietary philosophical questions that are worth answering, nor is there any productive philosophical method that does not engage the sciences. But there are lots of deeply important (and fascinating and frustrating) questions about minds, morals, language, culture and more. To make progress on them we need to use anything that science can tell us, and any method that works.

Stephen Stich, in Steve Pyke, Philosophers, Oxford, 2011, p. 192

George Schlesinger

The purpose of philosophy is to find out by rigorous methods what the truth is. Often its results clash with the common sense view. In such cases it is reasonable to maintain that our relatively unexamined common sense views should be abandoned and give way to the conclusions of rigorous philosophical analysis.

George Schlesinger, ‘Possible Worlds and the Mystery of Existence’, Ratio, vol. 26, no. 1 (1984), p. 10

John Barrow and Frank Tipler

Whereas many philosophers and theologians appear to possess an emotional attachment to their theories and ideas which requires them to believe them, most scientists tend to regard their ideas differently. They are interested in formulating many logically consistent possibilities, leaving any judgment regarding their truth to observation. Scientists feel no qualms about suggesting different but mutually exclusive explanations for the same phenomenon.

John Barrow and Frank Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Oxford, 1986, p. 15

J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig

Because philosophy operates at a presuppositional level by clarifying and justifying the presuppositions of a discipline, philosophy is the only field of study that has no unquestioned assumptions within its own domain. In other words, philosophy is a self-referential discipline, for questions about the definition, justification and methodology of philosophy are themselves philosophical in nature. Philosophers keep the books on everyone, including themselves.

J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Illinois, 2003, p. 13