after many things – understanding is certainly one of those things. I don’t want to say that truth is the be all and end all, but truth is one thing we’re after. A lot of philosophers get into philosophy to try and find out the truth, to try and find some answers. Why are we here? What is the nature of the mind? What is the fundamental nature of reality? Why is there something rather than nothing? We have questions. You come into philosophy wanting answers.”
“Analytic philosophers typically function by putting forward theses as true and trying to argue for them. It looks like a method which is very much directed at trying to attain truth. There’s sometimes the view that we shouldn’t care so much about truth, we should care about understanding. I tend to think of that as a reaction to the fact that in philosophy truth is rather hard to find. There’s a kind of lowering of your sights – if we can’t get truth at least we’ll get something else: understanding, insight, exploration. There are these other values. I just want to insist that truth is a value we care about quite deeply, and with respect to progress on the truth we’re not doing quite as well as we’d like.”
Well all right, then why isn’t there more collective convergence to the truth in philosophy, at least as compared to the sciences? Chalmers thinks the answer has to do with the methods proper to philosophy and the methods proper to mathematics and science. Although we tell ourselves that testing philosophical conjectures with the cut and thrust of argumentation ought to leave only the best views standing, leading to greater and greater agreement on the big questions, in fact argumentation is lousy at compelling agreement.
“Proofs in mathematics and the experimental method in science seem to lead to agreement.
In philosophy we have the method of argument, and that does not lead to agreement. That’s interesting. Why doesn’t it?
“In practice what happens in philosophy is that someone puts forward an argument – some premises, an inference to a conclusion – and we say well that’s an interesting argument, but it’s almost never the case that opponents are left without a response. Typically what happens is that an opponent thinks it through and says, ‘OK,
Why is it so hard to make progress?
I deny this premise or I deny this inference’. Usually that turns out to be a tenable move. If you try to do that in mathematics, deny an axiom, it’s awfully untenable. If you try to do that in science, maybe deny key observations or inferences, after a while that gets untenable.
“But in philosophy it doesn’t get untenable. Philosophers just figure out what premise of the argument they have to reject, and they elaborate their view accordingly. It leads to a greater sophistication of their views – a physicalist realises what commitments they have to take on to avoid a dualist argument, likewise a dualist recognises what commitments they have to take on to avoid physicalist arguments. Sometimes the commitments are antecedently surprising. Often the best you can hope for is making an opponent deny a premise that was antecendently plausible, chalk one up to you when that happens, but still it’s not enough to lead to conversion or agreement. It turns out that there’s quite a lot of stable ground in philosophy for many different disagreeing views to stand on, and that’s not so in mathematics and the sciences.
1ST QUARTER 2014 tpm discussi o n/i n t e r vi e w