on July 9, 2010
In this well-written, informative, and stimulating exercise in metaphilosophy, Gary Gutting argues that "there is a body of disciplinary philosophical knowledge achieved by (at least) analytic philosophers of the last fifty years."(2) Philosophers, Gutting argues, " have expert knowledge about a large and important domain of conceptual (or linguistic) distinctions."(241) "Exemplary pieces of philosophy" produced by Quine, Kripke, Gettier, and others have "generated important philosophical knowledge."(4) This knowledge is important not simply for technical reasons, but because (and Gutting had this retired philosophy prof cheering at this point) those without access to it "will be severely limited in the essential reflective dimension of human existence."(2)
Gutting distinguishes second-order and first-order philosophical truths. Second-order truths are about the prospects of general philosophical "pictures," such as empiricism or theism. These truths have been established by way of "persuasive elaboration," showing what we can do with various ideas.(89) This has been done without theoretical formulation, as in the case of Quine's holism, or with it, as in the case of Goldman's reliabilism. (The tendency is to move in the direction of theoretical elaboration.) Thus, I take it, one second-order philosophical truth is: Epistemological holism and reliabilism are worth further theoretical elaboration.(76, 81)
First-order philosophical truths are about the subject matter of philosophical pictures. Typically, these truths concern the nature of fundamental distinctions (e.g., analytic-synthetic, naming-describing, knowledge-true opinion). Examples of first-order philosophical truths include: Proper names are rigid designators,(86) and, For a huge number of cases, including almost all everyday ones, the justified-true-belief definition of knowledge is correct.(87)
In coming to know these first-order truths, Gutting argues, philosophers have rejected Philosophical Foundationalism, the traditional view according to which "the project of philosophy is to provide compelling arguments for or against our `convictions,'" our "beliefs about fundamental issues that are deep-rooted in our experiences and practices,"(224; e.g., mind-body dualism (237)) "One of the most important achievements of recent philosophy has been to discredit this foundationalism."(224) So another philosophical truth (first-order? second-order?) is evidently: Philosophical Foundationalism is false. Gutting insightfully explores the use of convictions in writings by or about the work of Plantinga, Chalmers, Van Inwagen, Kuhn, and Rawls.
This does not mean, however, that convictions float free of logical evaluation. "Convictions that persistently fail to generate defensible theories will be rightly judged non-viable";(228) e.g., supernaturalism about the mind-body problem.(237) So yet another philosophical truth appears to be something like: Dealing responsibly with convictions requires that they pass philosophical scrutiny. (But doesn't this let Philosophical Foundationalism back in?)
Gutting concludes his argument with an essential and thoughtful defense of it against Rorty's rejection of philosophy as a body of disciplinary knowledge, and with an illustration of "the importance of such knowledge outside philosophy by showing the relevance of philosophical results to the evaluation of religious convictions."(6)
Gutting gives many other examples of what he takes to be philosophical knowledge. In doing so he not only advances his overall argument; he also delineates central controversies in analytic philosophy over the past half-century. Whether one agrees with his examples, or his overall argument, his engagement with these controversies should be informative and thought-provoking.
The book is thoroughly and interestingly foot-noted, and includes a rich bibliography.