Hoisted by their own petards: Philosophical positions that self-destruct

Argumentation 2 (2):221-232 (1988)
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Philosophers have not resisted temptation to transgress against the logic of their own conceptual structures. Self-undermining position-taking is an occupational hazard. Philosophy stands in need of conceptual therapy. The author describes three conceptions of philosophy: the narcissistic, disputatious, and therapeutic. (i) Narcissistic philosophy is hermetic, believing itself to contain all evidence that can possibly be relevant to it. Philosophy undertaken in this spirit has led to defensive, monadically isolated positions. (ii) Disputatious philosophies are fundamentally question-begging, animated by assumptions that philosophical adversaries reject. (iii) The intention of therapeutic philosophy is to study philosophical positions from the standpoint of their internal consistency, or lack of it. In particular, its interest is in positions that either compel assent, because they cannot be rejected without self-referential inconsistency, or self-destruct because self-referential inconsistency cannot be avoided. The article's focus is on the latter. Several examples of self-undermining positions are drawn from the history of philosophy, exemplifying two main varieties of self-referential inconsistency: pragmatical and projective.
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