Disagreement, progress, and the goal of philosophy

Synthese 201 (2):1-22 (2023)
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Modest pessimism about philosophical progress is the view that while philosophy may sometimes make some progress, philosophy has made, and can be expected to make, only very little progress (where the extent of philosophical progress is typically judged against progress in the hard sciences). The paper argues against recent attempts to defend this view on the basis of the pervasiveness of disagreement within philosophy. The argument from disagreement for modest pessimism assumes a teleological conception of progress, according to which the attainment of true answers to the big philosophical questions, or knowledge of them, is the primary goal of philosophy. The paper argues that this assumption involves a misconception of the goal of philosophy: if philosophy has a primary goal, its goal is the understanding of philosophical problems rather than knowledge of answers to philosophical questions. Moreover, it is argued that if the primary goal of philosophy is such understanding, then widespread disagreement within philosophy does not indicate that philosophy makes little progress.

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Arnon Keren
University of Haifa


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