Saturday, March 24, 2007

A little Davidsonian Wisdom

Nothing terribly deep, but something worth reminding ourselves of every now and then:

"Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, and Kant, to pick a few winners, recognized no lines between metaphysics, epistemology, moral philosophy, psychology, philosophy of language, and the history of philosophy, and neither would we if our universities and colleges [and departmental workshops] didn't often compel us to think of ourselves and our colleagues as belonging in one or another field." (from "Aristotle's Action" p. 291)

8 comments:

Paul S. said...

This is a nice thought, but is it even true? If all Davidson means is that these philosophers were systematic enough that their views about one topic were related to their views on another topic, then I agree. But to say that they "recognized no lines" seems weird, especially when you find book titles like "Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding" vs. "Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals." Certainly Hume "recognized" a line.

Chris said...

Fair enough, I suppose. Though I think your reaction is somewhat uncharitable since there is an easy and plausible interpretation of what Davidson says that doesn't commit him to the claim that there is no way to group philosophical questions and problems according to something vaguely called "subject matter."

Whether it is wrong to let 2 die in order to save 1, and whether moral concepts are the products of reflection or evolution (or of something else) are questions of "moral philosophy" in a way that whether causal relations instantiate exceptionless laws is not. Granted. I suppose some clarity is achieved by this sort of categorization. But I don't think Davidson's point should be taken as a denial of this sort of thing.

I think Davidson's point is rather that we have no reason to think (and much reason to doubt) that progress on philosophical questions is more likely to be achieved by confining our inquiries to such sub-disciplinary boundaries.

Take Hume. He would strenuously deny that any progress or clarity can be achieved on questions about the origin/etiology of moral judments without a proper understanding of causality/causal judgments. So while you are right that a line can be drawn between these two sorts of questions - and indeed, a line which matches our (tutored) linguistic intuitions) - I find it doubtful that this is a line that should be recognized by anyone who is searching for an answer to these questions.

palata said...

another bit of davidsonian wisdom--principle of charity. yoohoo-!

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