On Twitter, James Croft responded to my recent blogging on philosophical progress by suggesting that maybe philosophy is more like art or literature than science. I’ve encountered that suggestion before, so it’s worth addressing.
First, I should briefly say what I think of art and literature. They’re great, but not really ideal for finding out the truth about the world. They might help you think about the world, but if someone’s go-to sources for backing up their arguments are fiction rather than non-fiction, the odds are overwhelming that they’re just regurgitating favorable propaganda, or being misled in their predictions about the future by science fiction, or something like that.
(Worst case scenario: they quote as authoritative a character who the author meant the audience to disagree with.)
James may disagree with that, but given what I’ve just said, it shouldn’t be surprising that I tend to see philosophy as more like science than art, at least insofar as philosophy is trying to mainly be getting at the truth. And I think most philosophers today, at least in the English-speaking world, would agree. From some of the things I’ve heard about Nietzsche (disclaimer: I have no first-hand knowledge of Nietzsche), maybe he wouldn’t agree with that, but I think most philosophers today would.
Now, I’m the last person to claim that what most philosophers think must be right, but if they’re wrong about that, that itself would be something wrong with philosophy (as it’s practiced today). Philosophers who would laugh at the idea that scientists should be conscious of the limits of science as discovered by literary theorists will make that very same claim for philosophy. This is true not just of philosophers of religion with a grudge against evolution (*cough* Alvin Plantinga *cough*), but come atheist philosophers as well.
However, the relationship between art and literature on the one hand, science on the other hand, and philosophy on the third hand, isn’t something I’ve talked with people much about. So I’m curious to hear from people with a different perspective.