In Defense of Philosophy

Article excerpt

University of Wisconsin, Madison

I was very dissatisfied with the article in SKEPTIC (Vol.6, #4:14) on the World Congress of Philosophy that took place last August. You describe a plenary session of the Congress at which five or six of the big names in philosophy were asked "What have we learned from philosophy in the 20th century?" As you report, these big names did a dismal job; they were either unable or unwilling to address this question seriously.

However, the article goes beyond reporting this event, and it is here that I think you have made a big mistake. The article suggests that philosophy has in fact contributed nothing in the 20th century. In support of this claim, you assert that science has contributed more in this century than philosophy has. Even if true, this wou1dn't show that philosophy has contributed nothing of significance. Furthermore, you point out that Berkeley (18th century), Kant (18th century), Descartes (17th century), and Aquinas (14th century) screwed up on various questions. This also is irrelevant to the question of what 20th century philosophy has accomplished.

What, then, can be said about philosophy's achievement in the 20th century? One major set of advances derived from adopting mathematical logic as a tool. …