Staleness in contemporary philosophy

I’ve noticed a lot of the ‘popularisers’ of philosophy. I have been a bit warmer to Julian Baggini and his work with the BBC and journalism; I find myself more insightfully interested by Mark Vernon and his very ecclectic reading; for instance, he, in some articles refers to Buddhism, and in others, the vehicle-externalist literature in the literature of the most recent decade in philosophy of psychology.

An opposing trend include the ‘formalisers’ of philosophy. The real icon of formal philosophy is Vincent Hendricks; I was once at a seminar of his, he’s a very funny man, not to mention very smart. In a recent volume, it has been commented that the problem with traditional analytic philosophy is its lack of formality. In some respects this might seem a very alien and bizarre claim, for what else is overly formal but analytic philosophy?

The allegation is not without merit. Philosophers (especially myself), rely on very basic logic and are not really mathematically educated. It is not so much in ‘assumptions’ that make traditional analytic philosophy flawed, but in its limited range of tools:

1. Classical logic
2. A few forms of Modal Logic
3. ‘Basic theories of probability’
4. An elementary apprehension of set theory
5. Little or no knowledge of computer science, particularly, the practical insights that are utilised by computer scientists by theories of language and modal logic

If philosophy is to be more fruitful, it seems that it needs to grow up a bit more and remember the ‘polymath’ origins of the subject. There is also a trend to argue that philosophy of science is becoming ahistorical and too much attention is paid towards ‘general’ philosophy of science to the deteriment of areas like: philosophy of technology; philosophical issues of engineering; philosophical ruminations on current scientific theories; philosophical research that advances research in actual science.

It is a very popular view that philosophy of science is related to science in the way that football commentators are related to football; they watch and try to understand, but not play. The onus is on good philosophy to advance the interests of both.


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