Organizing to Get Answers | We every day

Suppose that the main objective of the academic philosophy enterprise is to generate philosophical knowledge, and that this knowledge is mainly answers to big philosophical questions. How to organize the discipline to best achieve this objective?

The supposition is not unusual.* In his “Why Aren’t There More Progress in Philosophy?” David Chalmers (NYU) writes:

I suspect that for the majority of philosophers, the main motivation for doing philosophy is to discover the truth about the relevant areas: what is the relationship between mind and body? What is
the nature of reality and how can we know it? This is certainly the main motivation in my case… At least pretheoretically, many of us go into philosophy in search of truth and in search of answers.

If answering its big questions is the essence of philosophy, can we say that our current institutions and professional practices are perfectly suited to the task? (Beware of the status quo bias!)

If not, what should philosophical institutions and practices looking for answers look like?

How people answer this question may depend on how feasible they think their answers should be. At the conservative end of the feasibility spectrum, one could see the question as asking, “What other disciplines, if any, should we take as models for philosophy, and how?” This is one way to interpret the question, and answers to this version are welcome.

But it might also be instructive to relax the restrictions of feasibility a bit and try to imagine arrangements that are very different from the status quo, or arrangements hitherto unheard of but which perhaps look promising. Perhaps we could, for example, contrast small but achievable reform measures with totally unrealistic grand visions.

We could also learn more about what we think about the purpose of philosophy through this exercise. A bold and convincing suggestion to reorganize philosophy could itself overcome skepticism about philosophy aiming for convergence on answers to big philosophical questions by revealing that this skepticism is a function of the current mode of institutionalization of philosophy. Or one might discover that what would be needed to organize philosophy optimally to answer its questions is so unattractive that it invites reconsideration of the value of that goal.

So, philosophers, how do you organize yourself to find answers?

* I don’t think a lot of philosophical knowledge comes in the form of answers to philosophical questions, as I say here.

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