Burgess-Jackson and What Philosophers Do, Part Two

July 12, 2006 at 12:32 am Leave a comment

Keith Burgess-Jackson has argued on a number of occasions (see here and here) that philosophers have no factual expertise, and that their expertise is solely conceptual [he sometimes says logical]. He has argued that philosophers have no more business making legal, social, ethical or scientific claims than anyone else who lack training in those respective fields.

When it comes to specific disciplines, Dr. Burgess-Jackson is probably correct to criticize philosophers, after all there are a number of subjects in which philosophers are not trained qua philosophers. But this point is irrelevant to his broader point for at least three reasons:

1. Philosophers do have factual training. They are trained in the history of their own field. Of course they do not study their past in quite the same way a historian would, nor should they be expected to do so. However, they do possess knowledge of their discipline that experts in other fields lack qua experts in other fields (i.e. the history of philosophy is not standard training for an economist, even though economists may have knowledge of such on an individual level).

2. Dr. Burgess-Jackson is taking a position with regard to meta-philosophy. He is arguing that there is no factual data/problem which is by its very nature philosophical. In other words, for any problem, the factual aspect of that problem is decidedly non-philosophical. But why should we accept this? It sounds so reductionist, so to speak. What of the mind/body problem? What of other numerous metaphysical problems that are by nature philosophical. What of political philosophy, which deals with the philosophical aspects of political theory? These are not factual, in some sense, and yet specific to philosophers. (Independent philosophical problems).

3. Dr. Burgess-Jackson is also denying another important aspect of philosophy. Philosophical aspects of a subject matter, that depend on the subject matter for their emergence and yet are unsolvable by the subject matter. For example, the social sciences have a number of philosophical problems which arise within the context of the social sciences, are philosophical in nature and are yet not solvable by the social sciences for the very reason that they are philosophical in nature. (Dependent philosophical problems).

In summary, philosophers who think they are scientists or economists can come off as ridiculous, however philosophers who think they have no factual expertise are short changing themselves and helping to buy into the myth that philosophers are irrelevant these days.


Entry filed under: general philosophy.

Subjectivism in Aesthetics My Rambling Metaphysics of Fiction

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