The one fact almost all philosophers miss

Please please please please please – do not take me seriously. What I write in italics below is a parody of an argument made by James A. Lindsay here. To understand the point I’m making it’s worth looking at what he said first. If you have done that we may now proceed.

So far as I can tell, there is at least one fact that nearly all practicing philosophers miss–a very simple fact. That fact is every reading of every philosopher or philosophical system is an interpretation.

Whether we’re looking at deontological ethics, empiricism, Humean scepticism, Mackean subjectivism, Berkelean idealism, Confucianism, Rawlsean reflective equilibrium, Cartesianism, critical realism, logical positivism  or anything between or beyond, every one of them requires a reading of the key philosophical texts that is an interpretation of the key philosophical texts.

When I say “almost all” and “nearly all” practicing philosophers miss this fact, what I am saying is that to take one’s own take on philosophical ideas, however nebulous or strict, as being the truth, one has to miss the fact that it is based upon an interpretation of what philosophers have written. Indeed, that intrepretation of the philosophical writings defines what passes as being “the true form” of the philosophy in question and it is the role of faith to
glaze over that fact.

This, then, brings us to the central question posed of all practicing philosophers – a question that they cannot answer: How do you know your interpretation is correct? And it generalizes: How do you know any interpretation is correct?

Every philosopher in every philosophical tradition, here
focusing on empiricism, has a cherished reading of their philosophical texts, and every philosopher in every philosophical tradition has rivals that say that they are wrong. How can these debates and accusations of heresy be settled?

Note that empiricism is interpreted in various ways and since this is the basis for thinking that our sensory experiences communicate truth to us about the world we live in we also have good reason to doubt there are any scientific truths as well.

Science also proceeds on the basis of some form of realism but since there are different accounts of realism in philosophy and only interpretations of realism scientists should not assume realism.

Science also proceeds on the idea that there really are truths about the world (which really is around us). Since there are various interpretations on what constitutes truth then there cannot be any such thing as truth but only interpretations of truth and if there is not truth other than mere interpretations  then this parody and the argument it mocks cannot be true.

Also there are many differing, and ever evolving notions of what a scientific method is and how these findings can be known (direct realism vs critical realism for example – although if you’re Peter Atkins you might even be anti-realist). Since the scientific method is a process which requires interpretation and philosophers of science debate this method the scientific method cannot be known either.

Also worth noting is that since any interpretation of a philosopher could potentially be true then this means that Nietzsche’s aphorism, “There are no facts, only interpretations” could be true and since one interpretation of that saying is to take him as meaning absolutely all supposed facts this would include scientific ones also.











I could go on until we reach solipsism I think and even then…?


For those (New Atheists?) who would draw a sharp distinction between science and philosophy:

“So far as I can tell, there is at least one fact that nearly all believing Christians miss–a very simple fact. That fact is every reading of the Bible is an interpretation.

Mmmm. I don’t normally set homework as a response but I will make an exception on this 0849907748occasion:03102082895907361598563114




About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Atheist apologists, Humour and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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