Has philosophy made any progress at all in the last 3000 years?

Philosopher Eric Dietrich has recently written a paper called “There is no progress in philosophy“. I’m not even going to spend that much time talking about the various ironies in the paper, such as that it’s a philosophy paper trying to make progress in philosophy by arguing that there has been no progress in philosophy. Actually, I do want to talk about one delicious irony in the paper. Dietrich says:

Philosophers…suffer from the Illusion of Explanatory Depth.IOED is the universal error that all of us make in believing that we know more about something than we actually do.

The irony is that Dietrich has not kept up to date in the latest developments in all philosophical fields, and thus cannot say with authority that “no real progress is made, none”. He claims to know more about the field of philosophy than he actually does, since he seems to speak on behalf of all fields, including my own, philosophy of mind. I think there have been great leaps and bounds of progress in the philosophy of mind/psychology. Anyone who knows anything about the history of psychology will tell you that the philosophy of psychology has advanced considerably since the field discovered the entire ocean of mental activity that is the unconscious mind. This is the equivalent of discovering the New World in terms of philosophy of mind. I thus think Dietrich has some serious catching up to do and is patently wrong when he says “Philosophy does not move forward at all. It is exactly the same today as it was 3000 years ago.” Dietrich seems to be under the mistaken belief that the only explanation of the mind that philosophy can give is something weak-kneed like supervenience. I daresay that my own work and that of others on the philosophy of the prereflective mind in the tradition of Julian Jaynes constitutes a considerable advance in the philosophy of mind by spelling out plausible functions and mechanisms of consciousness. So when Dietrich says “Philosophy is essentially destructive”, I say “Speak for yourself.”

ht: Pete Mandik



After looking at Dietrich’s bio, it appears that his main area of specialty is actually philosophy of mind. This attack on philosophy as a discipline really strikes me as odd then. Does he really want to say that the philosophy of mind put forward by Plato is just as good as the philosophy of mind being put forward by himself? That seem absurd. If there was no room for improvement, what would the motivation be for even doing philosophy at all? Why is he a professor of philosophy? Progress in the generation of concepts seems not just possible, but something which has actually happened. Sure, there are some philosophers who might fall into Eric’s category of “nonprogressive”, but why throw the baby out with the bathwater? I guess the piece is really more polemical as metaphilosophy than anything.



Filed under Philosophy

2 responses to “Has philosophy made any progress at all in the last 3000 years?

  1. Frank

    Scathing review of this individuals work. You’re wrong however!

  2. bobobor

    I agree with Frank, you’re seriously wrong. I don’t think Dietrich’s is a really good paper. IMO Brennan’s Skepticism about philosophy is better argued and more to the point. The bottom line is that in every subfield of philosophy including phil. of mind, you have a spectrum of positions to occupy – if not the ancient one, like Plato’s, then some of its updated version like contemporary dualism al la Robinson or Foster. All of them have its pros and cons, all of them may be argued for rationally, so none of them is better or worse than the others.
    So let me clear about it. It’s not only the fact (as Davidson noted) that there are no knock-down arguments in philosophy. It is rather that there are no really convincing counter-arguments against any of the rationally defensible positions one might wish to occupy.

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