“Six metaphilosophical hypotheses concerning philosophical controversies”

Quoted from a long read, “The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy”, adapted from M. Kusch by T. P. Uschanov. I am going to attempt to bear it in mind whenever I am in disagreement with somebody’s approach to a problem…:

1. Philosophical controversies are more fuzzy than controversies in the natural sciences. Often the members of the camps that disagreed can be identified only with hindsight. Philosophers’ wars are wars of all against all, and even people on the same side can often be found accusing each other of providing insufficient arguments against the common opponent;

2. Philosophical controversies are often cases of boundary work. They are often triggered when parts or the whole of the philosophical community feel endangered by the success and appeal of one or several antidisciplines. Philosophers then start to search for hidden tendencies in each other’s work that supposedly provide an insufficient defence against usurpation;

3. The focal point of philosophical controversies is typically a very small number of texts. To become such a focal point, a text must be bold in its accusations, preferably short, and highly rhetorical. The sharper the tone, and the more straightforwardly the text provides its readers with a catchphrase to which it can subsequently be reduced, the better;

4. In philosophical controversies, charges of relativism, irrationalism, total scepticism and the like occupy a much more central role than in other sciences. Philosophical controversies are followed by a wider audience of scholars in other fields and by the public at large, and philosophers have no qualms about strengthening their position in the eyes of these larger audiences by linking their opponents’ views to unreason and moral defect;

5. Philosophical controversies are abandoned rather than resolved. They do not end because one side wins indisputably, but because one or both sides lose interest, or because general cultural trends, political events or death weaken or extinguish one side in the controversy;

6. The “canon” of classic texts in philosophy is determined by the victorious parties in controversies, and is thus shaped by contingent historical factors. If history had taken a slightly different turn, the canon would perhaps look very different.

(Adapted from Kusch 1995: 276–278)


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