Dear Professor Glymour,
Despite the fact that I highly admire portions of your “manifesto”, I can’t help thinking that it is, on the whole, an instance of well-meaning but misguided zeal. There is much in it that calls for very long discussion. If time permitted, I’d question the metaphilosophical assumptions underpinning your contempt for “normal philosophy”, your view that it is – or at any rate, looks – useless (and how it coheres with the implication that even the philosophy departments which are not doing what you think they should be doing still manage to “[teach] an eye for hidden presuppositions, equivocations, bad arguments generally; and […] can be homes to brilliant people”). I’d ask if the frustration to which those metaphilosophical assumptions have led you is very different from the kind of frustration that we routinely find, and routinely address, in some of our first-year undergraduate students, who are understandably eager to find “real-life”, technological application for philosophy and feel they have to make apologies for the kind of highly abstract conceptual inquiry they find in the classroom. (I’m sure you know the kind of impatience I’m talking about. I’m talking about the student who’s very excited when he’s studying the methods of logic but can’t quite see why we should spend all that classroom time discussing the concept of validity, or the problems of conditionals. And I’m sure you know how philosophy can test one’s patience. One really needs the vocation. But the philosophical market is permissive, as you know. There’s philosophy for the impatient out there too.)
Those very large metaphilosophical issues are prominent in your manifesto. Unfortunately, the available time does not allow me to bite the very large hook now. (I can only hope that those like-minded philosophers who can address the very large issues raised by the manifesto will do so.) But I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t express my opposition to your contempt for “normal philosophy”. (I understand that the kind of philosophy that you find “boring” includes the kind of epistemology I unapologetically do: Socratic, normative, Chisholmian, armchair conceptual analysis, the kind that, roughly speaking, only knows reliance on logic, mathematics, and, yes, intuitions. You might be amazed by how easily it commands excited attention from hordes of young, unbiased minds year after year after year.) So, I’ll respectfully make this minuscule point, hoping to contribute to the debate: Your contempt for mainstream, “conventional analytic philosophy” reminds me of the kind of attitude we find among some of the so-called “formal epistemologists” and also among some of the “naturalists” and “experimental philosophers” in epistemology: when discussing epistemic rationality or knowledge, be careful not to overdo it. You’ll be overdoing it if your discussion of epistemic rationality or knowledge leads you to spend any significant amount of time on, say, skeptical arguments. That’s too much philosophy. It may become inapplicable to “real-life concerns”. It may become “tediously incestuous”. You may even be asked to provide a *refutation* of those skeptical arguments. You may have to deal with the hellishly complex arguments of those who claim to have produced such refutations. It’s as bad as having to come up with a theory of conditionals, for crying out loud! What next? Vagueness? Epistemic paradoxes? The Gettier Problem? How bad will all that embarrassment get?! (By contrast, some of us don’t know that cut-off point when thinking about knowledge or rationality, the point where you can reasonably dismiss skeptical arguments as unworthy of attention.)
I’m afraid that’s the kind of attitude your manifesto encourages. (Of course, many will agree with you that that’s exactly what we need: “salvation” for philosophy.) And I can only hope you will reconsider your endorsement of what some of us think is a simple-minded metaphilosophy. In any case, impressionable minds out there really should know that there is this kind of opposition to the manifesto.
With best regards,
Claudio de Almeida
To my mind, this kind of manifesto is extremely valuable because it gives rise to heated and thoughtful discussions — discussions which we need to have in philosophy. I think we should ask ourselves whether or not what we are doing makes any sense or leads us somewhere: sometimes we take for granted that what philosophers and historians of philosophy do is without any doubt useful or significant. Perhaps it is, but the point is that we cannot just take it for granted. We may disagree with (some of) Glymour’s views, but perhaps we shouldn’t be pissed off with them. It seems to me that we might need more metaphilosophical self-criticism.
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