Lack of Philosophical Progress Owed to Procrastination, Study Hopes to Find


Historians of philosophy and experimental philosophers have teamed up to determine why there has been so little progress in philosophy. “Socrates asked ‘what is the nature of the good life?’ a couple of thousand years ago,” says Jeffrey McDonough (Harvard), “and now, in 2015, my department is stuffed full of people still—supposedly—working on this question and others that have been around since forever.” Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Duke), adds, “We owe the public an explanation for the lack of results.”

“I overhead Peter Adamson (LMU) discussing the problem at a conference and saying that he was going to spend the rest of his life combing over historical texts for clues [to the lack of progress],” says Joshua Knobe (Yale). “It’s an empirical question, though, so I said, ‘Let’s do a study and find out.’”

The four of them—McDonough, Sinnott-Armstrong, Knobe, and Adamson—applied for a grant and met in 2010 to design the study. Last semester, on the cusp of their funding being withdrawn owing to the lack of any data, they conducted the study. What they found was that the philosophers to whom they sent the surveys took a comparatively short time to send them a Facebook friend request, but a rather long time to complete and return the survey. How long has yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, the researchers have noticed an uptick in philosophical progress over the past 50 years or so, according to Jenny Saul (Sheffield), who was added to the team just before this blog post was published. They are looking into the causes of this improvement. “I have a hunch,” said Saul.

In related news, representatives of the Templeton Foundation were seen roaming around the hotel where the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association is taking place, carrying bats. “We’ve spent 100s of millions,” one was heard saying, “and it’s time we had some answers.”

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Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

I have some crucial insights to add to this hypothesis. I’ll post them soon.Report

Alan White
6 years ago

Empiricism? Bah! This is the worst of all possible worlds for the prospects of any philosophical progress on any topic. I have discovered a truly marvelous demonstration of this proposition that this blog’s margin is too narrow to contain.Report

MA-Student
MA-Student
6 years ago

I always hear people talking about lack of progress in philosophy. I don’t really know what that’s supposed to mean. Does that mean we should have gotten, by now, to a point where everyone agrees that solipsism is bunk? Philosophy just is slow-moving and careful by nature, I think, but I also think philosophy just makes progress differently than other disciplines.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
6 years ago

Philosophy without procrastination? A new podcast: The History of Philosophy Without Any Naps.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
6 years ago

MA-Student, check the date on the post.Report

eric schliesser
eric schliesser
6 years ago

I blogged about this ages ago.–The Ghent Balloon.Report

Peter Jones
6 years ago

It’s about time someone exposed and faced up to this scandal. The lack of progress is due to blindness. This blindness has long been my complaint as an amateur, someone not on the professional gravy train, and my blog is devoted to pointing out where academic philosophy goes wrong. It should not be imagined that this is a global phenomenon. It affects mainly the western universities and it is an artefact of either failing to comprehend or (more commonly) simply dismissing Eastern philosophy as nonsense without a glance. Lack of progress indeed. Lack of knowledge of current philosophy is more like it. Philosophy was solved long ago and the solution is public knowledge. It’s just that a lot of people don’t like it or do not grok it.

Daily Nous is a very revealing publication and what it reveals is not encouraging. It paints a picture of a failed discipline. It must surely be obvious after so many centuries of failure that continuing to think along the traditional scholastic tramlines is never going to lead to progress. Time to dump all those assumptions and dogmas.

Rant over.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

@Peter Jones: agreed 100%. I’m planning to dump all those assumptions and dogmas any day now.Report

Nobody Important
Nobody Important
6 years ago

@PJ hook, line and sinkerReport

Peter Jones
6 years ago

Hi David. That was a cryptic comment but seems to poke fun at my suggestion. Quite rightly so, for one doesn’t just wake up one day and abandon ones philosophical assumptions and dogmas. But all I was really suggesting is that we drop the dogmatic view stating that philosophy is a failure, for it is founded on a very narrow idea of philosophy that rejects the solution offered by nondualism. It would be this rejection of the (or at least a workable) solution for philosophy that causes the stagnation being investigated. The problem is not procrastination, in my view, but mental conditioning and prejudice. I do not recognise the failure of philosophy and would rather call it effective, efficient and entirely successful. There’s something here about workmen and tools.Report

Sean McAleer
Sean McAleer
6 years ago

Well done. But how could the research team not include John Perry? (www.structuredprocrastination.com) Perhaps he had no project he could avoid working on by working on this one …Report

Peter Jones
6 years ago

Oh yes! It got me hook, line and sinker. Dammit. I wasn’t watching the calendar.

But really, it’s all so plausible. This is exactly the kind of work that needs to be done. In my defence it’s not obviously a joke. But anyway, good post.Report