The League of Notorious Philosophical Arguments


Over at Electric Agora, Daniel A. Kaufman (Missouri State) takes up what may be analytic philosophy’s most notorious argument: G.E. Moore’s proof of an external world. As Kaufman says,

If you were to pinch the nearest analytically trained philosopher and ask him for the worst, most obviously fallacious argument in his tradition, he might very well tell you that it is the so-called “proof” for the existence of the external world that G.E. Moore gives in his 1939 paper, “Proof of an External World,” originally delivered to the British Academy. 

Here’s Moore:

I can prove now, for instance, that two human hands exist. How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand “Here is one hand” and adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left “and here is another.”

Kaufman goes on to defend this argument, with some help from Wittgenstein. Check it all out here.

An argument is notorious if it’s both sufficiently known and sufficiently thought badly of. It’s not enough for the argument to be bad. There are tons of bad arguments that aren’t notorious because no one knows about them. Notorious arguments are well-known. Nor is it enough for the argument to be well-known and thought by some to be problematic. Rather, it has to be that the dominant (not universal) view among professional philosophers is that the argument fails.

So understood, what explains the persistence of such arguments? Why would arguments widely recognized to be bad continue to garner the attention needed to gain and maintain notoriety?

There are few explanations. One may be that they were offered by or discussed by established or acclaimed philosophers. Another might be that they are useful to philosophers developing their own ideas, a la Mill, in that sharpening steel kind of way. A third could be that what most philosophers take to be a mistake in the argument is something that most ordinary folks or students continue to believe, and so we keep having to reconstruct them and point out the error. And fourth, it could be that some contrarians keep the arguments alive by defending them. Other explanations welcome.

Moore’s argument is such a good example of this, scoring well on each of the four above explanations. If there were a League of Notorious Arguments, it would totally be in charge. Which others would be in the club?

League of Notorious Arguments Shield

 

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Robert Gressis
Robert Gressis
5 years ago

Mill’s “proof” of utilitarianism.

The cosmological argument (though I’m a fan of it).

The design argument.Report

Dale Miller
5 years ago

The Cartesian circleReport

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Almost all (maybe all, I’m waiting for a counterexample) well-known philosophical arguments should be considered to be bad. Why? Because they contain premises that are not properly justified. Often they are based on nothing but untrustworthy intuitions. This is one reason why there is so much disagreement in philosophy. The arguments are just not good enough.

A good argument should have premises that we have good reasons to believe in. In science there are lots of good arguments. The premises are backed by good evidence, not just intuitions (or whatever it is that philosophers use to defend their claims). Hence there is more progress and agreement in science than in philosophy.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

If you really digest the message of On Certainty though, you will come to understand that at some point “reasons come to an end.” And On Certainty is my go-to in really unpacking what’s important in Moore’s proof.

Sure, the scientist has great premises. But they are themselves predicated on premises like “my senses are usually reliable” and the like, for which further good reasons are hard to come by. And beyond this, as Wittgenstein shows, things only *count* as reasons, within a larger framework, the parts of which must “stand fast” in order for those reasons to do their work.Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
5 years ago

Sure, we may always have to rely on some unjustified assumptions. But at least in mainstream analytic philosophy there are so many unjustified premises that the whole enterprise verges on being epistemically irresponsible. We have to draw the line somewhere.

The situation is probably better in naturalistic philosophy of science where appeals to intuitions are less common. But then again, traditional philosophers don’t consider empirical arguments to be philosophical enough to be counted as “real” philosophy.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Can there be good reasons to believe premises other than by empirical evidence and logical truth? For instance, reasons to believe normative claims such as “torturing babies for fun is wrong”? Or “a good hammer doesn’t break easily”?Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

Perhaps. Can you give me an example of a good non-empirical reason to believe a normative claim?Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Well how about those two examples. Do we not have reason to believe that torturing babies for fun is wrong? It hurts them, having fun at the expense of causing someone pain is wrong, we have a duty to protect babies from harm, etc. Similarly, if a hammer breaks easily, then you won’t get much use out of it, and that’s not very good.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Easy. The claim: beliefs about the external world cannot be justified on the basis of a priori reasoning alone. The reason: *insert your favourite non-question begging argument for empiricism*.Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

SCM, some of those reasons are empirical. The claim about the hammer can be understood as a hypothetical imperative. Others are just more normative claims, probably backed by intuition. Even if we accept, for whatever reason, that intuitions are good evidence for moral claims, that does not change the fact that they are bad evidence for descriptive claims about the world. A lot of philosophy is descriptive.

JT, scientism (I prefer it to empiricism, which is too philosophical) is based on empirical facts.

It is an empirical fact that science has accomplished a lot. It is easy to give examples of firm (but fallible) scientific knowledge. Scientists can actually give answers that are based on a broad consensus.

It is an empirical fact that armchair metaphysics has not accomplished much. Metaphysicians still do not know whether properties are tropes or universals, when composition occurs, whether humeanism or non-humeanism about modality is correct, etc. Opposing theories proliferate, with no broad consensus in sight.

Now, if our aim is knowledge, then science just works better than armchair intuition mongering. The prescriptive force of scientism comes from empirical facts, not intuitions.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Chad, I’m sorry to have to break it t you, but there is at least agreement among most philosophers on it being the case that debate over the more ambitious claims of epistemic naturalism is far from settled–the arguments made to those points have simply not been good enough. Certainly, the ones you sketch here are less than compelling.Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

JT, you are right, the debate is still continuing. I consider scientism to be the best working hypothesis. Certainly it has not been refuted yet. More work needs to be done to develop a coherent, reasonable (for example, no strong physicalism or anything of that sort) and justified version of scientism.

Still, I am willing to bet on scientism against any form of epistemic or methodological non-naturalism (I consider the kind of “moderate naturalism” advocated by metaphysicians of science to be a form of non-naturalism). The attempts of non-naturalistic philosophers, especially metaphysicians, to defend the epistemic credentials of their work has not been compelling at all. If you can point me to a good case for non-naturalism (a book, an article, even a blog post), I am willing to change my mind.Report

Plaice
Plaice
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

Chad, I’m not by any means wholly unsympathetic to the basic line your pushing here (I’m sympathetic enough to it that I’d like to work on it at some point to see whether it can really be made to work), but two obvious questions for it are a) what exactly is the track record of ‘naturalistic philosophy of science’ in converging on truth, and b) what exactly is the track record of attempts to explain *why* philosophy doesn’t produce much knowledge. It’s not clear that the first is especially great, and the second definitely isn’t.Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Plaice
5 years ago

Plaice,

“what exactly is the track record of ‘naturalistic philosophy of science’ in converging on truth”

Not very good if we are talking about most “naturalistic” mainstream philosophy of science. I have a strict conception of what counts as naturalistic. For example, debates about ontic structural realism and the interpretation of quantum mechanics are definitely not naturalistic enough. They consist of just more intuition-based metaphysics added on top of science, even when it is done by scientists themselves.

Truly naturalistic philosophy of science is just part of (theoretical) science or scientific science studies and is publishable in scientific journals. It is quite disconnected from grand philosophical isms. So don’t expect naturalism to get us convergence on debates that are internal to philosophy.

There are probably some local arguments within mainstream philosophy of science that are based on empirical evidence only. Those are what I was thinking about when I said that the situation might be a bit better in philosophy of science.

“what exactly is the track record of attempts to explain *why* philosophy doesn’t produce much knowledge”

Philosophers make claims that are not empirically testable and use methods of justification that just don’t work. We need to do more scientific science studies and scientific metaphilosophy in order to understand the methodological difference between science and philosophy. My guess is that that difference is what explains the success of science and the failure of philosophy. I know that some philosophers claim that there is no methodological difference but I am highly sceptical.Report

Plaice
Plaice
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

‘Philosophers make claims that are not empirically testable and use methods of justification that just don’t work. We need to do more scientific science studies and scientific metaphilosophy in order to understand the methodological difference between science and philosophy. My guess is that that difference is what explains the success of science and the failure of philosophy. I know that some philosophers claim that there is no methodological difference but I am highly sceptical.’
That’s not an answer to the question I asked. If you doubt philosophy because of it’s lack of track record of convergence, then shouldn’t you doubt explanations of why philosophy is bad for the same reason? It’s not *obvious* to me that you should, because maybe the relevant class for judging the particulars explanation that your pushing is not ‘explanations of why philosophy is bad’ but ‘extrapolations from the success of science of a certain kind’. But it’s not obvious to me that you shouldn’t either. In any case, giving the reasons you have for why philosophy (or almost all philosophy is bad) isn’t really an answer to the charge that your both engaging in the practice of giving reasons for a certain kind of conclusion, and claiming that we shouldn’t trust arguments for conclusions in domains where we have a bad track record of actually reaching consensus through exchange of argument.

If you don’t like debates OSR, do you dislike debates about realism in general? Or just the way in which such debates are conducted? Do you think questions like ‘does theoretical physics tell an approximately true things about a set of entities referred to by the theories’ are bad questions? Or just that people are trying to answer them the wrong way? What about debates over something like Laudan’s pessimistic meta-induction? Are there any good questions that can be asked about exactly what QM is telling us about how the world really is? Can you give an example of ‘good’ work in the philosophy of science that uses purely empirical methods?Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

“If you don’t like debates OSR, do you dislike debates about realism in general?”

The debate about realism in general is not a scientific debate. I don’t think it can be solved, and I don’t think it is important to science. Thus I don’t see why a scientifically minded philosopher should care about it.

“Are there any good questions that can be asked about exactly what QM is telling us about how the world really is?”

Not in addition to the questions that are already answered by uninterpreted textbook QM. For me, what QM already says is ontology enough. Trying to go further only leads to endless speculation. I think it is quite ridiculous to claim that, without an added metaphysical interpretation (e.g. MWI), QM hasn’t taught us _anything_ about the world.

“Can you give an example of ‘good’ work in the philosophy of science that uses purely empirical methods?”

“‘Explain’ in Scientific Discourse” by James A. Overton is an example of the kind of work philosophers of science should be doing. It should never get more speculative than what Kim Sterelny is doing in The Evolved Apprentice.Report

Plaice
Plaice
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

‘I think it is quite ridiculous to claim that, without an added metaphysical interpretation (e.g. MWI), QM hasn’t taught us _anything_ about the world.’

But you must be *very* uncertain about what and how much it has taught us, since you don’t have an opinion on whether it is likely to be approximately true when interpreted in your preferred way, even if that way is just ‘take it as standardly expounding in textbooks’, given what you say about realism debates. Unless you make an exception in this particular case. (I feel like ‘some theories are to be taken realistically, other times we should suspend judgment’ and the like are answers to a ‘general’ debate about realism.)Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Chad A. Benton
5 years ago

I don’t care about the truth of QM if truth is something that transcends all empirical checks, and if arguing for the truth of QM requires something purely philosophical like the no-miracles argument.

What QM has (fallibly) taught us = all the claims of QM that have been justified scientifically.Report

Plaice
Plaice
Reply to  Plaice
5 years ago

I’m not sure quite how that’s a response to what I said. The dispute between realists and anti-realists isn’t a dispute about which parts of theories to accept, it’s a dispute about how to understand accepting a theory/claim. In particular, it’s a dispute about whether to accept the theory/claim as true, with some restriction on how truth itself is understood (but I think that at least some realism/anti realism debates can be understood in terms of ‘truth as what we’d converge on in ideal inquiry’ for example, since that’s not the same as ‘what the evidence suggests so far’, and they can certainly be understood with a deflationary notion of truth.) So take whatever claims you think are the ones that have been justified scientifically. We can ask of those claims, whether you think they are true (and true in a way where that doesn’t just mean ‘has not been falsified so far; which is a sensible restriction on ‘truth’ anyway, in my view). If you say ‘yes’ your a realist, in the traditional sense, right? Not someone who thinks that the dispute is impossible to resolve (though you might still think that it can’t be resolved by doing philosophy of science in some standard way that’s ‘too metaphysical.) If you say ‘no’, then presumably your an anti-realist in the traditional sense. And saying the second commits you to far less about the world, in virtue of your saying that certain claims that are ‘textbook QM’ should be accepted, than the first does.

What is it for ‘truth to transcend all empirical checks’ anyway? Is this supposed to be a point about what truth is, or about what we can know to be true?
(‘No miracles’ of course is precisely not meant to be ‘philosophical’ but to just mirror the alleged scientific practice of, provisionally, at least, accepting the best explanation for the data over more convoluted or implausible explanations, but of course it’s not obvious that Putnam was right about that. Still it’s hardly uncontroversial that it’s ‘purely philosophical’.)Report

Chad A. Benton
Chad A. Benton
Reply to  Plaice
5 years ago

“So take whatever claims you think are the ones that have been justified scientifically. We can ask of those claims, whether you think they are true”

And I don’t see why I should care about this extra question. Once I know that a claim is justified, I am happy. My view should be compatible with both realism and anti-realism.

Some metaphysicians of science (Matteo Morganti, etc) have claimed that if not metaphysically interpreted, physics is just an instrumentally useful collection of equations and not truly “understood”. This is what I had in mind.

“‘No miracles’ of course is precisely not meant to be ‘philosophical’ but to just mirror the alleged scientific practice of, provisionally, at least, accepting the best explanation”

Some analytic metaphysicians (L.A. Paul, etc) also claim that they are using scientific methods (inference to the best explanation, appealing to theoretical virtues, modeling, etc). But in science these methods are much more empirically constrained.Report

Matt
Matt
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
5 years ago

I agree that Moore’s argument is widely misunderstood, and is much better than it looks at first glance. (Jim Pryor is my go-to for explaining why this is, rather than Wittgenstein, although Pryor and [your reading of] Wittgenstein make many of the same basic points.) The interesting thing, I tell my students, isn’t Moore’s simple “here’s a hand proof,” but the material that comes after that, when he discusses the distinction between the knowable and the provable, and goes through a quick dialectic about what makes for a good proof. When I teach Moore, I always focus on this other material. What is a satisfactory proof to begin with? How does a proof relate to knowledge? (Can we know things without proving them?) What is begging the question? When and why is it a bad thing? Those are the really important questions that Moore’s argument raises. And I tend to be of the opinion that, once you really think through these other questions, Moore’s argument looks better and better. Moore’s argument only seems bad because we are expecting something from it that it’s unreasonable to expect. And THAT’S Moore’s real point.

At least, that’s my reading of the piece.Report

J. Flower
J. Flower
5 years ago

Jackson’s Knowledge Argument (Black-and-White Mary).Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  J. Flower
5 years ago

I tend to take that as a reductio of qualia rather than an argument for epiphenomenalism; Jackson has a good argument but just makes the wrong conclusion.Report

ann_errorr
ann_errorr
5 years ago

Though it’s less well-known, Donald Davidson’s argument against animal thought is fairly cringe-worthy.Report

Brandon Beasley
Brandon Beasley
Reply to  ann_errorr
5 years ago

I’m not familiar with this; could you please direct me to it? I’d be very interested to read it. Thanks!Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  ann_errorr
5 years ago

I think it tends to be widely misinterpreted as Davidson saying that animals can’t have phenomenal states. It’s really about animals not being able to have beliefs attributed to them. Talking about “animal thought” is ambiguous between beliefs and phenomenal states, hence the misinterpretation.Report

Dale Miller
5 years ago

The incredulous stareReport

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Dale Miller
5 years ago

???Report

CW
CW
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

Sounds like a version of the raised eyebrow.Report

CW
CW
Reply to  CW
5 years ago

This whole class too, described by Aiken and Talisse in “Modus Tonens”:

“Restating an interlocutor’s position in an incredulous tone of voice can sometimes serve legitimate dialectical ends. However, there are cases in which incredulous restatement is out of bounds. This article provides an analysis of one common instance of the inappropriate use of incredulous restatement, which the authors call “modus tonens.”

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10503-008-9103-1Report

Dale Miller
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

ExactlyReport

CW
CW
Reply to  SCM
5 years ago

0 _ oReport

Michael Bench-Capon
5 years ago

Descartes’s argument that the mind and body are distinct because you can imagine the mind existing without the body.Report

Joe Zepeda
Joe Zepeda
Reply to  Michael Bench-Capon
5 years ago

Not sure that counts, because that’s not his argument.Report

Eric S.
Eric S.
5 years ago

Mackie gave two such arguments for moral error theory: the arguments from queerness and relativity (a.k.a. disagreement).

Widely known by philosophers? Check
Widely rejected by philosophers? Check

These arguments remain influential for at least two reasons. First, one can’t tell the story of contemporary metaethics without saying something about Mackie and the error theory. Second, these arguments capture two very common thoughts many of us–both philosophers and non-philosophers–have about morality: (1) Morality is friggin’ weird, and (2) If there were facts about morality, we wouldn’t expect to see so much disagreement about it. But moral disagreement is everywhere. So maybe morality is a fairy tale.Report

Tim O'Keefe
5 years ago

Aristotle’s argument in defense of “natural slavery.”

Plato’s final argument for the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo. (The soul essentially brings life to things, so it cannot admit the opposite of life, death.)Report

GS
GS
5 years ago

The “interaction problem” is an awful (like, really really awful) argument against dualism (see Churchland and Dennett), with exception of Kim’s formulation of it (which still ultimately fails, but it is not a bad argument by any means).Report

Epikureios
Epikureios
Reply to  GS
5 years ago

If formulated as the single claim (or a very similar one) that dualism is impossible unless the dualist can explain how interaction is possible, the interaction problem is a plainfaced argument from ignorance. However, in the formulation shared to varying degrees among Churchland, Dennett, and Kim, the interaction problem appears as an explicit *contrast* between the explanatory power of dualism (virtually none, in their view) and that of scientific findings. I’d be very interested to hear at least the general thrust of your critique.Report

GS
GS
Reply to  Epikureios
5 years ago

Well, let’s not lump Kim together with Churchland and Dennett, because Kim actually puts forth an interesting and creative argument (it looks like he’s actually thought about the issue). I don’t read Dennett as talking about explanatory power (though, I wouldn’t imagine that would be a good argument either, but I concede it would be a little less embarrassing than the current form), instead, he says something hardly more developed than this: if these two substances are so different, how could they possibly interact? Hence ~dualism. (And then he throws in the words “ghost” and “spooky” for good measure, in case no one bought his argument.)Report

GS
GS
Reply to  GS
5 years ago

(And Kim’s is certainly not about explanatory power, as his is for the metaphysical impossibility of interaction.)Report

Epikoureios
Epikoureios
Reply to  GS
5 years ago

I think you’d be very hard-pressed to show that Dennett, a cognitive scientist, doesn’t view the explanatory power of findings in the brain sciences as the comparative context for dualism’s current weakness. Luckily, he actually explains this in his own words, even in his most widely read books (see e.g. Consciousness Explained, pp. 33-42.) While he certainly isn’t without reservations about and critiques of some attitudes and assumptions that predominate in the brain sciences, the overwhelming body of evidence they have yielded clearly offers for Dennett a sharp contrast between dualist and non-dualist views.

Again, when philosophers like Dennett and Churchland pose to dualists the challenge of explaining how a physical and entirely non-physical substance could interact, the differing main thrusts of their positions nonetheless include a shared observation, namely that the dualist’s lack of a mechanism of interaction leaves untouched a vast scope of territory now occupied by scientific study that *does* offer explanations based in mechanisms and known physical causes. What is it about the disabling of a human’s right temporoparietal junction that actually causes the loss of faculties crucially associated with consciousness, and at the same time the increased occurrence of out-of-body experiences? What is it about DMT that causes the non-physical mind and physical brain to change in such a way that the drug’s well-studied effects are observed? The dualist’s lack of an answer to these questions doesn’t flatly rule out the possibility of a non-physical, ontologically simple mind, but it does call into question what that notion will add as scientific study continues to advance. Whether or not the brain can be said to *be* the mind (which Dennett rejects), the proposal of a non-physical entity able to exist entirely absent a brain is made against a scientific context that, without absolutely ruling that out, is all too willing to get on with the business of investigating the physical processes of brains and bodies without the superadded inclusion of a non-physical element that gets us no closer to the actual ‘how’ processes that the dualist seems unable to provide.Report

GS
GS
Reply to  Epikoureios
5 years ago

I’ll have to reread Dennett, so thanks for the reference. However, if that is so then the argument is worse than I thought. For most dualists don’t hold their view as a scientific hypothesis, and hence treating it as such would be silly (e.g. Kripke’s argument for it is not put forth as “the best explanation” of some data, same with one of the more “out there” dualists, Swinburne, same with Kim (of course, he is not a substance dualist)). Moreover, the fact that the dualist currently does not have an explanation for a high correlation of brain to mental events does not tell us that there isn’t (or probably isn’t) one.Report

Epikoureios
Epikoureios
Reply to  GS
5 years ago

But that’s just the point. The dualist’s position doesn’t have to be ruled out absolutely to be precarious, because her inability to offer a mechanism, far from appearing in a social vacuum as a single unknown, exists as a breathtakingly vast *system* of unknowns alongside the brain sciences’ explanatory power. In the absence of a scientific hypothesis or any ability to compete with scientific evidence, the dualist offers her position among critics who aren’t so shy about pointing to what we already know about the developmental emergence of robust cognitive capacities from a state (infancy) that lacks them. Physicalists–above all the Churchlands, with some good reason–are routinely accused of writing checks for future scientific developments to cash, but as Dennett and others note, it’s very hard not to come away from our *existing* body of scientific evidence with the impression that it is the dualist, not the physicalist, who has succumbed to the strongest convictions about what science will and won’t be able to answer in the future.

The apparent similitude between the dualist’s line of inference and that used in God of the Gaps arguments is hard to ignore (especially when posed as an admittedly non-scientific claim), and in my view risks turning a non-physical mind into little more than a shrinking margin of deniability that inverts the argument from ignorance I mentioned in my first post. (“You can’t prove that a non-physical mind isn’t ultimately responsible.”) The seeming inability or unwillingness of the dualist to answer objections possible from what we already know about evolution, primate motor function, the prefrontal lobe, and important brain areas like the temporoparietal junction and superior temporal sulcus (see Graziano, Consciousness and the Social Brain) can’t help but call into question whether a non-physical concept of mind is a Mind of the Gaps or redundant altogether, roughly analogous to telling a physicist that a non-physical component of a cup is what performs the function of keeping water in it. None of this is at all to say that science holds a monopoly on knowledge, but rather to say (as I for one am all to happy to do) that the brain sciences’ body of evidence is currently the gold standard on the means by which the mind operates. If the dualist’s only counter-strike is with argumentation devoid of scientific evidence, up to and including admission that her position isn’t amenable to scientific investigation at all, then she will inevitably find that her line of reasoning is forced (a) to contend with the fact that her position’s standing outside of science doesn’t save the phenomena it purports to explain from being examined or explained by scientists; (b) to explain, under pain of irrelevance, how her position comports with existing information about the features of mind that seems to provide direct evidence *against* her view; and (c) related to (b), to show that her position’s non-scientific status (if she admits it to have this) doesn’t rob her of all ability to justify dualism on grounds that can’t compete with what scientific evidence does show.Report

Finn
Finn
5 years ago

Zeno’s arguments against change and motion (presented with his famous paradoxes) might be a paradigm case: very widely known and equally widely believed to be confused.Report

Epikureios
Epikureios
Reply to  Finn
5 years ago

I’d be interested to see historians of philosophy discuss the extent to which Zeno, within his own context, can be said to have bungled the problem altogether rather than simply lacked the means to investigate the question in a way approaching post-calculus Europe.Report

Alan White
Alan White
5 years ago

The King of kings here (couldn’t resist) has to be the ontological argument, either version.Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
Reply to  Alan White
5 years ago

I second this!Report

Epikoureios
Epikoureios
Reply to  Alan White
5 years ago

Third.Report

JT
JT
5 years ago

Moore’s argument against moral naturalism.Report

Mark van Roojen
5 years ago

Aren’t most of the arguments in this genre (or most that stay well known while acknowledged to be bad) interesting because diagnosing the badness is much harder than showing that something has gone wrong? The Open Question Argument is obviously problematic because we can run it against just about any identity or analysis (depending on how we think it goes). But people disagree on what is wrong with it (or some variant of it). That’s what makes many of these fun, instructive, and what gives them staying power.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
5 years ago

Davidson’s “Omniscient Interpreter” argument is heroically bad.Report

Brannon McDaniel
Brannon McDaniel
5 years ago

McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time.Report

Tristan Haze
5 years ago

Putnam’s argument that we aren’t BIVs.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Tristan Haze
5 years ago

This is a good one, given the unacknowledged possibility that someone can feel like their language is referential when it really isn’t.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
5 years ago

Kant’s (and others’) biological racism/sexism: basically his Anthropology and the second half of the Beautiful and the Sublime.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

What’s the argument?Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  recent grad
5 years ago

Basically that a person has certain moral and intellectual character traits by virtue of their sex, race or ethnicity. These characteristics are extremely sexist and racist. Observe just two passages about black people in the fourth section of the Beautiful and the Sublime:

“The Negroes of Africa have by nature no feeling that rises above
the ridiculous. Mr. Hume challenges anyone to adduce a single example
where a Negro has demonstrated talents, and asserts that among the
hundreds of thousands of blacks who have been transported elsewhere
from their countries, although very many of them have been set free,
nevertheless not a single one has ever been found who has accomplished something great in art or science or shown any other praiseworthy quality,
while among the whites there are always those who rise up from the
lowest rabble and through extraordinary gifts earn respect in the world.
So essential is the difference between these two human kinds, and it
seems to be just as great with regard to the capacities of mind as it is with
respect to color.”

And later in the same section:

“A pusillanimous person is
always a strict master over the weaker, just as with us that man is always
a tyrant in the kitchen who outside of his house hardly dares to walk up
to anyone. Indeed, Father Labat reports that a Negro carpenter, whom he reproached for haughty treatment of his wives, replied: You whites
are real fools, for first you concede so much to your wives, and
then you complain when they drive you crazy. There might be something here worth considering, except for the fact that this scoundrel
was completely black from head to foot, a distinct proof that what he
said was stupid.”Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
5 years ago

Most arguments about zombies. Sydney Shoemaker discussed how epistemologically ridiculous they were in the mid-70’s, and I don’t think there’s been anything interesting written on the topic since.Report

Epikoureios
Epikoureios
5 years ago

If one good turn deserves another, this post clearly warrants a League of Notorious Philosophical Texts.Report

Scott Forschler
Scott Forschler
5 years ago

A common argument, but one insufficiently recognized as being bad, is made by Kant and many of his followers (and often promoters of other moral universalization tests, like MG Singer; but not by Hare or Gewirth). The argument is that since a morally-correct principle must be universally applicable to all persons, then its being acceptable as a general rule to be followed by all persons is a sufficient test of its permissibility. Different versions of this argument have different views on what counts as “acceptable” (utility-maximzing, rational to will, etc.), but that is irrelevant to the logical form of the argument. Just because something is acceptable, in whatever sense, as a general rule, doesn’t mean it is similarly acceptable as a rule to govern the behavior of any arbitrarily-selected agent in contexts in which other agents are not following it as a general rule. Since the latter is the situation we are often in, the argument generates many false positives (driving on the left side of the road; unilateral disarmament/unconditional pacifism, contributing D/N to a public good which requires resources D to exist when there are N people who could do so, etc.) This argument has been critiqued sporadically (e.g., CD Broad in 1916), but its supporters usually just offer ad hoc responses to particular cases rather than recognize the general argument as a simple fallacy. I have met with extraordinary resistance from Kantians & others to whom I have presented this point, who then go to great lengths to introduce ad hoc arguments about what counts as a principle, maxim, etc., trying to construe my argument in some fallacious straw-man way contrary to its plain meaning, or to attack subtle and irrelevant details in its presentation–anything, apparently, to avoid facing and diagnosing the basic logical error involved.Report