“I find no good reason to think that philosophers today do philosophy better than philosophers 600 or 2000 years ago.”That’s Ana María Mora-Márquez (Gothenburg) in an interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16am. The interview covers some of her work in medieval philosophy, Aristotle, and logic. At one point, Marshall asks:
Are there important things that contemporary debates can still use from this Aristotelian metaphysics, epistemology and logic or has it all been supplanted by more powerful explanations of the phenomena needing explanation?
Professor Mora-Márquez replies:
Good question: yes, there are. Most likely the phenomena that have now more powerful explanations are those we can now observe better because of better modern observation tools. That excludes precisely metaphysics and language and logic, the objects of which are not observable in the same way that, say, viruses and exoplanets are. Epistemology is a bit more complex because modern science has indeed supplanted many old explanations on some aspects of knowledge, but with explanations that are not philosophical. However, the social epistemology that has been developing in the last decades, for instance, has a historical precursor in ancient and medieval philosophy at which it would be worth taking a closer look.
Also, it seems to me that metaphysicians then and now don’t lead substantially different discussions (except for the format), so contemporary debates could find good ideas in the old ones, I’m sure.
She cautions us to not mistake the possibility that contemporary philosophy is better suited for the aims we now have for philosophy, for the idea that it is better, period:
Finally, the kind of logic one develops is affected by the use one intends to give to it, and ancient and medieval logics were well suited to the ancient and medieval scientific needs on which they were dependent. I find it fascinating to try to understand how philosophers approached logic and language before the specific needs of the 20th century, a lot of them linked to the development of computational technology. Ancient and medieval logic and philosophy of language have given me perspective and a good case to support my view that the way we think about language, logic, and knowledge is very much dependent on the social context where we are situated. I find no good reason to think that philosophers today do philosophy better than philosophers 600 or 2000 years ago, or that someone who decides to tackle metaphysical or epistemological questions in dialogue with, say, Quine is going to fare any better than those who prefer to do it in dialogue with Aristotle or Aquinas. But, of course, people have preferences, which is perfectly fine.
The whole interview is here.
Related posts: Are History’s ‘Greatest Philosophers’ All That Great?, How Philosophy Makes Progress (Stoljar), Philosophy’s Progress, If You Don’t Care Whether It’s Called Philosophy, How Philosophy Makes Progress (Callard), Convergence as Progress in Philosophy, Whether Philosophical Questions Can Be Answered, The Intellectual Achievement of Creating Questions, Which Sciences Can Help Answer Philosophical Questions?