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This picture also underlies and may seem to warrant the persistent and pervasive sense, in popular culture as well as much literary work, that phi- losophy in the Anglo-American tradition is dry, uninteresting, and sterile. The emphasis on the history of philosophy is also understandable on this picture.

The history of philosophy provides an impressive range of perspectives on reality and the place of humanity. These perspectives sometimes complement and reinforce each other, though they often clash, presenting mutually incompat- ible views.

We learn much from examining and comparing these perspectives, both when they fit together and when they are mutually incompatible. On this picture, whatever progress occurs in philosophy would never outweigh the bene- fits of studying the great philosophical systems of the past.

We learn from those works in something like the way we learn from the great past creations in music, art, and literature. But this picture of philosophy, though it justifies its classification as a hu- manity and explains its emphasis on its own history, leaves out a lot that has been considered central to philosophy throughout that history. The attitude of the great philosophers that constructed these alternative, often incompatible sys- tems has seldom if ever been that of great literary figures whose work offers alternative perspectives.

Rather, their attitude is that of scientific theorists who develop alternative theories. They assume that at most one of the philosophical systems gets things right, and they advance arguments in favor of their own.

Indeed, the language of perspectives is typically foreign to the writing of philosophers. Hobbes and Descartes did not see themselves in the third set of Objections and Replies to the Meditations as differing about perspectives on reality, but about the truth on various issues.

Nor is some quasi-literary perspec- tive in question when Aristotle takes his predecessors to task for concentrating on only one of the four causes, or when Kant talks about the failures of rational- ism and empiricism.

Similarly throughout the history of philosophy; the great figures we study saw themselves as trying to get at the truth about things, much as scientists see themselves as doing.

Philosophical work often purports to employ different methods from those used in the sciences to arrive at the truth. And the issues and questions about which they seek the truth typically differ as well. But subject matter and method aside, the goals are much the same. Whether the issues pertain to metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, or other branches of philosophy, philosophical writing seeks correct answers to particular questions.

Philosophy and Its Teaching 71 Contemporary work in philosophy is no different in this respect. The ques- tions and issues have changed somewhat in various ways, and there are new ways of dividing philosophy into subspecialties. But now as in the past, philo- sophical work aims at establishing the truth about particular matters. This poses a problem for understanding the nature of philosophy, and a consequent problem about how best to teach it. If the goal of philosophy is to establish truths about specific issues, what matters is the truths it manages to establish.

And then it should simply catalog and organize those truths, revising them as needed, but presenting at every stage the body of knowledge that phi- losophy has so far come up with.

It should, in short, operate present as the sciences do. But in this case, it will be no more obvious in philosophy than in the sciences what benefit is to be derived from studying the history of the field.

This problem plainly carries over to the teaching of philosophy. As noted at the outset, a large portion of both undergraduate and graduate curriculums is typically devoted to the history of philosophy.

But that cannot by itself explain the prominence within the philosophy curriculum of courses on its history. Why Study the History of Philosophy? There is a variety of explanations put forth for this prominence. But it is argua- ble that none of the standard explanations is satisfactory.

One explanation often offered cites the way in which contemporary work in philosophy is sometimes inspired by the work of a particular historical figure. The early work of Stuart Hampshire owes much to his study of Spinoza, and J. But such cases are relatively unusual; the most telling influences in contem- porary philosophical work are typically late nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers.

Contemporary work does, as mentioned earlier, sometimes refer to his- torical figures, but such reference is typically made largely in passing, and con- tributes little if anything to the argument or position being developed. Another explanation sometimes advanced is that students cannot come to grasp contemporary philosophical issues without knowing the historical antece- dents that led to those issues.

This is highly implausible. Many students today display an impressive command of issues at the center of all areas of contempo- rary work in philosophy, and yet have no significant knowledge of the history of philosophy.

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This is not surprising, given that relatively few contemporary issues occur in historical discussions in the same way. Contemporary issues are almost al- ways transposed somewhat relative to their historical cognates, and occur now in theoretical contexts that would have been unrecognizable in earlier periods.

So 72 David M. Rosenthal appeal to history antecedents in learning about contemporary issues may fail to help students grasp the exact nature of those issues as they figure in the contem- porary literature, and may even invite some confusion about them. Another explanation sometimes offered for the emphasis on the history of philosophy applies mainly to the undergraduate curriculum.

The great works of the past accordingly are said to provide a convenient ramp up which the student can progress, eventually getting to contemporary work. Many great philosophers were also gifted literary figures, and reading them may in that way be far more inviting than reading any contemporary work.

But the argument for having these and similar philosophical works in any undergraduate curriculum is not because they facilitate an understanding of the contemporary literature in philosophy, but because of their cultural importance generally. And putting literary and cultural value to one side, the strictly philo- sophical content of contemporary work is seldom as difficult to understand as even the most widely used classical texts.

The texts just mentioned continue to occasion extensive debate about their meaning and their major claims and argu- ments. There is little in the contemporary literature that would sustain such de- bate, and little that requires it. The current literature in philosophy may be dry, tech- nical, and uninviting in a literary way, but it is seldom nearly so hard to under- stand.

Indeed, so far as the distinctively philosophical issues are concerned, there is much contemporary work that addresses these issues in relatively self- contained and accessible ways. Focusing solely on effectiveness in getting undergra- duates to understand contemporary work in philosophy, and bracketing the ac- knowledged cultural importance of the great classical figures, it may well be less fruitful to have students read them than to read select contemporary work.

There are other standard explanations for the emphasis on the great classical works in the philosophy curriculum. But it is arguable that they are unconvinc- ing in explaining the substantial place of historical teaching in the philosophy Philosophy and Its Teaching 73 curriculum.

Indeed, the failures of the explanations just surveyed suggest con- siderations that undermine other standard explanations. The Historicist Explanation There is, however, a particular response to this problem that has recently come to be widely discussed and is worth independent consideration. On this view, the standard attitude philosophers, both classical and contemporary, have held to- ward their own work is simply misguided.

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Despite their pronouncements, the goal of philosophy is not to establish truths about various issues, but rather to develop and articulate a perspective on the nature of reality and the place of in- dividuals and humanity generally in the overall order of things. The popular picture of philosophy described in the preceding section is, on this account, cor- rect, despite the somewhat scientistic pretensions of philosophy itself. On this view, then, the goal of studying the history of philosophy and train- ing students in it is not to better understand philosophical progress.

We should not think of that history as the development of arguments for and against posi- tions about perennial problems articulated by earlier thinkers.

Rather, we should see the history of philosophy as offering a virtual conversation that the great figures have among themselves, a conversation whose twists and turns can have a general edifying effect. To study the history of philosophy is to eavesdrop on and perhaps add our own commentary to that conversation. This, in broad strokes, is the view of philosophy and its history championed by Richard Rorty,2 as well as in much post-modern hermeneutics.

But it has not taken hold in most philo- sophical work, largely because it fails to do justice to actual philosophical prac- tice, historical or contemporary. Still, it sometimes happens that intellectual work can misrepresent its own significance, and that may be the case with phi- losophy.

Perhaps practitioners of philosophy are, as Rorty argues, in the grip of an inaccurate picture of their own discipline, a picture inherited from an earlier, more naive age. So we need carefully to assess the merits of this revisionist view of philosophical work. Mind-body materialists such as J. Smart and D. Armstrong had argued in the s and s that we can ac- commodate qualitative mental states within a materialist framework only if de- scriptions of such states are topic neutral as regards being physical or mental.

Rorty concurred, arguing that the very concept of the mental precludes any- thing that is mental from being physical. So mind-body materialism is defensible only in an eliminativist version; we can sustain mind-body materialism only by 74 David M. Rosenthal arguing that there is nothing that is properly classified as mental. And such eli- minativism is itself defensible, he argued, because we can describe, explain, and predict everything we now describe, explain, and predict without any using any mental vocabulary at all.

If we no longer describe anything whatever as mental, and indeed dispense with the very category of the mental, we eliminate not only mental descriptions, but the mind-body problem itself.

And that, Rorty main- tained, is all to the good. Debate for several centuries now about the mind-body problem has arguably produced no useful breakthroughs or progress; dualists and materialists both still thrive in the philosophical literature, and remain as unaffected as ever by the arguments of the other side.

This suggests, Rorty ar- gues, that the very issue itself is a false problem, admitting of no convincing solution. And it thereby helps sustain an eliminativist resolution to that apparent problem.

The sense that the mind-body problem involves some serious issue is illusory, the result of the needless use of a mentalistic vocabulary loaded with anti-materialist implications. Teaching students that there is a substantive issue here misleads them and distorts their understanding of the relevant literature.

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and subsequent writings, Rorty forcefully and eloquently argued that this is true of most of the issues that have dominated philosophical discussion in the Western tradition.

We should, he urges, adopt a historicist picture of the questions that have defined philosophical discussion, questions that have continued for centuries to resist straightforward, substantive answers. But though philosophical discussion and debate seldom if ever yield decisive answers, they can often on the historicist picture be edifying. We should study and teach such discussion and debate as a virtual conversation about some of the perspectives available for seeing how our knowledge, practic- es, and preferences fit together.

We should see the so-called problems of philos- ophy as conundra that arise in developing these perspectives, not as problems that demand and can yield to decisive solutions. They are creatures of particular cultural developments, and have no standing independent of those cultural oc- currences. But the argument for this historicist picture is flawed. A naturalist materialism requires jettisoning mental vocabulary, according to Rorty, because that very vocabulary harbors anti-materialist implications.

This view of our mental vocabulary is it- self controversial, and without it there is no reason to adopt an eliminativist view. But even if Rorty is right about our mental vocabulary, a mind-body mate- rialism would not require jettisoning that vocabulary; we could instead just strip that vocabulary of its anti-materialist implications. As Rorty has forcefully argued, there is no firm line between the meaning of our terms and the theories we take to govern the application of those terms.

We can then retain our Philosophy and Its Teaching 75 mental vocabulary and consider the claims of materialist and dualist theories on their merits and adjudicate between them. Rorty would urge that we can understand what made issues about mind- body materialism seem problematic to generations of philosophers only if we see anti-materialist implications as literally built into the meaning of our mental vocabulary. And it is only in those terms that we can construe mind-body mate- rialism as involving genuine intellectual problems.

But this argument is uncon- vincing. For one thing, if anti-materialist implications were built into our mental vocabulary, dualism would automatically win. People do sometimes get entangled in conceptual contradictions. But whether something seems problematic is relative to wheth- er we think we have a resolution. Once a widely accepted resolution is at hand, the problematic air that had earlier surrounded an issue recedes, and may well disappear altogether.

Its problematic character comes to have only historical significance, and reconstruction of its having appeared to be a genuine problem will inevitably seem strained. An answer, once found, is obvious. If philosophy is best seen as a virtual conversation among the great figures, possibly along with a contemporary commentary on that conversation, the history of philosophy must be as central to the teaching of philosophy as it is in any of the humanities, and in much the same way.

But this historicist picture fails to do justice not only to the way philoso- phers operate and see their own work, but also to the substantive disputes that drive that work. Historicism about philosophical problems generally, like histo- ricism about particular issues such as the mind-body problem, sees those prob- lems as not being genuine questions that admit of serious answers. But that way of construing these quandaries itself rests on a substantive, controversial posi- tion about the nature of these problems.

On that position, philosophical quanda- 76 David M. Rosenthal ries arise not from clashes among competing theories, but from the adoption of optional vocabularies that embody problematic assumptions. But without an argument that these assumptions are essential to the relevant vocabulary, rather than being added by the choice of theory, such historicism begs the question against the standard view of philosophical issues, on which these issues pose genuine questions that have definite answers.

So we cannot rely on the historic- ist picture to explain the emphasis by philosophy on its history. The problem, to recapitulate, is that philosophy, like the sciences, aims at getting the truth about various issues.

So the history of philosophy should represent progress towards that goal, and we should be able then simply to dis- pense with the history of that progress. We should be able to study and teach the things that philosophy has so far gotten right, along with the catalog of pressing outstanding problems. If the history of philosophy is useful at all, it cannot be in the way it characteristically is in the arts and other humanities, in which the do- minant goal is not simply to get at the truth about things.

We can, however, understand how the history of philosophy is useful in philosophical education without thereby treating philosophy like one of the arts. And this way of understanding the usefulness of the history of philosophy actually underwrites an particular analogy between philosophy and the other humanities.

The history of philosophy is a great collection of systematically de- veloped views, which seem not only incompatible each with the others, but often incommensurate as well.

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The arguments that drive each of the great systems also suggest apparent re- futations of the others. Historical development accordingly seems altogether irrelevant in comparing and evaluating these theo- ries. No wonder progress is rare in philosophy, and seldom if ever occurs in connection with system building.

In no other res- pectable area of intellectual inquiry is there so much theoretical divergence about substantive questions over so long a period of time. We should isolate and expose hidden assumptions and intellectual procedures, and evaluate the resulting theories in terms of their doing justice to and explaining the relevant phenomena. Such pragmatism about theories and theoretical reasoning is unexceptionable, in phi- losophical contexts as elsewhere.

Hume, by contrast, argued that the many apparently irresolvable conflicts among philosophical systems are due simply to the occurrence in those systems of terms that literally have no meaning. We can accordingly get rid of such fruit- less clashes by testing the relevant vocabulary for meaningfulness.

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Dewey is doubtless right that their incommensurability results from the way each system incorporates and builds on assumptions not shared by others. And as Plato argued, it is self-defeating and fruitless to reason from hypotheses taken simply as given;10 we must subject all hypotheses and assumptions to scrutiny, taking none as privileged or immune to revision.

The careful study of any of the great systems reveals a ple- thora of connections among various issues of interest in philosophical work, issues that, considered on their own, typically seem largely independent of one another. Because the ties these systems articulate among such issues tend to hold across a variety of systems, we can understand those connections without being committed to any particular system. So a system that is arguably mistaken and wrongheaded in every other way may nonetheless be especially revealing about the connections that hold among seemingly disparate issues.

One need not be at 78 David M. Unlike the work of great philosophical system builders, contemporary work tends to focus on individual issues or small clusters of them. This tight focus has proved exceptionally salutary. Although many major theoretical disagreements remain, such careful work has charted out areas of broad agreement, and has crystallized in fruitful ways the major theoretical divides that require further work. But a corresponding disadvantage in studying such contemporary work is that it seldom provides an opportunity to explore the many important connec- tions among the various issues that individually receive such careful attention.

The study of major works in the history of philosophy, by contrast, offers rich opportunities to explore these connections.

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