Scientist’s and Engineer’s Approaches to “Solving” Philosophical Problems

There are often two paths in presenting an answer in philosophy:

  1. One claims that it is the correct answer, and all the uses of “knows” or “good” or “true” or etc. that don’t meet this answer have been mistaken from the start, even if these are common uses of the term. (this is generally a methodist account; it accords with the saying that philosophers like to give a special definition of a word then claim that all who use it in its non-special, common sense, are misusing it.)
  2. One claims it is the best answer. That is, one admits that one is stipulating and claims that this stipulation produces good results: we get something consistent in our discussions of “knows” or “good” or “just” or etc.; or we get a version of the term or concept that is valuable in a way common uses are not, or a model of the phenomenon that is enlightening or opens up new and helpful ways of conceiving it. This is, for example, the claim of the virtue theorists with regard to “knows,” or what Kendall Walton claims when he asks us to think of mimesis as make-believe.

We can think of the first method as that of the “philosophical scientist.” The truth is sought, and thought to be discovered. The second path belongs to the “philosophical engineer.” There’s a problem, and a solution, though hardly the only possible solution, is offered, because it gets the job done particularly well.

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