The Nature of Philosophy — Preamble

philosophyDear Readers,

I’m about to start an unusual project here at Plato’s Footnote, one that will take several weeks to complete, and which I hope will turn out to be of general enough interest. Beginning next week, I will publish a number of posts comprising the entirety of my new book, The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters. The book, on which I worked since 2012, is finally ready for prime time, and I decided to give it an unusual platform: blog serialization.

And why not? So far I have published six academic books and four aimed at a more general public, and while I have two more in the making (an academic one on “scientism” for Chicago Press and a trade book on Stoicism for Basic Books), this one is a particularly strange beast. The idea from the beginning was to aim at a dual audience, always a difficult, next to impossible enterprise, and the result is, by my own light, a mixed one. If you will track its publication over the next several weeks, you’ll see that there will be parts that are difficult to follow (if you are not an academic) or frustratingly simplistic (if you are). I’m betting, however, that in the end there will be enough tasty meat — or seitan — for both audiences to be worth their time.

I’m not sure whether a (mostly) academic book has ever been serialized before, this may actually be a first. Regardless, the unusual format will achieve two goals: first, it will likely be read by more people than would have been the case had it come out in a standard academic press edition — and for free!; second, it will be continuously reviewed, by both academic peers and generally interested readers (I will keep the discussion threads open indefinitely). Since both objectives are the very reasons why I started this blog to begin with, it seemed like a natural fit.

Meanwhile, I need to apologize to my regular readers because recurring features of this blog (like the Friday reading suggestions) will be suspended until the new project will have run its course. No worries, they’ll be back soon.

To give you an idea of what’s coming up, below is a Table of Contents with the approximate schedule of publication of each portion of the manuscript. I will add links to the actual entries as we go along, and eventually I will also make the full shebang available as a standalone pdf, downloadable here. Moreover, at any time you’ll visit the blog you will be able to find all entries pertinent to The Nature of Philosophy by clicking on the category by the same name.

I sincerely thank you for your indulgence, and I hope the dialogue will be both civilized and constructive, as it is the habit here at Plato’s Footnote. If, however, the idea is not to your liking, take a break, and I’ll see you again at the end of May!


Massimo Pigliucci

K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy

the City College of New York


Table of Contents

Week 0 (April 1, no joke!)

Fri: Preamble

Week 1 (April 4-8)

Mon: Read This First-I
Wed: Read This First-II

Week 2 (April 11-15)

Mon: Philosophy’s PR Problem-I, (Some) Scientists against philosophers
Wed: Philosophy’s PR Problem-II, Why is this happening? & Overcoming Philosophy’s PR problem: The next generation

Week 3 (April 18-22)

Mon: Philosophy Itself-I, Introduction
Tue: Philosophy Itself-II, Western vs Eastern(s) philosophies?
Wed: Philosophy Itself-III, Analytic vs. Continental?
Thu: Philosophy Itself-IV, A case study: philosophy of science vs science studies

Week 4 (April 25-29)

Mon: The Naturalistic Turn-I, Basic metaphilosophy
Wed: The Naturalistic Turn-II, Willard Van Orman Quine
Fri: The Naturalistic Turn-III, What is naturalism, anyway?

Week 5 (May 2-6)

Mon: Progress in Science-I, The obvious starting point: the Correspondence Theory of Truth
Wed: Progress in Science-II, Progress in science: some philosophical accounts
Fri: Progress in Science-III, Progress in science: different philosophical accounts

Week 6 (May 9-13)

Mon: Progress in Math and Logic-I, Progress in mathematics: some historical considerations
Tue: Progress in Math and Logic-II, History of mathematics: the philosophical approach
Wed: Progress in Math and Logic-III, Logic: the historical perspective
Thu: Progress in Math and Logic-IV, A panoply of logics

Week 7 (May 16-20)

Mon: Progress in Philosophy-I, Progress in epistemology: knowledge from Plato to Gettier and beyond
Tue: Progress in Philosophy-II, More, much more, on epistemology
Wed: Progress in Philosophy-III, Philosophy of science: forms of realism and antirealism
Thu: Progress in Philosophy-IV, Ethics: the utilitarian-consequentialist landscape
Fri: Progress in Philosophy-V, But is it useful? On the difference between chess and chmess

Week 8 (May 23-27)

Mon: Where Do We Go From Here?-I, The Experimental Philosophy challenge
Tue: Where Do We Go From Here?-II, Yet another challenge: the rise of the Digital Humanities
Wed: Where Do We Go From Here?-III, The tools of the trade
Thu: Where Do We Go From Here?-IV, What do philosophers think of philosophy?

59 thoughts on “The Nature of Philosophy — Preamble

  1. Daniel Kaufman

    Yes, Socratic, anti-Black racism is America’s greatest failing.

    Synred: When David Duke wins 20 – 30% in a national election, then comparisons with European politics may be apt. Certainly we have all sorts of problems in this area, but it is commonly and widely understood that (a) America has dealt much better with assimilating its immigrant population into the mainstream of its culture than Europe has done, and (b) that America has a far less extreme politics than Europe, with a much smaller distance between Right and Left. In Europe one has actual Communist and Fascist parties that enjoy substantial victories and power, while in America, such parties are so fringey as to have zero effect on the nation’s politics.

    That’s all I was objecting too. I was not suggesting that the US is some tolerant, humanistic paradise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Massimo Post author


    while I agree that America has a far less extreme politics than Europe, with a much smaller distance between Right and Left, I’m not sure your first point (America has dealt much better with assimilating its immigrant population into the mainstream of its culture than Europe has done) derives from it, or is even historically correct.

    I have recently visited the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island, and it is an endless story of xenophobia of whatever Americans had already arrived and felt threatened by the next wave. America has “dealt with” immigration by kicking and screaming all the way through.

    That said, the current revival of neo-fascist parties across Europe is indeed worrisome, and it is the predictable result of large waves of immigrations from the Middle East and African countries. But so far this has actually not translated into anything politically significant, as none of these parties — at the least in Western Europe — has gained parliamentary majority. That, of course, can still happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. synred

    So George got ~14% nationally and did very well in the south, winning some states.

    I don’t think Wallace was as bad as Nazi or even some of current euro parties. Fortunately, we never had to find out. It could have been quite bad had he been part of a coalition government with Nixon as Premier.

    It does make me feel somewhat more favorably toward the two party system. Trump will hopefully get creamed. Or Cruz. Then maybe the Republic Party will shift back to be something reasonable, i.e., Wall Street et al.


  4. Daniel Kaufman

    Massimo: I completely disagree with your claim that the rise of neo-fascist parties has not led to anything “politically significant” in Europe. UKIP is quite politically significant. As is National Front. As is AFD in Germany. They don’t have to win Prime Ministerships. It’s enough that they win blocks in the legislatures, in multi-party systems like they have in Europe.

    I also disagree with you regarding assimilation. Again, the claim is not that the US has handled this wonderfully, but rather, that we have handled it *better* — that is, less badly — than Europe has. Our hispanic population is far more comfortably integrated into US culture than the Muslim population is in Europe. Even taking into account ethnic ghettos in the US, there is nothing like the situation in Paris and other European cities, with the Muslim enclaves that fester just outside them.

    Money quote:

    “More than 20 years ago, Count Alexandre de Marenches, longtime head of French intelligence, told me that the greatest threat to his nation’s security was “an entire nation living within our country whose language we do not speak, whose customs and religion, whose hopes and fears we do not understand.” He was referring, even then, to the Islamic communities that have only multiplied in recent years and promise to multiply even further with the arrival of thousands of new refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”


  5. Massimo Post author


    “They don’t have to win Prime Ministerships. It’s enough that they win blocks in the legislatures, in multi-party systems like they have in Europe”

    No, it isn’t sufficient at all, because of the way European parliamentary systems work, not to mention the additional check provided by the European Community and its layer of legislation, which by the European Constitution trumps any local law (that’s why the Brits want out, good luck and good riddance to them…).

    “Our hispanic population is far more comfortably integrated into US culture than the Muslim population is in Europe”

    Bad comparison, don’t you think? How about Muslim-Muslim?

    “there is nothing like the situation in Paris and other European cities, with the Muslim enclaves that fester just outside them”

    True in Paris, but a very recent phenomenon. There are no such ghettos in Italy, for instance, and if one takes a longer view even in France things have been good until recently.

    And let’s not forget Merkel’s recent, politically costly, welcoming of large number of immigrants into Germany. Or Italy’s and Greece’s unsung gargantuan efforts with the waves of people that have hit their shores recently.

    Look, I’m not saying that Europe is a paradise — just like you are not arguing that America is — but I have lived in both places and I have a better sense of where they both go wrong. Immigration is something that neither has a stellar record at.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Daniel Kaufman

    Massimo: My reason for comparing American hispanic immigration and Muslim immigration into Europe is due to the fact that they are to a great extent being “imported” for the sake of lower tier labor.

    While I have not lived in both places, my parents have, and they both think that Europe is far more racist and xenophobic than the US. Then again, being Jews, it’s not surprising they — we — think that.


  7. synred

    When we lived in Munchen a Jewish friend of ours Michelle felt rather nervous, esp. when she saw people on the U-bahn of the right age to have been around during the holocaust/wwii.

    The ‘Dicke Frauen’ of a certain age liked to offer candy to kids they met. Here we’d thing they were perverts, but there it was quite normal. They made Michelle nervous. I don’t blame her.

    Incidentally, we lived in an appt. occupied by the Israeli athlete’s during the 72 Olympics. As these were unsaleable they were made into housing for visiting scientist.


  8. Massimo Post author


    “my parents have, and they both think that Europe is far more racist and xenophobic than the US. Then again, being Jews, it’s not surprising they — we — think that.”

    Indeed, but I maintain that that period is hardly representative of the modern situation, and I don’t think it’s representative of much of the history of Jewry in Europe throughout the centuries either.

    That said, I think we can agree that both the US and Europe have a long way to go in that respect, though perhaps that’s true for the rest of the world as well, really.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Daniel Kaufman

    Massimo, we do agree on the last point.

    I am, however, quite puzzled by your characterization of the experience of European Jewry through the centuries. It was quite terrible for most of the centuries, whether the blood libels, the charges of deicide, the violence directed towards Jews during Easter celebrations, the outright expulsions, the Inquisition, the pogroms in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia… the experience of Jews in Europe since the Middle Ages is one of almost non-stop hatred, discrimination, violence, and expulsion. The nightmare that was the 20th century Jewish experience was the culmination of these centuries worth of accumulating forces.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. couvent2104

    Mr. Kaufman,

    I hesitate to react, because Europe isn’t comparable to the US. The US is a unified nation, Europe is collection of (sometimes wildly) diverging states.

    But I do think your comments are unfair in some respects. Somebody like Donald Trump would be unacceptable for “right-wing” parties in western Europe. He would be acceptable only for far-right movements like Geert Wilders (the Netherlands), Vlaams Belang (Belgium), Le Pen (France) etc.

    What is called “right-wing” in the press in western Europe would be called “rabid, foam-at-the-mouth” communism, statism etc. in righ-wing circles in the US. The US don’t have a Geert Wilders or Marine Le Pen etc. They don’t need them, because they already have something that is just as extreme. They have Trump (and a considerable part of the republican party).

    About integration – it’s a bit like philosophy.

    One cannot judge it without a thorough understanding of all the subtilities involved. Immigration in the UK is different from immigration in Germany or Belgium or the US. One cannot judge philosophy after having read an article about Hegel or Heidegger. They don’t represent all of philosophy. Likewise, there’s nothing that represents “all of integration” in Europe. Approaches to immigration can be very divergent, even within one single European country. Perhaps difficult to understand in the US, but that’s the way it is. The idea that Europe failed in this respect, is just as superficial as the idea that philosophy failed because of Heidegger, Hegel or whatever.


  11. Daniel Kaufman


    I think your comparison of Trump with the sorts of right wing parties that are having a significant impact in Europe, like the National Front in France and Jobbik, in Hungary (the latter of which is the third largest party in the Hungarian National Assembly), is comletely — wildly — off base, and illustrates the danger of the casual way in which we throw around words like “fascist” when talking about people like Trump, who, beyond the stupid bluster, is not even particularly right wing, having been pro-choice until about 5 minutes ago, as well as belieiving in universal health care, which in the US is a soundly left-wing position.


  12. synred

    George Wallace was also a mixed bat with many ‘liberal’ positions — at least for white people.

    A deep concern of George C. Wallace is the plight of our older citizens who are caught in a vise between rising prices and fixed income. “Old age doesn’t have to be the end of the American dream,” he says. He believes our older citizens are entitled to a better standard of living and to decent Social Security benefits. He believes, too, that persons on Social Security should be able to use their abilities and talents without jeopardizing their benefits.

    Does this mean I can’t call George a fascist?

    None of these awful people are exactly the same but there is a certain commonalty

    Ain’t google grand?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. synred

    One problem of course is it’s hard to tell a blowhard from a fascists unless they get power — which hopefully Trump will not.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Daniel Kaufman

    Synred and all:

    Certainly this is not something about which any sort of knock-down arguments or proofs can be given. The example of George Wallace is more than fair, and perhaps, Trump will turn out to be similar.

    Part of the reason, though, for being much more worried about parties like National Front, Golden Dawn, and Jobbik is precisely the very recent history of fascism across Europe. Hell, Spain had a fascist government into the *1970’s*.

    So, while there has been no successful fascist movement in the US, that simply is not true of Europe, even quite recently. Thus, there is every reason to worry more about it in Europe — where it constitutes a resurgence — than in the US, where it has never taken hold, even in our darkest days.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. synred

    Europe is, I think, more in danger now than we are. The pressure due to the flood of refugees from Syria, etc. is stirring up the xenophobes.

    However, we shouldn’t be complacent and assume “It can’t happen here.” Maybe the Donald is merely a proto-fascists, but that’s scary enough. And he is more directly our responsibility.

    I don’t think he can win, but we (living in Munchen at the time [a\]) didn’t think Ronnie could win either. Ronnie did a lot of bad stuff, but he was no fascist.

    [a] That was the only year we didn’t vote. They made it very hard with multiple trips to stand in line at the consulate needed with a two year old in tow. Maybe it was all our fault ;_)


  16. Daniel Kaufman

    Synred wrote:

    we shouldn’t be complacent and assume “It can’t happen here.”


    That is something on which I think *all* of us, here, agree.


  17. ejwinner

    I think it’s wrong to think of America’s immigration issues in comparison to those of Europe. America strikes me as something of a supra-cultural nation, more like that of India than any in Europe.

    Before the Muslim conquest, as India was melded into a single country, the principle way the dominating social groups dealt with the cultures of conquered or annexed tribes was by tolerating self-segregation of the dominated tribes; the explanation for this came largely out of Hinduism, the pantheism of which annexed the beliefs of the dominated tribes without imposition. All that was required was fealty to the central government, and respect for the social strictures of the dominant social group. Otherwise, many tribal cultures developed with relative autonomy.

    Right now, India’s past may be our future in America – a disjoint collection of cultures and sub-cultures, only united by centralized institutions. That obviously has its problems, but it does suggest that America is more adaptive to an influx of alien cultures than one might expect in Europe, where ethnically determined ‘nationalism’ remains an ideal among many.

    And I do have to support Dan K’s remarks concerning the history of European Jewry. With the sole possible exception of Muslim dominated Spain, I can’t think of a historic moment when the Jews, as a recognized ethnic group and religion, were – securely (i.e., across generations) – tolerated as contributing to the general good of a European nation as a whole.


  18. synred

    Thus European right-wing parties which oppose Muslim immigration usually take care to avoid racial terminology. Marine le Pen’s speechwriters would have been shown the door on the spot had they suggested that the leader of France’s Front National party go on television to declare that, ‘We don’t want those inferior Semites to dilute our Aryan blood and spoil our Aryan civilisation.’

    Harari, Yuval Noah (2015-02-10). Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (p. 303). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

    The above is from the book ‘Sapiens’ that we are reading for the Martin Perl book club. I find it full of BS and ‘intentional stance’ reasoning.

    Is the above remotely true? That even La Pen has to use ‘dog-whistle’ language today? That is an improvement of sorts.


  19. synred

    Marine Le Pen doesn’t sound that much worse than the Donald at least in what gets into wiki-quotes. Who knows who selects them though. Anyway she does seem to avoid explicitly racist language as Harari said.

    Some Republicks sound worse using war between civilization language that they could of picked up off an ISIS website.

    Rubio (“a moderate’):

    They literally want to overthrow our society and replace it with their radical, Sunni Islamic view of the future. This is a clash of civilizations. And either they win or we win.

    The antecedent for ‘they’ is radical Islamic terrorist, but then he goes off into it being a ‘clash of civilizations’ as if they represented a civilization!

    I don’t suppose he really meant it. Just pandering to the ‘base’ but it sounds worse than Le Pen and encourages that kind of belief.


  20. Daniel Kaufman

    Synred: It’s not just the statements now. It’s the history of the statements and the actions of the party, as well. Look at the statements and deeds of Jean Marie Le Pens. And look at the history of fascism in France, since the Second World War. There is nothing like it in the US, during the same period of time. So, I have reason to think that Rubio and Trump are just blustering, and I have reason to worry that today’s National Front is not.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Daniel Kaufman

    Synred wrote:

    I suspect Daniel is right about this – Europe is for the moment in worse shape than US.


    Politically. In many other ways, the US is in considerably worse shape.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Massimo Post author


    on the history of Jewry in Europe, I thought it was a bit more complicated than that, but I’m sure you’ve read more than I have, so I’m happy to concede the point.


    seems like the current discussion has increasingly little to do with the OP, so if you don’t mind to get back on track (or simply move on), otherwise I will close this particular thread.

    (my new policy is to leave all threads open indefinitely, unless they veer way off, in which case I can close them, even temporarily, and then decide later on whether to reopen them or not)

    The new installments of this series, by the way, will come out today and Wednesday.


  23. SocraticGadfly

    1. Dan, David Duke got MORE than that in his Louisiana governor’s run.

    2. Beyond what Massimo said about our Muslim population, I don’t think our Hispanic population is as integrated into society as you claim.

    3. And, lest we set this point aside — black America still isn’t “assimilated.”

    Liked by 1 person

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