1. Insider and Outsider Scepticism about Philosophy

Philosophers disagree immensely in significant ways.  Our best philosophers disagree over the doctrines, methods, and even the aims of philosophy.  Experts in all fields disagree, but disagreement is more pervasive in philosophy than in most other fields.  As Thomas Kelly says, ‘Philosophy is notable for the extent to which disagreements with respect to even those most basic questions persist among its most able practitioners, despite the fact that the arguments thought relevant to the disputed questions are typically well-known to all parties to the dispute.’[^1]

A sceptic might claim that radical dissensus shows that pursuing philosophy is not a good means for discovering true answers for philosophical questions.  Dissensus shows that philosophical methods are unreliable instruments of truth.  Suppose an uncommitted person comes to philosophy hoping to get true answers to her philosophical questions. She wants to know what that nature of causation is, what justification is, what rightness consists in, what justice is, and so on.  She notices that philosophers have extensive disagreement about the answers to these questions and thus concludes that the probability of her getting the true answer by pursuing philosophy is low.  So, she becomes a sceptic about the field of philosophy and walks away with her questions unanswered.  Is she making a mistake?

In this paper, I consider scepticism of the sort that holds that there are true answers to philosophical questions, but none of us are in a good position to know these answers.  This type of scepticism admits of two sub-types.  1) Aninsider sceptic holds that even the best philosophers lack good reasons to hold their views.  So, the insider sceptic thinks that philosophers who are not agnostic about philosophical issues should become agnostic.  2) A person who is merely anoutsider sceptic , on the other hand, might accept that many philosophers are justified in holding their views, despite widespread disagreement.  The outsider sceptic need not hold that philosophers should change their beliefs or become agnostic.  However, the outsider sceptic also holds that people not already committed to one philosophical position or another should stay uncommitted.  So, the outsider sceptic holds that even if most philosophers are justified in accepting their different views, a person who lacks philosophical beliefs ought to refrain from using philosophical methodology and instead should remain agnostic.

Suppose an uncommitted person, one who is currently agnostic about basic philosophical questions, wishes to discover the true answers to these philosophical questions.  She is also equally concerned to avoid false answers.  She is thus willing to stop being agnostic and come to believe a doctrine provided she does so via a reliable method.  For her, a reliable method is one that is at least more likely than not to give her true beliefs.  If these are her goals, it is difficult to show that philosophy as we do it would be worth doing.  She might as well remain agnostic.  This is not to say that we philosophers must give up our doctrines and become agnostics ourselves, but merely that a truth-seeking, error-avoiding agnostic does not have good reason to pursue philosophy in the attempt to discover the truth about philosophical questions. This paper argues that the presence of widespread dissensus makes it difficult to defend philosophy from outsider scepticism, if not insider scepticism.

There are many reasons why philosophy is worth doing.  Yet, it would be disturbing if we cannot show the agnostic that philosophy gets her the right type of value - true answers to philosophical questions.