3. What Type of Defence Do We Want?

Suppose that accepting a philosophical theory cures tooth decay.  This would make the theory a goodthing , but not a goodtheory . Similarly, a good hammer is good at driving nails.  If it is bad at driving nails but using it cures tooth decay, this makes the hammer a good thing, but not a good hammer.

So, what is the nail to which philosophy is the hammer?  We have sets of questions we want theories to answer.  We want philosophy to get us the truth.  We want it to answer our questions or to show us that the questions were mistakes (because they represent pseudoproblems).

There are a number of types of defences of philosophy:

1- Epistemic : Philosophy is good because it gets us to the truth, or something reasonably truth-like (such as understanding).

2- Intrinsic : Philosophy is good as an end in itself.

3- Instrumental : Philosophy is good for getting some values other than truth.

4- Aretaic : Philosophy is good for fostering wisdom, good character, or various intellectual virtues.

Aretaic defences could be considered a subset of instrumental defences. When academic philosophers defend philosophy, e.g., by explaining its value on the ‘Why Study Philosophy?’ webpages many departments post for prospective majors, they often list defences of types 2, 3, and 4.  Each of these are good defences, and conjoined they might be excellent reasons to study philosophy or to pursue a philosophical career.  They might be excellent non-epistemic reasons for becoming an insider rather than an outsider, or for coming to accept some philosophical doctrines rather than remaining agnostic.  Yet, ultimately we want a defence of type 1.  If we do not get that, there is something disappointing about the philosophical enterprise.

It is not enough that philosophy leads to some truths; it needs to lead to truths about philosophical issues.  If philosophical theories helped us learn the truth about physics, that would not quite be the target value.  There are some distinctly philosophical questions we want philosophy to answer.[^4]    Ultimately, we need 1*.

1*. Proper Epistemic : Philosophy is good because it gets us to the truth (or something reasonably truth-like) about philosophical issues.

Below, I will consider a number of defences of philosophy.  In the next section, I consider common defences and explain why they are inadequate.  Many of them fail because they do not provide a proper epistemic defence of philosophy, but simply show it to be of instrumental or aretaic value.  In the section following the next, I consider more pressing objections that hold that there is reasonable disagreement among philosophers who are epistemic peers.  If reasonable disagreement is possible, this implies that at least some philosophers can justifiedly say to themselves, ‘Even though my epistemic peers disagree with the theory I believe, my theory is true and I am justified in believing that it is true.’  I will argue that even this sort of defence is not enough to satisfy the truth-seeking, error-avoiding agnostic.  This defence at best explains why insider scepticism is unwarranted, but does not explain why outsider scepticism is unwarranted.  That is, the possibility of rational disagreement can explain why we philosophers who have views are not required to give them up in light of disagreement, but it does not explain why a truth-seeking, error-avoiding agnostic should pursue philosophy and come to adopt any views.