Disagreement, progress, and the goal of philosophy

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Modest pessimism about philosophical progress isthe view that while philosophy may sometimes make some progress, philosophy hasmade, and can be expected to make, only very little progress (where the extentof philosophical progress is typically judged against progress in the hardsciences). The paper argues against recent attempts to defend this view on thebasis of the pervasiveness of disagreement within philosophy. The argument fromdisagreement for modest pessimism assumes a teleological conception ofprogress, according to which the attainment of true answers to the bigphilosophical questions, or knowledge of them, is the primary goal ofphilosophy. The paper argues that this assumption involves a misconception ofthe goal of philosophy: if philosophy has a primary goal, its goal is theunderstanding of philosophical problems rather than knowledge of answers to philosophicalquestions. Moreover, it is argued that if the primary goal of philosophy issuch understanding, then widespread disagreement within philosophy does notindicate that philosophy makes little progress.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number45
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Disagreement
  • Knowledge
  • Philosophicalprogress
  • Understanding

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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