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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

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Please note I used careful wording. I said 'I wonder' - so I am pondering. And I wondered whether a truthmaker was the same *sort* of thing etc.

But as you rightly say, I do not understand what a truthmaker is. I plan some further posts on this at the weekend.

Best.

On Philosophical "Trash-Talk",


In philosophical discourse the phrase "I do not understand" when stated about a philosophical position can mean either

(i) this position is so obscure that there is nothing in it to understand; or

(ii) this position is subject to several obvious objections (which I need not spell out) and therefore I fail to see how anyone can hold and/or propose it; or

(iii) this position is so difficult, abstract, and/or complex that I am unable to wrap my head around it.

Sense (iii) is not philosophical trash-talk. It is typically stated by a philosophical novice who really does not yet grasp the nature of philosophical positions or by a professional who is grappling with a genuinely difficult position and attempts to make sense of it.

Senses (i) and (ii), on the other hand, are too often used by opponents of a position as philosophical trash-talk. Their purpose is to intimidate the proponents of a position. The method goes something like this.

Example of Philosophical Trash-Talk:

"You and I agree that I am not a philosophical novice; given this assumption, if your position were not irreparably obscure, I would understand it; I do not understand it; therefore, it is irreparably obscure."

Now the proponent of the position so challenged has two options: he can defend the coherence of his position or else he must challenge the credentials of the opponent who uses a version of trash-talk exemplified above. Since many gentle souls would prefer not to opt for the later option, they are forced to defend the coherence of their position against challenges not yet stated. This achieves the intended purpose of the opponent to turn the burden on the proponent without having to do much except trash-talk.

Trash-talk has no place in philosophical discourse. A phrase such as "I do not understand" should be used only in sense (iii) either by a philosophical novice or by a professional who uses it to express their genuine effort to understand a difficult position and give it the most charitable reading. If a professional uses it in any other sense, they are trash-talking which, I hope we all agree, betrays the essence of philosophical inquiry.

Couldn't agree more, Peter. But in defense of Ed, his "I do not understand what a truthmaker is" is not unambiguously subject to your censure. The ambiguity is part of the 'charm' of his comment.

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