Russell on the Value of Philosophy (Re: Glymour)

Much has been made of Clark Glymour’s manifesto on philosophy. Discussions of Glymour’s manifesto can be found here, here, and here. These discussions explore at length the details of Glymour’s manifesto. In this post I’m going to broaden the focus and briefly explore the value of philosophy assumed by Glymour.

Embed in Glymour’s manifesto is the assumption that the value of philosophy is determined by the technical results it produces and the new avenues of research it spawns. Glymour chastises philosophers and philosophical approaches that fall short of this ideal. While, no doubt, some of the value of philosophy derives from these important outputs of philosophical research Glymour has implicitly negated another aspect of the value of philosophy: uncertainty and questions that resist complete (and concrete) answers. In The Problems of Philosophy Bertrand Russell explains this aspect of philosophy as follows:

The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty…As soon as we begin to philosophise…we find…that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.

The need for answers, proofs, and the policing of other, especially scientific, disciplines results from neglecting the importance of being satisfied with the raising of doubt, being satisfied with the uncertainty of philosophy. For Glymour that doubt must go somewhere, as it must eventually find a home in a discipline that produces answers—a discipline that is results-driven. This is how the value of philosophy is measured for Glymour: doubt finding its home in a results-driven domain. Given this view, it is natural for Glymour to insist on philosophy being grant-driven. Result-driven inquiry goes hand-in-hand with grant-driven inquiry. However, as explained by Russell, a great deal of the value of philosophy stems from its uncertainty—its ability to resist answers and results. If Glymour had heeded this element of the value of philosophy his manifesto might not have been so rigid and alienating, not to mention dangerous for the future of philosophy.

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