We Are All Very Bad at Philosophy

I think that we are all very bad at philosophy, all of us, all human beings. This is not to say that there is no qualitative difference between different philosophical output. I have seen papers and books which were supposed to argue for a point and failed to do so in any epistemically justified way, while other papers and books provide genuinely insightful points in a convincing way. If I remember what I wrote as a bachelor student and what I write now, it is quite clear to me that there are important differences in quality. What I sometimes think is not that these differences do not matter, but rather that even though there are these differences, in the big picture they are small. Le me put it in the following way: While the difference between the good and bad actual philosophers are important, the difference between the best actual philosopher so far and the ideal potential philosopher is much greater.

I have no argument for this thought, at least not in this blog post, but let’s consider the consequences one might draw from the hypothesis. Two possible consequence appear salient to me. Since this is a blog post and not a paper I will sketch them only in outline and not defend them as much as would be needed.

First, there is no justification for the philosophical apotheosis which bestowed on certain philosophers. While they might have contributed to the state of current philosophy, even if they made more progress than all philosophers before them, they are very bad philosophers, at least on the big picture. They might have contributed the most actual philosophers have, but they were still very bad given the demands of philosophy.

The second consequence I draw goes into the other direction. While the persons are not as impressive as they are sometimes taken to be, in fact they are very bad at philosophy, the true philosophical insights are much more impressive, for the simple reason that they are much harder to get. We are all very bad at philosophy and only rarely stumble upon a true philosophical insight. We are trying something which is almost too hard for us to engage in it at all: philosophy. If we manage to accomplish something in this endeavour nonetheless, this is a reason to be impressed by the result.

As I said, I provide here argument for the assumption that we are all very bad at philosophy. Still after years of engaging with philosophy and doing my own research, I find this hypothesis fairly plausible. To be not as bad a philosopher as I could be, I should draw the consequences.

p.S.: We are all also very bad at knowing the history of philosophy, or at least I am. So I wonder, has any philosopher has had this thought before me? I guess Socrates, especially the Socrates of the early dialogues by Platon, might be read in a similar vein, but since my knowledge of ancient philosophy is fairly limited, I am not sure about that either.

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