Adversarialism in Philosophy: A Prosecution

Leave a comment

In “Adversarialism in Philosophy: A Defence,” Joseph Heath endorses the adversarial disciplinary culture in which philosophers “tear apart” their colleagues’ arguments. Not that they should be assholes about it, which is apparently how surgeons are, since they tend to yell and swear at each other (although not during research talks; rather, they wait until people are out in the hallway to declare that what they’ve just heard is “a piece-of-shit” and so on). Heath wants to uphold the distinction between being an adversary and being an asshole, although he admits that there are a fair number of the latter in philosophy as well. He also wants to claim that philosophy is fundamentally about problem-creating rather than problem-solving, and so he contrasts what Socrates and philosophical sceptics get up to with the constructive work of economists. Philosophers need to try and prove their colleagues wrong since they are subject as much as anyone else to biases that confirm their hypotheses. Indeed, adversarialism is essential if philosophy is to maintain itself as an academic discipline instead of devolving into quackery, conspiracy theories, and claims to have seen Jesus in one’s toast. “I really think,” concludes Heath, “that the only thing keeping us tethered to the world is the disciplinary culture, and the fact that we have to defend ourselves, in a room full of people who have spent decades listening to arguments and identifying bad ones.” … Continue reading