Two Introductions for Two Possible Essays

I am thinking of writing two essays, but do not know where to begin. My intuitions suggest that they are both worth writing, but in all humility I feel unable to do so with as much rigor and precision as I would like. I think, then, that after reading much more literature for both essays, I will write them. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Here are both introductions:

(1) Why I Read (and Not Write) Continental Philosophy

In this short paper, I want to share reasons why I regard continental philosophy as important, but not the most truth-apt method (style or tradition) of doing philosophy. By ‘truth-apt’, I mean a way of doing philosophy which is aimed (more successfully than not) at truth. Since I do myself accept the analytic/continental split in philosophy—even if my only justification is aesthetic and not historical, philosophical or geographical—I regard, for instance, Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenological ontology, distinct and different from Peter van Inwagen’s (hyper?) analytic philosophy of religion and metaphysics—not merely in virtue of content, but of method and style as well. While I do not dismiss the importance and utility of continental philosophy (it is, indeed, a pleasure to read), I regard it as inferior, philosophically speaking, to analytic philosophy. In this essay, then, I want to give three reasons why I believe analytic philosophy is superior, philosophically, to continental philosophy. If my conception of continental philosophy is faulty and I am not engaging with it seriously, I still believe my critique—aimed at continental philosophy summarized as “obscure, imprecise and emotive”[1]—applies to any conception of philosophy which does not aim itself at truth, clarity and epistemic virtues. First, I will argue that analytic philosophy enjoys the virtue of clarity; while this is in concreto not always true, the ideal aim is clarity. The continental tradition, however, reads like literature—as Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig argue [2]. Secondly, I will argue that since analytic philosophy uses the resources of science, whereas continental philosophy does not (it is mainly dominated by, instead, phenomenology and existentialism), science is depreciated in helping to understand human existence; to display this, I shall give a natural theological example. Thirdly, analytic philosophy emphasizes the importance of piecemeal philosophy, that is, philosophy which emphasizes the importance of working with individual concepts and problems and grasping them prior to analyzing them clearly; contrastively, continental philosophy aims, generally, at, as Alvin Plantinga says, novelty in ideas rather than truth [3]. To be perfectly clear: I do not depreciate continental philosophy (and philosophers in that tradition)—indeed, I always enjoy reading Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Camus—but, if possible, I avoid writing in that style.

(2)

Axioms in Logic, Metaphysics and Meta-Ethics: A Rough Critique at Contemporary Meta-Ethical Discourse

In this paper, I want to explain the importance of axioms in logic, metaphysics and ethics to foundation my critique of some contemporary meta-ethical viewpoints and their axiomatic foundations. The term ‘axiom’ is used to denote, in ordinary language, a first-principle with which one begins, and which begets implications (whether they be contingent or necessary). [1] Often, many perspectives in philosophy—especially philosophy of mind, religion and metaphysics—revolve around implicit and presupposed axioms. To give a logical example, self-reference (x=x) implies that there is an ‘x’—where here questions of the existential quantifier being ontologically committing/non-ontologically committing is unimportant. In other words, by asserting that x is the same as x, it must be the case that x (if only logically, not concretely). But, suppose that self-reference was denied—different entailments follow. This essay explores the function of axioms, predominantly in logic and metaphysics, and their extension, similarity and relevance to axioms in ethics. It seems that many ethical views i.e., abortion is morally wrong, terrorism is morally good, are reliant upon axioms, that is, conditions such that, when realized the view in question obtains the property ‘true.’ Indeed, while I do not endorse the epistemological view foundationalism, I am committed to the view that many beliefs—specifically meta-ethics—rely on axioms which are often presupposed without warrant/justification. So, in this essay I want to do three things. First, I want to give concrete examples of axioms in logic and metaphysics to show how axioms often work. Secondly, I want to show why the axioms matter and how they can be problematic for philosophical systems of thought. Thirdly, I want to show that ethical views are—ontologically—fraught with axioms and why making them explicit is truth-conducive and helpful in reconsidering beliefs based on the foundations upon which they’re built. [2] Ultimately, I want to make clear the truth-aptness of true axioms and why they matter for philosophical viewpoints—especially in meta-ethics. [3]

[1] The word ‘axiom’ as I am using it is synonymous with ‘presupposition’. The reason I prefer ‘axiom’ is because of its mathematical application and connotation. Mathematically, if a certain axiom holds (say, the Peano axioms), then what follows holds i.e., 2+2=4. But, with presuppositions, it is often the case that the presupposition and the view at hand are inconsistent (where with axioms this cannot occur because “everything follows from inconsistent axioms” (Alex Pruss)). Perhaps I am wrong on this point, but I still think the mathematical formalism of the term ‘axiom’ makes it clear(er) what I am talking about.

[2] As I wrote this sentence, I thought of Rene Descartes who tried to, instead of being skeptical about some beliefs, was skeptical about all beliefs. I do not endorse global skepticism nor any heavy-weight form of skepticism generally—otherwise I’d be skeptical of skepticism and thus not be a skeptic! Rather, my perspective here is that (often) the foundation F of some view V is such that if F is false V is also false. Or, rather, if V is false, then if F asserts V, F is false. (This example only works for logically necessary entailments; often many beliefs are held without a prior presupposition i.e., properly basic beliefs). The point here is that many views are true/false iff the axioms are true/false.

[3] This essay might be summarized simply as follows: if a view is based upon something else, and that ‘something else’ is wrong, then the view is wrong. So, one must evaluate the ‘something else’ if the view is to be put through. (This does not work the other way around (p->q, q, p) since it would commit the fallacy—in propositional logic—of affirming the consequence).

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