Philosophical questions as opposed to settled ones

Assume all of this is true: the sciences have reached a great many settled conclusions in a relatively short time while philosophy and theology, in spite of their  several-millennia head start, have reached no such settled conclusions. The same debates repeat forever without resolution.

Inference: philosophy and theology are inferior and perhaps even failed ways of knowing.

But the fact is that settled questions involve our indifference to finding out the answers for ourselves. To the extent that some question is settled, we’re usually uninterested in going back and seeing the arguments for it, even when the arguments are demonstrative.  But philosophy deals with the sort of questions that individuals want to answer for themselves – even where philosophy has demonstrations to give it still has to give them entirely from the beginning to each person in each new generation. Fundamental questions about God or evil or human goodness or the human mind will never be settled simply because there is something inhuman in thinking we could settle them in such a way that subsequent generations would have to take our answers for granted as opposed to working out the whole problem from the beginning for themselves.

Philosophy can’t ever advance because the whole point of philosophy is that everyone gets to start at the beginning, so far as this is possible. There is still a role for discipleship and moving through a pre-determined order of questioning, and by my own lights there are even some pretty-much-settled philosophical questions, but ultimately philosophy is about getting to the bottom of things for yourself, and so it is not supposed to progress much farther than the progress that one person can make in his own lifetime.

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2 Comments

  1. humblesmith said,

    December 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Reblogged this on Thomistic Bent and commented:
    A good post over on the Just Thomism blog. I’d be interested to hear a response from our friends who hold that scienctific knowledge is all that is worth learning. This post shows different.

  2. February 11, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I keep coming back to this post. Really, really helpful. Thank you!


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