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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 40, Issue Supplement, 2015

Selected Papers from the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy

Dagfinn Føllesdal
Pages 17-23
DOI: 10.5840/jpr201540Supplement5

The Role of Arguments in Philosophy

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have been studied, commented upon and praised for more than 2000 years. What made their work so excellent? And what has made the philosophy produced by so many great philosophers after them insightful, inspiring and well worth studying? Their arguments. Arguments give insights, they help us see how “all weaves into one whole” to speak with Goethe, they “give unity to what was previously dispersed.” It is this “weaving together of what was dispersed” which is the core of arguments. This leads to a very inclusive notion of philosophy, where some of the finest works of art are philosophical. However, this openness to a wide variety of approaches to philosophy does not make all philosophy good philosophy. There are numerous kinds of weaknesses. Three examples are given, that illustrate the following three rules for good scholarship: (1) give proper credit, (2) familiarize yourself with fields outside philosophy that are pertinent to the problems you work on, (3) pay attention to work that has been done by others, especially when this work points to difficulties that you have not considered. These are trivial weaknesses, which should be spotted by editors and referees. Once they have been eliminated, we can concentrate on the arguments. It is the quality of arguments that distinguishes good philosophy from bad, and arguments come in many forms. We philosophers have a special responsibility for developing in ourselves and in others an ability to construct good arguments and to distinguish good arguments from bad ones. This is what Plato and Aristotle did, and it is a special challenge in our time when opinions more and more are shaped by mass media and not by arguments. We must teach good argumentation, and we must practice what we teach in our own philosophical work.