One of the things that’s been a running thread through my recent thoughts about the epistemology of philosophy is that it is importantly a group activity. This is largely for prudential reasons. For those of us who aren’t Aristotle or Kant, by far the best way to regiment our philosophical thinking is subjecting it to the criticisms of others. That’s a substantial constraint; it means giving up points that can’t convince our peers. And sometimes that will have costs; we’ll be right and our peers wrong. Sometimes we might even know we’re right and they’re wrong. But as a rule one does better philosophy if one subjects oneself to this kind of constraint from the group.
Or so it seems to me. A thorough empirical investigation would be useful here, especially in terms of trying to figure our just what exceptions, if any, exist to this general principle. But given the relatively low quality of philosophy produced by most people who don’t regard themselves as being regulated by criticisms of their peers, I think it’s pretty clear the rule as a whole is a good one.
That all suggests that the metaphor of “armchair theorising” or “armchair philosophy” is very much mistaken. For armchairs are really places where one engages in solitary activities. And contemporary philosophy is a group activity par excellence.
So we need a new metaphor. “Conference room philosophy” sounds dreary even to me. “Coffeeshop philosophy” is better. But it might be better still to keep the idea of a seat. After all, most philosophy is done sitting down. I suggest “barstool philosophy”. I’m not convinced the best philosophy is done during/after drinking, but the image is pleasingly social at least!
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized