Is there Philosophical Truth?


06/11/2023 (Monday)

8.00 - 9.30 pm

The Adelaide

Presented by Jim Grant

I will consider the problem posed by the perennially controversial character of philosophy: the fact that, on any philosophical question you choose, philosophers have always disagreed and continue to disagree, so that on any question, there are a range of tenable positions, each of which has its defenders. The situation now is still what it was when Descartes bemoaned it in Part I of his Discourse on the Method:

I shall say nothing about philosophy, except that, seeing that it has been cultivated by the very best minds which have ever existed over several centuries, and that, nevertheless, not one of its problems is not subject to disagreement, and consequently is uncertain, I was not presumptuous enough to hope to succeed in it any better than others; and seeing how many different opinions are sustained by learned men about one item, without its being possible for more than one ever to be true, I took to be tantamount to false everything which was merely probable.

Descartes thought he could overcome this problem and establish a single body of philosophical truth on a foundation of absolute certainty, and subsequent philosophers – Kant in the 18th century, Husserl in the early 20th century, the Logical Positivists in the 1920’s and ‘30’s – have likewise attempted to establish a single agreed framework of philosophical science, but still the controversy continues.

What are we to make of this situation? Should we conclude that there is no objective philosophical truth – that, to put the matter in Platonic terms, philosophy is simply a domain of opinion and counter-opinion – there is no genuine truth to be had? And, if this is the case, what is the point of philosophical enquiry?