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Our panel of 88 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

There are many methods proper to philosophers' reaching a conclusion. Together with Julian Baggini, I set out many of them in our Philosopher's Toolkits. Briefly, however, I might say that to reach conclusions philosophers variously use the following (and there may be some overlap in these): (1) the methods of deductive and inductive logic; (2) appeals to intellectual insight evoked through the articulation or synthesis or exhaustive scrutiny of one or more philosophical visions, descriptions, explanations, axioms, or theories; (3) indirect forms of discourse that attempt to show obliquely what can't be said directly, sometimes by placing theories and other discursive practices side-by-side or in opposition or in contrast or in tension with one another or by altering the context in which they're given voice or utterance (whew!); (4) dialectical reasoning, where thinkers engage a back-and-forth process of argument-criticism-questioning until a conclusion emerges; (5) appeals to reflective equilibrium where the pros and cons of various and competing claims and theories are considered in a process of deliberation and judgment; (6) rhetorical and poetic tropes such as metaphor, analogy, simile, metonymy, and synecdoche; (7) the analysis of complicated concepts into their simpler constituents; in some cases (8) the citation of authoritative and foundational texts in a given discourse; (9) speculation, where philosophers imaginatively, rationally, and critically propose a field of ideas to explain or give meaning, coherence, and sense to a conclusion, and (10) in some cases simple chance or luck. Of course, all this suggests that philosophers properly reach conclusions. A central task of philosophy may, however, be to destabilize or unseat conclusions rather than to reach them.