It has always struck me that philosophy is not a subject that has made any real progress. A lot of elaborate constructs of when we perceive certain things to be piles and so forth seem to be problems that can be dealt with (eventually) by sciences such as psychology and neurology. Why waste time constructing elaborate theories that are not scientifically provable? Things like inconsistencies in how people act may be a result of people just not being perfectly logical creatures. Why waste so much time pondering questions where 1. progress is hard to judge 2. the resulting ideas do not really change the world in any significant manner.

I think it's pretty obvious that philosophy has made profound contributions to human knowledge and culture. John Locke's Two Treatises on Civil Government, for example, lay the foundation for the political system in the United States, and that, despite its flaws, seems like a good thing. But maybe you weren't thinking about ethics or politicial theory. Well, Rene Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy helped to establish a conception of the world and what is required for knowledge of it that made it possible for empircal science to grow and flourish, and that was a pretty good thing, too. But maybe that isn't what you had in mind, either.

To speak for myself, I tend to think of philosophy (outside ethics) as what something is before it's science. Indeed, in Descartes's time, there wasn't a division between philosophy and science. There was just "natural philosophy", and both the Meditations and his work on optics were part of natural philosophy as he understood it. But as a result of the kind of thinking we'd call "philosophical", a level of understanding about certain kinds of topics was reached that allowed Descartes and others to start doing the kind of work we'd call "science".

This pattern has repeated itself throughout the last several centuries. Psychology, as we know it, is but a century old or so, and its earliest practioners were philosophers as much as they were scientists. (William James is a good example.) For psychology to be born, as much work had to be done trying to get a handle on what exactly the problems where and how they could sensibly be approached as could be done actually approaching them. In some parts of psychology today there is still a lot of such work to be done. (That's especially true as regards work on consciousness.) Indeed, that very same pattern repeated itself again when behaviorism was dethroned and replaced by cognitive psychology and the "comptuer model of the mind". Many of the leading figures in that episode would describe themsevles as philosophers, though some of them might also describe themselves as psychologists or linguists. To be honest, I'm really not sure myself that the distinction between philosophy and science is any more useful to us than it was to Descartes.

It's true that a lot of the old philosophical chestnuts are still out there: the mind-body problem, the problem of free will, and so forth. But I don't think it's true that no progress has been made on those problems, and it's certainly not true that we have made no progress understanding the nature of the mind. Progress was slow, and it's not always easy to tell when one has made some, but that's just because the problems are so terribly hard. There has been enough progress over the last couple centuries that empirical psychology is now a flourishing enterprise, and work by philosophers had a lot to do with that.

I share Richard Heck's sentiments on this matter, and I would add that there is an additional sense in which a lot of philosophy is 'before science'. I'm thinking primarily about epistemology and metaphysics in the philosophy of science, where we are trying to work out how science works and what attitude we ought to take towards scientific claims. Insofar as one takes science seriously, it is natural also to take seriously these 'before' questions, however incomplete and inconclusive our answers to them may be.

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