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01/16/2020

At the end of my book I do not offer a system of arguments which I claim to share with some others. I do not pretend to be the master of every topic under consideration. Yet I am in a position to tell which approaches make the most sense (for me at least), and which seem to me to be most useless. I should like to be able to say, however, that in my own case such suggestions have proved useful because of the way that I have often approached the different problems I have encountered in writing.

At the end of my book I do not offer a system of arguments which I claim to share with some others. I do not pretend to be the master of every topic under consideration. Yet I am in a position to tell which approaches make the most sense (for me at least), and which seem to me to be most useless. I should like to be able to say, however, that in my own case such suggestions have proved useful because of the way that I have often approached the different problems I have encountered in writing.
In a way, my book is concerned with what I think is the right place for the arguments we learn in undergraduate philosophical studies to go in their mature form, in order to influence the course of the thinking in our own society. This in turn, I believe, is a question best considered by other philosophers rather than by me.
As many of you will be aware, I have written before on how the subject, if left unassessed or ignored, may be likely to undermine the public’s attitude to science and the scientific method in general, which could have serious consequences for its development and growth (see my 2006 essay on Richard Dawkins). Since then, I have found there are some philosophers I regard as particularly influential, so I do wish to take the opportunity to highlight some of their views on our philosophical duties to science, at the very least, which may be applicable here.
One obvious and often neglected obligation we have is to make arguments in support of what we advocate. (This is sometimes referred to as a ‘political duty’, but is generally understood as being distinct from the duty of science itself). The reason for this is obvious: the argument from evidence is a major part (if not the fundamental part) of how we understand the science behind our own beliefs. We need to present compelling arguments that, when presented to an unconverted audience, persuade them of what we want them to believe. We need arguments to show that, for example, some claim that the earth is round, is wrong. We need arguments that show that certain positions in the theory of evolution are true. One could also include arguments for what we want to achieve: a greater understanding of other cultures, a better understanding of biology and so on. We need arguments as well to persuade our friends and family, to protect ourselves, to convince ourselves and others that what we do is worthwhile, and so on. As David Hume and his contemporaries pointed out long ago, arguments are powerful because they appeal to reason: if the person to whom we present arguments seems unaware of them, we get nowhere. And we need arguments to protect those interests: if someone takes offence, they are likely not to listen and we are unlikely to succeed in persuading them otherwise. But we need arguments as well to persuade ourselves and others of what we would like to believe. I think one of the major mistakes, both by philosophers and by politicians, lies in being too concerned, in our zeal to get other people to agree with us, with persuading them that we have made the best arguments for the positions we advocate. This has been a mistake in the philosophy since Plato and Aristotle, and has resulted in the philosophy becoming a sort of debating society, rather than a serious and systematic pursuit of knowledge. It is in that sense that my previous chapter on the political duty of science could well be seen as an attack on some of the more recent ‘dumbing down’ of philosophical