“The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term. Under “things in the broadest possible sense” I include such radically different items as not only ‘cabbages and kings’, but numbers and duties, possibilities and finger snaps, aesthetic experience and death. To achieve success in philosophy would be, to use a contemporary turn of phrase, to ‘know one’s way around’ with respect to all these things, not in that unreflective way in which the centipede of the story knew its way around before it faced the question, ‘how do I walk’, but in that reflective way which means that no intellectual holds are barred.”Wilfrid Sellars (“Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man“)
Sellars, I think, is basically correct. Philosophy seeks understanding in the broadest sense. As such it is the generator of new ways of thinking, new things to think about, new ideas about what goes in various regions of reality, and how regions relate. When something gets well enough developed philosophically that it amounts to a detailed substantive view of something, of some region of everything, others who are not interested in the synoptic vision take this specific bit up and run with it. Philosophers let them, happily, and move on to what remains obscure, speculative, or just hard. (And then smile to themselves when technicians make snarky comments about the lack of precision in philosophical thinking about undeveloped and previously undreamt of connections.)
Progress in philosophy? Here are a few inventions: democratic theory, political science generally, sociology, logic, cognitive science, psychology generally, natural science, physics in particular, decision theory, linguistics, …
More or less everything — interestingly with the possible, and arguable, exception of non-foundational mathematics.
The interesting question here is what the next big spin-off will be. (I have a couple guesses, but that’s for a book more than a post.)
Any guesses from readers? (And: where do we get the venture capital?)