The Philosophy of Philosophy

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The Philosophy of Philosophy

By | March 2013
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Metaphilosophy relies on the idea that it might be productive to distinguish some general pronouncements about philosophy from philosophy itself. Contrasting with many other cultural practices, for philosophy the distinction is rather questionable, but a similar case is presented by language: when speaking in English about the English language one might assume a split between English-as-object and English-as-metalanguage. Philosophers using the term metaphilosophy being still a minority, it might be surmised that the majority does not consider the idea worth exploring. As far as it is a reflexive practice philosophy always already incorporates its own considering e.g. by appealing to its own tradition, to its opponents or to its history; thus historicist philosophies, such as Hegel's, are metaphilosophies without mention of the term. A synchronic or systemic approach is a more obviously 'metaphilosophical' than a historic or a diachronic one.

Wittgenstein famously rejected the analogy between metalanguage and a metaphilosophy:

"One might think: if philosophy speaks of the use of the word "philosophy" there must be a second-order philosophy. But it is not so: it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word "orthography" among others without then being second-order."[1]

Recently Timothy Williamson has refrained from using the word and expressed concern that it might be misleading:

"I also rejected the word “metaphilosophy.” The philosophy of philosophy is automatically part of philosophy, just as the philosophy of anything else is, whereas metaphilosophy sounds as though it might try to look down on philosophy from above, or beyond."[2]

Other philosophers such as Nicholas Rescher or Richard Double[3] have adopted the term, putting it to good use. Presenting research on general philosophical principles Rescher's book begins with his view on metaphilosophy:

"Metaphilosophy is the philosophical examination of the practice of...
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