Philosophical strategy

22 september 2009 | In Meta-philosophy | 2 Comments

When philosophical questions are being asked, my go-to answer is usually ” ‘Yes’, with an ‘if’, or ‘No’ with a ‘but’ .”

Do we have free will? Well, yes, if you’re prepared to accept being within a certain range of mental parameters as having free will. No, if you are looking for something somehow else. Then there is no free will, but there is a pretty good substitute, one that quite closely fits with what we expect from free will, and makes it possible to distinguish between free and unfree acts in a way corresponding to our intentions in using that term. And so on for God, virtues, consciousness, value, causation, etc.

As the discerning reader will no doubt have noticed by now, the ”yes” and ”no” answers can be roughly the same: the qualifications push them into roughly the same position. Which is why one should never rely to much on the fact that one philosopher says ”yes” and the other ”no” to a particular question. Nor, of course, should one rely on the fact (if it ever is one) that two philosophers seem to agree. But mostly, one should take to heart the words of Robert Webb, playing that part of a raging host of the radio show ”Big Talk”:

Guest (being asked whether there is a God): Well, there is no yes or no answer.

Webb: What? I can think of two yes or no answers right of the top of my head!


  1. God? Yes, if you by ‘god’ mean my neighbors cat called ”god”…

    Comment by Jesper Östman — 26 september 2009 #

  2. Dennett makes a similar point in ”consciousness explained”, if I’m not mistaken. About someone who believes in Santa Claus, and thinks he plays second violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, hates kids and has never given away anything. While there probably is such a thing as being more or less recognisable referent of a term, it is a very vague and flexible notion. Which is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to vague and flexible terms: we are trying to disambiguate, after all. David Lewis, of course, was the master of the genre.

    Comment by David — 29 september 2009 #

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