Two years ago I took part in panel in a conference on progress in philosophy. (The contributions of me, Jennifer Nagel and Dave Chalmers are still online -- I had a tech fail in recording Pettit’s contribution). My view was and is that philosophical progress is robust – the growth is Fibonacci (think of a tree branching). Just speaking from what I’ve seen in areas of philosophy that I am familiar with, the grown and development has been astounding over the last thirty years.
Fibonacci growth is impressive, but is it enough? The second part of my talk was that it is not nearly enough.
Many people are familiar with Kurzweil’s thesis about the exponential growth in technology leading to a kind of technological singularity. Singularity happens when you hit the elbow in the exponential curve and the curve effectively shoot straight up (or appears to). If that is right, then the technological curve is pulling away from the philosophy curve very rapidly and is about to leave it completely behind. What that means is that our technology is going to leave our critical thinking skills behind. You may think that is already happening, and I agree: I’m just saying the problem is about to get much worse.
It doesn’t have to get worse. The only reason that technology grows exponentially is that we keep feeding it resources. The only reason philosophy doesn’t is that we starve it for resources (we don’t have enough bodies to throw at philosophical problems). I say we need to seriously think about redistributing resources away from technological development and into philosophy, and allow philosophy departments to grow new programs that focus on new technologies and their development. Why would anyone do this? Well, someone needs to make vivid what can go wrong if we don’t. One idea is that if we don’t understand technology we become alienated from it – a view that I floated yesterday.
So here are some questions for discussion. Is philosophy making the kind of progress I believe it is? Is technology pulling away from us as Kurzweil believes it is? Is this a problem? Can we fix it? If so, how?