Philosophers are generally unaware of the failures of philosophy, recognizing only the failures of particular theories, which are then remedied with other theories. But, taking the long view, philosophy has actually collapsed several times, been abandoned, sometimes for centuries, and been replaced by something quite different. When it has been revived it has been with new aims that are often accompanied by implausible attempts to establish continuity with a perennial philosophical tradition. What do these failures tell us?
The Failures of Philosophy presents a historical investigation of philosophy in the West, from the perspective of its most significant failures: attempts to provide an account of the good life, to establish philosophy as a discipline that can stand in judgment over other forms of thought, to set up philosophy as a theory of everything, and to construe it as a discipline that rationalizes the empirical and mathematical sciences. Stephen Gaukroger argues that these failures reveal more about philosophical enquiry and its ultimate point than its successes ever could. These failures illustrate how and why philosophical inquiry has been conceived and reconceived, why philosophy has been thought to bring distinctive skills to certain questions, and much more.
An important and original account of philosophy’s serial breakdowns, The Failures of Philosophy ultimately shows how these shortcomings paradoxically reveal what matters most about the field.
Stephen Gaukroger is emeritus professor of history of philosophy and history of science at the University of Sydney. His many books include Objectivity, Civilization and the Culture of Science and Descartes: An Intellectual Biography.