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Gary Gutting (1942-2019)

Gary Gutting, emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, has died.

Professor Gutting worked on philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, contemporary French philosophy, and contemporary analytic philosophy. He was well-known for his substantial work in public philosophy, authoring several columns and conducting a number of interviews with philosophers for The Stone feature in The New York Times. Also, he was the creator and a long-time co-editor of Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (NDPR). More here at Daily Nous and Leiter Reports.

An extract from his 3:AM interview:

 

‘I have always been interested in skeptical challenges to philosophy itself. Here Richard Rorty has been a major influence, though my book on the topic, What Philosophers Know, turned out to be much less Rortyan than I had expected. Of course, philosophy as a discipline doesn’t know the answers to the fundamental questions (God, freedom, morality, etc.) that define its cognitive enterprise. But why think that our beliefs on such topics require a philosophical foundation? To take Rorty’s example, we don’t need a philosophical guarantee that democracy is a value worth fighting for. The same is true for our deepest ethical and religious (or secular) commitments. If we need philosophical justifications, then we aren’t entitled to any such beliefs, since the justifications aren’t there. But it would be absurd to think that we have no right to the fundamental convictions that define our moral self-identity – our souls, if you will. Rorty’s conclusion from this seems to be that philosophy isn’t important for most people but is more a specialised interest for certain types, perhaps like an interest in fine wine or avant-garde literature. I disagree. Our fundamental beliefs don’t need intellectual justification, but they do need intellectual maintenance. We need to understand their implications, modify them to eliminate internal contradictions, defend and perhaps modify them in response to objections. Over its history, philosophy has accumulated an immense store of conceptual distinctions, theoretical formulations, and logical arguments that are essential for this intellectual maintenance of our defining convictions. This constitutes a body of knowledge achieved by philosophers that they can present with confidence to meet the intellectual needs of non-philosophers. Consider, for example, discussions of free will. Even neuroscientists studying freedom in their labs are likely to offer confused interpretations of their results if they aren’t aware of the distinction between caused and compelled, the various meanings of “could have done otherwise”, or the issues about causality raised by van Inwagen’s consequence argument. Parallel points apply for religious people thinking about the problem of evil or atheists challenged to explain why they aren’t just agnostics. Philosophers can’t show what our fundamental convictions should be, but their knowledge is essential to our ongoing intellectual engagement with these convictions.’

First posted: Sunday, January 20th, 2019.

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