I have said in a previous post that philosophy is about gaining actual wisdom rather than merely the search for wisdom. Why is this true? Some philosophers do not agree with this, so a reason is necessary. They disagree because they believe that progress in philosophy is not really possible in a wide sense – even though the problems of philosophy are very real. I suggest that the sort of progress these philosophers are looking for is not necessary for philosophy to give us actual answers to our questions. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that philosophy cannot give us real answers to our questions.
Some philosophers believe that we will be unable to give real answers to philosophical problems because philosophical progress is not really possible. But it is important to explain what is meant by philosophical progress. Philosophical progress could involve a number of things. It could involve using the work of previous philosophers. Let’s suppose that there are some works that everyone needs to consider, and these works are are (potentially) being added to over time. It could also involve following the projects of previous philosophers. Such projects are such general ideas as realism, explanationism and the like. Let’s suppose that there is widespread agreement over the value of at least some projects. That agreement is increasing over time. Finally, we could also consider following the theories of various philosophers. Let’s suppose that we believe that certain theories of various philosophers have achieved widespread agreement over time and such agreement is increasing over time. All of these are various understandings of philosophical progress. The first understanding is definitely true in philosophy. The third is definitely false. The second is true in a general sense and false otherwise. But does this mean that philosophy does not give answers to philosophical problems?
I do not think so. We must first ask why philosophical agreement on projects and theories is not as widespread as it is in science, math or history. Consider that philosophical problems are general. So evidence for philosophy is much harder to get than it is in history, math and science. This difficulty also permits other problems. Sometimes people do not act rationally. There are many philosophers who do not pursue philosophy because of truth, but for other reasons. Since good philosophy requires a devotion to the truth above all else, such people do poor philosophy. It requires such a devotion because of the difficulty of the subject matter. There are also philosophers who are interested in the truth, but have preconceived ideas about what the truth has to be. Rather than allowing the truth to correct to their ideas, they try to force the truth to fit their ideas. Such people misquote and misunderstand other philosophers. They also do not wish to see the truth if it does not agree with their ideas. All of these problems mean that most philosophical work is done improperly. So it is hardly surprising that widespread agreement does not exist. The problems of humanity are most obvious when doing philosophy.
These truths mean that we can still believe that philosophy gives us truths. The truths given by philosophy are hard to get. Only a person who intends to find the truth and values the truth more than his own ideas or opinions will ever find it. This sort of strict requirement is not found in scientific or mathematical work! They only need to value the truth of their experiment. Philosophers can have no such restriction. So although real philosophical progress may be impossible, finding real philosophical truths is not impossible.