Roger Scruton and Timothy Williamson at the TLS:
The TLS philosophy shelves have recently been weighed down with new books on the nature and proper practice of philosophy. And the TLSOnline has had some punchy contributions on this subject from David Papineau and Carlos Fraenkel. So we thought it might be time to have a debate on this subject in the Philosophy issue of the paper. Two of the UK’s leading philosophers, Roger Scruton and Timothy Williamson, agreed to participate. What emerges are two very different views of the terrain.
Scruton’s vision, in the spirit of Hegel and Husserl, is of something which aims to recover meaning in the world by articulating the conditions of our own subjectivity, our experience of the world. Our subjectivity is not just another “object” in the world, alongside all other objects; it is something more like a condition or a limit of the world itself, it is what makes it possible for us to have a world at all. It is as subjects that we experience beauty, grace, purity, the sacred. Therefore, Scruton argues, it cannot be investigated through the objectifying lens of natural science.
Timothy Williamson agrees with Scruton that philosophy is not a natural science, and that its job should not just restricted to commentary on what the natural sciences produce (this was the view of the American philosopher W. V. Quine: “philosophy of science is philosophy enough”). But the agreement pretty much ends there. Williamson sees philosophy as a fact-discovering enterprise, or a science in its own right. He argues that history, too, may be a science – in the sense that its aim is the discovery and explanation of facts – and he argues that this is inconsistent with Scruton’s vision of the humanities. Williamson argues that linguistic theories about the meanings of indexical pronouns (“I”, “you” etc.) can shed light on the phenomenon of points of view that Scruton takes to be so fundamental.