Making philosophical progress: The big questions, applied philosophy, and the profession

Elizabeth Brake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The debate over whether philosophy makes progress has focused on its failure to answer a core set of "big" questions. I argue that there are other kinds of philosophical progress which are equally important yet underappreciated: the creative development of new "philosophical devices" which increase our ability to think about the world, and the broadening of philosophical topics to ever greater adequacy to what matters. The conception of philosophy as defined by a narrow "core" set of questions is responsible for skepticism about progress, as well as for philosophy's "marketing problem" - its failure to reach the general public. I argue for abandoning the distinction between "core" and "marginal" questions. The greater openness of philosophy to methodological diversity and diversity in topics, especially applied topics, will make a distinct kind of progress: in the breadth and completeness of the questions asked, phenomena investigated, and theories generated. Such openness may also make philosophy more hospitable to more diverse practitioners. This would also be conducive to progress, in the sense of reaching true answers to philosophical questions: greater diversity of philosophical practitioners has epistemic benefits, such as increasing objectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-45
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Philosophy and Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


  • Applied philosophy
  • Diversity
  • Epistemic justice
  • Feminist epistemology
  • Meta-philosophy
  • Objectivity
  • Progress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • General Social Sciences


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