Plato's method meets cognitive science

Free Inquiry 21 (2):36-38 (2001)

Stephen Stich
Rutgers University - New Brunswick
Normative questions – particularly questions about what we should believe and how we should behave – have always been high on the agenda for philosophers, and over the centuries there has been no shortage of answers proposed. But this abundance of answers raises yet another fundamental philosophical question: How should we evaluate the proposed answers; how can we determine whether an answer to a normative question is a good one? The best known and most widely used method for evaluating answers to normative questions can be traced all the way back to Plato. Recently, however, cognitive scientists interested in cross cultural differences have reported findings that pose a serious challenge to this venerable philosophical method. Indeed, in light of these new findings some philosophers – I am one of them – have come to think that after 2400 years it may be time for philosophy to stop relying on Plato’s method. In the pages that follow I’ll sketch the path that led me to this conclusion.
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