Why the Method of Cases Doesn’t Work

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 10 (4):825-847 (2019)
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In recent years, there has been increasing discussion of whether philosophy actually makes progress. This discussion has been prompted, in no small part, by the depth and persistence of disagreement among philosophers on virtually every major theoretical issue in the field. In this paper, I examine the role that the Method of Cases – the widespread philosophical method of testing and revising theories by comparing their verdicts against our intuitions in particular cases – plays in creating and sustaining theoretical disagreements in philosophy. Drawing on work from cognitive psychology, I argue that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the structure of the theories that philosophers seek to construct using the MoC and the structure of the concepts on which our case-specific intuitions are based. This incompatibility renders MoC-based philosophical theorizing unable ever to succeed by the very standards of adequacy that it sets for itself. And this, in turn, helps to explain the depth and persistence of theoretical disagreements – and, in certain ways, the lack of progress – in the many areas of philosophy where the MoC plays an important role.



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Christopher Suhler
University of California, San Diego (PhD)

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