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14 August 2011


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David Chalmers

i'm a big fan of methodological pluralism, but i'd suggest that even more methods are needed here. huge amounts of philosophy involve something quite distinct from all four of these categories. e.g. much of the work of descartes, kant, quine, lewis, rawls (to pick a few fairly randomly) doesn't really fall into any of these classes. i don't know how to characterize the missing bit (substantive philosophical thinking and reasoning?), but i'm inclined to think that it's at the core of philosophy.

i suppose that if one understands all a priori philosophy as "conceptual analysis" and all a posteriori philosophy as "empirical methods" then these two will be exhaustive by definition. but i think on a natural understanding there's a huge amount of a priori philosophy (e.g. substantive normative and metaphysical thought) that isn't just conceptual analysis, and also a huge amount of a posteriori philosophy (e.g. social and phenomenological thought) that isn't especially driven by the empirical sciences.

i do agree, though, that any of these methods practiced alone can be sterile. in my own work i use elements of all four of these methods, but i inevitably find that you can't really get substantive philosophy from science alone or from history alone or from formal methods alone or from conceptual analysis alone. you always need to combine these with further substantive philosophical premises to get somewhere. more strongly, i'm inclined to think that you can't really get it just from taking two or more of these four together. in all cases what's missing is the bit mentioned above -- the bit that involves substantive philosophical thinking and reasoning, whatever that is. so, three cheers for conjunctive pluralism.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Hi David, thanks for the feedback, I'm glad you second my ode to conjunctive pluralism! :)
As for what is missing in the taxonomy: if I understand you correctly, I had intended the big 'chunk' of what seems to be missing to be covered under 'conceptual analysis', but perhaps the term is not entirely appropriate. 'Substantive philosophical thinking and reasoning' seems to me to be a form of conceptual analysis, broadly understood, but I'm open to suggestions for a better terminology.

Eric Schliesser

Here are some missing approaches (in the spirit of making more fine-grained distinctions), some of which may be 'substantive' in David's sense:
5. Transcendental philosophy in the sense of offering indispensability arguments and offering conceptual necessitation arguments.
6. There are also conceptual-social necessitation arguments (that I have discerned in Hume on, say, property, and Adam Smith).
6. Qualitative Conceptual coining .
7. The Method of reflective equilibrium
8. The method of (introspective) clear and distinct idea-ness.
9. The method of (the application Principle of) Sufficient Reason
Again this is not exhaustive, and there is, of course, mixing and matching: for example, phenonomenology has feet in transcendental philosophy and introspection.

Eric Schliesser

By the way, I think genuine pluralism requires that schools of methodological monism stay vibrant. Ever since a post by Mark a few weeks ago, I have been trying to find some time to collect my thoughts on this. (So, I will return to it!)

Jeff Bell

Hi Catarina. I agree that the conjunctive pluralist approach is going to be the most fruitful approach to philosophy, though I seldom use the formalist methodologies myself.

I also agree with David that there is a missing methodology that's not quite covered by your fourth - conceptual analysis - at least as you have defined it as "unpacking concepts and drawing implications, introducing new and hopefully useful conceptual frameworks etc." I like David's phrase, "substantive philosophical thinking and reasoning" to characterize what he thinks is missing and I agree as well that it's at the core of philosophy.

You are right I think to claim that the methodological pluralism you propose is a useful way to move beyond the analytic-continental divide.

In fact, I would identify the missing methodology as "problematics," which would indeed entail creating conceptual frameworks, etc., but always relative to a problem or problematic that cannot be neatly unpacked by traditional conceptual analysis or reduced to the four methodologies you propose. This is at least how I understand what Deleuze, for example, takes philosophy to be when he says it's tasked with creating concepts, and it's also what I think is going on with the "substantive philosophical thinking" of philosophers such as Descartees, Kant, Quine, Lewis, et. al.

In short, they each are creating concepts vis-à-vis an irreducible problem, or they are doing problematics.


I'm interested in whether anyone thinks that normativity poses a problem for this (generally excellent) taxonomy. I would suggest that a conception of philosophy as mere analysis might already exclude certain forms of genuinely philosophical activity. Some (notably Nietzsche and some of the "continental" thinkers who followed him) seem to admonish philosophers when we act as mere conceptual archivists. The idea is that while we need analysts (empirical, conceptual, logical, historical) we also need philosophers who will forge new concepts or imbue older ones with new content and a fresh normative force.

The process is not particularly "continental" at all. Take, as an example, Moore's observation that the word "good" does not seem to be reducible to or definable in terms of some set of empirical states of affairs (pleasure, happiness, etc). If philosophy were just analysis, this would be the end of the discussion. Some sophisticated consequentialists, while recognizing Moore's conceptual point, take themselves to be offering a new and better conception of goodness, one which allows the concept to be used empirically in a variety of fruitful ways.

This kind of normative conceptual work isn't just done in normative ethics, either. Quine, if I understand him correctly, seems to want us to embrace a different, naturalistic version of the concept "epistemic justification" which he nonetheless realizes is alien to traditional epistemology (and possibly to ordinary people in general). Where, in a taxonomy of philosophical methodology, does this kind of conceptual creativity fit?


Hi, interesting post indeed! I am not convinced that conjunctive methodological pluralism should prevail, i.e. different methodologies “should actually be combined in philosophical analysis” (dixit Caterina). Would that not imply introducing a new form of monism? Wouldn’t some philosophical questions more efficiently (less cumbersome) be addressed by using just one of your methodologies? Wouldn’t prescribing conjunctive methodological pluralism lead to loss of interesting content? I would defend methodological pluralism in which your conjunctive methodological pluralism is one of the methodologies besides the other four ones (or more) mentioned.

(This debate reminds me of debates about scientific pluralism (mutatis mutandis), where you have people like Sandy Mitchell defending integrative pluralism, and others, e.g. Helen Longino, a non-integrative version, see e.g. the introduction of the Minnesota volume on Scientific Pluralism and my book The Social Sciences and Democracy, chapter 6, in which I have developed a taxonomy distinguishing consensual, agonistic and antagonistic scientific pluralism. These debates deal with a plurality of research programs, so not only with methodological pluralism, but the problem of different kinds of interactions possible among the different approaches (be it methodologies or research programs) is the same.)

Jon Cogburn

I think that Eric's examples might all fall as sub-categories under what Caterina meant by conceptual analysis.

I want to second Chalmers' point, but (contra the other nice discussion above) focusing a little more closely about the a posteriori part. I think that the study of history, political/theory and economics, and the arts, as well as the more a prioristic foundational debates inside of departments concerned with studying these things. For various areas of history (*outside* of the history of philosophy), it's obvious with respect to Foucault, Ian Hacking, and Mark Wilson. And Political theory/economics and the arts are clear for people who explicitly philosophize about these things.

But there's something else too where certain kinds of a posteriori expertise about X can profoundly inform philosophy not about X. For example, I think that people who maintain very active fiction reading lives throughout their adulthood find the that the practice gives their philosophy friction in all sorts of interesting and unpredictable ways (certainly, in part because even decent genre literature has to maintain a certain kind of psychologically and historically honesty and interest for it to be decent). I don't think this is quite analogous to the way empirical methods are working in the above. I mean you can of course talk with Wilson about the history of applied mathematics and it's fascinating, but you can also talk to him about the history of bluegrass music and the way folklorists have thought about it, and for example exactly why uninformed people mistakenly and disastrously think that banjo music is automatically happy. In the course you find out that his expertise there is an incredible engine of philosophical thought as well, even though as far as I know he has no explicit papers on this. I think that this kind of thing is much more common than we realize and part of the fifth X that Chalmers is hinting at.

With some literature, you even find certain kinds of philosophers grouping around that literature. On a somewhat small sample base (four people who have published on inferentialism), it seems to me that our generation of people thinking through Brandom's thought seem to read a lot of fantasy novels. The original speculative realists were all surprised to find that they shared a reverence for Lovecraft. In the latter case, this actually makes sense, Lovecraft just renders so vivid the philosophical pathologies and dangers of a reality that is independent of your own mind. As Noel Carrol so wonderfully shows, he is the master at employing literary tropes that allow one to describe the undescribable, which is a major theme in the history of philosophy too. While the Danto-on-steroids idea that a work of art can be identified with whatever propositions it in some sense embodies is the height of foolishness, there is a way that great artworks can embody, and indeed help us discover new, all sorts of philosophical problematics. Because of this, I think that intense exposure to the arts and thought about the arts is at the very least an important subclass to your empirical methods.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Thanks everyone for great comments. I won't be able to reply to them before tomorrow though; we've had a bit of a domestic accident here (my oldest daughter fell off a bouncy castle!), so my mind will be elsewhere for today :) Back to business tomorrow!

Ed Hackett

Let me try to do some cross-divide speak.

If I am a convinced Gadamerian/philosophical hermeneuticist, then I have a metaphilosophical position in my methodology and within my philosophizing. Such a person is convinced that we are bound in traditions and we must respond to them in the horizon of our own philosophizing, a horizon in which I stand in tension with the historical past that makes my present attempts at self-understanding and interpretation possible. I would think such a position might see terms like "formal methods", "conceptual analysis" and "reflective equilibrium" as a naive attempt to curtail the historically embedded nature of these terms already.

Likewise, the same containment of metaphilosophical assumptions and philosophical methodology fall out of other positions not listed in the proposed list. If I am a convinced Foucaultian, then all exchanges of knowledge are mitigated by power relations. There is no dialogical exchange of potential equals as in Gadamer and the above list assumes again a naive neutrality to how power relations come to determine philosophical legitimacy (think of the position often espoused by social or feminist epistemologies).

The upshot of what I have argued is simply this: The desire to include various methodologies will ultimately have to ignore some methodologies since methodologies presuppose a lot about what it means to philosophize to the point that the desire to include all mtehodologies outstrips what can be sought realistically. Methodologies contain meta-philosophical commitments and the inability to contain all methodologies might also be a prima facie reason to abandon it entirely. Foucault on sexuality and Gadamer on tradition are powerful thinkers in their own right that challenge the naive conception of party-line analytics that you can just construe a problem logically, offer a solution and move onto the next problem without so much as engaging the historicity of the problem's development.

Dennis Des Chene

Since you’re talking about philosophy at large, I would want to add (either under the heading of empirical methods or as a broadening of that rubric) the attentiveness to practice that has been successfully campaigned for recently by David Corfield and others in the philosophy of mathematics; some moral philosophers, too, have urged a closer relation to real-life moral decision-making. The conceptual-analytic axis has tended to ignore not only empirical results from science, but also and more generally practice (or rather to keep it in the background), as have certain strands of the conceptual-historical (this is a great alternative to the tired-out analytic/continental distinction for those who do the history of philosophy after 1900).

And again within the empirical there is a distinction to be made between appeal to empirical results from the sciences (which was one bone of contention in the debate here about physics and philosophy) and adaptation of methods (which seems to be one of the defining features of experimental philosophy, but is also seen in the use of axiomatizations and of "ideal languages").

Simon Gurofsky

That phenomenology (as in the tradition beginning with Husserl, of either the transcendental or existential sort) would fit into the taxonomy above is not clear, though I gather many consider phenomenology qua method moribund.

Justin Vlasits

Continuing off of some of the ideas (especially Jon's), I might want to add a "humanistic" methodology as a counterpart to the "empirically-informed". As someone with training in classics and English lit, I think that I approach "traditionally analytic" problems with an eye to broader debates within the humanities even while employing (in my own case) formal and historical methodologies. This addition would also perhaps give a space for certain continental thinkers and "critical theorists" like Benjamin and Derrida, but is certainly not exclusive to that tradition. Chris Peacocke, Philip Kitcher, John McDowell, Bert Dreyfus and a number of folks at U Chicago (just to name a few!) all imbue their work with learned humanism even when doing technically sophisticated work in areas farther away from the arts.

John Protevi

Justin, that's a very interesting remark. I think any number of people (am I wrong in thinking of Martha Nussbaum here?) would say a good grounding in literary classics helps (?) / is necessary for (?) good judgment in moral philosophy. I suppose with some stretching we could see this under the "empirical" rubric in Catarina's post: the history of literature is a history of fine-grained moral-psychological portraits, or investigations, or even experiments. Maybe it's "pre-scientific psychology," but c'mon, would you really trust someone writing about anger who hadn't really wrestled with Homer?

Back to the post. Catarina, you say this about "historical methods – they rely on the assumption that, to attain a better understanding of a given philosophical concept/problem, it is useful (or even indispensable) to trace its historical origins in philosophical theorizing." I'm struggling to find a way to work "genealogy" into the picture here. Maybe it's the phrase "trace its historical origins" that gives me pause: with a genealogical approach, you're on the lookout for capturings and re-purposings, so that there's no essence at the origin that has different appearances, or to put it another way, the mechanism / function relation at the origin is not dispositive for the mechanism / function relation at the present. To use the classic Foucaultian example, imprisonment was not originally punishment, but safeguarding; how it became punishment is only visible if you split the mechanism (enclosure) from the function (first safeguarding, then punishment).

So then to hook up with Jeff Bell's point, maybe there's no Deleuzean history of philosophy, but there might be a genealogy of problematics? How does one problematic change into another? Philosopher X tinkers with the "dimensions" of the problem of philosopher Y, so that, past a certain threshold, it's a new problem. So at the limit, there's only a homonymic relation between Descartes's ego, Kant's ego, and Husserl's ego. But then we have to negotiate / nuance our way around the question of "historicism": there doesn't seem to be much in the way of progress possible in philosophy when we think in terms of problematics. Did Kant improve on / correct the mistakes of Descartes? Did Husserl do that to Kant? I don't think a problematics approach can say that.

And that might be a deep divide among philosophers, though it might not necessarily line up with the analytic / continental divide. Are there analytic philosophers who would jettison progress for problematics? Are there continental philosophers that accept progress? Could you argue that Heidegger and Derrida do, that they think it's progress to realize we are at the "end of metaphysics"?

Ricky Sebold

Readers may be interested in a recent book by James Chase and Jack Reynolds called Analytic Versus Continental: Arguments on the Methods and Value of Philosophy, which argues that the analytic/continental divide should be viewed as a methodological distinction where each tradition is just a family resemblance of certain methods thus avoiding any problematic talk of necessary and sufficient conditions for being a certain kind of philosopher. Many of the issues raised above including the use of thought experiments, reflective equilibrium, transcendental arguments, historical reasoning, scientific methods and results are identified as points of divergence between the two traditions. Reynolds also had an exchange with Simon Glendinning in vol. 17 no. 2 of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies over whether a methodological account can provide a unifying factor to otherwise disparate philosophies within the Continental tradition. A way then of blurring or surpassing the divide according to this analysis would involve utilizing methods that comprise both the Continental and analytic traditions.

(Full Disclosure: I'm currently a PhD student under Jack Reynolds and, however indirectly, aided in the development of the content of the book.)

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

I see all these (with the possible exception of reflective equilibrium, if it has an empirical component) as belonging to the fourth kind in the taxonomy above, as these are all variations of aprioristic conceptual reflection.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Again, 'creating concepts' would belong to the fourth category, which I should probably have described as 'conceptual *reflection*, as 'analysis' has a fairly precise meaning (as I notice now, from people's reactions here). Otherwise, it's all about the incredulous stare! :)

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

My main idea is that the fourth methodology, which I will for now refer to as 'conceptual reflection' (since 'conceptual analysis seems not to be working) by itself is not enough, as it entails too much doxastic conservativeness. I am not endorsing methodological pluralism on account of endorsing pluralism in general, but rather because I really think that philosophical reflection requires a combined methodology. If that commits me to a different form of monism, I'm happy to accept it :)

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

It may well be, and in any case general cultural knowledge is bound to make anyone a better philosopher. But I actually have a very different take on literature and its formative value (replying also to some of the comments above). I find that reading a lot of literature does not necessarily give you better insight into human nature, potentially the very opposite. There are few books that seem to offer truly novel and genuine insights into human nature, precisely because literature is not committed to real life and reality as its primary target. I find that I learn more about people by reading e.g. biographies than novels, and also by reading science (e.g. the fantastic 'Mother Nature' by Sarah Hrdy who is such a penetrating analysis of motherhood, much more than I have ever found in any novel).
I realize that my position here is very controversial and at this point very poorly argued for, but here it is :) In any case, I wouldn't describe the contribution of literature as a philosophical methodology as such, but rather as a general background which can make someone a sharper thinker generally speaking.

Eric Schliesser

What about Kate Chopin's *The Awakening*?

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

I've never claimed to be adopting a 'neutral' perspective with the proposed taxonomy above; I am deeply aware of its 'historicity', but I reject the idea (if that's what you meant, but probably not) that given that any attempt at a methodological reflection will always be perspectival, we just shouldn't bother. The 'methodology' for the taxonomy above is resolutely 'bottom-up', so it couldn't BUT be embedded in a particular historical tradition.
In fact, it is precisely because I think it is crucial to challenge "the naive conception of party-line analytics" that you describe above (but it may well be that this is just a straw man) that I place so much emphasis on the historical methods (item 2 above); we need to understand the historicity of a problem in order to be able to address it.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Sure, there *are* books that offer true insight into human nature (a great example is 'Swann in love', and in a weird way also 'Pride and Prejudice', among so many others), but the danger lies precisely in convincing yourself that real people really are as the people you read about in novels. For the most part, they are not, and real life is 'boring' and uneventful by comparison.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Dennis, thanks for mentioning this, in fact I make a big deal out of 'practice-based philosophy of logic and mathematics' (I even organized a workshop exactly on the topic 2 years ago!). Attention to practice would fall within the 'empirical methods' category, but you rightly point out that, in this case, it is not just a matter of empirical data gathered by the empirical sciences. It is empirical data nevertheless, and it should fit within this category.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

John, 'genealogy' falls square within 'historical methods'; if it's not immediately obvious, it is only in virtue of my poor (not sufficiently encompassing) description of this group!

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Thanks for the pointers! From your description, it really sounds like this approach is very much in the spirit of what I was trying to get at with the post. Focus on methodology may not only help us understand better what exactly is the analytic vs. continental divide, but for the same reason it may help build bridges for those who want to cross them :)

Jon Cogburn

I think we're being *way* too restrictive in the senses in which people learn truth from literature. One, the focus on Nusbaum is terribly misleading here. Great, good, and bad literature isn't primarily about human archetypes or psychology (though Nusbaum is right that writers have discovered an immense amount here). Fiction entertainingly describes the goings on in fictional worlds. This is the main reason fiction is so philosophically provocative, because it shares a core function with so much philosophy! Two, even when we've gotten beyond the idea that fiction is primarily naive psychology and realize that it is about possibilia, and at a more general level psychological, historical, economic, and scientific (depending on genre) constraints on possibilia, the data point isn't only what happens in those worlds, but also that authors described them the way in which they did. This endeavor of course involves empirical psychology; recent criticism is invoking evolutionary psychology in interesting ways.

But I'm going to stick to my guns here. I think a tremendous amount of good philosophy outside of aesthetics has as its source the philosophers' deep engagement with the arts. Artists are (contra Danto-on-steroids) *in part* doing exactly what we do, but subject to the constraint that it be entertaining.

David Chalmers

actually, i have a hard time seeing the philosophers i mentioned as doing conceptual reflection, either. e.g. i don't see what's especially conceptual about what quine, rawls, and so on were doing. to be sure they introduced new concepts, but so does any good formal and empirical philosopher worth their salt; and to be sure they worked from the armchair, but so do formal philosophers (and to some extent the others). maybe that's just verbal, though -- e.g. the issue wouldn't arise if you called it "philosophical reflection".

a nonverbal worry is that if all of these people really count as doing X, the X category is becoming really huge and is encompassing an enormous number of different methods. and i'd be inclined to think that the categories are asymmetrical in that one really can't do philosophy without doing X, whereas one can do philosophy without doing any of the other three. so it's interesting to try to break X down further.

one immediate category one might separate out is conceptual analysis narrowly construed, or perhaps better, linguistic analysis. normative analysis qua systematization of normative intuitions/judgments is another. philosophical therapy a la wittgenstein is another. experimental philosophy is another (overlapping with both empirical philosophy and conceptual analysis!). then empirical methods not especially from the sciences, such as social, literary, phenomenological analysis. there are lots of other good ideas above, in eric's list and elsewhere.

somehow i feel like all these subcategories are somehow missing the heart of the method of many of the great philosophers, though. maybe one broad candidate to be at the heart is philosophical explanation -- whatever that is. or maybe philosophical abduction, i.e. inference to the best explanation.


It seems to me after reading Catarina’s, Eric’s, and David’s comments that because Catarina’s original intention was to define methods in such a way as then to be able to define various schools in philosophy, a fine-grained taxonomy of methods is not what is being sought.

Methods so taken have to be broad. Reflective equilibrium, clarity and distinctness (or more generally appeals to immediately knowable features of the objects of thought), and the use of Sufficient Reason would then not themselves be methods but elements of the sorts of methods Catarina was talking about. A historian would expect to find schools defined—insofar as they can be defined “intellectually” rather than socially—in terms rather of clusters of features than of single features.

So it was characteristic of the Wittgensteinians in the fifties, those were under the spell of the later W., to argue obliquely by setting forth examples, often without comment, to express themselves gnomically, to suggest larger philosophical themes rather than tackle them directly, to present themselves not as refuting earlier philosophical positions but as diagnosing them, and in general to conceive of philosophical problems as essentially involving questions of language, of “what we would say”. That all did seem to add up, at the time and to its proponents, to something you might call a method, but only on the understanding that a big-m Method so understood will typically comprise several little-m methods of the sort proposed by Eric.


One more thought in relation to David’s comment: “inference to the best explanation” is a good way to characterize many of Suárez’s arguments (I take him to represent quite a bit of the Scholastic tradition).

In arguing for substantial form, say, or prime matter, or the necessity of introducing modes in addition to accidents, he is refreshingly free of any prejudice concerning the character of the data to be taken into account—revelation, dogma, empirical truths, appeals to something like intuition are all admissible. In that respect he can’t quite be fitted under any of Catarina’s rubrics.

But the basic form of argument is often something like: if you posit x then the data a, b, c… can be accounted for (what that amounts to varies with the case), and can be accounted better than by any of the rivals (the disputational format in which Suárez usually writes requires him to consider and to refute alternatives to his own view). Boyle, for one, understood this quite well, and in The origin of forms and qualities he sets out to show that the data (other than those deriving from dogma and revelation) can be accounted for without positing form, and within the limits of the mechanical philosophy.

Justin Vlasits

To continue on Jon's reply, in addition to learning about possibilia, reading literature (engaging with the arts generally) and criticism is broadly interpretive. I don't think all of interpretation can be found in just conceptual analysis and the historical methodology. Rather, creative fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, music, visual arts, etc etc give people ways of seeing the world. These ways are extremely philosophically productive and help give rise to what David Chalmers is talking about here as substantive, creative philosophy. Consider, for example, how reading Virginia Woolf might make one rethink Kant's ideas about the unity of consciousness. It's not that she's describing some fantastical world, rather she is illustrating in her style the peculiar mental processes of a fragmented, disjunctive mind. It's not yet philosophy--there are no arguments in To the Lighthouse--but there is a possibility for philosophy to develop out of it. Similarly, I find in Anna Karenina considerable ruminations on the nature of science and the role it should play in people's lives. Taking it seriously could result in interesting thoughts on naturalism in ethics, for example. None of this requires us to take a stand on the "truth" of literature, just as using historical methods does not require us to take a stand on the truth of history.

What connects both my worry and I believe David's (he could correct me if I'm mistaken) is that creativity has no place within it. What David is calling "philosophical abduction" is a creative leap, moving beyond data points and strictly logical arguments to form some kind of systematic picture of an area of inquiry. The interesting question might be whether this should count as methodology--is there a method for such reflection? Is it an inevitable part of human psychology? What are the norms governing it? I'm not sure that we can come down hard on a taxonomy of methodologies until a foundational question like that is answered.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Ok, as long as you are not claiming that reading a lot of literature makes a person 'morally superior', I guess I'm ok with the general points :) Yes, insofar as reading novels develops our ability to track coherence, so to say, then it could be useful for doing philosophy. But again, I would insist that it's not a methodology in and of itself, but rather a general formative background which can help develop certain abilities.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Thanks Dennis, you seem to have captured the general idea better than I could have expressed it myself :)

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

I guess the main problem is that the category I cared least about in the taxonomy above is precisely the one you seem to have issues with; this may be why I was very imprecise in how I presented it (using an oh-so-useful etc.) I agree that in many senses this category is really the core of philosophical theorizing, and 'philosophical explanation' might be a good name for it. But then again, treating it as a whole is only illuminating if the idea is to contrast it with the other approaches I was trying to describe. If the goal is to understand this category, then something much more fine-grained would be required, along the lines of the long list proposed by Eric above.
Well, the truth is that I'm really not the best person to conduct this analysis, as in truth I am much more interested in the other three (from a methodological point of view in any case, as in practice I of course *use* the methods of the fourth category just as everybody else...).

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

For me, the hallmark of creative philosophizing is bringing together things that seem unrelated, but when you bring them together you see that a certain puzzle which was otherwise resisting resolution all of a sudden makes perfect sense. And for me, bringing together e.g. historical and empirical elements and making sense of things in a way that would otherwise not be possible is a form of creativity. But of course, I'm not saying it's the only way of being creative in philosophy...

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

And a general thanks to everyone for the great comments! What has emerged from the discussions is that there is a real need for a more fine-grained discussion of my fourth category, precisely because it seems to contain quite a few different approaches. As I said above, I just don't see myself as the right person for the job, but if anyone wants to give it a go, I'd be happy to post it here as a guest post or something like that.

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