A few months ago Matti Eklund published the following: "The research program isn’t abandoned simply on the ground that seemingly compelling arguments against its fundamental assumptions are presented. Rather, it is abandoned when research conducted within its confines is no longer seen as fruitful, and when a new alternative, with some promise of success, is available." It provoked a response by me in which a I suggested that the combination of (i) viewing philosophy as normal science (PANS) and (ii) viewing philosophical "trends" as "inevitable" changes in fashion was toxic. In particular, if (i) and (ii) are true then institutional power plays an out-sized role in philosophy, yet (i) and (ii) don't leave much room to even mention power: for PANS assumes that ruling ideas just are best supported and (ii) assumes that things could not have been otherwise and (given that ought implies can) nobody is required to do anything to change our situation. As I suggested in my response to Eklund, PANS promotes the idea that one can safely ignore even well-founded arguments from sociological outsiders. (Mohan was underwhelmed; recall my response.)
Yesterday, while reading this fascinating review of a book-length defense of ordinary language philosophy, I was haunted by the thought that Eklund got it right. For example, as a graduate student I was very unimpressed by ordinary language philosophy (OLP), which I found not only too driven by pumping of intuitions of upper-class native English speakers -- and their wannabe emulators -- but also completely irrelevant to anything worth thinking about. (It also seemed to me to have been made irrelevant by progress in linguistic science.) But in recent years I have started to wonder if one of its main assumptions, the denial that it is "possible to identify or form ultimate meanings associated with the various words or expressions" isn't...(ahum) true (in a deflationary sense, of course).
Now, I was primed for my renewed concern about the role of fashion in philosophy by a recent read of Huw Price's reflection on the Carnap/Quine debate, "that metaphysics is as dead, or at least deflated, as Carnap left it." As Price (the Bertrand Russell Professor at Cambridge) explains:
"What’s haunting the halls of all those college towns – capturing the minds of new generations of the best and brightest – is actually the ghost of a long-discredited discipline. Metaphysics is actually as dead as Carnap left it, but – blinded, in part, by these misinterpretations of Quine – contemporary philosophy has lost the ability to see it for what it is, to distinguish it from live and substantial intellectual pursuits."
I grew up intellectually in circles where folk regularly claimed that Quine's so-called "victory" over Carnap was less than decisive argumentatively (have you heard the refrain, "Where are the arguments in Two Dogmas?"), and in those circles there were also a disdain for analytic metaphysics (that infected me for too long). But I don't recall anybody ever claiming that what happened next in 20th century philosophy was a consequence of misinterpretation!
Now, there are also existing narratives of successful progress in philosophy. While not denying that some of these track truth (and the Tarski formula is exhibit A), most of these (Soames' hagiography of Kripke, Freeman's attempt at a balanced assessment of Rawls) are...(alas) too self-serving to be entirely credible.
So, we may be stuck among philosophers that believe (a) we are living philosophically in times of historic injustice; (b) we are living philosophically in the shadow of colossal mistakes; (c) we philosophers are just mice running around in wheels that will turn anyway; (d) we and our counterparts are living philosophically in the best of all possible worlds--we just don't know, perhaps, which world is ours really. Now (a-d) may just be symptomatic of institutional factors -- philosophers are being asked to act like scientists, but have no decisive mechanism to enforce conformity; or (a-d) may be a consequence of the fact that no philosophic system has achieved dominance in our age of hyper-specialization, etc. Anyway, am I just seeing ghosts or zombies?