by Daniel A. Kaufman
During a conversation with Megan Fritts of Utah State, I suggested that perhaps philosophical disputes should be conducted as negotiations rather than arguments. I’d like to develop this idea a bit more.
That philosophy is a primarily argumentative business is, I trust, evident enough that I don’t need to expand on it much. I’m not denying that there are philosophical satires or poems or essays that may stray from this otherwise common mode. I do work in that vein myself. My point simply is that professional, academic philosophy, as it is generally practiced, is argumentative in nature.
As a formal matter, the point of an argument is to demonstrate the truth of something or the falsity of it. As a practical matter, the point of an argument is to persuade someone of the truth or falsity of something. [With regard to arguments in normative and applied ethics, replace ‘truth’ and ‘falsity’ with ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’.] To this second end, a rhetorical dimension may be added, but the idea is that the arguments should be doing the real work.
The presumption, then, is that philosophical positions, theories, accounts, etc., are the sorts of things that are true or false. Arguments for Utilitarianism are supposed to demonstrate that it is true, and arguments against it that it is false. Or at least, they are supposed to count for or against its truth or falsity. The same goes for arguments for and against Kantian ethics; metaphysical Realism and Anti-Realism; Freewill and Determinism; Nominalism and Platonism; theories of personhood; and others.
As people who are familiar with my work will know, I am inclined to think that many of these sorts of positions suffer from radical indeterminacy. I don’t think there is an independent fact of the matter with respect to the things that metaphysical realists and anti-realists, Kantians and Utilitarians, or nominalists and Platonists disagree about. When two people disagree as to whether or not a seven-month-old fetus is a person, for example, there is no fact the discovery of which would settle the matter one way or another. There may be advantages and disadvantages to thinking about things in one way or another [and which ways are advantageous, and which are disadvantageous will depend on the context], but there is no independent fact as to which way of thinking about them is correct or incorrect. Indeed, the very idea of correctness and incorrectness, truth and falsity with regard to these sorts of issues and disputes is inapt.
I’m not going to rehearse all of the reasons I think this, as I’ve discussed them at some length in a number of venues, including EA. Suffice it to say here that the persistence over millennia of the same disagreements with no sign of resolution or abatement and the lack of any material or otherwise substantive impact of holding one view or another are two of my more prominent reasons. One would think that were there some determinate fact as to whether Platonism or Nominalism is correct, we wouldn’t be having the same debate about it today that we’ve been having since the Middle Ages, and as far as I can tell, metaphysical realists and anti-realists don’t take their morning coffee any differently, and both libertarians and determinists will thank you for passing the mustard. 
Even where it seems like there must be some substantive, differentiating impact of holding these respective views, a few moments’ examination reveals it to be illusory. Yes, if you are a nominalist regarding mathematics, then mathematical truths are not going to be “necessary,” but rather, contingent, and if you are a Platonist, the opposite will be true, but nothing about how one does math or which mathematical statements are true or false is affected by it: two and two still make four, and the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is still 180 degrees, the modal status of such statements notwithstanding.
Even the difference between Utilitarians and Kantians, which one would think should have a significant impact on a person’s actions, is essentially abstract. I would be very surprised to find a utilitarian who, in his or her actual life, behaved as if people’s intentions had no moral significance, and I would be equally surprised to discover a Kantian who, in his or her actual life, behaved as if no amount of death or destruction carried any moral weight. And at the end of the day, both approaches ultimately stand or fall under the scrutiny of the same set of common, pre-theoretical intuitions that cut across every possible axiological orientation and category, which means that the ultimate conditions of adequacy for Utilitarianism and Kantianism alike lie in a set of already existing, axiologically heterogeneous sentiments. This is articulated by W.D. Ross in The Right and The Good (1930), which I wrote about here, and though some, like Peter Singer, have tried to resist the idea, their efforts have been less than convincing. 
If most or at least a great many philosophical positions are subject to this kind of indeterminacy, then how should we think about philosophical arguments? In answering this, let me first be clear that I think many if not most philosophers get it wrong. They believe that philosophical questions/positions are determinate – that there is a fact of the matter as to whether Utilitarianism or Kantianism or Nominalism or Platonism, etc., is true or false, correct or incorrect – and that consequently, the purpose of philosophical argumentation with respect to these positions is to demonstrate their truth or falsity, correctness or incorrectness. I’ve argued elsewhere that this is part of the reason why far too much philosophy is being written and why far too many philosophical arguments are pursued well beyond the point of any positive return.  So, the question then becomes: How should we understand philosophical arguments, in light of the fact that they could not do what arguments normally do?
The idea of philosophy as diplomacy stems from the thought that in many cases, philosophies are more akin to preferences of outlook and lifestyle than to positions in science. Views and positions in which a person may feel greatly invested and which render the world and our practical affairs from specific points of view and with particular foci, yet which have no really tangible effects.
At times it may be fruitful to focus on the role that we play in forming and shaping the world – which may lead us to take on board the sort of constructivist anti-Realist ideas that Nelson Goodman offers in Ways of Worldmaking – while on other occasions, it may be more apt to think of the world in thoroughly, even “naively” Realist terms.  In certain circumstances, it may make sense to think of morality in terms of the violation of others’ personal sovereignty, in the way that Kant does, while in other situations, it may be more useful to think of it in terms of the material harms with which Bentham is most concerned. Depending on the point of the investigation, it may be useful to conceive of human beings as physiological systems, operating under a strict set of natural laws, but other sorts of inquiry may benefit more from thinking of us as agents, acting within a complex social network of prerogatives and obligations. As Hilary Putnam once observed, the level and type of description under which we should engage with something is inquiry- or activity-dependent, rather than one-size fits all. 
Such preferences may sit uncomfortably with one another on occasion, or there may be strong disagreement as to which among competing philosophical approaches is more apt given the circumstances at hand. When this happens, argument is pointless and frustrating. Negotiation is what is called for, and negotiation is the main instrument of diplomacy. Hence, the idea of philosophical arguments reconceived as a kind of diplomatic activity.
Negotiation is a skill that has largely fallen out of use and desperately needs rehabilitation. In our public discourse, it has been replaced with threatening, demanding, coercing, blackmailing, dogpiling, and the like, more often than not under sway of values that are treated as factual and demonstrable, rather than as requiring negotiation themselves. Think, for example, of the current bloodletting over the question of whether or not “trans women are women,” where what is at issue is not reproductive class membership, regarding which there is an independent fact of the matter, but rather, gender identity, regarding which there is not. Like the debate over whether fetuses are persons, this dispute is unresolvable by way of arguments, given that it is about how individuals are best regarded and not about some material or otherwise demonstrable fact about them. It also is motivated by axiological commitments and judgments that are in tension with one another and which are equally unresolvable by way of arguments. Such cases are precisely where negotiation is needed; where what we must do is a figure out a way to coexist, in spite of our disagreement remaining unresolved.
In philosophy and other areas of academia, negotiation is rejected in favor of endless rounds of arguments or presentations of evidence, each becoming more insistent and heated, as it begins to dawn on the participants that they will not be dispositive. As with their counterparts in the public discourse, these disputes may be motivated by underlying axiological disagreements – in philosophy and many of the social sciences, the same kinds of emotionally charged, value-laden subjects are taken up as are in the public discourse – which also will need to be negotiated, rather than won or lost. And we can all see what happens when they are not, as the state of these sorts of disagreements, today, is no better in the Academy than it is in the public arena.
Ultimately, principles or guidelines of successful negotiation must come from psychology and disciplines relevantly connected to or informed by it, but philosophically speaking it seems to me that wisdom is likely to be found in those areas having to do with matters of sensibility rather than reason. In Aesthetics, especially, there is a sophisticated and substantial literature having to do with how one “gets someone to see what one sees” in a painting or sculpture or performance, in light of the fact that the presence of particular aesthetic qualities cannot be demonstrated by the application of criteria and are not rationally scrutable.  Given that so much of what in philosophy I have deemed as suffering from indeterminacy has to do with how we, our activities, and the larger world are or should be best regarded, a lot of insight can be gained from this particular and rich philosophical sub-discipline. 
 The “thank you for passing the mustard” observation comes from G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908):
[Y]ou may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say “thank you” for the mustard.
 Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (Hackett: 1978).
 See his discussion of trying to explain why a round peg doesn’t fit into a square hole. Hilary Putnam, “Philosophy and Our Mental Life” (1975), pp. 130-131 [in version linked below].
 This entirely line of inquiry began with Frank Sibley’s landmark paper, “Aesthetic Concepts” (1959), which I discussed here. [The link to the paper, unfortunately, is no longer live.]
 I would also suggest that metaphysics and ontology could learn a lot from work in Aesthetics, where people like Arthur Danto have offered sophisticated analyses of how there can be substantially different ontological categories, despite there being but one [material] substrate.