On Objections in philosophy… how to make them and how to answer them…

Objections, objections, objections — philosophy is all about them… really.

The big picture as to how philosophy works is like a debate/conversation.

Philosopher A thinks something is true and writes about it.  Philosophers B, C, and D find problems with the theory and pose objections.  Philosopher A responds, and perhaps comments on works written by B, C and D — they respond etc… those problems they find — they’re objections.

The thing about the function of objections is that they serve as an opportunity to clarify what you’re saying and refine what you’re thinking about it.  By responding to objections, the philosopher sees problems or holes in their theory and works to eliminate them — or to say why they aren’t holes.

So — a good objection has the following qualities:

  • it’s about something important to the theory —
  • It’s usually based on something like “if we believe X then, _____ bad thing will happen”
  • OR — it’s something like “If we believe Y, then we must also believe P, Q and R are true — but, we know they aren’t, so Y can’t be true”…
  • It isn’t based on pure, subjective opinion — at least not any more than the original theory.
  • It usually is NOT fatal to the philosophical project, but it does point out a central problem with the project.

When answering an objection, you should:

  • State, in your own words, what the objection is — this is important because it starts the response process by clarifying what you believe to be the objection.
  • Point to aspects of the theory that answer the objection already —
  • OR — use examples to show why the objection itself is poor reasoning
  • OR — use examples to show why the objection doesn’t apply to the theory.

Since I teach a lot of ethics courses, and I often have them using objections etc.. in their papers — here are some additional hints and tips concerning objections…

  • make sure the objection applies most directly to the theory you’re objecting TO… so, a generic objection is applicable all around, and thus — not a problem for this theory, but for ethics in general.
  • Make sure your objections aren’t too narrow — and that they actually are objections to a good reading of the theory.
  • The best objections to ethical theory involve either — Human nature is like _______, this theory is counter to ________ for this reason –so… OR If we believed in and acted on this theory ____________ bad consequences would be the natural result.
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