In section 9.4, Appiah argues that the distinctive features of formal philosophy are not possible without written language. What are these features? How convincing is Appiah’s argument? Is he being unfair to nonliterate cultures?
Appiah considers consistency, criticism, and style as three tenants of formal philosophy which are made possible by written language. Once someone makes an argument on paper, “it is there…forever.” Over generations, these records allow us to understand what our predecessors believed and it allows us to “rethink” and criticize those beliefs. In contrast, Appiah argues, folk philosophy doesn’t allow for generational consistency because it can change as people share it. This is like a game of telephone where the message can change as it is told from person to person. For example, Appiah notes the heavy use of metaphors in folk philosophy, which are easier to be misinterpreted over time than strict facts. This shows the disparity in style between formal and folk philosophy. Because formal philosophy is dependent on writing, it requires the use of supporting context and evidence to support the author’s claim to a broad audience. This allows their message to be interpreted more clearly in the future. In contrast, folk philosophy is often passed down among people who are close to each other which eliminates the need for context and evidence. Context is not required because the experience between the giver and the receiver is shared. Evidence is not required because the giver of knowledge has an authority over the receiver and is trusted by the receiver. Appiah would argue that this results in a lack of reasoning surrounding folk philosophy in comparison to formal philosophy.
The contrast between formal and folk philosophy is clear and logical, but Appiah assumes that formal philosophy is the more developed and superior because the argument is presented as folk philosophy lacks what formal philosophy has in literacy. This is unfair because Appiah permits the idea that the beliefs of folk philosophy may be reasonable given their paradigm. To reject the mode of passing on folk belief while contending that its content may be reasonable is unjust.
When we discuss truth and thought, we are surely limited by the way we think because our thought process is tied to our paradigm. If that’s true, how do we develop our thought process to consider our thoughts and truths more critically? We note that as we communicate with, listen to, and learn from different cultures, we have a more universal perspective and critical way of thinking; however, is our notion that this is how we further our understanding limited by our collective paradigm? Perhaps there is a different way to approach philosophy that is deeper than what we can comprehend today based on our paradigm. How do we pursue that unknown level of thought as we discuss philosophy?