In response to its characterization as a “good article” by Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, in “Kimball on the Philistinism of the Nagel Bashers,” I have just read Roger Kimball’s “What Philistinism Looks Like” ,” a defense of sorts of Thomas Nagel against the attacks of Nagel’s critics, if an attack on the critics counts as a defense of the criticized. I do not have much of grand philosophical substance to say in response to the Kimball piece. I do have something to say, however, taking its point of departure from a logical difficulty most evident in its last paragraph but perhaps underlying the whole post. The first two sentences of the paragraph read:
We all of us inhabit a world irretrievably shaped by science; we know that the sun does not really mover from east to west, just as we know that the stars are not really hung like lamps from the sky [contrary to the opinions of W. H. Auden, as quoted by Kimball a bit earlier]. And yet … [the philosopher Roger] Scruton’s point is that such truths are accompanied by other, conflicting truths.
There is a genuine problem at hand here, that of the relationship between that which we understand of reality by means of science, i.e., by means of, as I prefer to more fully identify it, empirico-mathematical science, and that which we understand of reality by other means. The resolution of this problem, however, can in no way be advanced by a doctrine according to which truths conflict with truths. For, at least on the most straightforward understanding of the word “conflict,” two propositions conflict with each other only if either they stand to each other as contraries, and thus cannot both be true, or they stand to each other as contradictories, and thus cannot either both be true or both be false.
This observation leaves me wanting to comment in addition in that, more broadly, when someone, be it a Kimball, a Scruton, a Vallicella, or, last and very decidedly least, a Hennessey, is faced with a problem in which one set of propositions, apparently true, appear to be in “conflict” with another set of propositions, also apparently true, it does not seem fitting for the adherents of one set to describe adherents to the other as “philistines.”