The Four Dimensions of Philosophy

THE FOUR DIMENSIONS OF PHILOSOPHY is a recapitulation (and extension) of Adler’s earlier book, THE CONDITIONS OF PHILOSOPHY (1965). He argues that philosophy has a right to be an autonomous discipline but should be conducted, as is science, as a cooperative enterprise.

One of the reasons philosophy has not made more progress is that its practitioners have a tendency to go to extremes, either building complex and incompatible metaphysical systems or denying that philosophy can know any truths about the world at all. Philosophy as a public enterprise would have a dual function: to clarify and codify important philosophical concepts (second-order knowledge), but also to say something (probably) true about the real world (first-order knowledge). First-order questions concern metaphysics (the nature of being; whether God exists) and ethics (the nature of the good life for human beings). Second-order questions deal with “ideas” as objects of thought (that is, the meaning of “love,” “happiness,” “infinity”), and with the understanding of the branches or categories of knowledge through the philosophy of law, art, religion, and so on.

Adler assumes a realist position: the world exists independently of human minds, and reality includes the realm of the intelligible as distinct from the sensory (that is, some truths can be known by reason apart from direct experience of the senses; God’s existence must be known in this way). Philosophy is unique among intellectual pursuits in that it uses common human experience (not special scientific experience) as its data, and such philosophy is always more or less in accord with “common sense.”

Professional philosophers who do not share an Aristotelian world view are unlikely to be won over; instead, THE FOUR DIMENSIONS OF PHILOSOPHY, written in Adler’s ninetieth year, serves better as a summary of the intellectual life of its author.