Philosopher Mike Huemer has recently blogged that most of the great philosophers make terrible arguments, and are great primarily because they turned out to be influential (this follows a previous post on history of philosophy, which I responded to as well). Mike received pushback, including a comment from Roderick Long, which I wanted to explore a bit. Here’s Long:
When I think of the great philosophers, I imagine them as architects of ideas. They survey a series of intuitions and observations, show how they lead to certain puzzles, and then figure out ingenious new ways to organize these institutions and observations into coherent wholes that can solve the puzzles they identify. The great philosophers design great buildings and inspire new architectural styles that organize much of intellectual and social life.
Viewing philosophers as architects helps to see why they often offer bad arguments. They’re first and foremost focused on creating a coherent system of thought, in contrast to building clear argumentative connections between every different part of their conceptual structure, and many of those connections are a stretch. But even if the beams of their buildings crack and bend, it is worth repairing them. For if we can repair them, then something beautiful, elegant, and maybe even true will come into view; and those systems will help us share a vision of how the world can be organized and understood.