In response to a recent question about philosophy (, Oliver Leaman made the claim that, "there are no facts in philosophy." Briefly reviewing the definition of "fact" I see "something that actually exists; reality; truth." Can it really be that there is no truth in philosophy? It seems like the respondent has made an assumption that it very broad, fundamental, and contestable.

I think you are over-reading Oliver Leaman's point. He was contrasting philosophers to historians, pointing out that the latter can rely on a wealth of facts while the former cannot. So I believe he was referring to empirical facts ascertainable by observation, such as facts about bullets and bodies found underground beneath a Civil War battlefield. Such empirical facts constrain disagreement among historians (preventing historians from arguing that the battle was fought with swords and spears, for example). No such empirical facts constrain disagreements among philosophers - or so Leaman may plausibly be taken to have opined.

This claim is less sweeping and fully compatible with your suggestions that there are truths in philosophy. This suggestion seems right to me. Some philosophical arguments are sound, others unsound. Some philosophical positions are coherent, others incoherent. Some philosophical objections are decisive, others fail. It would be quite natural to say that such truths express facts: the fact that philosophical argument X is sound, the fact that philosophical position Y is incoherent, the fact that philosophical objection Z is decisive. But these were just not the kind of facts Leaman had in mind.

Is Leaman right to claim that there are no narrowly empirical facts in philosophy? I find even this more limited claim highly doubtful. It has been disputed in many areas of philosophy. An excellent example is W.V.O. Quine's seminal account of epistemology as continuous with empirical inquiries about mental processes like thought and perception - "epistemology naturalized." Quine's account has been influential also in the philosophy of science. Another example is ordinary language philosophy, which centrally draws on facts about ordinary language. Relatedly, Wittgenstein's later work depicts philosophical problems as arising from problematic uses of language and seeks to resolve such problems by paying close attention to how we actually use crucial words and expressions in our "language games." Further, in moral philosophy there is Rawls's view that principles of justice are formulated on the presupposition of, and in this sense depend upon, certain empirical facts - such as the "circumstances of justice" and various facts about human beings and their dispositions. To be sure, all these views have had their critics. For example, I have been involved in an exciting debate with the late Jerry Cohen who felt obliged to "rescue justice" from Rawls's understanding of it as fact-dependent. So I would not want to claim that there is as yet a settled agreement in any area of philosophy that empirical facts play a fundamental role there (as opposed to a role confined to the mere application of fact-independent philosophical methods and principles). But if empirical facts play such a fundamental role in just one area of philosophy, then Leaman's casual claim is incorrect.

Read another response by Thomas Pogge
Read another response about Philosophy, Truth