Scott Soames’s suggestion at the Stone blog vastly overstates the progress normative theory has made, and this pronouncement just sounds idiotic and forced. It’s equally overstated as the Frodeman and Briggle's article he's responding to here that doesn’t observe the pragmatic call to connect philosophy to the consequences it has in one’s life, so let’s leave aside Dewey, James, and Peirce were philosophers of the 19th century. Let's listen to what Soames wrote,
Although progress in ethics, political philosophy and the illumination of life’s meaning has been less impressive than advances in some other areas, it is accelerating. After an erosion of faith in ethical theory in the first third of the 20th century, and calls for its abolition in the middle third, John Rawls and Robert Nozick revived theories of justice in the early 1970s. Comprehensive ethical theories, including Thomas Scanlon’s and Stephen Darwall’s, have also reappeared. Even discussions of death and the meaning of life have returned, led by Thomas Nagel, Samuel Scheffler, Shelly Kagan, Susan Wolf and others. As my colleague Jake Ross observes, the advances in our understanding because of careful formulation and critical evaluation of theories of goodness, rightness, justice and human flourishing by philosophers since 1970 compare well to the advances made by philosophers from Aristotle to 1970.
Soames mentions only theories of liberal individualism. They hold mention here rather than the critique of them coming from people like Virginia Held, Claudia Card, Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan. Work in social epistemology like Linda Martin Alcoff, critical theory in the works of Adorno, Foucault’s importance for both power and women’s studies, gender theorists like Judith Butler, Black feminism in the works of Patricia Hill-Collins—all of these examples stand completely outside mention precisely because the analytic tradition has all but ignored the reality of how power works, race functions, and how gendered normative theories have been in their construction—a point even I try to remedy in Scheler and phenomenology, too (a look to George Yancy’s work solves some of these issues). The analytic tradition and its cohorts look to and privilege science as the model for philosophizing. Such a model cannot thematize the firsthand dimensions of experience necessary to talk about race, power, and gender. Instead, the typical analytic way of proceeding is to (maybe?) prefigure the concept into a timeless problem to be solved.
Of course, I do not want to give the impression that I am anti-analytic. Far from it. My only point is to cut the legs out of an established philosopher giving praise before we honestly take stock of where we are. The need to philosophize will always be with us. It’s hubris, however, to think that one tradition has done enough work such that its progress in forty years looks to be so praiseworthy that it could replace eight centuries of actual history, a history that has not been inclusive of all until very recently. I just find that when an established philosopher wants to explain the advances of analytic normative theory without critical reflection on the possibilities of philosophy itself, it’s possible to hear someone screw up and say something ridiculous: “the advances in our understanding because of careful formulation and critical evaluation of theories of goodness, rightness, justice and human flourishing by philosophers since 1970 compare well to the advances made by philosophers from Aristotle to 1970.” This is not only lunacy; it advances an entire analytic interpretation of philosophy read through his particularly narrow analytic lens.
Now perhaps, you consider me maddening at this point. In short, there have never been as many philosophers on the planet as there are now. The fact that we can find philosophers who think just about anything and perhaps point to those that think like we do is a stronger reason to insist for more pluralism in philosophy departments to begin with. Such pluralism could have been the remedy to Soames’s unfortunate outburst. Had Mr. Soames read, perhaps, Iris Marion Young’s Justice and the Politics of Difference… It’s easily the most important book in political philosophy in the last twenty years and conceives of justice in more inclusive ways than what Nozick and Rawls have developed along distributive lines. I say this with a straight face since it’s grounded in the very type of social ontology I took issue with in libertarianism here. The liberal individualism refuted by feminist ethics of care and virtue ethics is what the world needs pragmatically. One need only look at our politics to make this case. With that said, any ethical theory not grounded in a realistic sociology and that under-theorizes community is not one that should ever see the light of day, let alone be praised, but is often the type of theory extolled in analytic ethics.
The only conclusion worth defending is: There’s still lots of work to be done before we start praising ourselves. Okay, rant over.