Philosophy as Engineering
In another interesting conversation with a colleague, philosophy was likened to engineering. He said something along the lines of, "In philosophy, as in engineering, we focus on a specific problem in light of a certain array of tools, or methods, to go about solving the problem." So when a philosopher approaches a problem like "what makes a mental state conscious"? he does not begin in isolation. He examines the array of higher order and same order theories, how they have been developed and critiqued, where trends have emerged, where features have been deemed trivial. Similarly, an engineer designing a new bridge does not need to go out and discover the load-bearing properties of concrete. Both already work within a specific domain of tools and methods that have been devised by others to work on the problem. Both may find these tools and methods inadequate, just as they may find previous constructions inadequate. Nothing rules out the possibility of devising radically new tools and methods, or radically new constructions. And yet, both will construct their solution to a problem knowing that better tools and methods will gradually evolve that allow for newer, more stable constructions. The hope is that one's own temporally bounded technique and construction might be deemed a contribution rather than a misstep, or even worse, a perversion.