Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Why Study Philosophy? – A Not Stupid Answer

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Hangers-on at the edge of academic philosophy often challenge the lack of respect for their purported discipline in a way that undermines both the respect they want to encourage and the employment prospects that they presumably hope to enhance. Here however is something much better(though I suppose some metaphysicists might not be so keen on it).

Metaphysics is an illusion that besets philosophers and philosophically-minded scientists from generation to generation, which it is the task of good philosophy to dispel. But although periodic fumigation is recurrently necessary for intellectual health, what else is there for philosophy to do? What can it achieve? In the sense in which the sciences have a subject matter, it seems, philosophy has none. In the sense in which the sciences construct theories that are confirmed or infirmed by experiment or observation, there are obviously no theories in philosophy. In the sense in which the sciences make discoveries about the world around us, philosophy clearly does not. So what is its task?

We must challenge the thought that philosophy aims to contribute to human knowledge of the world. Its task is to resolve philosophical problems. The characteristic feature of philosophical problems is their non-empirical, a priori character: no scientific experiment can settle the question of whether the mind is the brain, what the meaning of a word is, whether human beings are responsible for their deeds (i.e. have free will), whether trees falling on uninhabited desert islands make any noise, what makes necessary truths necessary. All these, and many hundreds more, are conceptual questions. They are not questions about concepts (philosophy is not a science of concepts). But they are questions that are to be answered, resolved or dissolved by careful scrutiny of the concepts involved.

Here “scrutiny of the concepts” is intended a bit more strongly than just “clarification of the language” but does not stray into the territory of claiming to establish what concepts really do mean as if that were something more than just what we are meaning when we think of them.

But I do have some quibbles.

For one thing I would have preferred to see some mention of the value of just addressing questions without necessarily expecting to ever fully “resolve” them (either by answer or dissolution).

And concerning the philosophy of science he says

At a more specialised level, philosophy is a technique for examining the results of specific sciences for their conceptual coherence, and for examining the explanatory methods of the different sciences – natural, social and human. The sciences are no more immune to conceptual confusion than is any other branch of human thought. Scientists themselves are for the most part ill-equipped to deal with conceptual confusions.

Though I might balk at the “any” in the second to last sentence (since there are some branches of “human thought” which are so conceptually confused as to be embarrassing to anyone associated with them), my only real concern is with the last, where “for the most part” is, I suspect, an extrapolation from a very biased exposure to actual scientists (in particular dominated by those who are keen on talking to people outside their own discipline). It is not so much the apparent insult to scientists that concerns me though, but rather the presumption by omission that philosophers are better-equipped.

Indeed, the claimed uniqueness of philosophy occurs more explicitly elsewhere as well.

At a very general level, it is a unique technique for tackling conceptual questions that occur to most thinking people

Actually it includes a collection of techniques and strategies that can be called “unique” only if you define philosophy to comprise all thought about “conceptual” questions regardless of whether it has occurred in the mind of someone publicly identified as a “philosopher”. Which is fine, but perhaps changes the interpretation of “study Philosophy” from what was intended.

Hacker’s last three paragraphs are great and point to the real practical utility of training in the subject – which is more to provide facilitators who may help us understand one another than to send arbitrators to tell us who is right.

But in the end, isn’t the best reason for doing anything just “because we enjoy it”?

via Institute of Art and Ideas:IAI TV.

Philosophy News | The Gettier Problem: A Study

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Philosophy News | The Gettier Problem: A Study.

I haven’t read this yet, but my take on “Gettier” problems is that they break on the issue of “justified” rather than “belief”. (And further that the break is so obvious that the seriousness with which they are discussed undermines my respect for the discipline of academic philosophy.) Basically, that the justification required to qualify a belief as knowledge is a lot stronger than that required to protect the believer from censure as intellectually irresponsible. Will read further and maybe comment more later. (more…)

Philosophy News | My Philosopher Can Beat Up Your Computer Scientist

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Philosophy News | My Philosopher Can Beat Up Your Computer Scientist.

Philosophy’s perceived market disrespect (inferiority complex ?) is a reaction to the fact that there is no philosophy credential which predicts any useful skill any more effectively than any other arts degree. This is not to deny that a degree in philosophy may be correlated with a slightly above average skill level in literacy and basic reasoning, but I doubt that correlation is any stronger than for any other subject.  And more importantly, the absence of explicit training in philosophy not a negative indicator.  What a CS or Nursing degree has over one in philosophy is that it certifies a required minimum level of knowledge for certain kinds of employment (and if that minimum includes some exposure to the liberal arts then it should of course be included). The difference between philosophy and subjects like literature, art history, or pure mathematics seems to be mostly in the frequency of posts like this which take the legitimate value of a broad education as endorsement of philosophy in particular as some kind of technology for solving problems – for which I have seen no serious evidence and for which I am disappointed to see philosophers feeling a need.

The Uses of Philosophy

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

A bit of a coincidence today as John S Wilkins returns to the theme of scientists’ disrespect for philosophy at the same time as Chris Hallquist announces that philosophy is dysfunctional.

I suspect that the root of the problem is in the apparent claims of some philosophers to be finding “truth” – which is hard to credit when they consistently fail to find common ground on just about anything.

The value of reading and doing philosophy to me is not in the “answers” but in (some of) the questions and, to a lesser extent, some of  the arguments. These may not actually solve anything for me but, like poetry or literature they may colour the attitude with which I approach real problems.




Christopher Norris Defends Philosophy

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Christopher Norris has written an article in Philosophy Now defending the Philosophy of Science from allegations of its irrelevance by scientists (most recently Stephen Hawking for example).  Norris alleges the existence of “scientists’ need to philosophize and their proneness to philosophize badly or commit certain avoidable errors if they don’t take at least some passing interest in what philosophers have to say“, and he asserts that modern theorists  “appear unworried – blithely unfazed, one is tempted to say – by the fact that their theories are incapable of proof or confirmation, or indeed of falsification…”  and further that “scientific theories – especially theories of the ultra-speculative kind that preoccupy theoretical physicists like Hawking – involve a great deal of covert philosophising which may or may not turn out to promote the interests of knowledge and truth“. All of these claims might be considered plausible on the basis of attempts to “explain” quantum physics (and beyond) in popular literature, where analogies (which often really are used by physicists, but just to help guide their intuition) are often all that is provided.   It is true that some of these accounts can be faulted for not admitting that that is what they are doing, and perhaps that needs pointing out. But Norris seems to be doing the opposite by confusing the intuition-guiding analogies with the theories themselves.