Back    All discussions

2009-01-30
What is Philosophy?
Isn't this the question all philosophers must ask at some point?

Sociologists study society, anthropologist study cultures, etc.
but what do philosophers study? Wisdom? Mind? 'Truth'?
Philosophical investigations vary. Plato's aims are not the same as
Wittgenstein's.
What is consistently an object of study for all philosophers? Does this
matter?

I have started this thread not to hear the same answers: ontology, metaphysics, language, ethics, etc.
rather I wish to provoke discussion about the characteristics, aims of philosophical thought that
have yet to be explicitly stated, if indeed they exist.

2009-01-30
What is Philosophy?
The very question creates an internal contradiction by excluding the tools of language. Ontology? Language? Just to select these, we would find ourselves circumscribed by their traditional "uses". You do provide an out, namely, the possibility that the question itself does not "matter". I would agree, here, that all the traditional academic "separations of power" are arbitrary, and suit the convenience of academia and the perquisites of specialization. My very brief answer to the question of what it is we might be studying here, would have to be that, as a philosopher of consequence one would have had to have entered a state of  being (state of mind) driven by the essence of curiosity. Rather than obeying the rules of logic, one would obey the rule of "nose", as in following one's internal metaphoric train of thought, through concatenations of free association. From the insights thereby derived (sorry, we are mixing "smell" with "vision", as in mixed metaphors) one would develop a coherent modality to communicate with our fellow humans. The perception would then be that we have provided a "philosophical" artifact for "consumption". This reply is being created in situ, ad lib, and from a state of being that is, shall we say (to maintain some internal consistency here) CURIOUS - and, I would add, rebellious.

2009-01-30
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Albert Krauss

AK,

"very question...internal contraditions"
So, hmmm, I asked eight questions above, to which do you refer? By your mentions of Ontology and Language I assume that you are refering to my last statement (which is not a question). 
   I stated that I did not wish to hear the same answers given to the question "What is Philosophy?" I "selected" them as examples solely to explicate my lack of satisfaction with the answers that have been given.

all the traditional academic "seperations of power" are arbitrary, and suit the convenience of academia and the perquisites of specialization.

I think we all might have a problem with specialization to some degree. Can you clarify what you mean when you say the seperations are "arbitrary" and that they suit the "convenience" of the academia? They can't be completly arbitrary and do they not serve other purposes? This is an interesting line of thought! 

RE: your answer
1.
--When you use the word "we" (as in "we might be studying here") to whom do you refer? Are you talking about all philosophers? The philosophers at your school, those in your room?

2.
Certainly not all philosophers would agree with your statement about logic, e.g.,

"Rather than obeying the rules of logic"

 "analytic" philosophers wouldn't agree with you here. In fact, they would say that your investigations are not philosophical.  So are you right or are the analytic philosophers right? Or, perhaps a better alternative, are you both wrong in your language of exclusion. If you used inclusive language, what do you share with the "analytic" philosopher? What makes you both philosophical?

3.
I think that your central point is a very good one but I am wondering what you mean by the "essence of curiosity" and  "coherent modality?"

Is curiosity a sine qua non of all philosophical thinking? And if so, what type of curiousity is philosophical? (certain forms of curiosity obviously are
not philosophical)..
thanks,
MF


2009-01-31
What is Philosophy?
I've put a mental place marker here for a considered response. The quote displaying your response  "above" does not show all the original text in your posted reply to me, so I've got to reconstruct this format, and find some time for this, as well.
Perhaps, meanwhile, you can report the "bug" here - I'll have to copy/paste text in order to deal with the snafu.


2009-01-31
What is Philosophy?
MF


Is curiosity a sine qua non of all philosophical thinking? And if so, what type of curiousity is philosophical? (certain forms of curiosity obviously are
not philosophical)..

My thinking says that belief in several kinds or genus' of curiosity imposes distinctions which detract from the legitimacy of attributing Curiosity such a central role. You seem to be creating a contradiction in your depiction of curiosity in that while designating it 'propulsive' qualities does seem plausible, creating distinctions between different kinds of curiosity seems futile, in that each type of curiosity could (believing this assumption) be asserted to give rise to the differing branches of philosophy (thus negating MF's original question). You would in effect be saying that that which is common to all branches of philosophy is actually duplicitous and dissimilar.

Is it possible to say that curiosity is a feature of all branches of philosophy, while at the same time depicting curiosity as being an 'umbrella concept', complete with distinct and identifiable types? I would have to say this is self defeating.

I am interested to hear your continuing thoughts,

RM    

2009-01-31
What is Philosophy?
To MF,

Well, speaking of Wittgenstein, we could borrow his take on "family resemblance" concepts. In this case, we reject that the disparate activities and subjects described by "philosophy" each have one trait in common with all the rest. Rather, each item that we call "philosophy" is related to other items through overlapping similarities; these items themselves share overlapping similarities with still other items, items which might have nothing in common with where we started.

I do sometimes think that's the best approach when considering all the different forms philosophy takes and can take.


However, to attempt a simpler unifying characterization nonetheless, I propose this: philosophy studies two things--(1) that which appears amenable to philosophical inquiry, and (2) the work of previous philosophers on those subjects. Sounds a bit circular, but bear with me.

What, then, is philosophical inquiry, and what subjects are amenable to it? I'm not sure I can give a distinct account of either, but I say there's clearly some difference between the philosophical approach and other forms of inquiry, such as scientific, historical, mathematical, artistic, what have you. Common characteristics of philosophical inquiry include reasoning from "common sense" premises or intuitions; use of thought experiments; in-depth examination of arguments (in particular, whether an argument is strong, what it requires to succeed, what it necessarily entails); reliance on the power of well reasoned arguments; establishing or questioning that which is general, universal, and/or necessary (or only seemingly general, universal, necessary); examination of foundations; clarification of nebulous concepts; and trying to understand subjects at a "deeper" level than everyday use might require.

Granted, this is not a exclusive list (mathematicians study the strength of arguments and that which is universal in a way, scientists employ thought experiments, I think every field approves of well-reasoned arguments). It is likely not comprehensive either. I do, however, hope it covers the prominent areas.

To continue, what do I mean by "amenable to philosophical inquiry"? I mean those subjects for which the philosophical approach yields fruitful results. Well, what's a fruitful result? Hard to say, and it will be a bit subjective. In my opinion, the "philosophical approach" did not yield very fruitful results when applied to the natural world, until modern "science" began to develop as a distinct subject. I also imagine it fairly useless for many specific questions, like, who was the murderer of so and so in a crime, how the cardiovascular system works in invertebrates, and how to build a house so that it won't fall down.

However, I do think philosophy has provided, if not fruitful results, fruitful discussion for the mind-body problem, ethical dilemmas, the nature of reason, etc. Part of what I'm calling "fruitfulness" may simply be the ability to continually discuss a subject in a (seemingly) sensible fashion, giving the appearance of progress and building upon previous work.


Lastly, to round it all off, philosophers study and write on other philosophers and the literature produced therein. This is the (2) part of my criteria above. I don't consider this as much part of "the philosophical approach" as I described it; rather, it's the general academic "humanities approach", but applied to the literature of philosophers. Something integral to being a philosopher, but not specifically a philosophic mode of inquiry.

2009-01-31
What is Philosophy?
Is this really a question we all must ask? Those of us (including myself) who focus on metaphilosophical questions need to think about that question, but I'm not sure why all philosophers need an answer to it. (I wouldn't feel too bad about a sociologist who couldn't define society, or an anthropologist who struggled with just what it is to be a person.)

What do scientists study?

Anyway, I think it's certainly a mistake to try to delimit the boundaries of philosophy by subject matter. Name me anything in the world, and I'll find you a real or hypothetical philosopher who, qua philosopher, studies it.

Jonathan Ichikawa

2009-01-31
What is Philosophy?
Thanks for starting such an interesting thread.   

If the "What is philosophy" is about what actually holds the set of practices together, might hunch is that it is less a set of subject matters (as has been pointed out), and more a lineage and specific history. On this view, answering "What is philosophy" boils down to an empirical, social historical question.  

I quite agree with the comment that one needn't define philosophy to do philosophy, but one place where struggling with the question is requisite is in an introductory level course -- i.e., when you're trying to explain to students the distinctiveness of philosophical content and methodology. For me this has a pragmatic, pedagogical payoff, as an entre into Plato's early dialogues and preoccupations with definition.  Of course  such an endeavor comes up short -- for interesting reasons -- of necessary and sufficient conditions.

I personally like to start with the etymology of the word, the "love of wisdom."  This makes philosophy the pursuit (not attainment) of some sort of unifying integrative understanding, animated by wonder, that gives us guidance in how to live well (= virtue). 

While consistent with the ancient sense of concept (see Pierre Hadot's work on this), this conception doesn't particularly fit our more specialized, disciplinary practices of today. 

To complement the etymological definition, I also add Simon Blackburn's very terse definition of "conceptual engineering," and Wilfred Sellars' "The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." (from his "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind." ).

My closing questions are: what place does the more ancient conception of philosophy have in our modern practice? Also: how is wonder different from curiosity? 
DH
 



2009-02-01
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Rory Mayberry
RM,
thanks for the response.
i do not understand what you mean by stating that a question can be negated. The negation of a question is simply
not a question. In other words, I don't understand how different manifestations of curiosity negates my
question, "What type of curiosity is philosophical?"  If this can't be determined than my question is meaningless, but
it doesn't negate the question.

I think you are correct in stating that any and all forms of the feeling of curiosity could be instrumental to the development of philosophical
thought (though I don't know how one might demonstrate this methodologically); however, it seems obvious that, at least on the surface,
certain forms of curiosity are more philosophical (if we define philosophy according to what RECOGNIZED philosphers have written or said). For example, if while walking down the street at night I hear a rumble in the bushes and I become afraid, is this a philosophical reflection? It is a form of curiosity because I would wonder what the rumble was but certainly it is not very philosophical, right? However, if I ask myself "Is a certain state-of-affairs more ethical than another state of affairs?" we seem to have a different type of question and a different form of curiosity--a form that seems to be more philosophical than my curiousity about the bushes. So what differentiates these two types
of reflection, these two types of curiosity?

Your last point is interesting. Though, I don't know what you mean by the term 'self-defeating,' could you clarify please?  What exactly is being defeated? In the Theatetus, Plato wrote that Socrates said "philosophy begins in wonder," but it is obvious, I think, that Socrates didn't mean wondering about what is rumbling in the bushes. Also, what is the relationship between wonder and curiosity in a philosophical sense, or are these two words expressing the same feeling?

I am interested in hearing YOUR continuing thoughts, :)
MF

2009-02-02
What is Philosophy?

I apologize for a belated response here, so I've taken the liberty of concatenating several posts into my expanded comments regarding the question "What is Philosophy?"

MF: "I asked eight questions above, to which do you refer?"

You asked one question, with a subset of amplifications. Yet by suggesting that a reply to the primary question somehow might follow the agenda of the subset, you inadvertently are creating the mental logical/mental/semantic (your choice) equivalent of a particle accelerator, wherein concepts are confined within the magnetic fields of a long circular tube. The circular construction of an accelerator is a fortuitous aspect of my simile :)

I link my perhaps awkward "simile" to your second response vis a vis "separations of power" and specialization:

MF "Can you clarify what you mean when you say the separations are 'arbitrary' and .. suit the 'convenience' of academia?"

Of course, the separations serve purposes - but "naming" follows etymological and cultural tradition. There is enormous momentum built into human institutions, whether they be ecclesiastical, political, linguistic. There is resistance, In the cliché,  to "re-inventing the wheel". And, of course (I am anticipating one possible response), the wheel is so efficacious one wouldn't re-invent it. One might simply levitate! Intimations here of the folly of words and naming when elevated to scriptural status.

MF:  RE: your answer

1. "When you use the word 'we' to whom to you refer"?

Yes, you do cause me some pause here. My automatic use of the conventionally referenced "editorial we" is challenged! Do I mean all participants in the process of human language and understanding, or do I mean (once again, the 'subset' issue) all persons who in some way define themselves as "philosophers" and, further, who participate in this forum. Briefly, I prefer the more inclusive sense of the "editorial we".

2. So are you right or are the analytic philosophers right?.   Or, perhaps a better alternative, are you both wrong in your language of exclusion?

Under the truncated conditions of this online dialog, I inadvertently provide the impression that I would exclude logic. ("Rather than obeying the rules of logic"). Creative insight first, and then afterwards, the hard work of testing internal consistency. Of course, ultimately, in all of the constructions generated here about the conditions under which we presume to be "philosophizing", there will be recourse to "logical analysis".

3. I am wondering what you mean by the "essence of curiosity" and  "coherent modality?"

If I were to have eliminated "essence of", I think that the naked term "curiosity" would have lacked that Platonic aura I attempted to provide. In my view, unmodified "curiosity" is part of investigative journalism, the explorations of a cat or child, etc. By adding "essence", I had  hoped to elicit "intimations" of a higher, or more primal, sort (yes, in some venues, primal and higher are opposite rather than apposite). After all, words do retain their evocative characteristics, even within the rigorous arctic of the discipline "we" are attempting to define. Perhaps a global warming effect here might have positive dimensions.

And so, to your final comment qua question:

 Is curiosity a sine qua non of all philosophical thinking? And if so, what type of curiousity is philosophical? (certain forms of curiosity obviously are not philosophical)..

I would agree with RM that creating distinctions between different kinds of curiosity seems futile.

But, RM adds the notion of curiosity as an "umbrella concept", which s/he suggests would be an unworkable unifying concept over all branches of philosophy. I agree, if "curiosity" is a concept. In my original post, I did use the expression "driven by" as the participial modifier for "essence of curiosity". In that sense, I am evoking a kind of psychological ground tone. There we have it for my own self-imposed conundrum regarding "curiosity". A person concerned with "philosophy" is not much different from a person concerned with string theory or perfecting a cinematic scene or seeking the Northwest Passage. 

further definitions as requested by MF:

coherent modality: "Modality" provides a more inclusive range of possibilities than "medium", which could be used as an adjunct concept following "coherent". And, in my way of thinking, "coherent" certainly includes "logical", but also could provide equal standing with the ways in which a poem can be coherent within its own metaphors, or images or disjunctures.

Nathan Holmes salvages a domain for the original question.  I would add that Wittgenstein in his later life, certainly traveled far from his original work within the parameters of logical positivism et al. And Mr. Holmes gives us a working model for academia.

Furthermore, Mr. Ichikawa adds (I paraphrase) . We may need to think about these questions, but we may not need answers. "Thinking about" allows a spacious realm within which to soar, while "answers to" would throw us into a sewing kit full of needles to be threaded.

I am resting my non-legal, illegal, and generically anarchistic case. I define my context as being akin to the world of English jurisprudence, not Roman or continental :)


2009-02-02
What is Philosophy?
MF

Agreed I should be clearer

I don't understand how different manifestations of curiosity negates my
question, "What type of curiosity is philosophical?"


My apologies I was saying this in reference to this thread's original question. Asserting that curiosity has differing, context specific meanings and applications, and yet at the same time saying curiosity is a quality inherent within each branch of philosophy is I suppose feasible, but in my opinion it isn't really a satisfying answer to the original question.

Maybe if we are to think 'What are the human (or literary) qualities that can NOT legitimately be characterized as relevant to the philosophically creative process (or product)', would be closer to progress? New questions then arise: What human qualities can we eliminate? Is it possible to avoid subjectivity when answering this? Is it possible to identify the possible role subjectivity has played in assessing these potential qualities? What basis is there for belief in the existence of these qualities (in a form suitable to this investigation), given their application will likely have to be suitably distorted so as to gain any measure of precision throughout its application to each branch of philosophy? As a first year undergraduate I honestly feel comfortable in saying I do not know the answers to these problems, but any continued thoughts are appreciated.

RM

2009-02-06
What is Philosophy?
When we ask ourselves about the nature of philosophy, I don't belive it will be fruitful to talk about internal feeling like curiosity. I believe we must attain to the practice under "philosophy" name. If we try to achieve something general within the philosophical practice, we would say that philosophy is an attempt to answer questions that can only be answered by argumentation. It is an attempt to explain or justify something using arguments.

2009-02-07
What is Philosophy?

To JI,
To answer your first question: Yes,  I think all philosophers should ask this question and here is why.

I sense that philosophers are misconstrued by non-philosophers, I don't know how you operate
within your academic setting but I play the role of an ethnographer, that is, I go about and ask scholars in
other disciplines what THEY think philosophy is or what philosophers do. Many of them depict philosophers as Aristophanes once
did--philosophers, they think, are people out of touch with practical concerns and unaware of important
historical events (or at least how events shape what one ought to study).
 Moreover, people in other disciplines (at least from what I have gleaned) define philosophy
as a personal worldview or perspective. We see this operationalization of the discipline in the vernacular when
people state, "That is just your philosophy" or "My philosophy is..."

Don't you think this is a problem? If philosophy is the 'love of wisdom' and philosophers have 'wisdom,' ought now
the philosopher share this wisdom with the non-philosophers in terms they both understand?

Your last statement is very interesting. By creating a distinction between the real and hypothetical aren't you
stating, at least implicitly, that you have an understanding of what philosophy is? Do you really want
me to name you anything in the world? OK, I name ''philosophy." So now if I reassert the name 'philosophy'
back into your claim, are you not saying: "Real" or "hypothetical" philosophers, in the capacity or character of
a philosopher, study philosophy. I don't understand but I look forward to hearing what you have to say.
thanks
mf


2009-02-08
What is Philosophy?
"Isn't this the question all philosophers must ask at some point?

Sociologists study society, anthropologist study cultures, etc.
but what do philosophers study? Wisdom? Mind? 'Truth'?
Philosophical investigations vary. Plato's aims are not the same as
Wittgenstein's. 
What is consistently an object of study for all philosophers? Does this
matter?"

I think the way the original question is stated, or rather what is stated immediately after the question, is a bit faulty and misleading.  You start off asking the general question "What is philosophy?" then focus on the objects of study.  However, I don't think there's good reason to think that philosophy is distinguishable by its subject matter.  It seems to me to be distinguishable by its methodologies rather than its subject matter.  This general type of distinction is not unique to philosophy.  Even the sciences are distinguished from other ways of allegedly knowing about the physical world not in virtue of having different subject matters but by their methodologies.  So, too, it seems that philosophy is distinguishable by its methodologies, perhaps most notably conceptual/linguistic analysis, rather than its subject matter.

2009-02-09
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Kevin Savage
K
hi, i see your point. However, I don't think these questions are misleading. My intent was to provoke discussion and not necessarily to find an answer.
 If a lawyer asks a witness a question in order to LEAD her to say something the lawyer wants the witness to say, then
that is a misleading question. I don't think all philosophical questions are NECESSARILY formed with such intentions.

For instance, these questions may seem misleading but if I didn't ask this question YOU wouldn't have responded and I wouldn't have gained insight
from your words. For example, i think you are the first to mention methodology rather than subject matter
I think that is incredibly insightful...I think philosophers think, a bit mistakenly, that philosophy must be arguments
rather that conversations...I ask this question with sincerity and if it provokes you to think then the question
is good for everyone...does that make sense??

And now, since you have mentioned methodologies my question is this:

If philosophers use conceptual/linguistic analysis for their investigations, why don't they use other
methods found in the human sciences???  I think part of the answer is this strange notion
that philosophy must be seperate from practical affairs or empirical data (this started, I think, with
Aristotle's hieracrchy of knowledge placing sophia at the top). Some philosophers are
methodologically plural but some are not....why???

thanks
mf

2009-02-09
What is Philosophy?
"If a lawyer asks a witness a question in order to LEAD her to say something the lawyer wants the witness to say, then
that is a misleading question. I don't think all philosophical questions are NECESSARILY formed with such intentions. "

I don't want to debate this small point on and on, but it does seem to me that from what you originally say that you are implying that the answer to your original question must be couched in talk of some particular subject matter.  That can, I think, mislead people into thinking that that is the type of answer that should be given.


Honestly, I'm not sure what the bit about philosophical questions being formed with intentions to lead has to do with anything I said.


" ask this question with sincerity and if it provokes you to think then the question
is good for everyone...does that make sense??"

I don't think there's anything wrong with asking what philosophy is.  It's a perfectly legitimate question to ask, and though I've suggested the beginning of an answer, I don't think anyone has to this point provided a fully specified answer to the question.  My only issue is with the implication made that the answer must be of the form 'Philosophy is the study of...'.




As to your last set of questions, I could just give you a pat answer and say that philosophers use the methodology they do because that is what it is to do philosophy rather than, say, psychology.  You might as well ask a scientist why he uses the scientific method rather than some other method.  


Of course, there are some who think that philosophers, such as those in the experimental philosophy movement, should rely on more empirical data but it's unclear to me whether what they're doing is philosophy.  It may be that the few works I've seen from experimental philosophers are atypical, but in the ones I've seen they seem to be doing rudimentary psychology.  Again, I'm no expert on them, so if someone who knows more about them would like to add something, please do. 


But, I do not think many, if any, philosophers completely ignore empirical data.  A great many philosophers, if not most, are physicalists, and because they are aware of how successful science has been at explaining phenomena.  And, who could forget the widely held view that there are a posteriori necessities such as Water = H2O?  Clearly, empirical data is far from ignored in philosophy.


As for philosophy not being concerned with practical affairs,  I'm not so sure.  I suppose that on some understanding of 'practical affairs' that's true.  However, philosophy does concern itself with many things have practical implications.  In fact, without guys like Aristotle and Frege we wouldn't be communicating via the devices we are communicating because they worked out the logic necessary for computers to function and for reasons obviously not related to premonitions about computers.  


So, maybe you want to ask why philosophers don't start out their inquiries thinking about things that are practical.  But, I'm not sure that they don't at least some times.  At the very least, applied and normative ethicists are concerned with practical issues at the outset.


From what you've written above, you seem to be thinking that I'm being combative, but that was not my intention and I apologize if I replied in such a way that made you think so.  Perhaps my time in graduate school has made me thick-skinned when engaged in such exchanges.


KS



2009-05-01
What is Philosophy?
Thanks for the all-important, all-relevant, all-significant, all-meaningful question necessarily--but VERY RARELY--admitted as such by those professing to be "philosophers". That sounds almost obscenely obtuse, but there is a rationale...

As one who has practiced philosophy more than teaching what others have practiced, I am able to comment from a slightly different perspective. I recall consistently reading the 'majors' and noting their unflagging concern for "methodology". They are correct, so correct as to have touched a true chord of essential wisdom as pertains to what we all take to be our bailiwick. I note it because I have found it essential to my own work. I developed most of the methodologies that I in turn have employed to advantage, and accordingly like to suppose I know whereof I speak. I know there will be some who take exception to this remark, as suggesting that not everyone with a Ph.D. in philosophy just might not be a "philosopher". It just happens to be my belief and I am only being honest and truthful as far as I can comprehend the value and meaniong of those words--honesty and truth, that is.

Here is how I have defined philosophy in an article posted at SSRN, "Fundamentals of Methodology, Pt I, Definitions and First Principles"--

Philosophy consists in learning the background realities that account for what we can know, or think we can know, chiefly by developing and applying methodologies by which to better ask the right questions and seek the simpler threads within and among complexities that are not otherwise readily accessible to the unaided mind (at p. 2).

I leave this as a seed for further discussion and look forward to the many interesting opinions to be expected.



2009-11-19
What is Philosophy?
Problem with above stated metaphilosophical question about philosophy, is that we should immediately ask about nature of metaphilosophy itself. After about one hundred similar steps it becomes clear why it could be problematic. If philosophy is striving for wisdom so are questions about philosophy. But what is that we call wisdom if enyone still feel bounded with meaning that stands behind this word? Philosophy is metodicaly striped of its fields of work, but in that place philosophy ask questions about concerns which it was striped of. There is spirit of recurrency and selfinductance  in philosophy. As far as I'm concerned, asking "What is Philsophy?" is the best self-explanation what philosophy is. 

2009-12-22
What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is homonymous and therefore it is incapable of definition. To suppose that there 'is consistently an object of study for all philosophers' is kind of naive. 'Philosophy' does not have a cross-cultural and cross-historical meaning. From time to time, in some cultural contexts, there emerges an agreement concerning what philosophy is, but no such agreement eternalises. There are no universal, atemporal, culture-neutral normative standards for what philosophy must be. Briefly stated, there is no Philosophy, there are only philosophies, and any resemblance between them is contingent.

I think that, in many cases, in the Western World, philosophy has been pre-science or para-science. The domain of philosophy has been constantly reconfigured by the progress of science. Science took over many research subjects and questions that belonged earlier to philosophy. I think that the question 'What is philosophy' is not in the domain of philosophy anymore, but that it falls into the province of social sciences. Metaphilosophy is ready to be 'naturalised' :).

2009-12-22
What is Philosophy?
This is a well-articulated statement--one with which i tend to agree. However, the idea that philosophy is incapable to be defined seems
to define something, yes? Are are there not consistent agreements of the topic of philosophy throughout history? Is there any sort of gradation whatsoever? If philosohy is not a recipe for apple pie, then it seems that some other definition is more closely alligned with a philosophical mindset. How such gradations have been conceived are have been contested, and yes there is no atemporal culturally neutral "views from nowhere;" however, I am unclear as to what you mean by stating a) philosophy exists in the domain of social sciences, and b) metaphilosophy is ready to be naturalized. What are we to make of the normative assumptions of the social sciences (rf. Adorno) and what exactly does it mean for speculation to be naturalized--this latter claim seems to be on shaky grounds. Tell me what do you mean by "nature" in the way you are employing it?
thanks,
curiously,
mf 

2009-12-23
What is Philosophy?
Hi, glad you tend to agree.

Now the idea that philosophy is incapable to be defined does not define anything, because the definiens would be negative. I think that there is no normative approach to the nature of philosophy. What makes a text or a thinking or a problem, or an answer philosophical? There is no "knowing that" involved in answering these questions. There is only a "knowing how". I mean that experienced readers acquire the ability to tell whether something is philosophical or not, whether it is 'good philosophy' or not. But knowing how is not reducible to knowing that, so it will never be possible to formulate criteria for recognizing good philosophy. Hence, it is not possible to formulate any methodological norms for philosophy. It is partially for this reason that one can not be taught to be a good philosopher, but can only be trained to be so.

Next, I said that metaphilosophical questions are better answered by social science, and that in this sense metaphilosophy is ready to be 'naturalised' (and I used quotation marks). By that I understand only that metaphilosophy is reducible to social science (I had in mind mostly sociology, but also interdisciplinary social science taken largely). I think that philosophy will never be entirely naturalised. Although there are good prospects for naturalising epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, metaphilosophy (as I suggest), I think that there are quite a few of meanigful, important questions, the answer of which is not available to science (not science at its present stage, but science generally). Of course, in saying that I abandon my general view about there not being any normative standard for philosophy, and assume that philosophy (or some important part of it) is epistemologically different from science.

2009-12-23
What is Philosophy?
My two cents:

Philosophy is the discipline that asks and tries to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe and the human condition, questions that typically are so far not much accessible to the scientific method.

Questions like what is time? How should we live? Can we know anything about the universe? What would knowledge be if we had it? Are there abstract objects?
Does God exist? Is there an objective difference between right and wrong? Are identically similar material things necessarily numerically identical?
What is the relation between the statue and a piece of bronze of which it is composed? Is persistence through change possible? and so on.

So there is no sharp borderline between philosophy and science, except to the extent that philosophy addresses questions about morality, widely construed. Questions that are not  accessible to the scientific method can become accessible, and accessibility is a matter of degree.
Today’s philosophy can become tomorrow’s science and often there is a period when philosophers and scientists work together on the same issues. For example something like that is happening now in psychology.

It seems to me that Russell struck the right note when he wrote: philosophy is science before we have a good reason to believe it. A great deal of fruitful theoretical thinking can be done before the scientific method, which is largely empirical, comes into play, and there are plenty of questions (for instance, what are numbers?) where it cannot come into play but we can make theoretical progress anyway.

2010-12-02
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Jim Stone

Just a quote from an interview with a contemporary French author that might be of interest to this thread:

'Philosophy sets out to resolve intellectual problems. But in life there are never intellectual problems - problems that only concern the mind. In life there are only existential problems that affect the whole person - body, mind and soul.'

He writes of a typical philosophy seminar*:  'There’s a big table in a big room. A number of dead people are invited to sit at it. They’re asked to speak. So you spend two days with the dead – philosophers, sociologists, psychologists - it's all the same. What makes it dead is the continual reliance on general ideas, on ideas where no light ever shines, on a meal without food...'

(Apologies for the clumsiness of the translation.)

* He spent some years studying philosophy.

DA

2010-12-06
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Derek Allan
Good said! I would only add: save philosophy from "philosophers"! Dead philosophers, dead sociologists, dead ideas, dead "philosophy" which never answers a single question troubling the human mind!

2010-12-09
What is Philosophy?
The quote is very brief I realize and I have not given the context but I think the author is making the point that philosophy is an attempt to understand human experience via concepts alone. It assumes this can be done. But can it? He says 'But in life there are never intellectual problems - problems that only concern the mind. In life there are only existential problems that affect the whole person - body, mind and soul.' He is a writer of fiction and I think he's suggesting that the only real way of achieving something approximating a grasp on life is through art. I would agree. Not that I think philosophy is pointless, but I do notice that it seldom asks itself what exactly its point is. I get the impresion that for most philosophers at the moment it is a kind of dutiful handmaiden to science. Which is perhaps why so much of it is so dry and tedious - and irrelevant to what this author calls life. DA PS I had some paragraph breaks in this but they keep disappearing.

2010-12-11
What is Philosophy?
Reply to Derek Allan
This is what I wrote in one of my articles about what Philosophy is: "Philosophy t is aimed at the cognition of sense, abstracting from particular phenomena [in order to help the human being to assess his place and role in the world - A.H.]. One most important characteristic feature of Philosophy is that it seems to resume the culture of one era or another. As a cultural phenomenon, Philosophy is a streaming and developing unity of ideas in which the best ideas of any particular era are concentrated. At all times, the first and foremost requirement put forth to Philosophy has been its scientific character, so as to say every philosophical system, every theory must be strong, self-sufficient from the scientific point of view, there must not be a place for ambiguity in it, it shall be scientifically grounded. Philosophical systems differ, often they contradict each other, and many philosophical systems were built as a refutation of one or another philosopher’s doctrine. All the same, every philosophical theory, creating a scientifically grounded image of the unity of the world, pretends to be the only possible Philosophy." So I think Philosophy is, let me say, some kind of scientific art which is, at the same time, more than science and more than art.

A.H.

2011-08-23
What is Philosophy?
I hope it's ok if I throw out there what my understanding of philosophy is.
Plato asked some questions and gave few answers. We keep answering those questions, a few more were added along time, and philosophy is the search for the correct way to answer these questions in each time-period's manner of understanding and capacity to express subtleties in these answers. 

Why we cannot fully understand philosophers of a different time period, and we have interpretations and debates on their accuracy, it's because we cannot think like someone of that period. To us, whatever answers Leibniz gave to metaphysical questions is entirely useless, cause we don't get it - neither linguistically nor conceptually. So we labor at answering them again in a new way, according  to current time epistemic values. 

And trying to make sense of the Greeks, when Ancient Greek is impossible for us to conceptualize. We think it means something very complex, we try and unite and braid all these words which the Greek word has now become. We get this nice ball of knots and fail to see that the concept is in fact far more simple than ours are. The reason their words mean so many things. excruciatingly hard to link, is because they had fewer words! They didn't have as many distinctions as we do. There is no way that we could ever understand their words with our complicated minds.

So, of course, we have to answer those questions again, in a way that can be understood and accepted by our times as the appropriate explanations.  

2011-08-23
What is Philosophy?
Corrections: I didn't mean to say that Leibniz is useless in terms of the worth of reading and studying what he left us, but only in terms of how satisfactory his answers are to the modern day mind. We struggle to understand him in our own terms and it is well worth it, since our outlook has many things in common with the outlook of Leibniz's time, and we can also trace back some of our ideas as being first expressed by him. What I meant by (so crudely) calling his work "useless, cause we don't get it" is that we cannot hope to consider the questions philosophy collected along time answered by his work, since the notions he uses are not entirely comprehensible to the modern mind.
Please, excuse the harshness of that statement, which badly conveys my thought.

I do however stand by the statement that we have no hopes to understand Ancient Greek words, due to their simplicity. This is not to say that they are not worth reading, however clumsily their texts must be reproduced in comparison to its original meaning. This is the best we have and philosophy does draw from its history different ideas which are calibrated to current understanding.

I suppose philosophy is a set of activities, mostly resulting in some kind of recorded material, by which those working in the field aim to give satisfactory accounts of the foundations of knowledge, and of the foundations of the different areas in which knowledge has developed, how and why knowledge is how it is, what justifications it has, etc. Some areas call for normative searches (which are the correct rules to follow?), while others for descriptive, etc.

Please don't think this is a linguistic approach, because it is certainly not only language which causes our disagreements with older answers, but the entire way in which our minds have formed according to the circumstances which affected its development. Maybe it would be better understood as differences in our languages of thought, rather than just language.