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Thread: Why philosophize?

  1. #1
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    Why philosophize?

    Philosophy takes it on the chin on this forum quite a bit, it seems to me. I may have even been guilty of "philosophy bashing" on here, but I hope all I've done is point to the differences between it and doing science. But I think we sell philosophy short when we focus only on its inability to generate consensus, rather than on its great ability to identify potential angles of attack on various fundamental questions. There is a well-reasoned plea for appreciating the value of philosophy found at http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:...nk&cd=12&gl=us, which includes a deductive argument by Aristotle himself:

    If you should philosophize, then you should philosophize.
    If you should not philosophise, then you should philosophize.
    Therefore, in any case, you should philosophize.
    Consider this argument carefully, for there is significant wisdom in it. I believe I spot a technical flaw (based on the difference between choosing a belief for oneself and trying to convince others of its validity), but the basic claim here, that philosophy is basically unavoidable in any form of intellectual inquiry (on the grounds that to conclude otherwise itself requires philosophy of some kind), is hard to refute. Yet, there is a widespread view that science does all the hard and valuable work, which then affords philosophers with the luxury of sitting around arguing about its ramifications. But in light of Aristotle's fundamental thesis, have we been too hard on the role that philosophy has played in informing our own interpretations of science? Would science be something less were there no tools of philosophical analysis to apply to it?

    One point to consider is, when you look at any definition of physics, where did the words that definition uses come from, if they are capable of defining physics? Should we not philosophize, and if we do not, how can we describe the other things we are doing?

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    Okay, I have a really good friend who lurks here who is in a Ph.D program in Philosophy. (He's writing his Master's thesis at the moment) He may even be registered already. I ask him different problems, including some that come up here in a mild attempt to stump him and he floors me everytime with his replies.
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    Ken,
    remember when I asked about that old book on different races with less than 5000 members written in the early fifties? I had to ask him about all the hostility I drew from that one by the resident anthropoligists and as usual, without even blinking he layed out the whole issue to my satisfaction.

    Not bad for a no warning, surprise question. Boiled down to anthropology being a social science trying hard to be a "hard" science. And the difficulties of defining race when there is more variation within a race than there is between races.

    (I even tried to stump him with a totally left field question on how come I'm obsessed with Wanda from the Fairly Oddparents and his immediate come back was, "Would it have anything to do with the fact you were married to a bossy midget for seven years?" Yep, he is way too sharp. Might cut himself one day)
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

    "Hey buddy! My eyes are up here!" - Medusa

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    Well if people with more philosophical inclinations tend to lurk, rather than post, on the grounds that they are afraid of applying philosophical tools in the presence of more empirically minded readers, then all the more reason for us all to learn some philosophy so there can be less lurking of that nature! For example, I would point out that empiricism is itself a school of thought in pure philosophy.

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    but the basic claim here, that philosophy is basically unavoidable in any form of intellectual inquiry (on the grounds that to conclude otherwise itself requires philosophy of some kind), is hard to refute.

    QFT.

    Someone once told me that everyone is a philosopher, even if they don't know it. For instance, if you say that your computer exists because you can see it, touch it, weigh it, take it apart, ask others about its characteristics, etc., that's an epistemological statement. If you say that only mass-energy exists from the atomic level to the galactic, that's an ontological statement.

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    As Quine used to say, "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Platts View Post
    As Quine used to say, "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough!"
    No doubt tongue in cheek, but if meant to be taken seriously: who wants to point out the flaw in Quine's position? (Hint: Aristotle has told us what it is).

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    A question, when does a person actually become a "physicist"? At the Master's level? Bachelor's? Or is it what you do regardless of diploma?

    I bring this up because I tease my friend about being the only philosopher I know personally and he says he isn't one. But if you are on the cusp of getting your Master's, on the way to your Ph.D what the hell else are you?
    Time wasted having fun is not time wasted - Lennon
    (John, not the other one.)

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    BigDon
    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    Someone once told me that everyone is a philosopher, even if they don't know it. For instance, if you say that your computer exists because you can see it, touch it, weigh it, take it apart, ask others about its characteristics, etc., that's an epistemological statement. If you say that only mass-energy exists from the atomic level to the galactic, that's an ontological statement.
    Everyone's a comic

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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    A question, when does a person actually become a "physicist"? At the Master's level? Bachelor's? Or is it what you do regardless of diploma?
    It's pretty hard to say-- perhaps one is not "something" until one obtains gainful employment doing it! That certainly rules out a lot of philosophers-- your friend is probably just hedging his bets...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    No doubt tongue in cheek, but if meant to be taken seriously: who wants to point out the flaw in Quine's position? (Hint: Aristotle has told us what it is).
    HAHA! "If you should not philosophise, then you should philosophize."

    If ~P ---> P

    Isn't that a logical contradiction?

    Kind of reminds me of Al Ghazali.

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    A question, when does a person actually become a "physicist"? At the Master's level? Bachelor's? Or is it what you do regardless of diploma?

    One could ask the same thing of astronomers; when does an amateur become a professional? For my part, I think it's definitely the actions and inquiry that count, just as I don't define a writer as only someone who has published something. But, practice counts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    It's pretty hard to say-- perhaps one is not "something" until one obtains gainful employment doing it! That certainly rules out a lot of philosophers-- your friend is probably just hedging his bets...
    Whaddaya mean? That there's no such thing as an amateur physicist?

    Don't forget that I did draw a paycheck from a physics department for one semester!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Platts View Post
    HAHA! "If you should not philosophise, then you should philosophize."

    If ~P ---> P

    Isn't that a logical contradiction?
    You didn't read the rest of the article, did you? The point is, the issue of whether or not you should philosophize is a question that simply does not submit to standard logic. The problem is, any logical conclusion that you should not philosophize requires philosophizing to reach. What other mode of inquiry can establish that? That is Aristotle's point. The argument that contains a fallacy is actually Quine's, because he states that no philosophy other than the philosophy of science is worth doing. Now, the question is, how did he manage to establish that claim using only the philosophy of science? It is a self-defeating position, whereas Aristotle's is self-affirming.

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    maybe philosophy has too many shades of grey for some people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Platts View Post
    Whaddaya mean? That there's no such thing as an amateur physicist?
    The question is not if there is an amateur physicist, the question is whether an amateur physicist counts as a physicist. I'm not saying there is one correct answer to that question, merely establishing what is generally considered the norm. Also, I'm not saying that everything amateur physicists say is of no value, but it is certainly true that amateur physicists come up with a lot more in the way of half-baked and unfounded theories than the professionals do, for whatever reason.

    Don't forget that I did draw a paycheck from a physics department for one semester!
    If you drew it to do physics, then you were a physicist-- for one semester! But note a great physics theory could certainly conceivably come from someone who is not a physicist by that definition. Like Einstein!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frog march View Post
    maybe philosophy has too many shades of grey for some people.
    Yes, I think that was very much the perspective of the article-- and it used that to point out how philosophy is actually one of the view educational venues that actually values an appreciation of greys. Now, is there anything going on in the world today that requires a comfort level with that which is grey?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Now, is there anything going on in the world today that requires a comfort level with that which is grey?
    Pretty much everything?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    It's pretty hard to say-- perhaps one is not "something" until one obtains gainful employment doing it!
    Wouldn't that rule out Socrates?

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    Quote Originally Posted by hhEb09'1 View Post
    Wouldn't that rule out Socrates?
    Can you tell me how Socrates achieved his income? Anyway, the definition I suggested was not intended to be for all cultures, all pursuits, and all eras, like some fundamental truth. Did you think that was the charge presented in BigDon's question? Also, do you think this is a more pressing matter to address in the thread, than is the OP?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Can you tell me how Socrates achieved his income?
    This wiki article says " In The Clouds Aristophanes portrays Socrates as accepting payment for teaching and running a sophist school with Chaerephon, while in Plato's Apology and Symposium and in Xenophon's accounts, Socrates explicitly denies accepting payment for teaching. More specifically, in the Apology Socrates cites his poverty as proof he is not a teacher. According to Timon of Phlius and later sources, Socrates took over the profession of stonemasonry from his father."

    Anyway, the definition I suggested was not intended to be for all cultures, all pursuits, and all eras, like some fundamental truth. Did you think that was the charge presented in BigDon's question? Also, do you think this is a more pressing matter to address in the thread, than is the OP?
    More pressing? About as pressing, which means not much. I've never tried to run off the philosophers.

    As you said, "that philosophy is basically unavoidable in any form of intellectual inquiry, is hard to refute". In other words, we are all guilty of philosophy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hhEb09'1 View Post
    In other words, we are all guilty of philosophy.
    But why is there "guilt" to be associated with philosophy? It seems quite the current fad, but is philosophy-bashing really a constructive endeavor for human intellect? Is philosophy, in its insistence on asking the impossible questions and immersing itself in the grey areas, really holding us back because it fails to achieve consensus, or is it rather the opposite view that consensus is everything that is holding us back? If we cannot reach consensus that philosophy is valuable, does that deny its value? No doubt there is a school of philosophy that identifies all value with the achievement of consensus, and if there isn't, there is now-- all we need is a catchy "ism" for it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    But why is there "guilt" to be associated with philosophy?
    Same reason there's guilt associated with physicists. A lack of humor.

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    I don't think that philosophy exists in a vacuum, people always needed their senses, their eyes and ears etc, to give their thoughts meaning, to even have those thoughts, and science is just an extension of those senses; and sensory information without a level of interpretation, ie philosophy, is pretty useless. There isn't really even logic, without a philosophical interpretation. You couldn't even have a game of chess without agreeing some sort of rules, and who sets the rules, who even remembers the rules?

    If that isn't just a bit of a ramble....

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    Quote Originally Posted by hhEb09'1 View Post
    Same reason there's guilt associated with physicists. A lack of humor.
    Well, I have no lack of humor, but I thought this was a science forum, not a joke forum. I'm sure those are a laugh a minute, but we can aspire to something different here. Obviously I know your use of the word "guilt" was facetious, my point is that it is very definitely the pervasive view that has appeared in many threads that philosophy has nothing to add to scientific discovery. I personally feel that is a view that needs reassessment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Well, I have no lack of humor, but I thought this was a science forum, not a joke forum. I'm sure those are a laugh a minute, but we can aspire to something different here. Obviously I know your use of the word "guilt" was facetious, my point is that it is very definitely the pervasive view that has appeared in many threads that philosophy has nothing to add to scientific discovery. I personally feel that is a view that needs reassessment.
    Well this is a science forum, and you've made your view of science well known. How does philosophy fit into your definition of science, then?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Originally Posted by Warren Platts
    As Quine used to say, "Philosophy of science is philosophy enough!"
    No doubt tongue in cheek, but if meant to be taken seriously: who wants to point out the flaw in Quine's position? (Hint: Aristotle has told us what it is).
    The quote was a response to the identity crisis that philosophy faced in the last half of the twentieth century. Rather than building a ship from scratch out in the middle of the ocean, philosophy took itself apart. It is rumored that the late Richard Rorty even switched departments from philosophy to English, but that may be a philosophical urban legend. The main point was that philosophy came to see itself as superfluous. I've had professors wonder out loud what they were really doing--they felt like they were discussing history; philosophy itself had come to an end.

    The pure philosophers either retired, transferred, or taught continental philosophy. So what else was there? Well, Quine said there's still science, and thus there's still the philosophy of science. The "danger" of course is that the distinction between philosophers and scientists gets blurred. Thus you have philosophers writing science books and articles and scientists writing philosophical treatises. Nothing wrong with that in my book, except for the fact that this narrative leaves out one very important strand: namely, Ethics. The one recalcitrant activity that can't be pawned off on the sciences is ethics, though some philosophers of evolutionary biology did try hard! But then, even ethics does not take place in a vacuum. Ethics is embedded in the world of atoms and molecules, and it would be foolish to not take the facts into consideration when doing ethics. Yet we must not at the same time commit the naturalistic fallacy and assume that moral right and wrong can be defined in nonmoral, natural (or even unnatural) terms. So there's plenty of work yet to be done.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frog march View Post
    I don't think that philosophy exists in a vacuum, people always needed their senses, their eyes and ears etc, to give their thoughts meaning, to even have those thoughts, and science is just an extension of those senses; and sensory information without a level of interpretation, ie philosophy, is pretty useless.
    That's an interesting point. We tend to connect science with a more everyday activity we all participate in-- no doubt the same holds for philosophy. Is it only professional philosophy that is often seen as having no value by professional scientists, or even the amateur brand we all engage in even as we engage in amateur science?

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    partly I think maybe philosophy is thought of as useless is that there seems, to a lot of people, to be no fruit.

    Even science is seen in this way, by a lot of people. I've been amazed at people's inability to make the connection between science and technology, as for example the CERN project. People seem to view pure research as some sort of charity case, that governments indulge scientists in. I can understand the value of pure research just as an end in itself, but to not see a connection between science and R&D and an end technology is mind blowing.

    Maybe some scientists make the same mistake in thinking that science can exist without culture.

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    The purpose of Philosophy is pondering the current unknowables or untestables.
    That is the only reason it really has a purpose.

    Philosophy is a bit like 'wanna be' science.
    It isn't Real, it's just the only thing you have to work with sometimes.

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