Non-philosophers: tell me how you view philosophy

Since I’m toying with the idea of giving talks to atheist/skeptic groups on philosophy, I feel like I should get a better sense of where my hypothetical audience would likely be coming from. So: how do you view philosophy? What do you hope for from the philosophers in the atheist and skeptic movements? What questions would you want answered in such a talk? Heck, consider this an open thread to talk about philosophy if you like.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    For background context, I am a scientist.
    .
    I understand that there are philosophers doing actual useful, relevant work, say in philosophy of science. But these folk tend not to be very visible. When someone mentions philosophy, more often than not it is apologetics sophistry such as one gets from Plantinga.
    So I guess my question/suggestion would be to give a broad outline of what the current most active areas of philosophy are, and be sure to make the point that they are not all logic-chopping ass-hats.

    • Chris Hallquist

      “Current most active areas of philosophy”

      Egads, that’s a tough one. Thanks to publish or perish, there’s a ton of stuff going on and it can be impossible for one person to keep track of all the literature even on what seems like one simple issue, like free will. (I have a very clear memory of a professor at UW-Madison tell me how hard it was to pick out post 1980 readings for a course she was teaching on free will, because of how much literature there was to sift through.)

      If I had to pick a set of areas generally regarded as “core,” I’d say mind, metaphysics, epistemology, language, philosophy of science, ethics. Philosophy of religion is generally looked down upon by people who don’t specialize in it. Heck, even at Notre Dame young theistic philosophers got a speech about not doing their dissertations in PoR because it would mean not getting hired. Outside of PoR, philosophers are generally good at not talking about science unless they’re capable of getting the science right, but even then there are exceptions (Fodor and Nagel on evolution, say). And unfortunately, I’m not sure the quality of arguments is in general any better outside of PoR.

      But I need to emphasize that there’s a huge diversity there. There are experimental philosophers, and people who think experimental philosophy isn’t even philosophy. There are people like Nick Bostrom could be considered even more out of the mainstream (in a good way IMHO!) than the experimental philosophers. I’d say there’s definitely good stuff in there, but it can be harder to find than in the sciences because nobody agrees on anything, so nobody agrees on what the good stuff would be.

      • jose

        There you have good material for a talk. Experimental philosophy. It would make eyebrows go up because philosophy has a bad reputation of being just very boring people pontificating about “the substance of the nature of the thing in itself”.

  • Bob Jase

    Philosophy is like masturbation without the pleasure but it does save on tissues.

  • Kevin

    I fail to see how philosophy is anything more than forcing someone to define their terms. After that, it’s just an empirical exercise.

  • Hemant Mehta

    I honestly don’t care for it. Not that it’s irrelevant, but I’ve never heard a philosopher give a lecture that I can grasp or get interested in. It’s usually over my head or boring… so I stopped caring a long time ago. It seems so specific — and if we’re talking about, say, why God doesn’t exist, 99% of the population doesn’t think in the same way (they just believe because it feels good or they had a born-again experience or whatever), so the arguments philosophers discuss seem to only apply to people like them.

    I could be wrong about all of this, of course. I’m just saying I tune out when I hear the P word… and I suspect a lot of others do, too. So if you’re going to talk about the subject, my first hope is that you’d find a way to make it interesting/relevant! :)

    • Chris Hallquist

      “99% of the population doesn’t think in the same way (they just believe because it feels good or they had a born-again experience or whatever)”

      This isn’t exactly true, at least according to a study Michael Shermer did. He found that while religious experience is a popular reason for believing in God, the most popular reason (selected by something like 25% of believers IIRC) is some form of the argument from design.

      But even for believers who aren’t into philosophy, there’s a kind of religious apologetics that’s sprung up basically involving assuring believers that the best modern philosophy has vindicated religion, and you don’t necessarily need to know the details, you can just trust them on this. And anyone who says otherwise is just ignorant. I’m thinking of giving a talk about why that’s all nonsense, hence the talk title I suggested in a previous post: “You can’t trust a philosopher (especially a philosopher of religion).”

      • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

        I have to wonder how much of that is actually being informed on the issue, and how much of it is related to it being the first thing or the most natural thing for them to think of as justification for belief in god.

        I can speak from personal experience that people I know who weren’t very religious, and pretty much never give anything religious much time in their lives – when pushed on why they say they believe came back with the “something had to create all this” line.

      • eric

        IIRC, Shermer’s study also showed there was a strong attribution bias in religious belief. I.e., religious people thought they believed based on things like arguments from design, but that most other believers believed because of how they were raised. When you see a strong attribution bias like that, people’s opinions of their own capabilities/beliefs must be considered highly unreliable (just like you should be skeptical of the reliability of self-reporting when everyone in a survey rates themselves an above-average driver). In that respect Hemant is probably correct; when people’s opinions seem to agree that external factors (like where you were born) play a large part in religious belief in general, just not their religious belief, you really can’t trust that that last bit is right.

        To the original question: I view current philosophy as a bit of a grab-bag. Historically, one might say that it was the original discipline, and other disciplines spun off it as they gathered enough material to be a studyable subject in their own right. But this has left philosophy with all the bits and pieces that have not yet spun off, giving it a very eclectic feel. You’ve got formal logic systems taught alongside aesthetics and what are really history classes about earlier schools of thought. This mishmash can have an advantage though, in that it can be used to help a student learn how to do generalized critical thinking across disciplines. In physics, an undergrad will learn the specialized skills to think critically about concepts in physics. Same for history, or poetry, or whatever. In each case, they delve a deep but not very wide. In philosophy its the opposite; philosophy undergrads are forced to use critical thinking on a mile’s width of subjects, albeit none of them as deeply as you might in another academic department. I think this also explains why philosophy majors are no longer in demand; employers are specialized too. They don’t want someone who can think critically about A-Z, they want someone who can think critically and knows all the ins and outs of A, because that employer only does A. There are few jobs nowadays where generalists and ‘renaissance’ types are favored over specialists, and philosophy really gives you the former sort of education.

  • http://twitter.com/urbster1 Aaron Urbanski

    Sorry for the long post, but if this is an open philosophy thread, I will accept your invitation! For background context, I am neither a philosopher nor a scientist (except in the sense that all of us are!).
    My first question is regarding the sometimes-called “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics” in the physical universe. What is the ontological basis of mathematics? My second question is regarding the “truths” of science vs. the truths of other things e.g. mathematics. What is the ontological and epistemological basis of scientific truth?

    Scientists use mathematics all the time, yet no scientist, mathematician, or philosopher has ever come close to explaining the ontology of mathematics (and finding widespread agreement, although I suppose most scientists would accept the position that numbers, for instance, are basically neural structures representing abstracted properties derived from our sense data, or something like that). Scientists often refer to physical constants and physical laws as “universal equations,” yet most of them seem to disbelieve in the existence of actual mathematical objects, usually with disparaging comments towards Platonists and other mathematical idealists. (However, some theoretical physicists like Max Tegmark for instance, describing his position as “Platonism on steroids,” do in fact accept some existence of independent mathematical objects.)

    Let me give an example: Every electron is indistinguishable from every other electron. Likewise, every photon is indistinguishable from every other photon, because these quantum objects are not able to be identified individually. These objects can really only properly be described by mathematical equations such as electromagnetic wave equations (sorry, please forgive that I am a little beyond my own depth here, and I hope this illustrates my point adequately). But correct me if I’m wrong that it would be apt to describe photons as one Platonic photon, for instance. In a similar sense, electrons have to obey the Pauli exclusion principle so that no two electrons are ever in the exact same energy state, which means that every electron must be aware of every other electron’s energy states and therefore act as one unified entity, perhaps as a Platonic electron. As a second example, let’s also consider the mathematical basis to the fundamental physical laws of the universe, which scientists are happy to speak about without ever once claiming what the ontological status of a universal physical law would be, e.g. what is the ontological status of the laws of thermodynamics and entropy? Would this not provide some evidence that mathematical objects exist? If not, is there a better account of the basis of the universe’s physical laws?

    Regarding my second question, it is usually stated and/or affirmed by scientists that a statement must be falsifiable to be scientific (which in and of itself is not a falsifiable statement) yet somehow provides us knowledge. Here is a quote from Lawrence Krauss on Penn Jillette’s podcast: “The biggest misconception about science… someone asked me, unsurprisingly at a spiritual event, was ‘but what about truth?’ Science doesn’t tell you what’s true, it’s a big misconception. Science tells you what’s false. That’s all science can do. It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes, you get rid of the false stuff, what’s left has a high likelihood of being true” (echoing Karl Popper). How is this ontologically or epistemologically possible? How does Krauss (or Popper) know that? Science claims to get to knowledge (“knowledge” is usually, though incompletely, considered some form of ‘justified true belief’), yet it seems that through a process of falsification, even if we get rid of false notions of reality, we don’t necessarily end up with (capital-T) Truth, we just end up with something that can always, and in all likelihood will be, falsified in the future at any time. Contrast this with mathematics, where 2+2=4 can never possibly be falsified. How can truth possibly be falsifiable? It’s the biggest contradiction ever! Is science aiming to establish a less rigorous standard of “knowledge?” Should science give up the pursuit of “truth?” Shouldn’t scientists have a huge PR nightmare, given this situation? Or can this “falsifiable truth” paradox be resolved?

    • eric

      But correct me if I’m wrong that it would be apt to describe photons as one Platonic photon, for instance. In a similar sense, electrons have to obey the Pauli exclusion principle so that no two electrons are ever in the exact same energy state, which means that every electron must be aware of every other electron’s energy states and therefore act as one unified entity, perhaps as a Platonic electron.

      Pauli only applies to electrons in the same atom, because they interact. Similarly, I must obey a sort-of exclusion principle with other physical objects – I can’t occupy the same space as my chair – but that doesn’t mean I have to know the physical location of everything in the universe to do so. It just means that when I come into contact with things like chairs, the rules of physics will prevent us from interacting in certain ways. Same deal with electrons; when they interact, rules of physics prevent them from overlapping in terms of many of their attributes – to include location in time and space. So, no platonic forms needed.

      Science tells you what’s false. That’s all science can do. It’s kind of like Sherlock Holmes, you get rid of the false stuff, what’s left has a high likelihood of being true” (echoing Karl Popper). How is this ontologically or epistemologically possible

      Well, its possible because we haven’t figured out a better way towards knowledge of the physical world. Scientific knowledge is to truth sort of what (Churchill said) democracy is to government: the worst possible form…except for all the others. Scientists would welcome a methodology that was better at finding truth. They would like nothing better than a system that determined the mass of the Higgs boson with 50 sigma confidence for $1 of effort in 1 minute, rather than 5 sigma confidence costing $millions and years. But until you figure out a method that can do that, they’re going to keep doing what seems to have worked best so far.
      Incidentally, the same argument can be made for math; operationally, we don’t need need an ontological basis. We just keep using math to describe how the universe works until some more useful type of description comes along. As to it being “unreasonably effective,” keep in mind that mathematics has changed over the years. We tend to abandon the mathematics ideas that aren’t effective. For example, nobody uses roman numerals any more. Its not like 21st century math BLAM just appeared out of nowhere. Its the product of millenia of keeping what works and abandoning what doesn’t.

      • http://twitter.com/urbster1 Aaron Urbanski

        What are “electrons in the same atom”? Are two electrons ever in the same atom? How often does this apply? My understanding of electrons is that they are constantly interacting and changing atoms. This would only be possible if every electron is aware of all the others in the entire universe.

        As for Roman numerals, I is not different than 1, V is not different than 5, and so on. If aliens came here, they and we would be counting using the same numbers. Only the symbols would differ, but they would translate flawlessly. Mathematics is not created, it is discovered. Only the symbols are created.

  • http://counterapologist.blogspot.com/ Counter Apologist

    Is a philosopher speaking on something? I must now carefully parse whatever it is they’re saying, because they probably mean something very specific that can easily be misconstrued.

    Maybe that’s just because most philosophy I deal with is in apologetics/PoR. I didn’t find any interest in philosophy until I deconverted.

    I do find some areas of it interesting, largely on issues of the mind, so things like Free Will vs. Determinism, and then an explanation of what logic actually “is” and how it’s true by impossibility of the contrary. Basics of “Descartes” kind of stuff.

    I have some other issues, it seems like philosophy is an area where it’s very hard to be able to tell what’s good and what’s bullshit. Or at least philosophy gives a lot of cover for bad ideas. On the other hand I think philosophy can do some real good if it’s going to help laymen interpret actual advancements in science, or provide new ways to look at problems. Especially in light of new scientific discoveries.

  • DR

    In short, mostly useless intellectual masturbation. Philosophers (today) spend most of their time claiming credit for what mathematicians have done more rigourously long ago, or they make claims about the world which no amount of pure abstract thought can justify. Philosophy mostly fails, though, by demanding absolute proof where only contingent evidence can ever be provided. Can science define an ethic? No. But then, neither can philosophy. No amount of pure thought can lead to an ethical system, since ethics by definition involves real humans making real decisions about the real world. At least science is capable of providing useful information about the parameters for an ethical discussion. Can science establish with absolute certainty what the nature of the universe is? Maybe not. But again, philosophy can do no such thing either. And the list goes on.

    Philosophy is at its best when it ensures that other disciplines stay rigourous. But it needs to turn the magnifying glass on itself once in a while, and clean its own stables before it starts attacking others. As a discipline, it still has work to do to erase the taint of postmodernism which still infects far too many philosophy departments around the world.

  • MNb

    “How can truth possibly be falsifiable?”
    But you quoted the answer yourself, Aaron. Like Krauss said science is not about truth, not in the way you define knowledge. The best definition of knowledge I know is theory/hypothesis being consistent with empirical data. If you want to understand how that works in practice read a bit about (the history of) superconductivity. The biggest misconception is that this is a weakness – it actually is a strength, because it allows us to ever increase our knowledge.
    I am not an scientist nor a philosopher either – I only teach physics and maths. But your second question is not really an issue afaIc. Science undeniably works, much to the chagrin of all those people who ponder about “other ways of gaining knowledge” and scientism.

    All in all I think for talks it could be a good idea to explore the limits of philosophy. What can it do and what can’t it do? Especially compared to science and religion. Which are its methods? How effective are they? Spice this up with all kind of examples where philosophy kind of worked. Examples I can think of are Democritus’ theory of atoms, Augustinus of Hippo’s philosophy of time, Ockham’s Razor and Popper’s falsifiability. Also give several examples where philosophy badly failed.
    I would like such a talk, but as I’m living lots of hundreds of miles away I am not likely to visit one.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/humesapprentice Ryan

    “What do you hope for from the philosophers in the atheist and skeptic movements?”

    Atheism is about what we *don’t* believe in (god). However, we all have things that we *do* believe in that most other people get from their religion (we have beliefs about ethics, for example). I hope that atheist philosophers will write and speak about what they believe is true concerning matters of ethics, knowledge, metaphysics and so on, and I hope that they state their viewpoints in a way that is understandable to the common man. Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne (among others) have a set a beautiful example for them to follow: they have taken questions traditionally answered by religion (where did man come from, how did plants and animals get the way they are today) and they have written about the answer to that question in a way that most people are able to understand easily. Philosophers should do the same in their areas of expertise.

  • Hilary

    It’s interesting when learning philosophy helps to explain why people do what they do, what are different understandings and motivations for humanity – as long as I can bring some yarn and a crochet hook so I can also get something done.

    But if just sitting around and talking never goes anywhere, never translates into action or at least greater understanding of real actions and real events, I’m bored. Study without action gets stale, action without studying the issue gets confused and often counter-productive.

    Also, if you are having a philosophy talk, discussion, lecture in real life face to face, bring food. Philosophy + low blood suger = very bad. And give people time to get up, stretch, move, and talk with thier hands.

    • Hilary

      I hope this is good advice – I’m not quite your target audience, as a liberal (Jewish) thiest.

      *Their hands. Damn typo.

  • http://www.starlordcomic.com AndrewR

    If you’re interested in any complex topic at the layman level there comes a time where you have to decide whether it’s worth “going down the rabbit hole” and expending serious time and energy on learning it properly (say to undergraduate level).

    I think philosophy has a tough sell at this point because its recent achievements aren’t as visible as in other fields.

    For example, even though physics is a complex and seemingly impenetrable subject I can have some confidence that there is value in studying it because things like lasers, robots and GPS satellites obviously exist and would not have been possible without advances in the field.

    While there is plenty of writing on how the work of the great philosophers of times past have informed the way things like our legal and political systems work what is a lot less obvious is how current philosophical work is affecting these things today (or in the last 20 years, say).

    I’m not saying that there _isn’t_ any progress, just that it’s not obvious to the layman what it is. It might just be a marketing problem, but not knowing the “ontological basis of mathematics” doesn’t seem to have gotten in the way of inventing the lasers and robots. Similarly, I strongly suspect the lack of a philosophical answer to “what is consciousness?” won’t get in the way of someone eventually building an artificial one.

  • http://shelter.nu/ Alexander Johannesen

    I agree with Kevin, to a great extent, building on the later Wittgenstein; define those terms, and define them again, and again until we have the same definitions, including a lot of sub-level assumed definitions, and then let’s define them again. Basically, philosophy is “defining your constructs so that we all can see ideas the same”.

    It’s an interesting question, though, as I’m pondering more and more that the only part of philosophy worthy of pursuit and of being called Philosophy proper, is epistemology. I say that especially since we’re talking about the context of atheism and skepticism; if we can’t agree on what it means to know something, if we can’t agree on what “evidence” means, then we’re wasting a lot of precious time talking past, through and over each other, no matter the brilliant model of thought on free-will or causation. (And, if I may be so bold, the free-will debate is *severely* lacking in a good common epistemological foundation; this, that and the other is evidence of something or another, without anyone thinking that the problem is that “evidence” is a gradient word. Have you ever talked to a theist and asked for evidence for his god, and the reply is that everything we see around us is evidence; he *clearly* made it!)

  • Taryn

    I think of philosophy more as a good starting point for discussion than anything that is every going to produce any answers. I get the feeling such a talk would be incredibly interesting though, if not entirely fruitful. As someone coming from Australia, would these debates/talks be available online?

  • machintelligence

    Philosophers can be helpful in figuring out what questions need to be asked. They can get bogged down with trying to determine what constitutes necessary and sufficient conditions, however.

    To borrow an example from an earlier commenter:

    where 2+2=4 can never possibly be falsified.

    This equation is woefully underspecified. Are you using integer arithmetic? If not, what is your rounding scheme? Are you dealing in base 10 arithmetic or some other base?
    2 + 2 = 5 for large values of 2 (2.4 + 2.4 = 4.8) using standard rounding for display as whole numbers.
    2 + 2 = 11 in base 3
    Add to that the fact that any set of mathematical axioms (even those for simple arithmetic) cannot be both complete and consistent. This is Godel’s theory, proved in 1931 (but please don’t ask me to explain it, I’m only a lowly biologist. Also I apologize for the lack of an umlaut, but I don’t know the code for one.)

    I did take a few philosophy courses as an undergraduate (40+ years ago) in formal logic and philosophy of science. The latter should have been titled philosophy for physicists because it was not very useful for students like me whose experimental subjects and data sets were both furry. When I asked the professor about this, his advice was to take a statistics course. This was good advice, as it turned out, but it ended my study of philosophy.

    A few years ago I encountered the work of Daniel Dennett. I have now read most of his books and watched videos of his lectures and seminars. Finally, a philosopher with grounding in biology. I even had a chance to meet and chat with him at the AAI convention in 2009. Like most scientists, he regards postmodernism with justifiable contempt. I also like his sense of humor, as well as the book he has coauthored about humor.

    • Grass

      Everyone knows what “2+2=4″ means, and this formula is readily interpreted in terms of Peano arithmetic, which IS proven to be consistent by Gödel himself. (It means “+SS0SS0″ :p). Gödel’s incompleteness theorems don’t state what you claim they do – read the wikipedia article for more info. For example, your axiom set has to be “recursive” and the “recursive functions” have to be “representable” in your system for Gödel’s (first) theorem to work. This mean that you have a “handy” set of axioms, such that you can write a computer program IsAxiom(x) that outputs True if x is an axiom and False if x isn’t an axiom. Also you will have to be able to express in your language all (partial) functions from f: Df N s.t. you can write a computer program that outputs f(n) for all n in your domain of definition. Cool? ;)

  • Leum

    Ethics is really the only branches that seem to have any value to me. Let’s face it, most scientists don’t care what philosophers of science are saying, it isn’t going to affect how they do science. And I suspect it’s similar for lawyers wrt philosophy of law and politics and linguistics wrt philosophy of language. Most of philosophy can be interesting for a few hours, but after that I want to throw up my hands and scream, “Where’s your evidence?” I honestly prefer theological metaphysics to ontology because at least the theologians are honest that they’re basing it off a set of assumptions about their favorite book.

  • A Portlander

    Philosophy seems to break down into two categories: formal logic and epistemology on the one hand, and a vastness of omphalos-scrying and recreational bickering over is/ought problems on the other. Much like religion, philosophy pretends to answer questions that properly belong to neuroscience and cosmology. Even as a system for analyzing what we value & why, philosophy is fairly useless; our values emerge from cultural and genetic inheritance, and long-winded position statements predicated on ethical-egoist-this and desire-utilitarian-that smack of post-facto rationalization.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~grossdan/ OrneryPest

    I view philosophy as the study of human thought patterns regarding knowledge. Science is the study of how we gain knowledge, and is the descendant of philosophy. Science has now gone off on its own and become an independent discipline, as rightly it should. But scientists must always remember that philosophy was the parent that permitted science to come into existence, and the nursemaid that nurtured science. Likewise, moral and ethical studies are on their way to becoming independent from philosophy.

  • Theory_of_I

    Philosophy:

    Practicality and reliability be damned, only the ceaseless restatement of the merits of pointlessness and nuance ad absurdum will assure that one cannot lose the debate.

    Find a way to relate P. Argumentum to everyday life — your audience wil be astounded.

  • Annatar

    At its best, I think philosophy is about trying to find the perspective of the world that best makes sense to you. I know that sounds awfully wishy-washy, but so many of the philosophical discussions I’ve heard ‘tween professional philosophers seem to come down to “well, i guess it’s a matter of perspective.”

    I thought, for instance, that a discussion between Dennett and Harris on free-will would be really interesting, but i realized that they would get to the root of their differences in five minutes and it would just be a “yes it is,” “no it isn’t” banter on some minor issue the whole thing turns on. And there wouldn’t be any way of getting past it, cause it would be some really basic-level definition problem, or something.

    Or to use maybe a slightly stranger example: Craig often says that God, being perfectly moral, and command whatever he wants and it becomes moral. We think that’s a bunch of crap, but at some level all we can do it bicker over what sounds plausible to each of us. It’s not a science, where if you disagree we can just point to the experiments. Philosophy, it seems to me, is at its best when the personal nature of it is embraced instead of shoved down each other’s throats.

    • Annatar

      *instead of shoving our views down each other’s throats like they’re infallible.

  • AndyTK

    I have a very harsh view of philosophy, though it would be interesting to see if it’s an outlier or not. It may also be a useful place to talk about for at least five minutes at the beginning of your talk. At one point in time science split off from philosophy. Science was different because science required evidence and the ability to prove a statement false. Philosophy did not. As math and science progressed more and more of the universe, including things like how societies, economics, and even the brain went from philosophical conjectures to science, maybe not hard science, but at least there are some constraints and a requirement to prove one’s conjectures. Philosophy has become philosophy of the gaps, much like god and religion. It is time to put philosophy out of its misery because lets me frank about, without having to prove anything philosophy is simply some guys bullshitting at a bar without a smartphone between them, abet with a larger, fancier, vocabulary.

  • Nolan

    I think there’s a lot of hostility to philosophy as “bullshitting,” “boring,” or “intellectual masturbation,” due to how bad much of philosophy is (as you’ve pointed out). I think the atheist/skeptical community could benefit from direct ways and examples of philosophy/philosophers improving the arguments or practices of the atheist movement.

    I feel like you have the perfect expertise to show what good philosophy can do, and contrast it to bad philosophy.

    I don’t know what you might have in mind, but I think ethics, so far, reduces to philosophical questions. Contra-causal free will is falsified for philosophical reasons, not empirical ones. Specific philosophers like Richard Carrier, Paul Thagard, and Daniel Dennett are examples of people who utilize philosophy well.

  • http://www.cstdbill.com/ Bill

    … how do you view philosophy?
    </blockquote
    No pain, no gain.

  • http://Www.skepticali.blogspot.com Skepticali

    I like specific topics in philosophy. PoR & PoSci lecture series were interesting for me. More recently, the means by which a person would establish how they can know and reason, starting from the law of identity on up, would be germane to presupp counter-apologetics.

    As other commenters mentioned, pointing out where philosophy is useful and where it’s just mental masturbation is essential.

  • AdamHazzard

    Having just finished reading Terence Deacon’s Incomplete Nature, I find it striking how easily philosophical questions (the nature of consciousness, will and causality, etc.) can become scientific questions, once we figure out how to pose the question in a way that allows nature to suggest an answer. My impatience with philosophy isn’t with the problems it tackles — often they’re extremely important — but with the inadequacy of reasoning absent any kind of experimental or observational confirmation.

    After all, it’s undeniably logical to assume that a photon can’t be both a particle and a wave. The only problem is that it’s wrong. And while no amount of reasoning from axioms would have arrived at that conclusion, a relatively simple double-slit experiment forced it upon us.

  • sailor1031

    Is there any other discipline which does nothing but continually dream up more and more problems without ever solving even one of them? Where people still argue about what greeks argued about 2400 years ago and are no further on? It’s wankery, but wankery with a very complex vocabulary designed to exclude non-philosophers – presumably so they won’t realise it’s wankery.

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