A Philosopher's Blog

Is Philosophy Useless?

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on August 27, 2007

A common misconception about philosophy is that it is useless. It is often assumed that philosophy is useless. Philosophers often help fuel this misconception by creating the impression that they simply split hairs and debate endlessly about meaningless problems. These charges do have some merit-philosophers, like all academics, often get lost in their ivory towers and become needlessly isolated from the world. Because of this, it is not unfair to conclude that at least some of what philosophers do is quite useless. However, it is a mistake to assume that philosophy is useless.

This misconception often rests on how people define “useful.” People who have this misconception often define usefulness in a very narrow and very concrete way such as making money, baking bread, or killing lots of people. Even under these narrow and concrete definitions, philosophy is still useful. As will be shown, philosophers have made many useful contributions.  In addition, there are broader definitions of “useful” that seem quite plausible. Under very limited definitions of “useful” most of the sciences would not be useful either, which seems to be an implausible view. In order to make good on these claims it must be shown that philosophers have (as philosophers) made useful contributions. This is easily done.

One major contribution made by philosophy is science. Science originated in philosophy and philosophers were also scientists-in fact, in the past little distinction was made between the two. Science is based on and utilizes philosophical methods. In the past, some types of science were often called “natural philosophy” and even now doctorates in the sciences are still called “philosophy doctorates.” Famous philosopher-scientists include Thales, Descartes, Bacon, Newton.

A second major area of contributions is in the realm of logic and mathematics. Mathematics and logic were developed by philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, and Pascal. Science, technology, and engineering depend on mathematics and logic. Logic is the basis of computers-ranging from PCs to car chips to digital phones to hand held game systems. In is no exaggeration to say that without philosophy, the modern information economy and technology it is based on would simply not exist. Critical thinking was developed by philosophers and this is quite a useful thing.

A third major area where philosophers made great contributions is in society. Philosophers have laid the foundation for rights, reform and revolution. Aristotle developed political science. Hobbes developed the theoretical justification for the modern state. Locke developed the notion of God-given human rights. Adam Smith laid the theoretical foundations for capitalism. Henry David Thoreau created the concept of civil disobedience. Marx and Engels developed the theory of Marxism. Martin Luther King, Jr. refined and applied the concept of civil disobedience. These are but a few examples. It is quite clear that society has been shaped and influenced in many ways by philosophers.

A final major area is the realm of ethics. Philosophers developed the notion of formal ethics and ethical reasoning is philosophical. Ethics and ethical debates are a critical and unavoidable aspect of life.

Thus, philosophy hardly seems useless. Of course, most of these contributions lie in the past and thus one might ask “what has philosophy done for me lately?” and “what will I get from studying philosophy?” Fortunately, philosophy still has much to offer.

First, the study and practice of philosophy develops essential skills. These include critical thinking, logical thought, problem solving and writing skills.

Second, the study and practice of philosophy broadens the mind. It enables a better understanding and appreciation of your own views. It enables a better understanding and appreciation of other views. It encourages intellectual tolerance. It encourages the development of intellectual imagination.

Of course, studying philosophy is not without risks or side effects. Philosophy can result in some confusion, doubt and distress. These can be natural side effects of thinking and questioning previously held beliefs.

About these ads

168 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Joe said, on January 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Philosophy is not useless; it permeates every aspect of life in one way or another.

    However, degrees in philosophy at the college or university level is a waste of time and money.

    • Kel said, on February 24, 2014 at 11:51 pm

      Well, not everyone can be a scientist, engineer or doctor. I guess they gotta find some way to feel good about themselves. In all seriousness, I tend to agree with you. Philosophy itself does encourage critical thinking, which is good. But the field tends to be full of people who overstate the importance of their subject and often border on pretentious. Jaya put it well. Some do it for the pretense of sophistication. There are many who seem to resent those of us in the hard sciences. Not all, but it’s definitely a prevalent enough sentiment to be noticeable.

  2. Kurt said, on March 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    I could not disagree more. There are few disciplines (most in the humanities) as worthy of exploration by emerging adults in college than the questions of philosophy: how should we live, what’s the right thing to do, what’s out there, etc. All other subjects are footnotes to philosophy.

    • Philosophy is useless said, on May 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm

      efeef

  3. CorisDavi said, on April 23, 2009 at 10:49 am

    All there is to life is Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand… Philosophy is pointless.

  4. jaya bacha khan said, on May 9, 2009 at 6:26 am

    Philosophy is the love of sophistication…or the pretense of sophistication. It files away myriad facts (and fictions) in its repertoire that are best not thought about since as it is written in Ecclesiastes ” Much knowledge leads to much sorrow.”

    The pursuits of philosophy is like a soap opera that never ends and can be soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo tiring…I don’t have the energy to say anymore and would like to go to sleep.

  5. kernunos said, on May 10, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    You can always tell a good philosopher when they talk for an hour on a subject and by the time they are done have changed their own point of view by talking themselves in a circle.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 11, 2009 at 11:04 am

      Oddly enough, I’ve never done that. I tend to stick with the same position consistently, changing it only when there are good reasons to do so.

      • kernunos said, on May 11, 2009 at 10:50 pm

        Philosophers never come up with real solutions. There are always other philosophers that will argue with you. Devil’s advocate is the favorite game.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 12, 2009 at 12:58 pm

        No real solutions? How about logic, mathematics, geometry, ethics, psychology, physics, medicine and so on? Also, the binary logic that makes Word Press possible was developed by Leibniz (German philosopher). So, philosophers have come up with plenty of very real solutions.

        • faggot said, on May 7, 2010 at 1:05 am

          A second major area of contributions of mathematics and logic is in the realm of philosophy. Philosophy was developed by mathematicians such as Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, and Pascal. Philosophy is the basis of nothing (thinking is an innate human ability independent of philosophy or any other label you want to give it). It is no exaggeration to say that without math, philosophy and by extension HUMAN SENTIENCE would not exist.

          am i doing it right faggot?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm

            Using your logic:
            1) Math is a form of thinking.
            2) Thinking is an innate human ability.
            3) Math is the basis of nothing.

            Philosophy could exist without mathematics, unless you wish to redefine logic as being part of math. Also, people would seem to still be able to think without math. After all, human thought presumably predates the development of mathematics. This can, of course, be debated.

        • Ryan said, on February 22, 2011 at 7:50 pm

          “No real solutions? How about logic, mathematics, geometry, ethics, psychology, physics, medicine and so on?”

          So, if it wasn’t for philosophy there would be no logic, or math, or physics?
          I think most of the things you listed above exist without philosophy, or humans for that matter. Hard sciences have nothing to do with philosophy, other than the fact that the only people with the balls to question the “God(s)” 2000+ years ago were the rich, pedigreed, philosophers up in their Ivory towers. I do not doubt that peasants had similar thoughts. However they didn’t have the resources to write it down somewhere safe, nor the right to speak the heresy out loud. Otherwise I’m sure they would have liked to credit themselves with inventing things.

          • Asur said, on February 23, 2011 at 11:58 am

            “So, if it wasn’t for philosophy there would be no logic, or math, or physics? I think most of the things you listed above exist without philosophy, or humans for that matter.”

            Those things are systems of knowledge created by humans; hence, if humans didn’t exist, they wouldn’t exist either — you can’t have an effect without a cause.

            If you mean that, for example, what physics studies would still exist without physics to study it, then sure, but how you’re saying it conflates the discipline of physics with what it studies. I’m not sure you actually mean that, though, since you say “most”, hence at least two of the three things you mentioned would have to involve things that independently exist — I don’t see how you can argue that for mathematics or logic, unless you’re Plato.

            • WTP said, on February 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm

              Not sure what you are saying about physics, but birds would still fall from the sky when struck by lightning with or without anyone there to explain why.

              OTOH, the fundamental question re math I think would be, is it possible to have “1″ of something if there is no one in the universe capable of discerning “1″ from “2″. IIRC, there have been studies with animals that showed some consciousness in regard to perceptions of “more” or “less” and possibly “1″ or “2″.

              Ignoring, of course, the possibility of a supreme being who perceives in such a manner. Whole other can of worms that I’d rather not get into.

            • Asur said, on February 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm

              “OTOH, the fundamental question re math I think would be, is it possible to have “1″ of something if there is no one in the universe capable of discerning “1″ from “2″.”

              That’s an interesting point; I think it goes hand-in-hand with the question of whether mathematics was discovered or created.

              As I see it, if I have 2 cans of beer in the fridge, there is no “twoness” inherent to them; rather, “2″ is a relational concept I apply to the cans when I think about them. Hence, mathematics was created, and number exists only in how we think about things.

            • Jim said, on February 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm

              “rather, “2″ is a relational concept I apply to the cans when I think about them. Hence, mathematics was created, and number exists only in how we think about things.”

              Well put!

              “The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is.” – Susan Sontag

            • WTP said, on February 23, 2011 at 6:45 pm

              Sigh…So if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there, does it still fall at a rate of acceleration of 32.174 feet per second per second?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 24, 2011 at 6:39 pm

              Depends on how the universe works. Can we have knowledge of what occurs outside of all our observations?

            • Asur said, on February 23, 2011 at 10:05 pm

              “Sigh…So if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there, does it still fall at a rate of acceleration of 32.174 feet per second per second?”

              Of course! It makes a sound, too. The only caveat is that all measurements are approximations rather than perfect representations, though I don’t mean to imply that the actual values of these things are indeterminate.

            • Jim said, on February 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm

              Of course we Kant.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on February 23, 2011 at 12:47 pm

            Depends on what you mean. If you mean that it is possible that some non-human species developed math or physics without having any philosophy at all (this would, of course, mean that the philosophical aspects of math and physics would be absent) then I would be inclined to agree with this possibility. However, there could not be logic without philosophy anymore than there could be algebra without mathematics (one is part of the other).

            Well, much depends on how you define the boundaries of the hard sciences. They certainly seem to have philosophical aspects-at the very least they make metaphysical and epistemic assumptions.

            • WTP said, on February 25, 2014 at 7:35 am

              Reading through all this BS again…I can find many a philosopher who can’t do math beyond the grade school level. Professional mathematicians are much better at philosophy than philosophers are at math.

              Of course most people who pass themselves off as philosophers are really little more than sophists, so watch for the claim that I’ve just proved Mikes point. Not that most philosophers can preform advanced mathematical proofs.

        • Joseph said, on June 23, 2012 at 1:17 am

          Logic is mathematics. Computers don’t run on philosophy. Mathematics isn’t philosophy. My calculator doesn’t perform philosophy. Geometry is mathematics. Buildings aren’t built with philosophy. Real ethics boils down to mathematics – one can/should simulate the situation and prove that choice X leads to the best society. Psychology… well, much of that is babble like philosophy, except where real science has entered the picture with brain mapping and other experimentation as opposed to armchair speculation (see the nonsense of Freud for the effects of that). Medicine is science, not philosophy. If Leibniz had had offspring, would you say that philosophy bore children? Leibniz wrote a little philosophy, but developing calculus was performing mathematics. You truly show the ability of the philosopher to redefine words to one’s liking and then use this to try to convince us that we don’t really see the things right in front of our faces.

          Philosophy is armchair quarterbacking and doesn’t produce anything useful… it does occasionally give us dangerous philosophies like communism or objectivism. No mere logical arguments can ever tell us about reality.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on June 23, 2012 at 11:45 am

            Logic is math like in some aspects, probably because the two overlap. For example, circuit design is practical logic, but logic is still part of philosophy. And math. The idea of pure domains seems to be an error.

            How is ethics mathematical? Are you endorsing utilitarianism? If so, what arguments do you have establishing its truth. After all, you just can’t say that something is so without offering reasons.

            The claim that logical arguments don’t tell us about reality is part of a classic debate. Rationalists like Leibniz and Descartes (and many modern physicists) claim that logic and mathematics tell us about the real world. The classic empiricists, like Hume, argued that this was not the case-only experience tells us about what is or is not. These views are, of course, philosophical.

  6. magus71 said, on May 11, 2009 at 10:53 am

    The Heineken I’m drinking right now is making me into a great philosopher. :)

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

      Such is the power of beer.

      • Loyiso said, on August 6, 2009 at 10:08 am

        @Michael LaBossiere.
        I don’t agree that philosophy is useless but I think you are failing to distinguish between phisics and philosophy. Physics, like logic gates and digital systems can be explained phisically to the single atom on visible on your oscilloscope when you turn freq/div really low. On the other hand philosophy begins and ends in the mind and statements making it practically useless.

        But’s it’s good for the mind!

  7. Michael LaBossiere said, on May 11, 2009 at 11:02 am

    Well, little knowledge leads to even greater sorrow.

    • kernunos said, on May 11, 2009 at 10:49 pm

      Ignorance is bliss. There are all kinds of sayings and bumper sticker slogans.

  8. david said, on September 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I do believe philosophy have contributed to human societies greatly. However, at the same time, I feel philosophy is starting to be replaced by science in terms of exploration.

    I am not saying the discipline is “worthless” though. Philosophy is about thinking, and we do that everyday. But many philosophers are too obessed with theories without paying as much attention on evidence. they think about what should happen, instead of observing what have happened, then figure out why what happened happened.

  9. sean said, on December 14, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Isn’t claiming all of the things which split off from philosophy as part of the subject like an alchemist claiming chemistry as their own? The subjects which grew out of philosophy make no use of it now, and philosophy is left to consider only the pointlessly abstract issues left behind after the meat was removed.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 14, 2009 at 6:05 pm

      A fair analogy. But, the modern chemists do owe a debt to their predecessors. As Newton said, he was able to so so far because he stood on the shoulders of giants.

      The subjects that grew from philosophy do owe some debt for their creation. Of course, to expect eternal gratitude from children is unreasonable.

      The subjects that grew from philosophy still use it. After all, they make use of logic, critical thinking, and so on. Plus, actual philosophical speculation occurs. For example, when physicists speculate about possible worlds they are doing philosophy.

  10. sean said, on December 15, 2009 at 4:34 am

    The speculations of physicists which you describe are known as “physics porn” in the rest of science. They are indeed philosophising, and are therefore not science.

    I can see the possible utility of philosophy to the individual, but nowadays there is a disconnect between the individuals who could benefit from a more “philosophical” outlook and philosophers.

    Instead of working in the field(which might broadly be called personal growth)where they might do some good, philosophers seem to mainly work nowadays in fields where the methods of science would be better employed.Reasoning without empirical evidence seems to have led many philosophers into a series of useless cul-de-sacs

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 15, 2009 at 9:26 pm

      Much hinges on the definitions of the key terms. My own biased view is that the scientific method arose from the philosophic method. More importantly, the core approaches and goals are the same. As far as the goal goes, that would be truth. As far as the means, it would be the methods of logic/critical thinking (that is, collecting and assessing evidence and then drawing a conclusion).

      Philosophy can be based on empirical evidence. After all, the empiricists take that as the core of their approach to epistemology.

  11. sean said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:21 am

    Agreed. But we clearly share a common view of rationality, and the problem centres in epistemology to some extent. To the extent that philosophy allows people like Habermas to change the rules to let their side win is does a disservice to science. For example, in pedagogy, it seems to be believed that Habermas “has shown” that as well as what you and I think of as rationality, being sincere and/or socially acceptable are equally rational.So one can be rational and entirely wrong, which is one level obvious, but this seems to be extended into a belief that rational arguments can be made and answered ad infinitum without reference at any point to any empirical data. If fact there seems to be a contempt for empirical data, and Habermas is not the only philosopher cited in support of such contempt.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 16, 2009 at 4:32 pm

      That is a problem with “rational”-people mean so many different things. The classic view is that being rational is to act in accord with one’s conception of the good. That has appeal-assuming that someone’s conception of the good is not flawed. I tend to also think that being rational involves seeing the world as it is (as far as possible) and dealing with it in a logical manner. Basing things on sincerity or social acceptance seems to be to fall into fallacious reasoning.

      • WTP said, on February 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

        Rational begets good, not the other way around. The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.

  12. sean said, on December 17, 2009 at 9:31 am

    On this definition Habermas presumably has only to consider his nonsense to further the good to justify his claims. I was under the impression that there was a link between realism and rationality.

    But what are the useful philosophers doing about the useless ones? If the public think philosophy useless, isnt it because the most high profile philosophers are advancing useless, senseless ideas? Habermas is pretty mild compared to the deconstructionist and post-modern sophistry. Aren’t philosophers the ones who should be stamping this stuff out?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

      One challenge is that the useless folks often get the attention. I hesitate to use a Paris Hilton analogy here, but it is hard to resist. I wrote an article a while back about this subject and did suggest that philosophers do more that is useful.

      Also, it is usually the right sort of nonsense that grabs the attention of folks in academics. In many ways, academic circles contain what can be regarded as cult elements. Rather than having supernatural deities, they have theories or individuals that they raise up and to whom they devote their blind faith.

      Sensible, practical talk just doesn’t grab the same way.

  13. Sean said, on December 19, 2009 at 7:39 am

    But isn’t this then the nub of the uselessness of philosophy? Scientists might think all sorts of things, but views which run counter to provable fact are suppressed.

    If philosophy has no similar quality control methods, such that any idea may be championed as equal to any other, the discipline does not overall amount to anything. There may be pockets of usefulness, but overall it is useless-or even worse than useless.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 30, 2009 at 7:10 pm

      Philosophy has some quality control, such as peer reviewed journals. Also, philosophers tend to be very critical of each other. Of course, the machinery of the scientific community for quality control is more developed (and better funded).

      True philosophers also accept criticism and subject their ideas to rigorous evaluation (as per the tradition set by Socrates).

  14. Sean said, on December 31, 2009 at 5:55 am

    Thanks Michael,

    if we were to accept what you say, since philosophy had a thousand years or so head start on science, we’d expect some things to have been settled in philosophy by now.

    Are there any things of substance on which all real philosophers agree?

    How do we tell a real philosopher from a fake?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 1, 2010 at 6:36 pm

      It seems that when something in philosophy becomes settled it is then considered to be a science. For example, speculation about basic biology was once part of philosophy but when things began to get settled, then it became a distinct science. In some ways, philosophy can be seen as being in the odd business of endeavoring to put itself out of business.

      All? Well, I would say that the basic principle of logic and methodology are accepted.

      Essentially the same way we tell a real scientist from a fake one, of course.

  15. Sean said, on January 2, 2010 at 5:35 am

    So if all real philosophers accept the principles of logic, Derrida, Habermas and all of the other philosophers who reject them, and substitute their own are fakes?

    That certainly simplifies matters. All we have to do now is figure out how to get the word out.LOL.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      I’m inclined to say “yes.” But, I am obligated to add the usual disclaimer: I could be wrong. Defining what it is to be a true philosopher is a contentious matter and I am rather biased. My rough and simple view includes this:
      1) Accepts the basic principles of logic and reason as the foundation of rational inquiry.
      2) Values the truth above personal ideology.
      3) Honesty.
      4) Willingness to admit error.
      5) Possesses a love of wisdom.

      • WTP said, on September 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm

        Heh…brought back here by spam. Your arguments, or lack thereof, basically back up Sean’s point. I’d also submit that you fail at all 5 of your own test points. Numbers 2 and 4, most glaringly.

        Seems at least spam has a purpose.

        • T. J. Babson said, on September 15, 2013 at 10:52 pm

          Still waiting for Mike to revise his original position on something :-)

          • magus71 said, on September 16, 2013 at 9:22 am

            He’s absolutely wrong in this string I’m posting below. Look at your comments and mine. I’ve become quite interested in this whole thing; the military has as much of a weight problem as the rest of America, yet many people are still going with 1960s science. I have seen the difference in people I physically train. The worm is turning, as you predicted. Gary Taubes has an article in this month’s Scientific American. Most cannot get past the idea that a tbone steak is better for them than a baked potato. There will never be a “Meatless Monday” for me. Mike needs to reconsider the science here. The actually cellular mechanism in which carbohydrates make us get fat, age faster, and contract chronic diseases is now well established. He and others need to get by the thing in the back of his brain that tells him plants are pure and good.

          • WTP said, on September 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

            While waiting, perhaps we can discuss Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Or more pertinent, it’s usefulness to Russkies.

            MOSCOW (AP) — An argument in southern Russia over philosopher Immanuel Kant, the author of “Critique of Pure Reason,” devolved into pure mayhem when one debater shot the other.

            A police spokeswoman in Rostov-on Don, Viktoria Safarova, said two men in their 20s were discussing Kant as they stood in line to buy beer at a small store on Sunday. The discussion deteriorated into a fistfight and one participant pulled out a small nonlethal pistol and fired repeatedly.

            The victim was hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening. Neither person was identified.

            It was not clear which of Kant’s ideas may have triggered the violence

            http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/E/EU_ODD_RUSSIA_KANT_QUARREL?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2013-09-16-06-34-00

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm

            I do revise my positions on significant issues. However, the changes tend to be over extended periods of time when it comes to such matters. When it comes to purely factual matters, I revise as the credible facts change.

            My political views have changed quite a bit. At one time, I was very conservative, then I went hard left into anarchism (bypassing the foolishness of communism), then I ended up becoming fairly moderate on purely practical grounds. Of course, I look extreme left to the new right and right to the new left.

            • WTP said, on September 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

              bypassing the foolishness of communism LTV is not such foolishness, however.
              then I ended up becoming fairly moderate on purely practical grounds. I refer you to LTV or any of various other leftwing nonsense. This statement, based on numerous posts here, is a sign of a mind incapable of objective analysis.

              Magus, can you vouch for Mr. L’s past conservativeness?

  16. Carnap said, on March 4, 2010 at 7:16 am

    Man, I feel like I got on the short bus. Most of this discussion is just garbage. Almost every subject has grown out of Philosophy, but why? Because core concepts have to be developed before you can do anything. Philosophy is about conceptual analysis, that is developing those core concepts. The core concepts in the sciences are already developed, though during crisis even the sciences have to return to Philosophy. For example, if you look at the history of Quantum Mechanics you’ll see a number of conceptual issues in play.

    The idea that Philosophy is no longer useful is just silly. Philosophy is a critical aspect of human discovery.

    And Philosophy is based on empirical evidence because of empiricism? You can’t be serious!? Epistemological questions can’t be solved empirically, that would beg the entire question. Nor is empiricism some how used to establish anything in Philosophy.

    Philosophy = Conceptual analysis
    Science = Empirical Inquiry

    Two distinct methodologies that compliment each other. There is another rather important subject that is not empirical as well, namely Mathematics. Methodologically Mathematics and Philosophy are rather similar, they mainly differ in the object of their analysis. Yet people don’t yap about Mathematics being useless.

  17. Sean said, on March 4, 2010 at 7:42 am

    On the contrary, I think you just got off the short bus. Your points seem in any case to be addressing points made somewhere other than here. Care to offer anything but groundless assertions that people with opposing views to yours are silly?

    • Carnap said, on March 4, 2010 at 8:09 am

      My comments are directly related to the discussion here. For example, lets take quote from you:

      “Instead of working in the field where they might do some good, philosophers seem to mainly work nowadays in fields where the methods of science would be better employed.Reasoning without empirical evidence seems to have led many philosophers into a series of useless cul-de-sacs”

      Tell me how the “methods of science” can shred any light on the some of the major philosophic questions of today. For example, how does science shred light any light on matters of logic? So if I want to refine an epistemic logic is there some sort of experiment I can do?

      Anyhow, the issues are conceptual in nature. If science could be applied to them the philosophic work would be done.

      Suggesting that the work of Philosophers is better suited to empirical study shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of philosophic work. What they are working on is at its very nature abstract. Are key Mathematical issues likewise better suited for empirical study?

      And philosophers should work on personal development? What in the world!?

  18. Carnap said, on March 4, 2010 at 8:23 am

    PS. You were talking about Habermas here, there are two fundamentally different schools of Philosophy. Namely, analytic and continental. Continental represents a split that occurred in the early 1900′s and analytic more or less dates make to the ancient greeks. There is not much “intermixing” in these two schools and the people don’t take each other seriously.

    Herbermas is a Continental Philosopher.

  19. Sean said, on March 4, 2010 at 10:57 am

    So no evidence(or even argument) then, just more assertions.

    Your assertion about analytical philosophy is however interesting and possibly useful. Do you think continental philosophers meet Michael’s criteria given here, such that there are arguably analytical and fake philosophers?

    The philosophy I am having difficulty with all falls under your heading of continental. I knew they were called continental, which I had naively assumed was in opposition to something other than competent.

    The area which I think better suited to the use of empirical research than philosophising is enquiry into educational methods, rather than the examples you give. I have no disagreement with you that these examples are better suited to philosophy.

    I am presently studying educational theory, and often, rather than starting from any empirical basis, papers in the area commence reasoning from the basis of the pronouncements of Habermas, Derrida or whoever.

    This basis is taken to allow the author to start from the assumption that either there are no empirical truths, or that believing what is socially acceptable is as rational as believing what has been empirically shown.

    I am not arguing that empirical methods be used to address the proper concerns of philosophy, but rather that philosophy should keep out of areas where empirical research is possible.

    As far as the uses of philosophy in adapting a person to life/nature, the stoics and Zen masters certainly considered this very important. It this not an aim of modern philosophy? Grayling certainly seems to think so.

    So we do not disagree substantially about the areas where philosophy and science belong.

    Despite that, I can refine my position to a claim that analytical philosophy is useless, and continental philosophy worse than useless.

    What is analytical philosophy useful for, if you think I am incorrect? I do not consider answering the questions we agree are the proper remit of philosophy useful to anyone. This would generate no tangible product. Does it then produce an intangible product so universally considered valuable that to deny its value is “silly”? What is this product?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 5, 2010 at 10:29 am

      How do you define “empirical research”? Many areas that seem to fall quite nicely into philosophy are subject to empirical research in an intuitive sense. For example, ethics allows for empirical research as does social/political philosophy. Would you say that Aristotle’s ethics and Hobbe’s political theory are not philosophy?

      What do you consider useful and what counts as a tangible product? Analytical philosophy gave us binary logic which provided the foundation of the digital age. That seems rather tangible (or perhaps not…much of it is virtual).

      • Carnap said, on March 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm

        Ethics, Political Theory, etc are not empirical matters. Certainly to some degree you can study these topics empirically, but you cannot justify or even refute an ethical theory empirically. Scientists can do surveys, run experiments, etc to gain an understanding of how society at large thinks of ethics. They can think about the implications of some particular ethical norm in society and so on. But none of this says much about what is and is not ethical, its all descriptive.

        Philosophers, like scientists, often overstep their roles and comment on matters outside of their methodology. This was especially common before modern science existed, the division was not well understood. Today, the work is pretty clearly divided. That of course does not stop a philosopher from doing scientific work (e.g, Patricia Churchland) or a scientist from doing philosophic work (e.g., Richard Dawkins).

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 6, 2010 at 12:55 pm

          While it can be argued that ethics is not empirical, there are also excellent arguments that it is. First, consider Aristotle’s ethical theory. He based his arguments on observations of human nature and derived his theory from that. Second, consider Hume’s discussion of ethics. He constantly asks his readers to consider their own sentiments in such matters. Third, consider Confucius-like Aristotle he built a moral theory on human nature (as he saw it). Fourth, consider Hobbes’ account of ethics-he built his entire moral theory on empirical observations about how men act. Fifth, consider Mill’s moral theory and his arguments for why happiness is a good. All empirical. And so on.

          In regards to politics, one can also turn to these thinkers. Hobbes, for example, built his political theory on empirical observations. As such, there seems to be many good reasons to believe that political and ethical theory can be debated in empirical terms.

          • Carnap said, on March 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm

            There is a huge difference between being inspired by something you observe in the world and using empirical methodologies. None of the Philosophers you are bringing up tried to justify their theories empirically. And in fact one of them stated exactly why you can’t do this in principle, namely you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”.

            I have no idea why you think Hobbes political theory is in any sense empirically founded. Because he asks the reader to build some thought experiments? He justifies his theory by employing pure reason and conceptual analysis. Deduction is not empirical inquiry.

            Blurring the distinction between Philosophers and Scientists just (rightfully) asks for scorn from Scientists. Mathematicians don’t pretend to be something they are not, its time for Philosophers to do the same.

  20. Carnap said, on March 5, 2010 at 6:04 am

    What would count as evidence here? I can’t inject an understanding of Philosophic work into you, the point would have to be demonstrated via multiple examples.

    I don’t think continental philosophers are “fake philosophers”, rather they are working from a much different tradition. If you don’t understand and/or agree with their underlying assumptions much of what they say is going to seem like gibberish. Now, from a more practical point of view they have as a group have not really done much that has had a big effect on society.

    In terms of education, this is not a topic that is discussed much in the analytic tradition. Analytic Philosophers are perfectly happy to let science deal with the things that science is good at dealing with. They are concerned with conceptual matters that go beyond science.

    The aim of modern philosophy (at least as taught in universities) as little to do with “adapting a person to life/nature”. At least, no more than any other subject. It is, like science, about addressing questions with a particular methodology.

    What is the value of analytic philosophy (not its analytic, not analytical)? I’ve already said, namely conceptual analysis. And to say it again, before you can submit something to empirical inquiry you have to first clarify matters.

    The majority of fields have grown out of Philosophy, yet you think its useless. This is not just something that occurred hundreds of years ago, it is something that is continuously occurring. Hence, the suggestion that subjects that grew out of Philosophy don’t typical employ it today misses the point entirely. What recently has grown out of Philosophy?

    - Modern Linguistics
    - Causal networks
    - Mathematical logic
    - Formal systems (the basis of the device you are using right now).

    Where are philosophers making important contributions today? Game theory, Neuro-science, psychology, logic, mathematics, physics, evolutionary biology and so on. Not to mention advices in core subjects in Philosophy. Not only do new fields continually grow out of Philosophy, but contrary to your suggestion current fields utilize and need the help of philosophers all the time (especially in theoretical matters).

    It is impossible to know what developments in Philosophy today are going to result in ground breaking science, etc years down the road. Similarly its impossible to know what Mathematic work today is going to pay dividends tomorrow.

    Analytic Philosophy at the end of the day is a lot like Mathematics. It is just far more general and as a result cannot always formalize matters to the degree one can in Mathematics.

  21. sean said, on March 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

    Now them boys, I’m not going to argue philosophy with philosophers, but I don’t need to be a philosopher to see if philosophy is of any use.

    Herr Carnap, I’m not sure that I have to accept that many of the disciplines that you quote as having grown out of philosophy are not themselves useless.

    In any case, as I stated before,that something grew out of something else does not mean that the original disciple is still useful. Perhaps all that was true or useful in the discipline was taken to the new subject, and all that remains is the dross.

    Or more pertinent to philosophy to my mind, a subject which once was useful might have since lost its way, and by poor quality control brought itself into disrepute.

    Or then again, and also relevant, if there is no effective distinction drawn between genuine and potentially useful philosophy and mere sophistry, a person wishing to make use of the field will be unable to find the good stuff in all of the nonsense.

    To take my own example, I wish to find out about what works and what does not in educational theory. Quite a number of writers start from Habermas’s position, which is indistinguishable for arrant nonsense to the uneducated audience.

    So I try to find out from philosophers if Habermas’s conclusions are supportable. To those of his school, the answer is yes. To those of other schools the answer is no.

    This lack of quality control alone is enough to make philosophy useless to those outside it who wish to make use of it. It seemingly makes it possible to have “philosophy” support any position.

    Engineering is a useful discipline. If you wanted to build a structure, you might consult engineers as I have done. Whilst engineers from different countries and disciplines they might use different methods, all would give approximately similar answers to the question “will my structure stand up”.

    If philosophy has a use as an engineer would understand usefulness, answer me these questions:

    Is Habermas’s assertion that there are more kinds of rationality that the sort used by scientists and engineers philosophically robust?

    If so why so, if not why not?

    • Carnap said, on March 13, 2010 at 5:46 am

      You don’t need to be a philosopher to see if Philosophy is useful, but you do need to actually know about Philosophy.

      To say it again, it is not just that some subjects grew out of Philosophy hundreds of years ago rather they continuously do so. Philosophy is an active part of man’s intellectual development.

      Philosophy is not engineering, but nor is Science and Mathematics. You seem to have a problem with any sort of abstract inquiry, but again it is not just Philosophy that deals with this. Work in theoretical science, philosophy, mathematics, etc does not have the same “quality control” as Engineering. There is no computer software you can model your ideas in, etc. Yet, there is still quality control.

      In terms of Habermas, well trying to understand Habermas without an understanding of the underlying philosophic developments is like trying to take a graduate course in complex analysis with just a high school education in mathematics. It does not work.

      This is one of the things that is annoying about Philosophy, people often think they can pick up any old book and understand it. It is often a failure to distinguish philosophy has an academic subject and how the term is used colloquially.

  22. Dudey Grant said, on March 26, 2010 at 8:05 am

    I agree.
    Philosophy is absolutely essential (when it is done logically :D).
    The majority of philosophers on the other hand, are not.
    Philosophy is not useless.
    95% of so-called “philosophers” are.

    Especially when discussing what the world is like.
    If you want to know what the world is like, go look at it!
    I understand a good philosopher realises this. Though most good philosophers aren’t only philosophers, they also do maths, law, sciences, etc.

    The majority of philosophers, whom I experienced, think ideas that are 0.00001% likely in our universe are just as valid as ideas 99.999%, simply because ‘both are possible.’
    Ridiculous! No basic critical thinking.
    A great philosopher: Feynman, Einstein, + others like Socrates etc.

    Excuse my rant :)

    “Good” philosophers = Useful.
    “Good” scientists = Useful.
    Bad scientists = … somewhat useful, can be in production/teach the basics etc.
    Bad philosophers = Useless.

    I really don’t mean to offend any real philosophers (I completely respect rational people), but the vast majority philosophy majors, who constantly talk about things 0.000001% likely, aren’t being productive (or even interesting, at this stage) to society.

    Also, though ethics is of course not empirical, thinking you couldn’t apply reason to find the best political systems for (low standard-derviation) + (high mean) happiness, I think is a pretty big fallacy.

    Have a good day, and if someone actually read this far in my post, thank you for your time, and if this didn’t interest you I hope your day picks up soon :)

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

      True, a great deal that philosophers do can be categorized quite reasonably as “mostly useless.” Also, even if some problems are not completely useless, there are serious problems that our efforts would be better spent addressing.

  23. Will Thomsen said, on April 9, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I saw a jean add on the subway the other day. It read “Smart thinks with its head, Stupid thinks with its heart. Be Stupid.” I think in a lot of ways society values/tries to create unintelligent submissive “worker bees” of sorts that are trained to fear and despise the “elitist intellectual.” People don’t go to college to expand knowledge anymore, they go to advance their carrer opertunities. All our motives have changed it seems. I’m only 19 so I don’t have the experience to tell you what all that meens, but if philosophy’s only purpose is to resist this systematic destruction of intellectual curiosity than it has a priceless purpose.

    _will

  24. Is Philosophy Useless? | Internet-D said, on April 12, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    [...] aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2007/08/27/is-philosophy-useless/ AKPC_IDS += "8215,"; Share | Filed in Featured, Posts ADD COMMENTS tagged : Philosophy [...]

  25. Philosophy is useless said, on May 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Philosophy is useless.

    All the contributions you wrote for philosophy are accomplishments of science, mathematics, and social sciences. For instance, do you understand conservation of momentum? Do you understand spontaneous symmetry breaking? Do you understand differential calculus? Do you understand RNA interference? Do you understand Piaget’s child development stages?

    You don’t know ANYTHING. The last time I checked I don’t see a Nobel Prize given for a philosopher.

  26. Philosophy said, on May 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Philosophy is useless.

    All the contributions you wrote for philosophy are accomplishments of science, mathematics, and social sciences. For instance, do you understand conservation of momentum? Do you understand spontaneous symmetry breaking? Do you understand differential calculus? Do you understand RNA interference? Do you understand Piaget’s child development stages?

    You don’t know ANYTHING. The last time I checked I don’t see a Nobel Prize given for a philosopher.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 25, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Once again, the sciences arose from philosophy, thus giving philosophy at least some use (if only as a parent of successful children). There are, of course, the contributions specific to philosophy: ethics, decision theory, economics (a branch of moral philosophy), logic and so on.

      Interestingly, your claim that I do not know anything is a philosophical claim (in epistemology). So, one use of philosophy is that it allows you to attack me in this way.

      I’m curious-why so hostile?

  27. brian said, on July 9, 2010 at 4:02 am

    Philosophy as a body of doctrines or as a truth-seeking enquiry is completely useless. You only need to look at the wide range of diverging philosophical views. Jason Brennan’s article ‘Skepticism about philosophy’ gives an excellent argument to substantiate this claim.
    So philosophy (I mean the kind of metaphilosophy exemplified by Brennan) can be said to be useful only to the extent that it explains the uselessness of philosophy itself, showing that philosophers do not and cannot know anything (as opposed to scientists who have a reasonable chance to be entitled to their knowledge claims).

    • carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 4:29 am

      I guess you don’t get why this is self-defeating? If philosophers “do not and cannot know anything” then how exactly can they know this?

      Trying to establish that philosophy is pointless by using philosophic methodology is not very convincing. In fact its just down right silly.

  28. J. Hamlyn said, on July 11, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I’m coming to this debate via Sean’s blog (link directly above) and I certainly seem to have joined from the “short bus” too!

    I’m no philosopher so I’m not really in a position to make any grand claims for philosophy but I am an artist and teacher interested in philosophy, largely because it has very much informed what I do and been very useful in the process.

    In “Picture of Dorian Gray”, Oscar Wilde wrote “all art is quite useless”. I’m sure you’d all agree that when it comes to uselessness, art certainly trumps philosophy by some considerable margin. Art cannot even claim to be the harbinger of a tiny fraction the likes of the many genuinely useful disciplines, practices etc which have arisen thanks to philosophy (which Michael has already outlined above). Yet art endures and continues to be admired, loved and occasionally, I’ll admit, despised in equal measure.

    But my point here concerns our conception of utility in this discussion and what we value in things like philosophy or art.

    In the past many have claimed that art’s primary value is in its articulation of the beautiful, but much of the last half century of art production has called such narrow conceptions into question such that few artists pay much attention to this idea anymore. But still it endures.

    I’d argue that art has become philosophy with stuff, and as such it’s a way to engage with the poetics of the world in both a material and aesthetic sense. It’s a tangible method of grappling with thoughts, feelings and ideas which, when it works, allows us to understand things more clearly, more concretely or more profoundly than might otherwise be the case.

    Without philosophy so many aspects of life would be infinitely more impoverished than they are. We should therefore see the pursuit of intellectual excellence as both subject to error and deception but also to feats of profound wisdom and hard-won insight which inspire many of us to think deeper and be more demanding of the things we see and hear.

    A good friend of mine made a text artwork a few years ago which has since taken various forms (http://davidbellingham.com/DBtrial2/index.html). It’ll loose some of its formal acuity here but nonetheless I think it retains much that’s pertinent to this discussion of the utility of philosophy:

    IDEAS
    LEAVE
    OBJECTS
    STANDING

    Best

    Jim

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 11, 2010 at 6:35 pm

      As you say, art also gets called “useless.” This always struck me as odd, even laying aside the economic aspects of art (simply taken as a product, it is as useful as anything else that is sold). An easy test to see how “useless” art is involves simply stripping one’s life of all aspects of art. No music, no decorations, no paintings, no posters, no movies, and so on. Even clothing would have to be purely functional, with no design or decorative colors.

      • hamlynart said, on July 12, 2010 at 1:03 am

        Great Michael, that really helps focus things for me because perhaps the real issue here is not so much about whether philosophy has utility as whether it has meaning (or value). It seems to me that the closer something comes to dealing in meaning rather than say beauty or truth, the more nervous people become about thinking of it as having utility. But utility is not the only value, as Wilde’s other famous quote about cynics might be interpreted as suggesting. This is why I think Jason F. Brennan’s essay fails to make an impression: it rests solely on philosophy’s claims to truth in the same way that so many people have mistakenly relied on art’s claims to beauty. I guess it’s possible to argue that meaning is a kind of truth but it’s not one that easily converts to utility.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm

          Good point. Utility and value need not be the same thing. Something might be rather lacking in utility (a couple’s baby, for example) but not lacking in value.

  29. brian said, on July 12, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I think those who say art can be compared to philosophy in terms of usefulness are mistaken. The reason why is that philosophy defines itself as a truth-seeking inquiry while art has no such mission statement. In the final analysis, however, philosophy is completely unable to deliver on its promises.

    • hamlynart said, on July 12, 2010 at 1:20 am

      Hi Brian, I beg to differ on that point – I think you can compare usefulness across different disciplines and the process can be, dare I say, useful.

      On the subject of philosophy failing to deliver, you might be right in epistemic terms (as per Brennan’s essay) but as I’ve already tried to say, there’s more to philosophy than instrumental truth.

      Jim

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm

      Brian,

      Technically, philosophy deals in wisdom rather than truth. Philosophy has delivered on many of its promises, such as developing logic and teaching people how to think better.

  30. brian said, on July 12, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Hi Jim,
    Philosophy may have a number of other values which Brennan explicitly recognizes in his paper. He says it may have intrinsic value like playing chess has for those who like playing it. It’s the L’art pour l’art attitude.
    Furthermore, what Brennan calls instrumental value and areatic value cover virtually all aims and results that may be or have been achieved by philosophy except truth.
    However, if our expectations about philosophy’s epistemic value (ie. its capacity to deliver truths) turn out to be groundless, then I agree with Brennan that there is something deeply disappointing about the philosophical enterprise as a whole. The reason is that from Plato onwards philosophy has been standardly (albeit often implicitly) defined as a truth-seeking enquiry.

    • hamlynart said, on July 12, 2010 at 5:13 pm

      Thanks Brian,
      True, in a very similar way to art being standardly (albeit often implicitly) defined as a beauty-seeking enquiry. And yes both claims leave many people feeling deeply disappointed – which may call for either major redefinition or a significant change of attitude/expectation (which probably amounts to the same thing).

      As for Brennan’s “truth-seeking, error-avoiding agnostic” caricature. Perhaps she’d do better to study physics – but as I said over on Sean’s blog – even in science, I’ve no doubt, the avoidance of error isn’t guaranteed.

      The problem as I see it is this impetuous desire for totalising theories or absolute truths but most especially the naïve notion that these can be acquired or attained without at least going through some crap to get there, not to mention the formidable contingencies of time-frame, social historical context etc which come as a consequence. Your position would seem to suggest that we should abandon philosophy as so much self indulgent twaddle (forgive me if this is too reductive – I’d certainly be interested to know). My position would be that the more perspectives we have upon our experience the better placed we are to fully comprehend it and, perhaps, with ingenuity, skill and “wisdom” to improve it.

      Best

      Jim

  31. brian said, on July 13, 2010 at 2:37 am

    Dear Michael,
    your characterization of philosophy as dealing in wisdom rather than truth may fit continental philosophy, but analytic philosophy as practiced these days is a heavily truth-oriented approach. Just think about the formulation of problems like realism vs. anti-realism or internalism vs. externalism, or utilitarism vs. deontic theories of ethics. All these concern matters of truth in some specific area of inquiry. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, we have competing pictures of reality, human cognition, morality etc, all of which are supported by equally strong arguments.
    Logic was a useful product of philosophy in the past indeed, but the central questions of philosophy remain unanswered after several thousands years of fruitless debates.

  32. brian said, on July 13, 2010 at 2:42 am

    Hi Jim,
    In my opinion, philosophers have already had plenty of time to go through the crap you mentioned, still they have not made any substantial progress on any of the central problems of philosophy.
    You say it is a good thing that philosophy provides us with different perspectives on our experience. But please note that in most cases these different perspectives are mutually inconsistent and incompatible, so we cannot use them to build a coherent picture of either reality or our experience of it.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      Brian,

      One irony of philosophical progress is that when a branch of philosophy starts getting concrete results it transforms from philosophy to science. To use an analogy, imagine a family, the Smiths, who work on various tasks. However, when a Smith completes a task, she gets renamed “Jones.” So, people would say “those Smiths, they never get anything done. Unlike those Jones!”

      • kernunos said, on July 13, 2010 at 1:51 pm

        I think you hit the nail on the head. Philosophy is a process of posturing around a thought/problem/theory etc. It is the trip to the destination. When you get there there is nothing to be philosophical about anymore…..well, maybe not. Philosophers will then debate whether or not the trip should have even been made. Yeah, philosophy is useless I’ve decided. It seems like a speed bump on the way to progress. I think it would be best to keep the ‘getter done’ers seperate in a room over from the philosophers. The philosopher banter would filter through the thin walls and maybe influence or flavor the decisions that would actually get made.

  33. Seán said, on July 13, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Thanks Brian,

    these are the things I have noticed, and the questions I have been asking for some time. Are you by any chance an engineer?

    I am an engineer, and part of what engineers know is how to identify the minimum necessary knowledge to reliably produce a useful outcome. Life is too short to investigate everything which has been thought or said about the smallest subject imaginable. There are always other perspectives. The engineer asks-which work well enough?

    I am however with Jim on the pointlessness of grand unifying theories, most of which seem to me like religion by other names.

  34. brian said, on July 13, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Hi Sean,
    I am not an engineer. I majored in philosophy, but got disillusioned with it as time went by. As I see it, different perspectives or theories in philosophy concerning a specific issue all work well to a certain extent, but all have their limitations and inherent difficulties, not to mention the fact that they are incompatible with all the other competing perspectives.

  35. brian said, on July 14, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Hi Michael,
    the process of some branch of philosophy transforming into science has much more far-reaching effects as could be dealt with a simple act of renaming. For one thing, at some point in history philosophy gave birth to physics and biology, but it seems to be case that philosophy is no longer able to transform into any hard science (ie. those fields of knowledge that mostly generate consensus among researchers).
    On the other hand, philosophy’s transformation into soft sciences like linguistics, cognitive science, psychology or the social sciences leaves much of the original uncertainty and substantial disagreement on issues of methodology and content that is characteristic to philosophy.
    Therefore it is safe to say that the amount philosophy inherent in those fields of inquiry is responsible for their categorization under the heading ‘soft’ science. Which means they cannot make significant progress and will give rise to endless debates until the philosophical component is present in them.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 14, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      It seems possible, even likely, that the soft sciences will “harden” over time. Then again, my view might be due to the influences of science fiction (Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy & psychology, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers & ethics to give just two example).

  36. Seán said, on July 15, 2010 at 3:46 am

    Is something like a consensus emerging, along the lines of “philosophy in itself itself is pretty much useless”, more specifically lying somewhere in the range “worse than useless” to “almost entirely useless”?

    How can the “soft sciences” ever hope to firm up when they have driven themselves into a post-modernist cul-de-sac? Philosophy hasn’t and its had 2,500 years, but I wouldn’t rule it out on the timescales over which science fiction is set, if only because of the infinite improbability drive.

  37. carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 4:37 am

    “Is something like a consensus emerging, along the lines of “philosophy in itself itself is pretty much useless”, more specifically lying somewhere in the range “worse than useless” to “almost entirely useless”?”

    Sure, a bunch of people that have not even mastered the basics of philosophy (you know, like knowing basic distinctions) have decided that philosophy is useless.

    Anyhow, I would agree though that Philosophy as you guys understand it is very useless. Actual Philosophy on the other hand is rather useful.

  38. brian said, on July 15, 2010 at 4:56 am

    One of the reasons why philosophy can be said to be useless is the absence of empirical confirmation and proof in the field.
    You may reply that philosophy does not admit any empirical evidence in support of its theories and claims because it is an a priori field of study. But if so, it is quite astonishing to notice that in spite of the flood of arguments philosopher have produced so far, none of them has been able to come up with anything close to a generally accepted proof for his theory or propositions. In philosophy we have only opposing visions of reality, knowledge, values and man’s place in nature without any solid factual foundations or uncontroversially accepted deductive arguments in support of them.
    In consequence, you can argue for and against virtually all possible philosophical positions at will (including even views like solipsism that verge on absurdity) without the risk of being ever refuted. That’s the real scandal of reason.
    I think the root of the problem of absence of proof partly lies in language. Mathematics is a priori field and the reason you can present a proof that all mathematicans would agree to is that mathematical terms are clearly and unambigously defined. By contrast, arguments formulated in natural languages are inevitably made up of words that may be ridden with ambiguity and vagueness, not to mention the difficulties with determining their literal sense in many cases. Words evoke different stereotypes and associations in different people’s minds. Furthermore, people are unconsciously influenced by their upbringing and social/family background. They view of the world is shaped by these factors so that by the time they start studying philosophy they have their personal inclinations, tastes, (lack of) religious commitments etc. and they are often unwilling to give up these things.
    These are the idols of the cave that Bacon had warned about, and philosophy seems to be unable to get rid of these idols until the present day.

  39. carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 5:20 am

    “but if so, it is quite astonishing to notice that in spite of the flood of arguments philosopher have produced so far, none of them has been able to come up with anything close to a generally accepted proof for his theory or propositions.”

    This is not true, when something becomes “generally accepted” it usually evolves into another discipline. All the charges given against philosophy here show a basic misunderstanding of the nature of philosophy. The disagreements between philosophers are no more damaging to philosophy as the disagreements between scientists, in each case there is a method to resolve matters over time.

    The purpose of philosophy is not to discover truth from your armchair, rather to arrive at conceptual clarity from your armchair. Mathematics is no different in this regard.

    “Mathematics is a priori field and the reason you can present a proof that all mathematicans would agree to is that mathematical terms are clearly and unambigously defined.”

    Firstly, it has taken centuries to arrive at the clarity you see in mathematics today. Secondly, philosophers formalize things all the time. Look up “formal philosophy” for examples.

    The only fundamental difference between philosophy and mathematics here is that philosophers are dealing with much more general subjects and therefore it is often harder to formalism matters.

    But don’t let reality get in the way of giving philosophic arguments to show that philosophic arguments are pointless. I suppose consistency is not really valued around here.

  40. hamlynart said, on July 15, 2010 at 5:33 am

    “I feel a responsibility as a scientist who knows the great value of a satisfactory philosophy of ignorance, and the progress made possible by such a philosophy, progress which is the fruit of freedom of thought. I feel a responsibility to proclaim the value of this freedom and to teach that doubt is not to be feared, but that it is to be welcomed as the possibility of a new potential for human beings. If you know that you are not sure, you have a chance to improve the situation. I want to demand this freedom for future generations.”
    - Richard Feynman

  41. Seán said, on July 15, 2010 at 8:03 am

    Ah, the short bus bus pulled up again.

    Mr Carnap, we’ve been expecting you, and I see from your incoherent ranting that you have drunk your breakfast again.

    What exactly is it that philosophy has done that is of any use to anyone other than those who make a living from it?

    Don’t tell me I need a philosophy degree to understand the usefulness of philosophy. Why should I need to study a subject to see that its ends are useful? Do you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to appreciate the usefulness of an aeroplane?

    I think the truth is closer to a person needing a heavy investment of time and effort in philosophy not to be willing to notice that it is pointless mental masturbation.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm

      One use of philosophy is that it enables people to distinguish between good reasoning and poor reasoning. For example, Sean’s attack on Carnap is an excellent example of the ad hominem fallacy (specifically a personal attack.

      As noted in the blog, logic comes from philosophy. As such, the information age counts among its foundational “stones” a contribution by philosophers.

      Also, there are the contributions in ethics, political philosophy and legal philosophy.

      • Seán said, on July 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm

        Of course I’m just an engineer, but isn’t an ad hominem attack one where I claim someone is wrong BECAUSE he is an addled, incoherent supercilious prick?

        If I just insult someone, and do not claim that it follows from his unfortunate personal characteristics that his arguments are erroneous, that’s a simple insult rather than a fallacious argument.

        On the other hand, if a person claims that a discipline which they are a master of fosters personal wisdom and clarity of thought, and they seem both unclear and unwise, their own behaviour might be seen as evidence against their position.

        It surely doesn’t follow logically from this that any of the other questions I have asked or points I have made are invalid.

        All of the examples given in support of the idea that philosophy is anything other than useless are at best questionable. It might seem for example to a philosopher that linguistics is useful, but to an engineer it seems no less useless, confused and interminable than philosophy itself.

        You have admitted yourself in this thread that most philosophy and most philosophers are useless, aren’t we just hair-splitting now?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 15, 2010 at 6:35 pm

          Sean,

          Like any argument, a fallacy can have an unstated or implied conclusion. You seemed to be rejecting his views on the basis of your personal attacks. Now, if you were merely engaged in insulting him without any intent to reject his claims, then you are right. You have not committed a fallacy-you are just being a bit uncivil.

          As for your point about the alleged master of a discipline, that could be seen as ad hominem. After all, just because a person’s claims are inconsistent with his own behavior (or abilities) it does not follow that the claim is incorrect. However, as you note, if someone claims that mastering X makes him better at C, yet he is inept at C, one might entertain some doubts about the value of C. For example, if someone said that he had mastered push ups and was thus great at running; yet you found that he could only lumber through a 18 minute mile, then you might entertain some reasonable doubts.

          You keep saying that the examples are questionable, yet you never actually show that they are, in fact, questionable. As such, I challenge you to prove that reason and logic are useless. I also challenge you to prove that ethics is useless. You could be begin by showing that economics (which is part of moral philosophy) has no use, then you could move on to decision theory and address that. Along the way, you could show that there is no use in discussing the ethics of things like rape, murder, genocide, abortion, or racism. Once you do that, you can prove that political philosophy is useless. You could start by showing that Locke’s political views had no useful impact on such matters as political systems, rights, and the basis of authority. After you do that, then we can move on to the remainder of philosophy.

          Your move.

          • Seán said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:42 am

            I was intending to be a bit uncivil to someone who joined the forum by saying that he felt like he was surrounded here by mentally handicapped people, which is what I understand “the short bus” to contain.

            I respectfully reject your attempt to saddle me with the burden of proof-you are the philosopher, surely you can show me that philosophy is useful. Is carnap right, and it cannot be explained to lesser mortals, even in a simplified form?

            In return I’ll explain how engineering is useful if you like. Why does it seem to me that I have the easier job?

            Alternatively, I’d appreciate it if you could show me how Brennan is wrong, as he addresses many of the things which seem questionable with the claim of usefulness for philosophy?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm

              I’ve done that-the blog post goes on at length. As such, you need to do more than say it is useless to refute me. I accept that engineering is useful. I also accept that without the development of things like formal and informal reasoning, then there would be no engineering.

              I am curious-what standard of usefulness are you employing?

  42. brian said, on July 15, 2010 at 8:07 am

    “This is not true, when something becomes “generally accepted” it usually evolves into another discipline.”

    On the contrary, it is YOUR claim that is clearly untrue. For example, the theory of relativity in physics or of the theory of evolution in biology have not always been as widely accepted as they are now,there was a time when their opponents outnumbered their adherents. Yet they did not evolve into another discipline. So please explain what differentiates philosophy in this respect and what is so peculiar about it that makes its results evolve into some other discipline. There is no need to suppose that classical philosophical problems could not in principle admit solutions that remain inside philosophy, so they remain philosophy-specific issues whose solution could generate widespread agreement among philosophers if they had one (but they probably either don’t have any, or they are such that are unattainable for human beings).

    “All the charges given against philosophy here show a basic misunderstanding of the nature of philosophy. The disagreements between philosophers are no more damaging to philosophy as the disagreements between scientists, in each case there is a method to resolve matters over time.”

    This is again blatantly untrue. Disagreement in philosophy is immensely more damaging, partly because the millenia-long irresolvability of philosophical problems makes it probable that they will remain forever unsolvable, and partly because there is no agreed-on method of resolving disagreements in philosophy as compared to the hard sciences like physics or chemistry where established practices and research methodologies do exist.

    “The purpose of philosophy is not to discover truth from your armchair, rather to arrive at conceptual clarity from your armchair. Mathematics is no different in this regard.”

    This is again false. Major philosophical problems concern and call for solutions in terms of TRUTH. Every interrelated set of philosophical positions can be pictured in a flow-chart with yes/no questions at the junctures. Those philosophers who think otherwise and give up the notion of truth are called relativits or sceptic and are generally held in low esteem among professional philosophers.
    Let me add that mathematics deals in truth too. It is really strange to see you think differently because mathematics is so much about truth and proof. Yes, it is also about conceptual clarity but this clarity is only paves the way to something more important, ie. the truth of mathematical demonstrations.

    “Firstly, it has taken centuries to arrive at the clarity you see in mathematics today.”

    This does not contradict my claim, which concerns the present-day state of the art.

    “Secondly, philosophers formalize things all the time. Look up “formal philosophy” for examples.”

    Formalization is a useful method, but in and of itself does not generate truth in any field. Take linguistics, for example. From my experience I know that many – but not all – semanticians since Montague have been eager to formalize their theories about meaning,still there are radically different and incompatible approaches to meaning and no one really knows what linguistic meaning is or how it should be best described.

    “The only fundamental difference between philosophy and mathematics here is that philosophers are dealing with much more general subjects and therefore it is often harder to formalism matters”

    Please name something which is more general than a set. ZF set theory says that everything is a set. I do not want to dispute that philosophers are dealing with general subjects, but the degree of generality is comparable to the degree of abstraction and generality that mathematics demands.

    “But don’t let reality get in the way of giving philosophic arguments to show that philosophic arguments are pointless. I suppose consistency is not really valued around here.”

    This is a fundamentally flawed objection and is adequately dealt with by Brennan anyway who points out that there is nothing inconsistent in maintaining that the only meaningful and useful part of philosophy is the type of metaphilosophical reflection intended to show the pointlessness of all other philosophical activities.

    Have you ever learnt logic? If so, the difference between metalanguage and object language should be familiar to you.

    • carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 9:11 am

      “So please explain what differentiates philosophy in this respect and what is so peculiar about it that makes its results evolve into some other discipline.”

      Firstly, your claim here is not accurate. The discoveries by Darwin, etc did create new disciplines, but they were still within the realm of science. What differentiates philosophy is rather simple, philosophy is concerned with conceptual analysis. Once this “job” is done there is no more work for the philosopher, rather the work needs to be continued by a scientist, etc.

      Anyhow, the problems that are sufficiently clarified by philosophers get taken up by scientists. The ones that are not stay in Philosophy. This gives the impression to someone that is not familiar with the history of thought that philosophy has done nothing.

      “Major philosophical problems concern and call for solutions in terms of TRUTH.”

      Your comments are ironic, because while you think philosophy is “pointless” you are now pulling in all sorts of philosophy. What exactly is “truth”? Regardless, philosophy is (properly) not about discovering which propositions are true and which are false, rather its about clarify (via conceptual analysis) the positions in the first place.

      “Let me add that mathematics deals in truth too. It is really strange to see you think differently because mathematics is so much about truth and proof.”
      It deals “in truth” huh? Its amusing that you think you are saying something with actual meaning. Mathematicians use proofs to demonstrate mathematical claims, does this mean they are true? True in what sense? What are they true of exactly? Mathematical abstractions? But wait…these don’t really exist…or do they? Hmm….

      “Please name something which is more general than a set. ZF set theory says that everything is a set. ”
      You just wanted to mention set theory huh? Because what you are saying makes little sense. Philosophy is more general than mathematics because it deals with everything where as mathematics just deals mathematical objects. You don’t see mathematics given proofs about ethics, ya know?

      Also, your comment about set theory was funny. Do you think you are a set? ZF Set theory does not say “everything is a set”, that would be on the same level as “everything is god”.

      “This is a fundamentally flawed objection and is adequately dealt with by Brennan anyway…”
      My comment was regarding the things stated here, not by Brennan.

      Also, the object/meta language distinction is a linguistic one not a methodological one. Using philosophic methodology to show that philosophic methodology is pointless is self refuting. A meta-language allows one to talk about “objects” in the object language, but if you are using the very object (philosophic methodology) that you are pretending to talk about then you are in fact using the object-language not meta-language.

  43. brian said, on July 15, 2010 at 8:52 am

    “Do you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to appreciate the usefulness of an aeroplane?”

    Good point. You don’t have to be bitten by a snake in order to know that a snakebite is a bad thing.

  44. Seán said, on July 15, 2010 at 10:54 am

    So other than your dyslexic bluster, you’ve got nothing then, Carnap? Not a single example of something philosophy is useful for which we mere mortals can understand?

    Let’s assume that your writings, rather than being the symptoms of a personality disorder which they appear to be reflect reality, and you are right in thinking that your supposed skills in philosophy give you exceptional mental clarity.

    You are clearly aware that we do not understand the brilliance of your arguments, and it seems to you that we are very stupid to fail to grasp this.

    What use is it to have acheived this supposed great clarity if it is impossible to transmit it to others, and that its possession makes you seem to all who encounter you like a supercilious prick?

    • carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm

      “Not a single example of something philosophy is useful for which we mere mortals can understand?”

      I have stated many times the way in which philosophy is useful, namely conceptual analysis. The usefulness of conceptual analysis is easily demonstrated in the development of numerous theoretical issues, for example the device you are using now.

      “What use is it to have acheived this supposed great clarity if it is impossible to transmit it to others, and that its possession makes you seem to all who encounter you like a supercilious prick?”

      The issue here is not that it can’t be transmitted to others, rather that it can’t be transmitted to people that are fundamentally ignorant of the discipline. I could similarly not transmit the great discoveries in advanced mathematics to someone that has not even mastered calculus.

      The difference here is that people, like yourself, feel that despite having no education in philosophy that they are some how able to fully understanding philosophy. People don’t behave this way with mathematics, physics, etc but for some odd reason they think philosophy can be understood by any average Joe off the street.

      • Seán said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:27 am

        And I have stated that you only think these thinks useful because you are so mired in this useless subject that you cannot see it from outside.

        Engineers do not carry out conceptual analysis prior to designing things, they do not even necessarily use any concepts as such, but rely directly on empirical test data.

        Your idea that everything flows from conceptual analysis is another example of precisely how your supposed knowledge of philosophy blinds you to the obvious truth.

        I teach people complicated things all the time, and I can give my six-year old an idea of what virtually all of these things are about. You claim, as many obscurantists do that the things you understand are too complex for anyone without an advanced training in the subject to comprehend. To an outsider, this seems precisely the argument of the emperors new tailors.

        I ask again, where is the useful product of philosophy? Not the glories of the past, not things which philosophy was outgrown by, but philosophy, as it is being practised now. What would we lose by closing all philosophy departments tomorrow?

        I, and more or less anyone outside the field consider all of the things named so far on here to be utterly useless, and note that even if we were to give philosophy credit for its spin-offs, the more recent a spin-off is, the more useless it is.

        Brennan makes many of the same points in what looks to me like great detail. He is a professor of philosophy, yet he cannot see the benefits you claim to be evident to philosophers. He thinks that philosophy is useless. How is he wrong? If it is too complex for me to understand, correspond with him, get him to publish a retraction.

        Otherwise, people are just going to think you are just another internet nutter with a bee in his bonnet. I’m guessing you aren’t a big name in philosophy, or indeed anything else.
        Philosophy is all you have, and what has it got you? Arguing with people you consider vastly intellectually inferior to you on the internet. That’s so sad.

        • carnap said, on July 16, 2010 at 6:12 am

          “And I have stated that you only think these thinks useful because you are so mired in this useless subject that you cannot see it from outside.”

          This is not an argument. There are many historic examples of conceptual analysis leading to important discoveries. I have cited one, namely the development of computers, but there are many others.

          “Your idea that everything flows from conceptual analysis…”

          That is not my idea, rather that conceptual analysis plays an important role in man’s intellectual development.

          “I ask again, where is the useful product of philosophy”

          Philosophy does not have “products”, it plays a supporting role. Before you can submit something to an empirical inquiry you first have to understand it on conceptual grounds.

          Discovery is not a linear process, often science has to go back to the conceptual level and rework things. It is here that philosophers provide valuable services.

          Also, I tend to focus on logic and philosophy science because that is my background. But when you look at political philosophy you see something that is closer to a “product”, the US was created on philosophic principles.

          “I’m guessing you aren’t a big name in philosophy, or indeed anything else.”

          I’m not a professional philosopher, I never claimed to be such. I decided not to go into academia, rather I got involved in business. My education in philosophy, among other things, has proven to be extremely useful.

  45. brian said, on July 15, 2010 at 11:31 am

    “Firstly, your claim here is not accurate. The discoveries by Darwin, etc did create new disciplines, but they were still within the realm of science. What differentiates philosophy is rather simple, philosophy is concerned with conceptual analysis.”

    It is again YOUR claim that is wildly inaccurate, obfuscating and false. It is true that Darwin’s and Einstein’s discoveries remained strictly within the realm of biology and physics, but you are just playing with words in saying they created new disciplines, because if this were true every new theory in science would establish a new discipline which is clearly false and would empty the meaning of the word ‘discipline’.
    The new theories are so closely integrated with the existing ones that it makes no sense to claim they create new disciplines. They may set up new branches of the same old science, but that is far from claiming that (say) evolutionary biology is a new discipline.
    Let me warn you that it won’t do to differentiate philosophy by saying it does conceptual analysis, because Frege, Hilbert and other mathematicians also did conceptual analysis and clarification while they remained within the realm of logic and mathematics proper. For example, Frege’s logical analysis of the concept of number uses only the tools of logic. His Platonism is an extra add-on that you need not buy into.
    The same applies to physics – the theory of relativity clarifies the concept of energy and mass. So conceptual analysis is by no means unique to philosophy.

    “What exactly is “truth”?”
    That was Pilate’s question and Jesus had no answer to it. The fact that you cannot say what truth exactly is does not in the least prevent anyone from understanding propositions and evaluating them as true or false depending on the available evidence or proofs.

    “Regardless, philosophy is (properly) not about discovering which propositions are true and which are false”.

    In a large part this IS exactly what philosophy aspires to be about. There are countless philosophical propositions that are truth-evaluable. Philosophy aspires to discover their truth or falsity but it inevitably fails in the end in its attempt. Have your ever read Plato, Descartes or Russell? They were all in search of philosophical truth, like many other philosophers.
    Please also note that even the very notion of a yes/no question involves the presupposition that the corresponding proposition must be either true or false (or it may have no truth value in some special cases). You cannot get off the ground in philosophy to ask a question without implicitly presupposing the notion of truth and falsity.
    Philosophical problems may well have solutions in principle, but the experience of humankind shows that they must be inaccessible to us forever, so philosophy is the most useless pastime on Earth.

    “Mathematicians use proofs to demonstrate mathematical claims, does this mean they are true?”

    Yes it means exactly that. Ask any mathematician about the truth-evaluability of their statements.

    “True in what sense?”

    Are you having a hard time understanding ordinary natural language expressions like ‘true’ or ‘false’? Why suppose truth in mathematics must be different in kind from the commonsense notion of truth?

    “What are they true of exactly? Mathematical abstractions?”

    This questioning falls outside the remit of mathematics proper. The widespread acceptance of a proof or demonstration as valid by the mathematicians’ community shows that mathematicians have their own criteria of truth and don’t need to ask such irresolvable philosophical questions. They can reach consensus on issues of truth and falsity of mathematical propositions without entering the philosophical quagmire.

    “Philosophy is more general than mathematics because it deals with everything where as mathematics just deals mathematical objects.”

    In ZF there are no atoms so everything can be considered a set, ie. a mathematical object. Moreover, every possible (and impossible) thing has some number or other, so the concept of number is an extremely general one and applies to all conceivable entity.
    And as I said before, clarifying and analyzing the concept of number belongs to logic and mathematics proper, not to philosophy. You can define numbers by purely set theoretical means, regardless of their supposed metaphysical status (of which we can never know anything for sure).
    By the way, how do you know you are not a set of atoms? You should go learn some set theory before making such pretentious claims.

    • carnap said, on July 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm

      “because if this were true every new theory in science would establish a new discipline which is clearly false and would empty the meaning of the word ‘discipline’.”

      Not every theory, just the ones that are revolutionary. Darwin’s work significantly changed the face of biology and created a new discipline within biology.

      “Let me warn you that it won’t do to differentiate philosophy by saying it does conceptual analysis, because Frege, Hilbert and other mathematicians also did conceptual analysis and clarification while they remained within the realm of logic and mathematics proper.”

      I hate to break it to you but logic is a branch of philosophy. The work you are referring to is philosophic work, it is an area that intersects both philosophy and mathematics. If you look at the literature on both Frege and Hilbert you’ll find that it is mostly by philosophers.

      Regardless, the same methodology can be used on other issues.

      “Why suppose truth in mathematics must be different in kind from the commonsense notion of truth”

      What is the commonsense notion of truth? Define it. And why suppose its different? Because mathematics deals with abstract objects.

      “by the mathematicians’ community shows that mathematicians have their own criteria of truth and don’t need to ask such irresolvable philosophical questions.”

      Mathematicians have thought about the relationship between truth and proof (e.g., Tarski) and there are branches of mathematics that deal with it today (e.g., model theory). Mathematicians, like philosophers, have been interested in issues about “truth”.

      “In ZF there are no atoms so everything can be considered a set, ie. a mathematical object”

      There are “atoms”, namely sets. Axiomatizing mathematics using a theory of sets is much different than the metaphysical claim that “everything is a set” or “everything mathematical object is a set”.

      “By the way, how do you know you are not a set of atoms?”

      I don’t know, how do I know I’m not a set of sets of atoms? Or a set of sets of sets of atoms, etc? I’m not really fond of metaphysical questions.

      “You should go learn some set theory before making such pretentious claims”

      Should I go read the wikipedia page on it like you? I’m not really concerned with making pretentious claims, for example it is clear that you only possess very rudimentary knowledge of this material yet you feel the need to yap about it with some sort of pseudo-authority.

  46. magus71 said, on July 15, 2010 at 11:50 am

    It’s interesting that this very conversation about if philosophy is useless or not, has in fact turned into a philosophical debate…

  47. brian said, on July 16, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Hi carnap,

    It is you who should read Wikipedia, not me. It says: “mathematical logic (formerly known as symbolic logic) is a subfield of mathematics…”
    Both Frege and Hilbert were mathematicians, they never considered themselves philosophers.

    So go and read up on the topic before writing such silly comments.

    • carnap said, on July 16, 2010 at 6:22 am

      I guess you did not get my comment, the point was that you clearly have no real knowledge of what you are talking about rather you are just reading things on wikipedia (or some similar source). Just to let you know, reading a wiki page does not give you actual expertise. Regardless, yes “mathematical logic” is a subfield of mathematics. But “logic” is a branch of philosophy. Mathematical logic is just a subset of logic that is of particular interest to mathematicians.

      Additionally, philosophy and mathematics are not mutually exclusive. Many people are both philosophers and mathematicians. Both Frege and Hilbert were both mathematicians and philosophers. In both cases most of their work is of more interest to philosophers than it is to mathematicians.

      • carnap said, on July 16, 2010 at 6:40 am

        By the way, I’m not really trying to insult you with my first paragraph. But I don’t get the point of trying to pretend you know much more than you do. We both know you have not studied this material much.

  48. brian said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:08 am

    “Mathematicians have thought about the relationship between truth and proof (e.g., Tarski) and there are branches of mathematics that deal with it today (e.g., model theory). Mathematicians, like philosophers, have been interested in issues about “truth”. ”

    Why suppose there is more to truth than the commonsense notion of correspondence (which is almost trivial and Aristotle already hit on it) and the elaboration of this concept in Tarski’s truth definition for formal languages? Tarski says the everyday concept of truth cannot serve exact purposes for several reasons, so the only thing that survives from it is the Aristotelian idea of correspondence.
    Conceived this way, truth remains within the scope of mathematical logic, which is a subfield of mathematics. So truth has nothing to do with philosophy. What’s the problem with that?

    • carnap said, on July 16, 2010 at 6:34 am

      “Why suppose there is more to truth than the commonsense notion of correspondence (which is almost trivial and Aristotle already hit on it) and the elaboration of this concept in”

      It is not “almost trivial” and in the case of mathematics you have to posit all sorts of metaphysics to make sense of it. After all, what exactly do mathematical statements correspond to? Mathematical objects are abstract, they don’t exist in the world. Is there a world of mathematical objects off in la-la land?

      The correspondence theory of truth is problematic in science as well. Scientific theories contain all sorts of theoretical entities, do they really exist? Are they just useful fictions? None of these issues have straight-forward answers.

      Perhaps you should read about it one day?

  49. brian said, on July 16, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Hi carnap,
    Now I am pretty sure that you’re a shameless liar. You wrote:

    ““logic” is a branch of philosophy. Mathematical logic is just a subset of logic that is of particular interest to mathematicians.”

    This is a blatant nonsense. If you read the wikipedia quote again you will see that mathematical logic was called earlier symbolic logic, which is a subfield of mathematics founded by Frege. Symbolic logic encompasses all results of logic in any proper sense of the term – just try to mention only one theorem or principle of logic proper that is not included in symbolic (mathematical) logic – you can’t because there aren’t any.
    You may have in mind philosophical logic, but that is not logic but just another name for the philosophy of language. Read eg. Anthony Grayling’s introduction to it.
    Feel ashamed of your disgraceful behavior, liar.

    • carnap said, on July 16, 2010 at 8:46 am

      Brian,

      Again what is the point of pretending that reading a wiki article gives you any sense of expertise? You are getting this all very wrong.

      There phrase “symbolic logic” is at times used as a synonym for mathematical logic, but it also refers to the formalization of a logic. Regardless, mathematical logic is just a subset of logic. If you bothered to actually read about logic, rather than mathematical logic you’d quickly find this out.

      Also, so called “philosophical logic” is in no sense another name for the philosophy of language. Philosophical logic deals with non-standard logics, where as mathematical logic deals with standard logic. Both philosophers and computer scientists have an interest in philosophical logic.

      Anyhow, its amusing that you are basically looking this stuff as you go on wikipedia. What exactly is the point?

  50. Anonymous said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Well this argument appears to be polarising away quite nicely doesn’t it? There’s certainly no conceivable way that your entrenched positions are likely to be reconcilable in their present form. I’m certainly impressed though, at your doggedness.

    I’d like to suggest that your disagreement is completely missing the central point. Whilst the consideration of utility it’s certainly interesting, and has undoubtedly raised a great deal of debate (not to mention hackles!), a black-and-white outcome would nonetheless be entirely unsatisfactory – yes philosophy is useless; no philosophy is not useless – then we have to supply reasons followed by evidence. Only one outcome is going to match the reality (the truth) and therefore one position in this arguement is doomed to being wrong.

    But hold on a minute – this question of utility might itself be “useful” but does it really point us in the right direction? Is use value the only value which we should be using to gauge philosophy? (By the way, Brennan explicitly states at one point: “There are many reasons why philosophy is worth doing.”)
    I’ve already mentioned the lack of utility in Art, but there are probably other areas which could just as easily be mentioned: Sport for instance – is Sport useful? Well, not in the least for me, but I don’t doubt that many people find it useful. But once again, utility is a red herring (if that’s not mixing metaphors!). People don’t love sport because it’s useful, they love it because it’s beautiful or interesting or captivating or thrilling or because it reinforces social relations and a whole host of other reasons. Getting hung up over whether Sport is useful and asking for evidence would be verging on the ridiculous – so why should we get so caught up with whether philosophy is useful or not? Fine, let’s imagine closing all the philosophy courses, but you won’t stop philosophy happening because it’s part of our very nature to enquire, speculate and debate. Institutions such as universities (or sporting institutions for that matter) simply ensure that we have something of high quality to aspire to and they ensure that people push the boundaries at the very top of their game.

  51. hamlynart said, on July 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    Oops – that’s from me (Jim) – by the way!

    Oh, and while I’m on the subject of not being able to retract what I’ve previously written, I’d like to retract the comment about the short bus. I wasn’t aware that this is a pejorative term.

    Best

    Jim

  52. brian said, on July 16, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    “There phrase “symbolic logic” is at times used as a synonym for mathematical logic, but it also refers to the formalization of a logic. Regardless, mathematical logic is just a subset of logic.”

    Oh my god.

    Will you accept Kurt Gödel’s own words on the issue? I wonder if you ever heard about this guy, given the abyss of your ignorance.

    “Mathematical logic, which is nothing else but the precise and complete formulation of formal logic…is a section of Mathematics.” (Russel’s Mathematical Logic)

    Now what is formal logic? According to the Blackwell Companion to Philosophy: Formal logic is “the systematic presentation of the valid patterns (forms) of inference and certain implications which hold among propositions, relying heavily on the meaning of structural words such as “all,” “some,” “if,” “not,” “and,” and “or.” It is divided
    into standard (or classical) logic, non-standard logic and inductive logic.”

    Putting the two quotes together, it follows that there is nothing in the field of LOGIC in general that mathematical logic does not cover.

    You also wrote: “Also, so called “philosophical logic” is in no sense another name for the philosophy of language. Philosophical logic deals with non-standard logics, where as mathematical logic deals with standard logic.”

    Philosophical logic is a rather loose term, but you are entirely mistaken about its scope. Check out the Handbook of Philosophical Logic by Gabbay and Guenther, and you will see how wrong you are about it, as the first volumes are about standard first-order and second-order logic.
    On the other hand, Anthony Grayling in his Introduction to Philosophical Logic says that philosophical logic “is philosophy…(it) is not about logic neither it is logic in the sense in which logic is the study of formal representations and regimentations of inference.” (pp. 2-3).

    So carnap, you are nothing but a fraud, a shameless liar. Your comments should be very embarrassing to any competent philosopher.

    • carnap said, on July 17, 2010 at 4:21 am

      “Will you accept Kurt Gödel’s own words on the issue?”

      I have already stated that mathematical logic is part of mathematics. The issue is that you think that mathematical logic encompasses far more than what it does.

      “Putting the two quotes together, it follows that there is nothing in the field of LOGIC in general that mathematical logic does not cover.”

      Not at all, the definition you gave explicitly mentions both non-standard logic and inductive logic both of which are not dealt with in mathematical logic. You’d know that if you actually studied mathematical logic.

      Anyhow, its a waste of time trying to teach someone that thinks that looking up definitions is a substitute for actual knowledge. I suggest that you take some courses in logic if you really want to learn about it.

  53. brian said, on July 17, 2010 at 6:08 am

    John N. Crossley, School of Computer Science and Software Engineering writes:

    “At present, mathematical logic encompasses model theory, set theory, recursion theory and proof theory. Although modal logics have long been used,especially by philosophers, in my lifetime I believe that the most important change in mathematical logic has been the development of many, many other kinds of logics, which have supplemented the standard or classical one used in
    mathematics.”

    The quote from this expert supports my claim (note the phrase “change IN mathematical logic”) and so clearly shows what a self-conceited fucking moron you are, carnap.

    • carnap said, on July 17, 2010 at 6:44 am

      Its amazing that you are still trying to search the internet for vague quotes you can try to use against me. But just in case you actually care about logic rather than trying to insult me here is an explanation:

      One issue here is that many of these terms have more than one meaning. Methodologically speaking both philosophical logic and mathematical logic are pretty much the same. Both employ the same formal methods. It is the subject matter that differs. Philosophical logic deals exclusively with non-standard logics that are of little interest to mathematicians. Where as mathematical logic deals with the issues that are of interest to mathematics, which usually means standard logic. Though, there has been some interest in intuitionistic logic by mathematicians in the past.

      But the distinction between mathematical logic and inductive logic is rather absolute, the two differ in both methods and subject matter.

      Mathematical logic is a subset of the study of logic. Logic in general includes much more than just mathematical logic. Since you like wikipedia so much free feel to read the wiki page on logic:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logic

      Notice that little graphic on the right? That is to let you know that logic is a branch of philosophy.

      • carnap said, on July 17, 2010 at 6:51 am

        Also, just to note. Although informal logic does not have nicely packaged theorems, etc it is still rather important. The vast majority of reasoning takes place informally, not formally by philosophers, mathematicians, etc.

        Regardless, logic is at the core of philosophy the rest of philosophy is merely the application of logic to other issues.

  54. Seán said, on July 17, 2010 at 6:57 am

    Harriett Van Johnson rides again! Is this the bit where you philosophers go “QED”? LOL!

    Brian’s link to Brennan is the most useful thing in this debate so far IMHO. So let’s get back to Brennan’s unanswered claims, which address every claim made in support of philosophy in this thread.

    Despite Jim’s doubting that such a thing exists, I am approximately the “truth seeking, error avoiding agnostic” he posits, and Brennan’s description is precisely how philosophy looks to me.

    I seem to be seeing a negative correlation in this thread between a training in philosophy and an ability to come to any firm and reliable conclusion, about anything, ever. Herr Carnap is very sure of himself, but this is more often a marker of great stupidity than great wisdom.

    I can’t seem to get some here to understand that philosophers are not responsible for computers, or any other physical artifact, though Carnap at least has the sense to admit that philosophy has no product.

    Even ignoring my point(as explored by Brennan)that philosophy’s attempts to claim credit for itself for ideas which developed from philosophical ideas into more useful ones is nonsense, all philosophy has spawned in living memory is new sorts of philosophy.

    Linguistics, political philosophy, formal logic, formal ethics, every example given here, all entirely worthless. Engineers didn’t need formal logic to make computers, as where no theory exists, engineers find an empirical fix that does the job. Engineers made computers. Philosophers were unnecessary to the process. Engineers were essential.

    Philosophers make nothing of value, and after a couple of millennia of utter failure, we might be justified in thinking they never will, and consequently the resources they consume might be better spent elswhere.

    You ask me to disprove economics, Michael, but let us subject that to my outsider’s test-is it of any use? Did economics for example prevent the recent crash?-on the contrary, it is more likely that it caused it.

    The basic assumptions of economics, (especially rational economic behavior by consumers) are false. Economics is actually arguably worse than useless.

    Like all forms of philosophy it allows us only to give elegant post-hoc justifications for our prejudices. It is precisely as useful as theology, and may have caused as much human misery.

    Brennan addresses all of the points raised here, and others besides. I understand the points he is making. Explain why he is wrong (if you can), philosophers.

    If you can’t even do that you really are useless.

  55. carnap said, on July 17, 2010 at 7:48 am

    “I can’t seem to get some here to understand that philosophers are not responsible for computers, or any other physical artifact…”
    Your thinking is rather black and white, in your mind either philosophers created X or they didn’t. The fact that philosophers contributed to the development is of no interest to you. In this sense your entire argument is just a false dichotomy.

    Philosophers contributed heavily to the development of computers, they were thinking about computing centuries before the first computer was created. And this is just the point, developments in human thought don’t come out of no where. They first start with conceptual analysis, when they are sufficiently clear they move to empirical inquiry, etc.

    “Linguistics, political philosophy, formal logic, formal ethics, every example given here, all entirely worthless. Engineers didn’t need formal logic to make computers, as where no theory exists, engineers find an empirical fix that does the job. Engineers made computers. Philosophers were unnecessary to the process. Engineers were essential.”
    While you accuse others of not being able to see outside of philosophy, you clearly are narrowly focused on engineering. The development of computers, like all technology, was truly a joint effort. It required mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, engineers, etc to happen. You are not only discounting the contributions by philosophers, but everyone else as well.

    Also, formal logic is primarily of interest to computer scientists not computer engineers. But I suppose next you’ll claim that computer science is useless as well.

    Now economics is useless as well? Interestingly, your comments are fairly typical of engineers. It seems that talent in engineering is negatively correlated with talent in abstract disciplines. What is unfortunate is that people with talent in one often don’t see the value in the other.

    Also, if you think the Brennan paper conflicts with anything I’ve said then you don’t understand the paper. The paper is concerned with philosophy as a “truth-seeking” discipline and it argues that philosophy as such is not useful. From this it does not follow that philosophy is useless in a more general sense. I have never suggested that philosophy discovers “truths”, rather I have suggested that philosophy is concerned with conceptual analysis.

    Now in fairness there are philosophers that think philosophy can or does discover “philosophic truths”, but they are a growing minority. But there are also biologists that don’t believe in evolution.

    Lastly, Brennan’s paper is a complete bore. There are far more interesting things written on this topic, for example read:

    “The Elimination of Metaphysics Through the Logical analysis of language” by Rudolf Carnap.

  56. Seán said, on July 25, 2010 at 5:20 am

    There was no “reply” option on your post, Michael, so I’ll tag on the end here.

    This thread makes clear that once you are far enough into philosophy you are usually incapable of seeing through philosophy’s pointlessness. I read your original post Michael, and thought it a bit dodgy fro the same reasons as Brennan. Brennan pokes holes in every one of your arguments from my simple-minded engineer’s viewpoint. I’m interested in why you think his criticisms invalid. Calling him silly, uninteresting and so on, or pretending you have already addressed them is unsatifying. Come on Michael, you aren’t just a philosopher, you are an educator, educate us!

    I’m standing outside of philosophy, and its equally useless decendants, and like Brennan’s hypothetical, I’m asking myself if is it worth the trouble of detailed study. I’m asking myself if the world would be a better place or a worse one if all departments of philosophy were closed tomorrow.

    I’m bringing to the investigation a simple commonplace idea of what constitutes utility, an engineer’s idea. An engineer solves practical problems arising from social, military, or economic needs with the limited resources of time, money and manpower available to him. I would draw the same distinction as William Morris betwene the useful and the beautiful. Useful things serve a purpose. What is the purpose of philosophy? What is its product other than new schools of philosophy, whether they be called “philosophy” or “linguistics”?

    “Carnap” admits is has no product. Do you agree? Riding on the coattails of useful people will simply not do as a defence of this seemingly entirely useless activity. Brennan covers this in language philosophers understand, but it is obvious to anyone other than self-justifying philosophers.

    Sure, it’s a nice hobby, but what are you people FOR? Why should we pay your wages? More engineers, even more street-cleaners would surely be a better use of the money?

  57. StudentBEsc said, on August 10, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Interesting debate you guys have going on here. I will actually be studying engineering in the near future.

    I am also interested in studying analytic philosophy. Why? Well, I simply want to become a good, clear thinker and I think doing philosophy is the best way to achieve that. I am also interested of course in a few topics that fall solely in the domain of philosophy, such as ethics, and the meaning of life.

    However, do I think philosophy is useless as it is practiced TODAY? If by that you mean ” Is practicing philosophy on PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS impractical and generally useless?” Then I’d say yes. I mean, what use is understanding a seminal philosophical work like, “On Denoting”?

    Like I said, one of my goals is to become a clear thinker. An important aspect of that is having the ability to not be mired in the murkiness of the english language. Learning about logic and the philosophy of language ought to help with that.

    In that sense do I think philosophy is useful? Fuck yes. that aspect should be taught and honed in highschool and onwards.

  58. Kit Kittappa said, on October 15, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Can some one become a good scientist, good mathematician, good engineer, a good artist etc without taking a course in Philosophy, if we make the assumption that mathematical logic is being taught in the Mathematics department of the university and all those good scientist etc take mathematical logic? The answer, I believe, will be “Yes.” If so, how would one justify the existence of a Philosophy department in a university?

    Considering the performance in their respective jobs, will one be able to distinguish a good scientist etc who has also studied philosophy and a good scientist etc who has not taken any course in philosophy? I believe the answer will be “No.” If so studying philosophy is be pointless.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      Depends on what you mean.

      First, if your list includes philosopher, then the answer would be “no.”

      Second, if you literally mean without taking a class in a philosophy department that is listed as a philosophy class, then the answer would be “yes” for all majors that do not require a philosophy course for graduation. This would just be a matter of requirements. However, many majors do require such courses, so the answer would be “no” for them.

  59. hamlynart said, on November 19, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    “Philosophy does not contribute to our knowledge of the world we live in after the manner of any of the natural sciences. You can ask any scientist to show you the achievements of science over the past millennium, and they have much to show: libraries full of well-established facts and well-confirmed theories. If you ask a philosopher to produce a handbook of well-established and unchallengeable philosophical truths, there’s nothing to show. I think that is because philosophy is not a quest for knowledge about the world, but rather a quest for understanding the conceptual scheme in terms of which we conceive of the knowledge we achieve about the world. One of the rewards of doing philosophy is a clearer understanding of the way we think about ourselves and about the world we live in, not fresh facts about reality.” -Peter Hacker

    • WTP said, on November 19, 2010 at 10:12 pm

      New-ish to this site and late to this discussion, but your comment brought me here. Too impatient (and buzzed) on a Friday to get through all of this original post, but two things caught my eye:
      “A common misconception about philosophy is that it is useless. It is often assumed that philosophy is useless. Philosophers often help fuel this misconception by creating the impression that they simply split hairs and debate endlessly about meaningless problems.”

      and

      “and philosophers were also scientists-in fact, in the past little distinction was made between the two”

      I would say that the first misconception is most definitely wrong. Philosophy is extremely important. For any social animal with the capacity of reason AND some degree of sophisticated communication (ok, what’s that leave us, one species?) to not take philosophy seriously is…well, it’s own philosophy, but still quite like whistling through the grave yard. Philosophy tells science where to look and what it should look for. But Philosophy must always keep in mind that it could be wrong. Philosophy is meaningless without the proof of its veracity. Yet it’s the second item that I see as the nut of the problem. Philosophers once were scientists. They used to test their theories against the realities of the real world. What has failed us is not Philosophy, but philosophers. They have failed to do their own leg work and left that up to the scientists. In the process they have become so enamored with their own untested brilliance, that they dismiss the failures of their philosophies as simple problems with the implementation of their genius ideas. Why, if only the philosophers had done the implementing, the sheer brilliance of their ideas would be apparent to any rational being. But at some point, these philosophers chose to quit doing real work.

      I am reminded of the theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, who upon observation of a multi-million dollar device built to test one of his theories said, “What, you don’t trust me?”. Of course in Feynman’s defense, one big difference was that he had plenty of practical implementation experience in his youth when he worked on the Manhattan Project, long before he worked theoretical physics.

      • magus71 said, on November 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

        It’s not Philosophy that I have a problem with so much as philosophers (hah! @WTP I just saw that you wrote that as I’m writing this. all great minds think alike :) ).

        Many philosphers don’t seem to want to find answers. They seem to enjoy the hunting more than the actual finding. When a potential answer pops up they just go on quoting past philosphers who thought about things differently. It’s as if they’re afraid that all the fun of the hunt will be gone, that their work will become moot.

        Another thing. Great philosophers of the past had their own philosphies, which is why they are studied and quoted. Many philosphers today seem to lack their own philosophy and tend to only swim around in the philosophic pools created by others.

        Furthermore, on a note similar to WTP’s, at some point we must stop worshipping philosophers of the past whom have been proven wrong. And they are legion. Some had a few things right and many things wrong. Even Aristotle had many things wrong.

        The primary importance of philosophy is how it effects culture. Culture is more important than philosophy; most people don’t refer to a philosophical treatise before taking action. They consider how people around them will view their actions, which is primarily determined by culture.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 22, 2010 at 9:57 pm

          The unfortunate thing about greatness is that it is most often recognized long after the person’s death.

  60. brian said, on November 21, 2010 at 11:44 am

    hamlynart quoted:

    “philosophy is not a quest for knowledge about the world, but rather a quest for understanding the conceptual scheme in terms of which we conceive of the knowledge we achieve about the world.”

    But that is arguably accomplished on a definitely higher level in natural language semantics, a branch of contemporary linguistics where ongoing research focuses on disclosing “natural language metaphysics” with the application of mathematical methods.

  61. hamlynart said, on November 22, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Hmm, that’s a bit beyond me Brian so I’ll just have to take your word for it. I simply thought it might be worthwhile sharing Hacker’s assertion that philosophy clarifies how we think rather than providing “fresh facts”.

    The original source of the quote can be found at TPM site here: http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=1583

    Best

    Jim

  62. brian said, on November 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Please don’t take only my word for it, but go and see what formal semantics has on offer. Natural language semantics boasts a long tradition with world-famous researchers like Richard Montague and Barbara Partee, to name just a few. Even some philosophers – notably David Lewis and Donald Davidson – were (or still are) active in this field of science and made their own contributions to it. We owe to Lewis the first detailed semantic analysis of counterfactuals and several important results in general semantics, while Davidson is credited with inventing event semantics.
    As for Hacker, I think he is mistaken in his quasi-Wittgensteinian position. As you put it, the gist of his opinion is that “understanding the conceptual scheme in terms of which we conceive of the knowledge we achieve about the world” does not provide us with “fresh facts”.

    Now this may be true in some sense, as discovering the “conceptual scheme” in question does not yield “fresh” results like, say astronomy, because its subject matter is a kind of implicit background “knowledge” (in fact it is not a kind of knowledge but something encoded in your brain – see Chomsky’s remarks on “cognizing” the relevant principles of language).
    But of course, in this sense Hacker’s remark is true of each and every statement in any subfield of linguistics as well. Yet formal semantics (and morphology, phonology and syntax etc.) deals in fact, being fact-stating discourse through and through.
    These semantic (and more generally, linguistic) facts are admittedly not “fresh” facts (if you mean by “fresh” something we were had never even been said to be “cognizing” before their discovery – which is rather stretching the term “fresh”, but let us bypass it for the moment). They are genuine facts nevertheless, and they are nothing like the kind of “grammatical remarks” Wittgenstein had in mind as they do not “lie open to view”, being hidden to our conscious mind.
    Average speakers of any language have no knowledge at all of the abstract linguistics structures that they subconsciously conform to in everyday speech.Thus it takes a lot of effort and the producing of sophisticated theories to discover the semantic rules, principles and generalizations of any natural language, so that average speakers can never be in a position to assent to their truth.
    So “understanding the (human) conceptual scheme” involves stating a large number of facts (in the form of confirmable scientific hypotheses) about our subconscious linguistic “knowledge”.
    For this reason, Wittgenstein was mistaken in saying that “If one tries to advance ‘theses’ (i.e. theories) in philosophy, it would never be possible to debate them, because everyone would agree to them.”
    I believe along Wittgenstein’s lines these theses would presumably concern the common “conceptual scheme” of humankind or at least the common scheme of a community of speakers of a given language. However, he is wrong about this on three counts.
    1. When adequately conceived, these theses belong to the scope of natural language semantics (a branch of linguistics) rather than philosophy.
    2. It would certainly be possible for semanticians to debate these theses (which make up scientific theories).
    3. Except for professional semanticians, no one would be able to agree (or disagree) with these theses because average speakers neither have conscious knowledge of them nor (even more importantly) could ever be brought to recognize them or assent to them, because these theses are highly non-trivial scientific statements.

    To conclude, the task of “clarifying how we think” is part of the mission statement of natural language semantics, which is a fact-stating business.
    The ambitions of “linguistic” (or “ordinary language”) philosophy are thwarted by the groundbreaking achievements in formal semantics during the last few decades. If they decide to work within the confines of philosophy proper and ignore the results of linguistics, philosophers will soon be left without a livelihood as their efforts are now generally pre-empted by semanticians.

  63. David Crowley said, on December 18, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    But is there any real point in arguing or debating this? It won’t REALLY change anything. Just the way you perceive it, in your mind.

    • Asur said, on December 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      The question you are really asking is whether a true belief is better (e.g. more useful) than a false belief.

      If it is, then given the number of people who devote their lives to philosophy, the answer to the question of whether philosophy is a worthwhile pursuit is important.

      • Lunaveh Meka said, on April 21, 2011 at 8:46 pm

        If there were truths percievable by man within the disciplines of philosophy, they would be known by now. So if you feel the need to hold faith in a philosophical belief, you’re better off holding a faith blindly than trying to logically choose one.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 22, 2011 at 10:55 am

          Your same reasoning would also apply to all the sciences and any other field that deals with “perceivable truths.” That seems to be a reductio of your argument.

  64. Gabriel Almeida said, on January 21, 2011 at 9:02 am

    “The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work—that is, correctly to describe phenomena from a reasonably wide area.”
    By von Neumann.Thats simpler and deeper than any philosophical nonsensical riddle.
    Another one:
    “There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on January 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Interestingly, von Neumann is presenting a philosophical position about the nature of science.

      Of course, I do agree that it is superior to nonsense. I suspect that you are implying that all philosophy is a nonsensical riddle. However, in that claim your model would not describe the phenomena correctly.

  65. Tom said, on March 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    I just stumbled on to this blog after all the fun died down, but I’ll inject my own thoughts in any case as this topic has always interested me.

    The initial post seems to imply that since philosophy is an antecedent of modern science, claiming science as a “child” of philosophy, that philosophy deserves credit at least for being a midwife, if not mother. The implication is that the “original” is superior in some sense, a genetic fallacy, and also that philosophy is somehow a necessary precondition to the emergence of the scientific method. Or perhaps that simply since all science and mathematics are subsets or derivations of philosophy, the accomplishments of such are trumps of philosophy.

    But if we define as one of the characteristics of classical philosophy the usage of a rational system, such as logic, to posit statements about the world and through a chain of thought establish or reject other statements, then it would seem philosophy itself is grandfathered by religion by 100,000 years or so. Perhaps religion deserves all the credit for the invention of the computer.

    The easy pickings — the cosmological principles of philosophy and religion have been throughly eviscerated by the scientific method. No one studies, except as history, the scientific theories of Aristotle. In fact, the scientific method developed in spite of Aristotle’s death grip of the middle ages. Yet, we still read and value the Nicomachean Ethics. Was Aristotle a genius of moral questions, but inept at making simple scientific deductions? No. We simply have yet to realize how bumbling are his ethical speculations because we ourselves know no better.

    However, the scientific method and mathematics is being applied to biology, and biological principles are being discovered, much as the early scientists discovered the principles of physics. Recent studies are showing the precursors of our complex emotions, our societies, our music and art, our ethics and morals in our ape cousins, as we should suspect from evolution.

    Perhaps soon we will have biological descriptions of Justice, and be able use the full weight of the scientific method to do what it does best — solve scientific problems, problems of injustice and so forth. The competing systems of thought have offered no solutions. Philosophies such as socialism, benevolent dictatorships, or capitalism have not lead to justice for all, or even an approximation of an optimal system. Political philosophers write unattainable and ridiculous Utopias, only to highlight real world dystopias. Theologians merely offer the carrot on a stick of a perfect afterlife. Let us hope a science of ethics can do better. If the past is any indication, these revelations will not come easy ( cf E.O. Wilson) and we perhaps will have to abandon the cherished philosophies we grip today which blind us.

    Of course I’m being idealistic, but science has a fairly good track record. The human condition is as valid an object of study as the atom. There is no reason to believe, except some fantasies about human specialness, that it should not be so.

    So, is philosophy useless? It is simply another way to ask questions about the world — like religion, art, or magic. And also like the previous troika, it puts out many contradictory theories that never resolve. It provides only at best more refined questions. As science expands its magisterium to encompass the human condition, it remains to be seen what will be left for the philosophers of the future. Perhaps all the great philosophical thinkers will be as forgotten and unread as all the great and famous alchemists and astrologers,

  66. Lunaveh Meka said, on April 21, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    I don’t care about philosophy, so I didn’t read this article. It will take me less than a minute to post this response. With the time I saved, I will either work or enjoy myself. I don’t know what the meaning of life is, and could honestly care less, but I’m sure if anyone were to find out what it was, it wouldn’t be “to find out the meaning of life.”

  67. Cal said, on September 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Philosophy is a load of bollocks.

  68. Anonymous said, on September 4, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Cal cuts to the heart of the debate with his bald statement of fact. Debating it woudl eb pointless. Philosophers havent reached a single firm conclusion in two thousand years. Even philosophers think so: http://commons.pacificu.edu/eip/vol12/iss2/9/ ?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Statements need to backed up. As far as firm conclusions go, philosophers seem to have hit on a few: modus ponens is a valid argument, logic is useful, and people should have rights to life, liberty and property.

  69. delayed sleep syndrome said, on September 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    I really appreciate the help on this site I made a link on one of my blogs :)

  70. Dan said, on January 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    I think philosophy is important despite most of the discussion here. I wrote a post responding to this and other criticisms on my blog, if anyone is interested. http://www.yabottherobot.com/2011/12/for-beginners/

  71. Anonymous said, on October 15, 2012 at 7:02 am

    PHILOSOPHY NEEDS TO BE STUDIED BY THOSE WITH CORRUPTED MINDS BECAUSE EVERY THING THAT IS COVERED IN PHILOSOPHY ARE THE IMAGINATIONS OF THE WICKED PEOPLE.

  72. S.G said, on October 24, 2012 at 3:54 am

    I really feel that all the argument here wouldn’t even be happening if people were taught some philosophy before being allowed to dispute the issue(meaning there wouldn’t be much dispute left)

    The very aspect that you’re debating the ‘use’ of philosophy is philosophy in itself.

    Life is only as useful as philosophy is.

    And the ‘uses’ of philosophy,if you seek them, are all about you. From law,ethics,senses of discretion,conduct,right and wrong, to government(or even the lack of it,if such be the case,speaking broadly),
    rights,duties,society,conventions.

    Now don’t come telling me these things are useless. I don’t want to be mown down by trucks and people saying
    thats ok,its just an issue of the physical sciences,just velocity,momentum,and all that.

    Peace.

  73. hcg diet drops said, on May 22, 2013 at 5:58 am

    What i do not understood is if truth be told how you are not actually a
    lot more smartly-favored than you might be right now. You’re so intelligent. You understand therefore considerably on the subject of this subject, produced me for my part consider it from a lot of numerous angles. Its like women and men aren’t interested until it’s something to accomplish with Lady gaga! Your own stuffs great. All the time deal with it up!

  74. parking przy lotnisku gdańsk said, on June 24, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    I quite like looking through a post that can make men and
    women think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

  75. Led light bulbs said, on September 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    Link exchange is nothing else however it is only
    placing the other person’s blog link on your page at suitable place and
    other person will also do similar for you.

  76. MInecraft Forge Tutorial said, on September 20, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Why viewers still use to read news papers when in this
    technological world everything is existing on net?

  77. Alan said, on October 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    The useless thing is to ask a philosopher/philosophy major “Is philosophy useless?”; these people are good at one thing: twisting words and playing with reality ! You can ask them anything and they will write you dozens of books about it without answering your question !

    Is philosophy useless? Yes, and no. Depends what do you consider to be “useful”? To me, yes, it is useless… as useless as theology, history, and liberal arts as a whole !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,914 other followers

%d bloggers like this: