Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Does philosophy matter?

  1. May 10, 2005 #1
    Simple question. In the past fifty years philosophy seems to have become increasingly irrelevant, as philosophers beat the same dead horse of the classic "philosophical problems: time, God, consciousness, free will, ect.

    Have we made any advancements? Do those advancements matter? Are we just wasting our time at this point?

    Can any professional philosophers tell us about some groundbreaking "problems" being debated or analyzed right now?

    Can we trust what ethicists(the only application of philosophy I can think of) have to say simply because they know formal logic?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2005 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    And what is considered an "advance" in teh world of philosophy?
  4. May 10, 2005 #3
    The classic "philosophy" has been splitted into many different fields since the ancient Greeks' time. For example, mathematics, physics and chemistry all come from "philosophy". Sadly, this leaves the "pure" domain of philosophy with much less practical things to think about, such as free will, gods, etc.

    Zeno's paradoxes, for example, were considered philosophical problems until the discovery of calculus. But many philosophers are reluctant to admit that those paradoxes are really solved; for one thing, the search for the solutions to these problems have produced much more than the actual result.

    Any scientist or mathematician are partly philosophers, anyway.
  5. May 10, 2005 #4
    philosophy is a very big subject now. If not, look at the news, for example, politics (at least theoretical politics) is a branch of philosophy. Many times they talk about ethical and moral problems/dillema. Many other examples exist.
  6. May 11, 2005 #5
    There are two aspects to philosophy. In a more general sense, every human being is a philosopher, as each one of us must use of our cognitive faculties to make any choice not related to our survival. In that sense, philosophy is very practical, very useful. "Should I get married", "should I join the army", "should I give money to charity", "do I want to be buried or cremated", ... the list of very practical questions whose answers depend on our own personal philosophies is almost endless.

    But philosophy has a more specific sense, roughly as a discipline which started with the Greeks, fell into the oppresive domain of the Roman Church, liberated itself and reached its apogee in Central Europe between the 16th and the 19th centuries, and somehow ended up, in our own times, as an irrelevant subject. Which is probably what it always was.
  7. May 11, 2005 #6
    If philosophy is an irrelevant field, why is it that so many people work so hard to obtain "Ph.D." degrees (you know, don't you, that a Ph.D. is a philosophical doctorate). I think someone has their definitions confused. :wink:

    Have fun -- Dick
  8. May 11, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Ordinary language analysis and the philosophy of cognitive science are probably the hot areas creating tangible advances right now. There are big implications in linguistics and robotics, as well as non-clinical psychology.
  9. May 12, 2005 #8
    I question philosohpy in all its time periods: what have I done if I have found out that the Universe has a beginning or not? What have I done if I have found out what existence exactly is? What have I done if I found out wheter humans have free will or not?
    But it seems to me that these questions which doubt the use of philosophy are themselves philosophical in nature...
  10. May 13, 2005 #9


    User Avatar

    I think philosophy is more relevant then ever, if at least in this day and age where many thoughtful men are convinced that traditional religious beliefs in general hold little appeal. What should one strive for then? Should one strive at all? (and in this case at least, the World of Warcraft offers some consolations... :wink:)

    Even if one does away with philosophy altogether, it's not as if one thinks and acts in a mental vacuum, because one grows up in a culture where certain beliefs are, through constant repetition, accepted as self-evident. And if one chooses to passively follow the philosophical norms of the culture one happens to be born into, should they at least be critically examined? Is one's mental allegiance so easily bought?
  11. May 13, 2005 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    We might want to remember that Critical Thinking and Logic courses, at least in the US, are taught by Philosophy faculty. One can argue that these are two of the most important courses one can take in college, and that critical thinking and logic skills are rather important to just about any intellectual pursuit. It was philosophers like Aristotle, William of Ockham, J.S. Mill, and Russell that developed these concepts. Even the scientific method, which has certainly been responsible for quite a few advances in human civilization, was developed by philosophers such as Bacon, Mill, and Popper. Modern political institutions and the idea of individual rights, which have also been fairly important to the advancement of human civilization, were developed by philosophers such as Locke and Rousseau. A new calculus of causational reasoning that may hold great promise in the development of AI has been developed by the philosopher Judea Pearl.

    There is plenty out there, but for some reason people think that all philosophy has to offer are the common questions:

    Is there a God? Do we have free will? Must the universe have a first cause? Is the physical universe real?

    Those are all questions of speculative metaphysics, which is but one narrow field of philosophy. Don't forget as well that the 17 year-olds posting repetitive threads asking these questions and putting forth their pet crackpot theories regarding the answers are not professional philosophers. If these forums were regulated one-tenth as well as the science forums are here and had the participation of real philosophers, they would not make philosophy look nearly so pointless.
  12. May 13, 2005 #11
    I think the main reason people work hard to obtain a PhD is so they can put "Doctor" in front of their name. What other reason could there be?
  13. May 13, 2005 #12
    I don't know any other reason, but do you think someoen would obtain phD to put doctor in front of their name? I don't.
  14. May 13, 2005 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    In many cases, it makes the difference between having your own lab and working in someone else's, or being a full professor and being a lecturer. This might provide a little more motivation than an extra slot you can fill on an order form.
  15. May 14, 2005 #14

    Excuse me sir, but this forum is opened to the masses, or isn't it? And I believe the questions raised by those "unproffessional 17 year olds" were fundamantal to humankind; don't you think?
    Also, the 17 year old wanted to know, which is the function of philosophy.
    And you should notice that I was making an argument against the uses of philosophy and that the topic starter did not doubt all philosophy, but only the recent.
  16. May 15, 2005 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    In one way or another, they may be, but there are better ways of addressing them. I'm not going to go so far as to claim that I do not mean to be patronizing, because, in this case, I do. My main point is that the content of these forums, and even of most discourse that the layperson refers to as 'philosophical,' is not reflective of the actual field of academic philosophy. It seems to me that the people who judge philosophy as worthless and fruitless do so based on these folk misconceptions of what philosophy is as an academic field.

    What 17 year-old? I wasn't referring to any specific poster or thread.

    What argument did you make against the uses of philosophy?

    It might be worth noting, to point out how useful academic philosophy can actually be, that the computers and networks on which and by which we engage in these discussions could never have been built were it not for the development of modern symbolic logic (on which the existence of logic-gates is contingent) by philosophers such as Frege and Russell, and later George Boole.
  17. May 16, 2005 #16
    That's because the one who asked those questions may have not known, and this site is a means to find out. I haven't known the things which you talked about either.

    Well, I myself am a 17 year old, and felt offended, and I thought that the thread starter is a 17 year old too (is he not?), else I don't know why you have mentioned 17 year olds in your post.

    My mistake - I wanted to say that I haven't made any argument against philosophy.
  18. May 17, 2005 #17


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    I have no idea what the age of the thread starter is. I picked 17 arbitrarily. The philosophy section of the forums here has a bit of a history of being a haven for bad arguments - often religious arguments - put forth by teenagers. I do have a couple of specific people in mind, but I actually haven't seen any of them post in a while. My main point is just that there is a lot more to philosophy than what can be found on most internet forums.

    That said, philosophy as an academic field, even since science and mathematics branched off, hasn't produced many practical advances outside of ethical justifications of political systems and some work in the philosophy of language. For the most part, however, that isn't the point. Bertrand Russell wrote a very good essay on the value of philosophy. Here is a link to it:

Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Does philosophy matter?
  1. Size does matter (Replies: 7)

  2. Does matter exist? (Replies: 13)

  3. Does Matter Really Exist? (Replies: 144)