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Should ordinary people ask philosophic questions ?

  1. May 23, 2007 #1
    Should ordinary people ask philosophic questions ? Can ordinary people ask philosophical questions, or will it requre some certain kind of education or authorization to ask the proper questions the right way ?

    How should philosophical be asked ? Would'nt the best solution be to leave such problems to the professionals ? Would'nt asking such questions for people without a professional background be a waste of time ?

    How can philosophy be learned ? Would'nt the best idea be to just learn the history of philosophy as most questions has allready been asked before ?

    Would'nt then a person with some education on the subject "the history of philosophy" be a philosopher ?

    By the way, what is philosophy and what is a philosopher ?

    What about the autorities of philosophy, can they be questined, or will it be more wise to admit that the authorities of philosophy is so much smarter than you, so you should rather trust them than your own judgement ?

    What about Immanuel Kant, is it possible to question his ideas ? Would'nt it be a bit stupid to question Kant and believe that you are smarter than him ?

    What about nowliving authorities about philosophy, that you have going around you. Can they be trusted ? Who are the authorities of philosophy ?

    If you ask philosophical questions, can you then expect to get answers ?

    If not, would'nt it then be bether and more practical to go to the doctor and get pills to take away the philosophical questions ? Would'nt that solve those questions as good as any other method ?

    Is answer to philosophic questions important ? Is is adviceable or a good idea to live your life without answer to philosophical questions ?

    Which one should be answered and which one should not ? How can they be answered ?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2007 #2


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    Woah.. far too many questions there! I'll answer the one in the title. Sure, why shouldn't ordinary people ask philosophical questions? After all, from what we see here, ordinary people ask questions about physics, and maths, so what makes philosophy different?

    Oh, and to answer another, a philosopher is a person who studies philosophy.
  4. May 23, 2007 #3
    Philosophical ideas permeate our life. Every thought we have is based upon philosophical fundamentals.

    When written history began five thousand years ago humans had already developed a great deal of knowledge. Much of that knowledge was of a very practical nature such as how to use animal skins for clothing, how to weave wool, how to hunt and fish etc. A large part of human knowledge was directed toward how to kill and torture fellow humans. I guess things never really change all that much.

    In several parts of the world civilizations developed wherein people learned to create laws and to rule vast numbers of people. Some measure of peace and stability developed but there was yet no means for securing the people from their rulers. I guess things never really change all that much

    Almost everywhere priests joined rulers in attempts to control the population. Despite these continual wars both of external and internal nature the human population managed to flourish. Egypt was probably one of the first long lasting and stable civilizations to grow up along the large rivers. Egypt survived almost unchanged for three thousand years. This success is attributed to its geographical location that gave it freedom from competition and fertile lands that were constantly replenished by the river overflowing its banks and thus depositing new fertile soil for farming.

    Western philosophy emerged in the sixth century BC along the Ionian coast. A small group of scientist-philosophers began writing about their attempts to develop “rational” accounts regarding human experience. These early Pre-Socratic thinkers thought that they were dealing with fundamental elements of nature.

    It is natural for humans to seek knowledge. In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle wrote “All men by nature desire to know”.

    The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. Cognitive science identifies several ideas that seem to come naturally to us and labels such ideas as “Folk Theories”.

    The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World
    The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

    The Folk Theory of General Kinds
    Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

    The Folk Theory of Essences
    Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

    The consequences of the two theories of kinds and essences is:

    The Foundational Assumption of Metaphysics
    Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

    We may not want our friends to know this fact but we are all metaphysicians. We, in fact, assume that things have a nature thereby we are led by the metaphysical impulse to seek knowledge at various levels of reality.

    Cognitive science has uncovered these ideas they have labeled as Folk Theories. Such theories when compared to sophisticated philosophical theories are like comparing mountain music with classical music. Such theories seem to come naturally to human consciousness.

    The information comes primarily from “Philosophy in the Flesh” and http://www.wku.edu/~jan.garrett/302/folkmeta.htm

    I think that the best way to gain an introduction to philosophy is to learn CT (Critical Thinking). CT is philosophy light in my opinion.
  5. May 23, 2007 #4

    Langbein, you assume that the great philosophers are more intelligent than the ordinary person and because of this they are beyond questioning. Therefore, philosophy should be left to professionals. But, people are individuals. Not because people choose to be, but as a consequence of our inability to communicate. As individuals people must understand concepts for themselves, or else they only memorize facts without ever studying the philosophy. Simply knowing the history of a thing does not relate the importance of it. The act of philosophy is both a means and an end. It sharpens the mind allowing one to understand more and it gives insights to how one should choose to live their life.

    Phlisosophy can not be avoided, in order to have any opinion on right and wrong one must have either accepted anothers philosophy or have developed one of their own.

    Maybe I have misunderstood you, so please correct me if I have. Also, please forgive me if I have failed to communicate effectively. First post.
  6. May 23, 2007 #5


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    I think people reflecting on their own beliefs and behavior is good, indeed, supremely good. But I think that you shouldn't expect to get more out of it than what you put into it. It seems that a lot of people don't want to put any real work into their philosophical thoughts or arguments. Perhaps they do not value it as much.

    As far as authority goes, I don't see it as a dichotomous choice of either accepting it unquestioningly or rejecting it altogether. Why not inspect the work that others have already done and, if you find that it is good, build upon it, and if you find that it is bad, learn from its mistakes and keep going? Either way, I imagine you would make more progress with their work than without it.
  7. May 23, 2007 #6
    Define an ordinary person.. And then define why you wouldn't apply to the definition.

    Of course.. Philosophy literally translates to "love of wisdom", and who doesn't love wisdom? The problem that many of us face is how we go about obtaining wisdom. Wisdom is empirical knowledge and I among others confuse it with priori knowledge. It's the same as it is with any other skill or art..
    It’s unfair to judge a person because they don't have the same mastery over vocabulary or natural faculty for understanding metaphysical studies as you do. I too thought that mainstream society was filled with dull people.. The solution was in the problem: they just haven't been given a chance to be sharpened, as we all are dull.
    Last edited: May 23, 2007
  8. May 23, 2007 #7
    That is because they know better than to trust themselves. No one is smart enough to have their thoughts taken seriously.

    When it comes to Western philosophy that is impossible to do. There is no good stuff to start from. If you study philosophy you find that philosopher A said one thing, philosopher B said the opposite, and no one can tell who's right and who's wrong..

    Confronted with all the silliness, the only rational alternative is to conclude philosophy is irrelevant, in which case everyone is free to make up their own (as long as they don't take it seriously!)
  9. May 23, 2007 #8
    certainly this opinion is philsophy that should be taken seriously ? :biggrin:
  10. May 23, 2007 #9


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    What is wrong with trusting yourself?

    I don't understand the second part. Which can be smart, a person or a person's thoughts?
    Well, I don't believe that what I described is impossible because I have done it myself. You've done the second part by deciding that there is no good stuff to start from. I think that things are not as simple as you put them, but if A and B are indeed opposites, mustn't one of them be good? If not, in what way are they opposites?

    Also, who says that you have to be right or wrong or that such things even make sense outside of some deductive system (in which they might be decidable)? If you can decide on rules for accepting or rejecting arguments or assigning value to things, you can make progress.

    To me, the point is to develop skills and habits rather than some final judgement or creed.
  11. May 23, 2007 #10


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    Physicists, Philosophers, Philanthropists and Physicians are ordinary people too. Unless you're living under the rule of Mao Tse-tung.
    Last edited: May 23, 2007
  12. May 23, 2007 #11
    It is impossible to objectively evaluate your own ideas.

    The problem is that there is no way to tell the good from the bad. If, for instance, I say "absolutes exist" and you say "absolutes do not exist", how exactly do we decide which one is right? More specifically, how would the world be different if absolutes existed or not?

    Western philosophy is nothing more than the attempt to answer meaningless questions. When the questions do have meaning they are not called philosophy, they are called science or something else.

    If philosophy is not about right and wrong, and not about logical deductions, how can it possibly matter?

    (my answer: it doesn't)

    You can't make progress if you can't share your "discoveries" with people who do not share your assumptions. That's the fundamental difference between philosophy and science, the reason the latter has progressed a lot while the former hasn't moved an inch in more than 3,000 years!

    I don't oppose doing philosophy anymore than I oppose working out at the gym. In both cases you transform yourself, mentally or physically. What I do oppose is the claim that what somebody said has relevance just because that somebody happens to be a great philosopher. That makes no sense to me, as I can always find another great philosopher who said the opposite.

    See, this is the very problem I'm trying to point out. Any philosophical statement can be turned on its head, including this statement itself. It's just a futile exercise.

    The more important question is, how do you find answers to the questions that do have to be taken seriously? Certainly not by philosophizing.
  13. May 23, 2007 #12
    All questions is worth asking, no matter who is asking it or how strange it seems.
  14. May 23, 2007 #13
    Philosophy was a futile attempt at replacing religion but collectively we found out that is not true.. It’s pretty much the science of explaining human thought.. A very real thing.
  15. May 23, 2007 #14


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    Why? Can you communicate your ideas? If so, how then, when objectified in communication, are they different from any other ideas?

    I'll grant that any evaluation takes place in some context, say, a reasoning system, which contains some rules or assumptions, and you can't reason outside of a reasoning system. But you can still move in and out of different reasoning systems and use them to evaluate each other or themselves, you can test their successfulness, etc.
    This was part of my point in another question: why does there have to be one right, one wrong, and no other options?

    I can think of several ways to decide. Here are four: (i) flip a coin, (ii) ask one of your enemies or competitors to decide for you, (iii) refuse to decide (does this count?), or (iv) create and study some reasoning systems and use the one that best meets your goals to decide. I like the last option.

    Perhaps you don't like a certain kind of philosophy. I don't like people talking past each other or in circles about things of no consequence either. If that is what you consider philosophy to be, then I agree with you, and we have not been talking about the same thing.

    I suppose I think of philosophy as essentially studying and implementing reasoning systems. But that's not really an adequate summary. If you have concepts and rules already, and you are going to be making decisions and creating goals anyway, why not reflect on these things? Lay out your concepts, motivations, logic, beliefs, and values and organize them, study them, etc. Isn't that the main task of philosophy?
    Haha, what is the world? Does it include the beliefs and perceptions of humans? Inside of a reasoning system, the existence of absolutes can make a difference; or perhaps I should say that it can make a difference between reasoning systems.

    Also, people's beliefs affect how they act, the decisions that they make, etc., do you agree? And the actions of people make the world different, yes? So there is one way.
    Aren't disciplines like science grounded in their own philosophies? I mean, modern science is just one of those sets of answers to those meaningless questions like "what kind of reasoning should we use?", "what kind of evidence should we accept?", etc.
    Even if that is true, so what? You can make progress within a system. You can discover whether some set of rules or beliefs produce contradictions, you can organize the concepts and beliefs that you have as a person anyway, you can build more complex concepts, etc. That sounds like progress to me.

    I agree.

    I think the quirkiness there are just the statements that can be interpreted as evaluating themselves. You know, like "all sentences are false" (which is itself a sentence) or "all opinions are silly" (which is itself an opinion (under some interpretations)).
  16. May 23, 2007 #15


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    That would be a professor of philosophy, a philosopher is a person who does philosophy.
  17. May 23, 2007 #16


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    Define the word does here. I would think that in "studying" a subject, one is also "doing" that subject.
  18. May 23, 2007 #17


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    Philosophy is an activity just like climbing a mountain. It is not in itself a corpus of existing knowledge which may be studied, eg by reading books, like one must do with science. Is a philosopher not who studied much, or who is smarter, but who has courage to climb.
    Last edited: May 23, 2007
  19. May 23, 2007 #18


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    But one needs to study, or learn how to climb, before one can climb, thus your analogy does not make too much sense. To be honest, I don't really have the time to sit here and argue over the meaning of words!
  20. May 23, 2007 #19
    Thanks for your first post !

    Actually I agree with you.

    We are all sailors and navigators to the ocean of time, and philosophy, that is navigation.

    Wheter you like it or not life is a journey with a timeglas, where all the choices, and all that you see and all that you do will be the sum of all that you life ever will be.

    Trough that travel you will meet a lot of situations where you have to do a choice to the left or to the righ. There will in the end be no other to be responcible for your choices than yourself. In the end your life will end up as the sum of all the choices you made along the way.

    Not to make a choice is also a choice.

    Authorithies can never be trusted. No one. They - the historical ones - lived their life and made those choices and those explanations there were the right ones for their time and their situation. You live your life now and for that unic situation, your life just now, there will be only one responcible captain on yourown ship, you, yourself.

    It will be the sum of all the choices you do that sets the standards for ethics and right and wrong for all that situations that your life will ever "touch".

    To be allive is to be a philosopher, wheter one like it or not.

    For your life and your trawel - you will allways have to be smarter than Aristoteles - and the rest :-)
  21. May 23, 2007 #20


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    First, to actually learn to climb, or learn to bycicle, you have to try to climb, or try to bycicle, not study books about climbing or bycicling.

    Second, it may be considered indeed that studying books may be a proper introduction before climbing. Eg you may study a map of the mountain. Or learn the structure of the bycicle. But in the case of philosophy the object and subject of the activity is one's particular self : one is both the climber and the mountain. So, there cannot be any maps available and no existing corpus of knowledge, and no particular advantage will be gained by climbers having read Plato in respect to climbers having done something else.
    Last edited: May 23, 2007
  22. May 23, 2007 #21
    It's still the same problem. As soon as you express an idea formally, semantics becomes far more important than the idea itself. It is my perception that the whole body of Western philosophy is nothing but a play with words.

    Isn't that called "thinking", or perhaps "rational thinking"? I don't think we disagree much, it seems we're just a bit lost in semantics. If I replace the word 'philosophy' in your post with 'rational thought', I find nothing to disagree with.

    It's more than that, the problem is that the relationship between abstract concepts and the words we use to describe them is, to a large extent, arbitrary. You can't point to a cat and call it an elephant, but you can describe many abstract notions about cats that apply equally to elephants. So when you engage in philosophical discussions about cats and elephants, their differences and similarities become a matter of how you think about them, not a matter of what they really are.

    Not sure if that helps, because it's just my way of thinking about this stuff.
  23. May 23, 2007 #22


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    What is the goal that you are assuming here? An advantage implies a goal, some end.
  24. May 23, 2007 #23


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    Truth is the goal.
  25. May 23, 2007 #24


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    I actually agree with that view to a great extent. I think that a good argument could be made that all of mathematics is just "a play with words". And I think that the difference between math and philosophy, and between formal languages (from mathematics) and natural languages, is probably mostly a matter of complexity. Do you see math as a pointless, meaningless, futile endeavor?

    Yes, I was starting to get that sense. I think philosophy is more a specific kind of rational thinking. I don't think I would count all rational thought as philosophy, but I'm not entirely sure, and that is close enough for me. :smile:
  26. May 23, 2007 #25


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    Okay, so, to refine the meaning of that, the goal of philosophy is for a person to end up with some beliefs? Do they decide on these beliefs or create them or discover them or what? Do you mean this set of beliefs to have any additional properties, e.g., being consistent or conforming to observation?
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