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What Philosophy IS and What it IS NOT

  1. May 23, 2003 #1
    First, This is what Philosophy IS:

    The pursuit of Knowledge, Wisdom, and/or Understanding.

    This is commonly known, and shouldn't need to be brought up, but some people just aren't getting it.

    Every single Forum on the PFs (except for General Discussion, PhysicsForums Feedback and Announcements, and PhysicsForums Chat) is devoted to some branch of Philosophy.

    That means that Science, Religion, Politics, Pseudo-Science, etc are all branches of Philosophy (because they are all ways that one can pursue Knowledge, Wisdom, and/or Understanding).

    Now, This is what Philosophy IS NOT:

    Philosophy is not just musing about what could be or might be. Yes, this can be part of pursuing Philosophy. However, some believe that that's all Philosophers do - muse, ponder, make wild speculations, etc. This is not so, and is a degrading assumption.

    But then, what is the purpose of a Philosophy Forum, if all of the Forums are about Philosophy?

    Answer: The Philosophy Forum allows us to: 1) Discuss any of the branches of Philosophy, from outside of the bounds of that field (e.g. I can discuss the pros and cons of Science, in the Philosophy Forum, without being subject to any of the assumptions that Science makes); and 2) Discuss any branches of Philosophy that are not covered by the other Forums - like Logic, for example (also, some things are just Philosophy, and don't belong to any sub-sets, but to the Grand Set itself).
    Last edited: May 23, 2003
  2. jcsd
  3. May 23, 2003 #2
    Magnificient, well said is not enough. Mentat, you have a way with words....
  4. May 23, 2003 #3
    Mentat, you did not even notice how from CORRECT presumption:

    you made many INCORRECT conclusions.

    Notice, that a philosophy is a "pursuit of Knowledge, Wisdom, and/or Understanding" and NOT knowledge, wisdom, and/or understanding itself (knowledge/wisdomunderstanding itself is called physics, mathematics, astronomy, geology, biology, etc). Philosophers themselves define a philosophy as "love of wisdom", and NOT wisdom itself. Philosophy is a humanitarian discipline, in contrast to natural sciences.

    Basicly philosophy is somebody's unsubstantiated OPINION (usually called "school of thought").

    Because philosophical education does not include education about nature(= natural sciences), philosophers usually quite poorly undertand nature's working (=math, physics, astronomy, QM, chemistry, etc) - they practically never, for instance, predict something correctly about nature. Thus, they constantly watch latest discoveries in astronomy, physics, math, quantum physics, etc and adjust (or create) school of thoughts accordingly.

    I know a philosopher (faculty in very visible university) who tried to prove to me that Zenon paradox (rabbit passing a turtle) is unsolvable. He simply did not understand that infinite series can have finite sum. My attempts to explaine the difference between the number of terms in sequence and the sum of sequence failed due to lack of formal mathematical education about limits on his part. Still, he has plenty of publications, frequently attends (with presentations) professional meetings, and is actively teaching fella (by the way, deeply believer).

    Wake up, philosophy divorced natural sciences long ago (~ 2 millenia), and since then became exactly
    Last edited by a moderator: May 23, 2003
  5. May 23, 2003 #4
    Re: Re: What Philosophy IS and What it IS NOT...

    I agree with Mentat. And so does anyone else that has been properly educated on the matter. Natural sciences are a branch of philosophy.
  6. May 23, 2003 #5
    Philosophy is distinguished from mere opinion in that your opinions need to be supported by good reasoning. When someone spews forth some utterance that they will not, or cannot, support with good reasoning, that would be opinion. Philosophy being defined as ‘the love of wisdom’, etc. does not change by a philosopher coming to a wrong conclusion, which seems to be in effect what you are claiming when you bring the sciences into the argument. I think a philosopher shouldn’t just pop out of a cave, glance left then right, and shortly thereafter decide he has solved the great mystery of the universe by uninformed ‘reasoning’ power alone, but I also believe that philosophy is not quite as dead as you believe it is either.

    Maybe it’s time for another ‘Why is a philosophy highly subjective’ threads…
  7. May 23, 2003 #6


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    Gold Member

    without the pursuit of knowledge, we would have no education or understanding of how anything works...philosophy asks why, science answers why...
  8. May 24, 2003 #7
    Alexander, you are right on a lot of things, but you are dead wrong in your definition of philosophy. Mentat has a great post. If philosophy was just musings, etc., then why do universities have a class called "Philosophy of Science"? I think that you are buying into the pop-culture definition of philosophy.
  9. May 24, 2003 #8
    Alex - I agree, there was obvious errors in Mentat's post.

    Mentat - You are incorrect about your definition of Philosophy. While you have chosen one of the many derived definitions, you use one that is out of use, is out of touch, and not applicable.

    Here are the definitions of philosophy based upon the 3 leading dictionary services as of this years publications. These definitions were each in every of the 3 sources:

    1. A system of values by which one lives

    2. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.

    3. A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry

    4. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology

    Most of these are nothing like what you stated. And the one(s) that is has wording which makes it completely different from what you said.

    In short, I have never but extremely rarely (and incorrectly) heard of your definition.

    1. Number one is in the sense that one would publich are state their "philosophy". The imposition of this kind of philosophy on to others is what we call politics.

    2. Notice that number 2 is similiar. The difference is the word "intellectual". Science doesn't involve intellectualism. Science uses EMPIRICAL means, not intellectual means. A momumental difference.

    3. Very similiar to number one.

    4. Philosophy in it's strict sense. As tied to logic, and involving "intellectualism" and "wisdom" rather than intelligence, empirical data, and knowledge.

    Again, I've never heard anyone with scientific (or otherwise) credibility use your definition.

    To me it sounds like an attempt to save philosophy in a world of science, like those who try to mingle creationism with evolution just to try to save (and intigrate) religion into science.

    Not saying it's you whose doing it, most likely it's you who is the victim.

    As you know mentat, I mean no offense. I merely attacking the statement with evidence of 3 sources!
  10. May 24, 2003 #9
    I thought I'd point out better, the errors here.

    You include "knowledge" in the definition. I have yet, in my career nor in the 3 previously mentioned definition sources, seen this word anywhere near philosophy.

    It is the defining property of science, which is distances from philosophy.

    As for saying it's commonly known, apparently my highest credible sources do not agree. See above my definitions. No such definition is mentat's is mentioned. The only one is similiar but lacking the word knowledge. And all 3 use this word in science definition.

    Mentat's definition immediately to me appeared to be an attempt to boost philosophy to keep it "hip" in a world of science.

    I'm not claiming this was his intention, as I doubt he cooked the definintion up himself, him being one who seems to stand on the shoulders of others, like I.

    However, if we remove my definitions and look at it alone, we see his further relationship that "pseudo-science, religion, science etc.." are all philosophy, because they "pursue" knowledge, wisdom understanding.

    Firstly, pseudo-science doesn't pursue any of these, neither does religion.

    Let's assume even further that indeed these two things do pursue those three terms.

    Then, how viable and "purposeful" is philosophy if it is a pursuit (of what does not matter) which carries under it's wing pseudo-science, which is the secondary enemy to science, which is not only also under it's wing, but is as well the knowledge itself, without the pursuit?

    In other words, not only is philosophy then the house of two enemies, but it is also a strucutre which bares two systems which defy eachother?

    Furthermore, the primary enemy of truth (not because of it's nature but because of it's popularity) is religion. And thus how strict and viable is a system which encompasses two systems, one of which has taken the truth and raped the other of it's false claims?

    Why, if mentat's definition and applications were true, would one want any more part in philosophy than pseudo-science or mythological superimposition?

    However, while I've attacked mentat's post, I remain that this definition is at least DEAD. Although I know of no time when it was alive and well. It certainly doesn't seem well to me!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2003
  11. May 24, 2003 #10


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    Greetings !

    I'd define philosophy as the mist that
    surrounds all of our knowledge (like
    units in a computer war-game ) - the
    vague boundary areas dealing with the
    connections of what's "visible" with the
    unknown "outside". I say vague because
    once a philosophical argument is discovered
    to have a direct connection to our data it
    becomes a part of science rather than philosophy.
    We view only what is visible to us without
    knowing all and yet we have no idea if there's
    an "all" at all or what it might be. Philosophy
    is the connection we attempt to make between the
    known and the unknown.

    Doubt or shout !

    Live long and prosper.
    Last edited: May 24, 2003
  12. May 24, 2003 #11
    I'd like to point out that what Alex and LA are espousing is unsubstantiated by science. In other words, they are promoting a philosophy that philosophy sucks. Rather humorous really.
  13. May 24, 2003 #12
    Coming from you, that means a lot. Thank you.
  14. May 24, 2003 #13
    Re: Re: What Philosophy IS and What it IS NOT...

    Yes, Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom/knowledge/understanding. I know this. However, you are wrong about calling wisdom, knowledge, or understanding synonymous to physics, mathematics, or any other branch of science. If science were knowledge itself, the of what use is the scientific method? Yes, a scientific Law or Theory may be considered a piece of knowledge, but not Science itself.

    Again wrong, I suggest that you get some textbook on Philosophy, and learn an actual Philosopher's definition. Honestly, would I ask a layman to tell me what a Theory is (for example)? Obviously this would be foolish, because "theory" is a scientific term, and is best understood by Scientists themselves.

    Yes, you are a different kind of Philosopher than your friend at the University. So what? So you are skilled at a different branch of Philosophy than a person who has devoted himself to the full set (as opposed to any sub-sets, like Science), what does that tell me about Philosophy itself?

    Then why do Scientists still get a PhD?
  15. May 24, 2003 #14
    Good point.

    As I said in my first post, Philosophers belong to the Grand Set, as opposed to any othe particular sub-sets, and thus ask the questions, while leaving the answers to those confined within the sub-sets. It's like wuliheron and others have brought out before, asking the questions (or "the mystery itself) is what is of true importance, while answers are for those who believe that answers are necessary (which are the ones who would immediately deny the existence of paradox, uncertainty, and mystery).
  16. May 24, 2003 #15
    Well, I hope you're ready to point out my obvious errors.

    And this is the one that was in the Dictionary of Philosophy, too. It (along with number 4) is the one I was using.

    The other two are based on common usage of the term. You should try looking up "theory" in leading dictionaries. They will give you the Scientific definition somewhere in there, but they crowd it out with "common-usage" definitions.

    Yes, but this is a common-usage term, much like when someone says "I have a theory on this matter", when in fact that have yet to rigorously test any hypotheses.

    Any intellectual person would recognize both the merit and the limit of empirical means.

    I know you mean no offence, and I also know that you will take what I have written in reply seriously. I have at least that much faith in you.
  17. May 24, 2003 #16
    Tell that to someone who believes in them, and you'll see that that is exactly what they attempt to do. Take Christianity, for example. A Christian believes that they are attaining accurate knowledge and wisdom from it's only true source, Jehovah God himself. Just because you don't happen to believe in Him, doesn't mean that they are wrong (it actually may be unfalsifiable), and it doesn't mean that they are not pursuing knowledge, wisdom, and understanding, in their own way.

    Until you realize that your commitment to Science is as binding as that of a typical theist to his God, you will never understand Philosophy

    As I've already pointed out, Science cannot be the knowledge itself, otherwise of what use is the Scientific Method? (See my response to Alexander.)

    So what? "Religion" bares many contradicting beliefs "under it's wing" - as does science (just take the contraversy between "string" and "point-particle" theories, for example).
  18. May 24, 2003 #17
    "Philosophy of science" ? Never heard of that. What is it?
  19. May 24, 2003 #18
  20. May 24, 2003 #19
    Fractionally correct.

    A philopsopher, a child, a fool, - ANYONE can ask "why?". Not a big deal - one fool can ask MORE questions that 10 wise men can answer.

    But guess, who ANSWERS these questions? Who fetches them, building complicated experimental sets, taking fine spectrograms of faint quazars, or struggling with long mathematical equations?

    (Hint: SCIENCE does).

    So, please don't tell that asking questions is important - any fool with no education and without lifting any finger can do that.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 24, 2003
  21. May 24, 2003 #20
    Excellent post, thank you!

    As everyone can see from the publications in professional "Philosophy of science" magazine, it is not a scientific journal, but discussion about sociology (problems of society), about debating each other personal opinions and sloppy interpretations of mathematical and physical relationships (paper about Boltsmann statistics). Just exactly what I said philosophy is about.

    Second link is about history of science and third link is sloppy description of how science works.

    So, turns out that philosophers of science do not even know science.

    And this is understandable - working knowledge of science is not required by their job description, because a philosophy is HUMANITY - subjective discipline of opinions, not of facts as science.
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