John wrote‘Which brings me back to the question what, specifically, is this activity called philosophy? Professor Paul tells us that it lies, with many other activities, in a space of difficult problems that appear resistant to scientific experiment or mathematical equations. But a lot goes on in this space with which philosophers (judging by the course list again) have little or nothing to do. How do we pick philosophy out of this morass?’
Earlier, I had said, that philosophy ‘deals with difficult problems that cannot be answered by performing an experiment or by solving an equation. It must do so however, without denying the findings of the physical sciences or the findings of mathematics.’
To which John at the time replied‘This formula draws a fine line between philosophy, the physical sciences and mathematics. But what distinguishes philosophy from other activities that also deal with difficult problems outside the scope of physical science or mathematics? History has been mentioned. What of literary criticism, anthropology, politics, marketing, haute cuisine, therapy, jazz or art, for example? Life appears to be full of difficult problems that do not lend themselves to performing experiments or solving equations. Does philosophy encompass them all?’
And then I wrote that I was…a bit surprised to learn that politics, marketing, creative cooking, 'therapy,' anthropology do not make use of measurement and observation, and that they all ignore empirical findings. Are they, then, just thought experiments and guess-work?
(Hoping to be told, as I was, ‘Of course not!’)I took John to be asking, granted that philosophy (as I’ve characterized it) does not rely on experiment and calculation for its results, what distinguishes it from other enterprises that do not rely on them either? It was in response to this that I offered a list of philosophy courses, saying, in effect, ‘Don’t think, but look!’ (to borrow the words of a well-known philosopher. Yet this experiment has apparently failed: either nobody saw anything in common to the courses listed, or, if they did didn’t think that whatever they found captured anything like the essential property of philosophy.
Should, I then, have simply said at the beginning, that philosophy dealt with such problems as ‘What is consciousness?’ ‘Is the mind distinct from the brain?’ ‘How can we know the things we claim to know if the only evidence we have is the evidence of our senses?’ ‘Should one always act in such a way that one would wish that acting that way would be universalizable? ‘Why are some identity statements informative?’ ‘What sorts of ontological commitments are there in the traditional formal logic?’ ‘Do fish think?’ ‘Are judgments in ethics and aesthetics mere expressions of emotion?’ ‘Are there limits to the possibility of different conceptual schemes?’ and have had done with it?
And had would this have answered anyone’s worries? Does it now? Robert Paul, Sometime student in the realm of metaphysics ------------------------------------------------------------------ To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off, digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html