Advanced Search

I am relatively new to philosophy, as I am in an introductory philosophy class.

I am relatively new to philosophy, as I am in an introductory philosophy class. My question is what made Francis Bacon's scientific method scientific since he was a lawyer or more into politics being he was more a political person than a scientist? I guess what I am saying is why is Francis Bacon's scientific method considered more scientific than it was political? Thank you.

Francis Bacon advocated the use of inductive reasoning in science. Inductive reasoning is going from particular observations to general conclusions. It is an empiricist method, and contrasts with the more rationalist methods of the time, such as the work of Descartes. Is there is a political dimension to the logic of inductive reasoning (or to its specific implementations)? You'd have to make that case; prima facie, going from specific observations to general claims is a logical/methodological rather than a political method.

Hello,

Hello, i was recently in a discussion regarding Kant's moral duties, and whether Kant would follow society's laws before following the duties derived from ethics. If a law in a society state "that it's a righteous sanction to torture another human being if this has broken the law", would Kant say; follow that law!. Or would he point out that his moral laws is dissimilar to that of human society? My argumentation rested on the relativity of cross-cultural law-systems, and thus, the universality of Kant's Maxims.

For Kant the key issue is whether a maxim can be universalized. If it can it is something we ought to act on, if not then not. We have a clear criterion then of when we should morally observe a state law. Can a maxim based on it be universalized?

In the Monty Python football sketch, does the line, "Hegel is arguing that the

In the Monty Python football sketch, does the line, "Hegel is arguing that the reality is merely an a priori adjunct of non-naturalistic ethics" make any sense at all or is it gibberish that would only make sense to Hegel himself? Put more simply, does it mean that reality (which ought to be universal?) is something that can be known without prior the more important dimension of emotive ethical experience?

who KNOWS what would make sense to Hegel ... :-) Personally I appreciate your suggested interpretation of that sentence, though I can't quite see how to get from the Python to your (very reasonable) exegesis ... So I'm going to go with "it is indeed gibberish," but add that (with due credit to hegel) it probably wouldn't make much sense to Hegel either (who also would probably not have been amused by Monty Python....) :-)

best, ap

Hi. My question regards Martin Heidegger and his work and philosophical project

Hi. My question regards Martin Heidegger and his work and philosophical project. To whom would you recommend reading Heidegger's texts? To whom would you recommend his philosophy? I was once told by a philosophy professor of mine that he was "The greatest thinker of the last century" and, consequently, when faced with one of his texts, I expected something grand. Yet, 'grand' is not exactly the word I'd use to describe my experience with it. Since then, I have read some other stuff by him and I can say that my opinion about his work has not really changed from that of the first time I encountered: a rather obfuscated writer with many pretensions; not a true thinker. On the other hand, the fact of seeing some personalities praising his work, without actually elaborating on their claims, makes the case rather shady. Is Heidegger being praised for his actual efforts as a thinker? Or is it all the buzz a mere tool to promote a certain view of things which, otherwise, would not find itself a place...

I share your skepticism about Heidegger and his work. But, to give him a fair shake, I'd recommend reading the long and detailed SEP entry on him, available at this link. It appeared in the SEP in 2011, which is surprisingly late given Heidegger's fame and influence. (By comparison, Derrida's entry appeared in 2006, Rorty's in 2001.) Anyway, the job of the entry-writer is not only to explicate the philosopher's major ideas but also to make a case for the interest and importance of those ideas. If, after reading the entry, you're not satisfied by the explication and persuaded that the ideas are interesting and important, then I'd recommend moving on to something else in philosophy. There's plenty of good stuff to be found elsewhere.

How did the early Philosophers view of the world differ from that of Homer?

How did the early Philosophers view of the world differ from that of Homer? Specifically, how was the philosophers’ method of trying to understand the world around them different?

That looks like a straightforward question. And a reasonable person might expect some clear statement of the criterion that separates Homeric poetry (or any other poetry for that matter) from philosophical theory. So it’s interesting to realize, at the start, that even in antiquity it took some time for a consensus to emerge on the relationship between the two kinds of discourse.

One of the first ancient Greeks to compile an intellectual history was Hippias the sophist, whom we know today from Plato’s rather unflattering portrayals of him in the Hippias Major and the Hippias Minor (titles that merely indicate, by the way, that the former dialogue is the longer of the two and the latter shorter). Socrates makes short work of Hippias in the dialogues, but in real life he was intellectually ambitious and enterprising. His history of thought is lost today, but it came before any history by Plato or Aristotle, and apparently contained philosophers and poets in comparable numbers.

Plato, for his part, was no historian; but there are some sections of two dialogues, the Theaetetus and Sophist, that sketch the general outlines of a history of philosophy. In the Theaetetus that sketch pits Parmenides and sympathetic Eleatic thinkers on one side, denying the reality of natural change, against a long tradition of theorists of nature according to whom change is the essence of nature. Socrates puts Protagoras in that tradition along with Heraclitus; and then surprisingly he says the tradition began with Homer, and a line in the Iliad about Ocean being the father of all. So Plato seems comfortable thinking of his intellectual forebears as an undifferentiated group containing both “official” philosophers and poets.

Aristotle returns to the very same quote from Homer in Book I of his Metaphysics, during his own review of the philosophical tradition. The line in Homer does not impress Aristotle, though. He is pruning the philosophical tradition so that such storytellers remain outside the mainstream. We, looking back, surely understand his motives. We have inherited Aristotle’s way of sorting writers into philosophers and non-philosophers.

But how to articulate that distinction?

According to one influential distinction, the mythic versions of doctrines given in Homer and other poets are treated as things that took place impossibly long ago. The laws of nature in Homer are different from those in operation in philosophical theories, if only because they describe a world, its objects, and the processes by which it changes that no longer exist. The world of myth operated according to principles that do not operate today. Homer said “All was water,” or as much as said so, when he spoke of Ocean and his consort Tethys as origins of all; Thales, as the emblematic philosopher, said nearly the same thing but also something entirely different when he announced “All is water.” For Thales water was still, is now, the nature of matter; for Homer water had been the originating principle when the world behaved according to laws now disappeared.

The distinction is not sustainable in those terms. It is attractively described like that, but not quite true. Something mythic clings to the thought of Thales, as we see in his statement that “all things are full of gods.” There is truth in detecting steps toward philosophical metaphysics and science in the sayings attributed to Thales; but the difference between him and Homer is not as clear-cut as simple formulations would have us believe.

My own belief, though other scholars may disagree, is that Plato and Aristotle labored to distinguish philosophy from Homeric mythic poetry. In his later dialogue Sophist, for instance, Plato has the Stranger from Elea complain that earlier philosophers spoke in stories, as if their students were still children. He seems to want the task of philosophy to be a movement out of mythic discourse into something more logical, perhaps less anthropomorphic. And yet there is still something Homeric in what that character the Stranger says in the Sophist, for all his efforts to the contrary.

If you absolutely need a simple formulation of the change from Homer to Thales, you could do worse than to say: Philosophers seek explanations and descriptions of the world that apply everywhere, at all times; Homer and his poetic colleagues imagine that some accounts were true once and no longer are. But I suggest that you use this formulation sparingly, and only as I said if you absolutely need some simple way of stating the difference.

I want to say Hume was an idealist but this seems controversial. My reasoning

I want to say Hume was an idealist but this seems controversial. My reasoning goes like this. Hume thinks that all we can know comes from our personal experience (this is uncontroversial Hume was an empiricist). He also thinks that we have no justification for believing in an external world, because all we ever experience are our sense perceptions which, Hume thinks, are wholly mind dependent. So Hume thinks all we can know is mind dependent and we have no justification for believing that there is anything more than this. So for Hume all there is, is mind dependent stuff. This clearly makes Hume an idealist. So my qustion is am I right in saying that Hume was an idealist?

Here is another take on this important and difficult question. The fact that Hume can find no justification for believing in the external world does not prevent him from believing in it. Nature causes us to believe many things we can find no justification for. "We may well ask, What causes induce us to believe in the existence of body? but 'tis vain to ask, Whether there be body or not? That is a point which we must take for granted in all our reasonings" (Treatise 1.4.2.1). Body for Hume is what continues to exist unperceived and is distinct from mind or perception. So he is not an idealist.

How arrogant are philosophers? Are they more or less easily to have their minds

How arrogant are philosophers? Are they more or less easily to have their minds changed as compared to scientists or theologians?

Two very difficult questions! Your first question about 'how arrogant are philosophers' suggests you are not asking whether philosophers are arrogant, but asking about the magnitude of arrogance. Before replying to your question, please allow me to back-up a bit.

First, when is anyone arrogant? I suggest that someone is arrogant when he thinks, acts and/or feels with vanity or presumptuousness; typically an arrogant person may claim to know what is right or make assumptions about other persons or things without sensitivity or a properly humble effort to learn about others. When I picture an arrogant character, I imagine him or her as someone who is not at all self-critical; an arrogant person seems (in a typical case) someone who would never dream or imagine that he or she is wrong on some opinion or conviction.

In keeping with the above account, I should add that the above portrait may be wrong and I am open to changing my mind in light of better suggestions. I imagine that the last thing you are in the mood for is an arrogant account of arrogance!

As for philosophers, let me approach the matter from three angles in terms of ideals or models; philosophers historically; professional philosophers today.

In terms of ideals or models, 'philosophy' (which means the love of wisdom, from 'philo' for love and 'sophia' for wisdom) seems the very opposite of arrogance. Many see Socrates as a model philosopher and he was deeply committed to questioning when persons make claims to know about justice, holiness, courage, and so on, without proper grounds or justification. In Plato's early dialogues, Socrates is very reluctant to describe himself as wise or make presumptuous claims about being an expert on the soul, though he did commend to his fellow Athenians to care for their souls.

Historically, it is not easy to categorize philosophers in terms of arrogance, though some philosophers, like Socrates, stand out as stressing the importance of humility. Perhaps C.S. Pierce and William James are two 20th century cases. You ask about philosophers changing their minds. From the beginning, Plato did change his mind on several points and one may see through his dialogues a restless re-examination of earlier positions. Probably the most famous philosopher in the twentieth century to change his mind on many occasions is Bertrand Russell.

Today? There are some amazingly humble, self-critical, sensitive philosophers such as Ernie Sosa. Speaking personally, I have changed my mind on many fronts over the years. I began as a nominalist, but came to believe that was inadequate and I am currently a Platonist; I was an atheist then became agnostic and am currently a theist. Unfortunately or fortunately, there have not been (to the best of my knowledge) sociological studies that measure the arrogance of self-identified or professional philosophers in comparison with scientists and theologians. There is also the problem that just as a humble person is unlikely to announce that she is humble, it is just as unlikely that an arrogant philosopher (or plumber or taxi driver) will announce that he is arrogant.

For what its worth, in my view a philosopher who is arrogant usually does not advance in the profession. If you are utterly vain and allergic to self-questioning, chances are grim that your teaching evaluations will get you tenure and you are probably the last person on earth to be sought out to serve as an editor for philosophy journals and publications.

In sum, I do not see heaps of arrogance among philosophers either today or historically. But I could be blind on this point and might be wrong.

Why did Descartes pick thinking of all possible attributes to logically

Why did Descartes pick thinking of all possible attributes to logically establish existence? Rocks exist but don't think. What exactly did he have in mind to establish? Was it really existence? Did he have any valid reason to doubt his or our existence? Wouldn't pain be a better criterion? Or movement? Or change? If a non-philosopher raised such a question we would certainly look askance at him and not value his "evidence" either way.

Aha! My answer seems to have crossed in the mail, as it were, with Charles Taliaferro's. Well, there you go, two for the price of one! The price, of course, being free: isn't this a lovely site?

After all that Plato said concerning the written transmission of philosophy, and

After all that Plato said concerning the written transmission of philosophy, and his attempt to get around it using the dialogue form, why did a devoted student like Plotinus write treatises instead?

I'm not sure there is an answer to this question. Certainly you don't want to presuppose too much about one theory or another of Plato's dialogue form. In antiquity there were many philosophers before and after Plato who wrote dialogues, whether in order to be consistent Platonists or for another reason.

But let's assume that the dialogue form is justified and accounted for by the passage in Plato's Phaedrus about the problems with writing. (A big assumption; not an assumption I would make. But it seems to be your assumption, so I'm accepting it for the sake of argument.) In that passage Socrates says that serious philosophers won't write their ideas down in a way that leaves them vulnerable to attack and misunderstanding, but at most will write "reminders" to themselves about what they think. The dialogue might then be seen as such a reminder.

But already we run into a problem. What's to say that the writings of Plotinus are not reminders as well? Why call them by the anachronistic name of "treatises"? His student Porphyry wrote a Life of Plotinus in which he speaks of regular meetings among Plotinus and other philosophers, whom we may think of (mostly) as his students. They would discuss some topic in Plato or in philosophy generally, and then Plotinus would write down his thoughts about what they had said in their discussion. That sounds to me like writing down "reminders." Plotinus did not attempt to lay out a world view in any systematic way, but appreciated the insights that came to him when discussing Plato's works; and he wanted to keep some record in case he (or someone else) ever wanted to come back and think along those same lines.

In a word: There are many ways of writing philosophical reminders. The dialogue form as Plato perfected it might be one (although, as I said, it might have other purposes as well). In no sense does Plato say it's the only way to remind yourself of philosophy.

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental equality of human kind originates in Genesis 1:27 and that it was wholly alien to ancient Greek thought. Can anyone think of anything in ancient Greek texts that would undermine the apologists' argument?

Let me talk about political equality, to narrow things down. I agree there is a sense of “equality in the eyes of God” in the Bible passage, and offhand I can’t think of that idea’s appearing anywhere in pre-Christian Greek thought. (I may well be overlooking something obvious, but nothing comes to mind.) But political equality, the idea of equal treatment under the law, is another matter. When archaic Greece first started to emerge as new and newly-reorganized cities on the Greek mainland, on the islands, and along the coast of Asia Minor, their politics, poetry, and architecture reflected the idea of isonomia “equality under the law.” For a capsule description of this cultural and political construct see J-P Vernant The Origin of Greek Thinking, a short but superb book.

Monarchs had largely disappeared from Greece by this time (800-600 BC). Cities were laid out with a central space, the agora, that symbolized citizens’ contributions to public discourse and policy. The military had changed so that armies were made up of citizen soldiers not just aristocratic warriors. Even in oligarchies and tyrannies, the assumption was that a government ruled by popular consent. All these elements of isonomia contribute to the idea of equality you may be asking about.

Plato certainly acknowledges such equality. Even in the Republic, his description of a class-structured society, his “noble lie” encourages the belief that all citizens are brothers and sisters, all equally born from the earth of the city and therefore equally part of its political organization. I find that as explicit a political concept of equality as you’re going to find in history, and it appears in Greece well before any substantive contact between Athens and Jerusalem.

Pages