Advanced Search

Recently I was debating with others the proposition that solving social problems

Recently I was debating with others the proposition that solving social problems in games enhances one's ability to solve real-world problems (my view was the negative: many excellent strategic gamers consistently make spectacularly foolish personal decisions in real life). This seems to generate the question: "Do philosophers have a better track record of making successful personal decisions than the average minimally-thinking individual?"

Jyl's response (in addition to reminding me why I could neveridentify with Socrates) suggests that philosophers are pretty good atworking out what they ought to do, or what is best, in daily life, butthen get over-powered by their appetites, to use Plato's term. I'm surethat happens sometimes, but here's another part of it. Like many areasof inquiry, philosophy often adopts a divide-and-conquer strategy. It'stoo difficult to gain a sharp understanding of mostthings that come our way on account of their sheer complexity.Often, if progress is to be made at all, it's by trying to isolate themany components that make up whatever one's trying to explain. (This issometimes what gives philosophy its air of abstractness orout-of-touchness with "real" problems. It's also what makes it easy togo off the rails in philosophy, for the concepts it seeks to teaseapart are often not happily separable.) A philosopher who achieves somegreater understanding of one strand of the complex whole might not beparticularly well equipped to work out the implications of this knowledge once thefloodgates are opened to the complexities of real world problems. Justas the greatest physicist might have a difficult time predicting wherethe leaf will fall, so the greatest of philosophers might stumble indetermining how best to live his life.

What are the limits of language in determining the truth of things?

What are the limits of language in determining the truth of things? Is Philosophy going to be reduced to equations and answering questions no one cares about? Thanks for your time, Frank

Often when people talk about the "limits of language" they have in mindthe claim that there are some truths that cannot be articulated intheir language, or perhaps even in any language at all. There aretruths, some contend, that transcend the expressive capacity of some,or even of all, languages. This is a hotly contested claim. I am notsympathetic to it. If you claimed to have got hold of such aninexpressible truth, how would I know? You certainly couldn't convey itto me (if you could, it wouldn't be inexpressible). It seems like the world would look just the same whether youhad actually got hold of such a truth or whether you were under themistaken belief that you had. And that shakes my confidence that I evenknow what's being claimed when you say you have got hold of aninexpressible truth. Imagine that a friend of yours tells you that hehas a parrot on his shoulder with the special property of beingcompletely and forever undetectable. How would you respond to such aclaim? Two rather recent books that explore this subject are A.W.Moore's Points of View and Graham Priest's Beyond the Limits of Thought.

I'mnot quite sure what you mean when you ask whether philosophy will be"reduced to equations". Nobody could confuse philosophy andmathematics. Also, it bears saying that equations are not meaninglessscribbles: they express thoughts, sometimes very important thoughts.

Itcan't be that philosophers answer questions "no one cares about" assurely the philosopher doing the work does care! And many other peopledo too — it's not for nothing that philosophy has been a thrivingbusiness for thousands of years. But the more important point is thateven if philosophical work led to the clarification of, and possiblyeven to the truth about, some important issues that aren't at theforefront of most people's minds, it would still be worthwhile. Thereare more things in heaven and earth than are cared about in men's dailylives.

Hello, smart people! Okay, here's what I wonder about: why doesn't it seem to

Hello, smart people! Okay, here's what I wonder about: why doesn't it seem to bother most philosophy types that all arguments eventually have to be based on unprovable premises? I mean, I liked the philosophy classes I took in college. I'm not just philosophy-bashing here. But I can't see how anyone writes philosophical works when the first requirement is to ignore something so fundamental. Yeah, I know this isn't an original question, but that's just the problem. Since there doesn't seem to be any good answer, why spend so much time thinking about all the questions that come after it? Oh, and if any of you has an extra minute, I'm also curious about the meaning of life and why time and space exist. :)

Philosophers do spend a good deal of time worrying about this matter. Indeed, it is characteristic of many areas of philosophy to be particularly interested in the "unprovable assumptions" with which arguments begin. Two examples:

  1. Perceptually-based beliefs---such as that there is a window in front of me---form the starting point for many of our beliefs. (Empiricists hold that all beliefs must be grounded there, but let's set that aside.) But it seems clear, at least to some of us, that these beliefs are not reached by argument from other beliefs. In that sense, they cannot be "proved" on the basis of anything else. How then should we understand how we arrive at such judgements? What is it for one of them to count as known? These are basic questions in the philosophy of perception.
  2. In mathematics, theorems are proven from axioms. Axioms, on the other hand, are accepted as true without proof. On what ground do we accept such axioms as, say, that, if there are two sets A and B, then there is a set that is their union? (Perhaps one thinks this claim can be proven from other assumptions, but then of course we can just ask the same question about those assumptions.) Is the assumption simply arbitrary? Can we start with any axioms we like? That doesn't seem plausible. So do we have reasons for it? If so, what kinds of reasons could those be? These sorts of questions are common in the philosophy of mathematics.

Maybe that's not the kind of thing you had in mind. Another thing you might have meant is: Why bother giving an argument for something if the argument has to begin with assumptions for which you can't argue? Answer: An argument is supposed to show that, if you accept certain assumptions, then you must (or, perhaps, should) accept a certain conclusion, on pain of being irrational. The argument will be effective against anyone who accepts the assumptions. Whether the assumptions can be "proven" is neither here nor there. Of course, there's another question to be asked about why one should rational, but that's another matter.

The answer to the question about the meaning of life, of course, is "42".

Pages