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If there IS philosophical progress, is it worthwhile to read philosophy that was

If there IS philosophical progress, is it worthwhile to read philosophy that was written before you were born? Isn't the most current understanding of philosophy the most valid? For example, we now know Newtonian physics is false at the quantum level; wouldn't it stand to reason that after two hundred years Kant's moral philosophy has been refined or superceded and should not be followed in its entirety? If there is NOT any philosophical progress and philosophical questions are inherently unresolvable, then is the entire field of philosophy futile? If philosophers can't even agree on what the aims of philosophy are, then does that mean Marx's philosophy is as equally valid for people to follow as that of Aristotle's?

I agree with Ian for similar reasons (see my Unsolvable Problems and Philosophical Progress)

So, because we both agree that there is philosophical progress, is it worthwhile to read philosophy that was written before you were born?

Yes, for at least two reasons: First, of course, some of that philosophy might consist of good reasoning that has not been improved upon. Saying that philosophy progresses doesn't mean that old philosophy is "wrong" in any way (any more than saying that science progresses doesn't mean that old science is "wrong").

Second, philosophy is best thought of as a conversation that has been going on for at least 2500 years. One of the best ways of joining that conversation is to read "transcripts" of its earlier stages.

Are answers to philosophical questions always distinct from sociological

Are answers to philosophical questions always distinct from sociological questions? How much should the two fields inform one another or at all? It seems particularly when it comes to ethics, many people give philosophical answers to sociological questions and vice versa. For example, suppose a legislature attempts to censor certain very violent forms of pornography after several studies and interviews with criminals confirm that its proliferation causes more sex crimes in society. This seems like a proposed sociological solution. But if a group of political, legal, and moral philosophers in academia object, claiming that producing and watching violent pornography is not immoral, regardless if does lead to more sex crimes (since it is done with the personal autonomy of performers and viewers), how should the public balance the two differing arguments?

One might say that sociology asks what people think and why they think it - for instance how social factors affect their attitudes, ideas, and values and so on - while philosophy is more concerned with (firstly) identifying which attitudes, ideas, and values are defensible (in the sense that good reasons and arguments can be given for them) and (secondly) critically assessing the reasons that people in fact have.

After all many of our ideas and values are the results of custom and habit rather than reflection and deliberation, and this can cause problems - as both Socrates and the Buddha recognised long ago - but the question of which discipline (law, sociology, philosophy, etc.) has authority here is a tricky one. Socrates found that society does not always welcome philosophical criticism, though the Buddha fared slightly better through his gentler, less intrusive style of philosophising!

If i define philosopher as lover of wisdom, how can i be sure that its a

If i define philosopher as lover of wisdom, how can i be sure that its a rational,critical and systematic investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct(one of nowadays favoured definitions of philosophy, it seems to me)that brings wisdom? It seems quite bit too dogmatic to me. It seems like these epithets are implying the only way through one can gain wisdom, but what if there are others means to gain wisdom?

If word origins were a good guide to the nature of a profession, a secretary would be a keeper of secrets and a plumber would be someone who works in lead. That suggests we have some reason to be suspicious at the outset. Even if we grant that "philosopher" comes from the Greek for "lover of wisdom," that doesn't tell us much about what the discipline of philosophy actually is.

Let's take the philosophers who think of themselves as systematically, critically examining principles of being, knowledge and/or conduct. Do they see themselves as engaged in the pursuit of wisdom? Some might, but I'd guess most don't. They're trying to sort through interesting and abstract questions of a particular sort, but no wise person would think of abstract theoretical understanding as amounting to wisdom nor, I submit, would any wise person think that wisdom requires abstract, theoretical understanding.

I'd side with the wise here. Wisdom isn't easy to characterize in a sound bite, but I think of a wise person as someone who has deep practical insight into what matters for human life, and who is able to align the way s/he lives with that insight. Being good at philosophy is neither necessary nor sufficient for being wise in that way. Indeed, though philosophers are no less wise on average than other people, my experience is that on average they are no more wise either. Some of the least wise people I've known are skilled philosophers, and many of the wisest people I've known have no talent for or training in philosophy. [I'll add a parenthetical remark here, so long as you promise not to tell anyone: I'm not convinced that Socrates himself was especially wise, though he was undoubtedly clever.]

This doesn't mean that there's no connection of any sort between philosophy and wisdom. If wisdom has to do with what matters for human life, it has to do with matters of value on which philosophers sometimes reflect. More generally, the question of how best to analyze the notion of wisdom is a perfectly good philosophical question. But being wise isn't a matter of theoretical understanding, any more than being a good musician is a matter of knowing a lot of music theory. In fact, having theoretical insight into the concept of wisdom is no guarantee at all that one will be wise oneself.

Some people may see the disconnect between philosophy and wisdom as unfortunate; I think that's a mistake. What philosophers do has its own kind of interest and value. That etymology isn't a good guide to the relevant value is neither surprising nor a flaw in the enterprise.

philosophy is a mind opener to me personally, thats is talking in respect as

philosophy is a mind opener to me personally, thats is talking in respect as subject in school. but i would like to know if their reasons why other people think this subject is foolish?, please be sincere

I applaud Charles Taliaferro's answer but might add that many people have the sense that there is no progress with philosophical questions. As CT noted, the brilliant philosopher Wittgenstein held that many philosophical questions are pseudo-questions. Grammatically they seem like questions but that is just mirage. Also, as CT hinted there is a feeling that philosophers are all talk and no action. Like Marx but from a Christian perspective, Kierkegaard certainly expressed this view.

You asked for sincerity in your question and I will admit that there have been times when I felt as though philosophy profs (which is not necessarily to say, philosophers)were like a bunch of adolescent stamp collectors who just liked sitting in their office or rooms and playing around with puzzles that had nothing to do with wisdom or life.

Does complex and conventional language hamper the growth of true understanding

Does complex and conventional language hamper the growth of true understanding in philosophy?

On one way of understanding your question, the answer seems not just to be "No," but "Hell no!"

What I mean is this: the discipline of philosophy isn't a mystical practice. Among its most important techniques are careful analysis and well-reasoned argument. The kind of thinking philosophers pursue needs to be embodied in a rich and subtle language. And on one meaning of "conventional" -- i.e., based on shared conventions and meanings -- we would be unable to communicate successfully without the conventions of language.

Now for a couple of caveats. Good philosophical ideas might come by any number of routes, including sudden bursts of insight. But the discipline of philosophy calls for shaping and articulating those insights. And if by "complex language," you mean bad, bloated writing, then indeed that can get in the way of understanding. But this goes for any discipline; not just for philosophy.

So yes: philosophers sometimes smother their ideas in a blur of verbiage. But good philosophy really does need needs sharp, subtle linguistic tools.

Feminists often allege that their is something especially sexist about

Feminists often allege that their is something especially sexist about departments of academic philosophy? What would you day about this charge? One criticism of philisophy is that it doesn't allow any consideration of the subjective aspects of existence which are essential to feminist theorizing. They argue that philosophy as it is practiced excludes any possibility of addressing important questions of identity. An overly narrow concept of objectivity leads to erasure and marginalization of aspects of experience and this narrowing reflects the privilige of an overwhelmingly white male profession. What are your thoughts on that?

There are two issues here: whether or not philosophy departments are sexist, and whether or not philosophers devalue "subjective" reasoning. You seem to be more concerned about the second issue, so I will address that. It is true that many philosophers (male, female and trans, sexist and non-sexist), especially those of an analytic bent, are devoted to a general and abstract conception of objectivity. Such philosophers are usually willing to acknowledge that experience is particular/subjective, and that different people have different experiences. There is a good deal of room in their positions to acknowledge different social identities.

It is true that some feminist philosophers, such as Sandra Harding, critique general and abstract conceptions of objectivity, claiming that they are supported by an underlying white male middle class partiality. Some non-feminist philosophers (especially in Continental and pragmatic philosophy) also reject general and abstract conceptions of objectivity.

Is philosophy about the world or is it just about our concepts and the way we

Is philosophy about the world or is it just about our concepts and the way we use them? Or both?

I agree: both. There seems to me to be a false dichotomy between "the world" and "our concepts and the way we use them": our concepts and the way we use them are surely part of the world.

Many disciplines have areas of study that overlap other disciplines. For

Many disciplines have areas of study that overlap other disciplines. For example, to do physics also requires substantial math. At the same time, each discipline has something that is uniquely its own. Physics tests the mathematical predictions against actual results. What is it that is unique to philosophy that distinguishes it from other disciplines?

I suppose that if anything unites all philosophers it is an interest in the big questions of mind, world, existence ...analytic philosophers tend to deploy, or try to deploy, rigorous logical arguments in their work. In the latter part of the last century, a lot of analytic philosophers thought of philosophy as a very distinctive subject concerned with the a priori (armchair) analysis of concepts, but the idea that this enterprise is at all fruitful is now much less popular.

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work

How much science should a philosopher know in order to do his or her work properly? If I want to be a philosopher, should I study things like calculus, computer science and quantum mechanics? Should I read those big science textbooks of a thousand pages?

Briefly, it depends on what sorts of philosophical issues you want to pursue. Most philosophers, including most good ones, don't have extensive scientific knowledge, and the questions they're interested in don't call for knowing lots of science. But philosophers who work on issues in physics, or biology, or psychology or other sciences need to be knowledgeable about the sciences they work on. In philosophy of physics, it's not unusual for a philosopher to have an advanced degree (Masters or even PhD) in physics. Even if s/he doesn't have a science degree, s/he will have to have acquired a lot of knowledge of the field - or relevant parts of it.

By way of general recommendation, however, the single most useful thing you can do if you're interested in philosophical issues about science is to learn as much math as you can. That can give you a serious leg up on learning the more specific scientific ideas that may be relevant to your interests. So if you have the aptitude, at the very least take some serious calculus and stats, and some linear algebra as well. And if you can do more, you're unlikely to regret it.

What would you say is the best resource for learning philosophy at the level of

What would you say is the best resource for learning philosophy at the level of an absolute beginner? I have tried MIT OCW, reading articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and taking out books from the library -- none of it makes total sense to me. Usually I get the general idea, but I feel like I'm missing something. Should I continue using the Stanford Encyclopedia/will I gain enough from it for it to be effective? Are there other, better ways? Thanks for replying ^_^

My favorite for beginners (although the author is somewhat out of favor with some professional philosophers these days) is Thomas Nagel's What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. It raises all of the interesting questions in a readable fashion, but leaves the answers to the reader.

(And the author of The Story of Philosophy, by the way, spelled his name "Will Durant".)

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