Is philosophy any good?

Subject classification: this is an Philosophy resource.

Philosophy can bring us closer to deep debates about our way of seeing the world. In practical terms, however, it may not provide solutions to the concrete problems of everyday life. Thus, it is fair to ask ourselves if philosophy is any good.

Search terms: the value of philosophy, what is philosophy good for, is philosophy nonsense.

Philosophy is any goodEdit

Arguments forEdit

  •   Argument for Philosophy has discovered interesting arguments and ideas, such as: Aristotle's theory of definitions, the idea that a secluded life in a walled garden with friends is better than a political life full of strife, the Occam's razor, the problem of induction (black swan), Hume's is-ought distinction, Mill's harm principle, freedom of speech, Kant's categorical imperative, the greatest good of the greatest number, Popper's conjectures and refutations and falsificationism, Lakatos' proofs and refutations, Kuhn's partial scientist's resistance to accept theory refutation before a replacement theory is available, the hypothetico-deductive theory of science, Wittgenstein's theories about how concepts work (family resemblance), the infinite regress of arguments and definitions, Kripke's rigid designator, etc. The ideas are not only presented but also justified with argumentation and analysis, which are then is extremely useful for people´s life.
  •   Argument for Philosophy teaches people the art of defining things and specifying criteria, and critically examining the tentative definitions and criteria.
  •   Argument for Analysis of concepts and their relations is the job for philosophy, not science or mathematics.
  •   Argument for Philosophy teaches how to recognize and defend against deceptive argumentation, including that which uses deceptive metaphors and analogies.
  •   Argument for Philosophy teaches people how to develop their thinking about the world, including the ideas of conjectures and refutations and proofs and refutations applied to philosophy itself, and including various theories about the scientific method.
  •   Argument for Philosophy helps advance thinking about morality and legality and informs the actual moral and legal practice. This job cannot be done by science alone, since "political science" is not science.
  •   Argument for Philosophical logic teaches people the analysis of correct inference. Symbolic logic as a purely mathematical project contributes to the enterprise, but does not make it redundant.

Arguments againstEdit

  •   Argument against Philosophy contains strange or uninformative statements such as "Everything consists of water" or "the number 3 is the perfect number because it is the dimension of the space"[citation needed]. That can do not good at all.
    •   Objection There is a lot of bad philosophy out there. One must find the good one. In the worst case, looking for good philosophy is like extracting metal from ore. But once one finds some good authors, one can peruse their corpus. If one finds Hegel incomprehensible, one may turn to Mill or Popper. Especially English-speaking philosophy has a lot to offer.
    •   Objection Attacking the ancients is perhaps a bit unfair. They engaged in exchange of ideas, and one poorly formulated idea lead to another, better formulated idea, often as a disagreeing response. Problems were formulated and different speculative solutions proposed. It is these ideas that help discovery of testable scientific theories. Scientific theories cannot be mechanically extracted from data by untalented humans; they have to be invented or discovered in the theory space, and philosophical theories often serve as proto-scientific theories from which proper scientific theories can be developed.
  •   Argument against Philosophy never arrives at any agreed theory of anything. For every question, there are competing answers and arguments.
    •   Objection Perhaps an analogy to geometries in mathematics is quite apt. What mathematics does is examine geometries as theorems and properties following from sets of axioms. For example, in the abortion debate, what philosophical analysis of the abortion debate does is examine the consequences of various fundamental assumptions about what is moral. There is not a single universally accepted set of fundamental assumptions about what is moral and there is no geometry that is mathematically more true than another one: Euclidean geometry is as "true" as hyperbolic geometry. The examination of logical consequences of a set of assumptions is not in vain, and is not free from validity.
    •   Objection But the solution is not to abandon philosophy. People need to make ethical and political decisions and they cannot make them with the help of science. Thus, for instance, there is a debate about abortion, and science alone, while being an input, cannot decide such a question. It does not mean a debate about abortion is entirely free from the notions of truth and validity, and that any examination of arguments is automatically futile. Still, one has to admit that the debates may end up disagreeing since they make different fundamental assumptions about what is moral.
    •   Objection However, that does not mean philosophy makes no progress. The catalog of interesting ideas and arguments was expanded greatly, and one can trace various debates in the works of philosophers, in the way in which they respond to each other.
    •   Objection In the choice of technology, people do not agree either: some choose Microsoft Windows, some Linux. Perhaps philosophy is more like a set of tools.
      •   Objection Technology does not search for truth; philosophy professes to search for truth.
        •   Objection It does. But it has to admit that it is probably all too often a search for the best argument, one least vulnerable to criticism and refutation. It is, unfortunately, all to often not a search for the conclusive argument. But that does not mean that all arguments are equally weak, unconvincing and inconclusive. Some arguments are better in multiple ways than other arguments. It is then up to the reader to choose from the rich menu and decide for themselves which of the arguments were most convincing.
  •   Argument against Some philosophers have produced ideas and arguments resulting in great harm, such as the philosophy of Karl Marx. The world would be better without them, and perhaps without all the philosophy as a whole.
    •   Objection This a political-oriented opinion, not an argument.
    •   Objection Perhaps and perhaps not. In any case, unless we plan to greatly limit the freedom of speech and prohibit the works of Marx, we will find a great use of another philosopher, Karl Popper and his The Open Society and Its Enemies, a philosophical toolbox of arguments and analysis against Marx. One learns not only about Marx but also about the totalitarian tendencies of the philosophy of Plato and one has the impression confirmed that Hegel is a pseudo-philosopher, so one may stop wondering why a lot of the sentences that Hegel produces make no sense, and are not even wrong.
  •   Argument against When fraud happens in science, it is often discovered. In philosophy, there is hardly ever a denouncement of a philosopher as fraudulent. The scientific enterprise seems sound, whereas the philosophical does not.
    •   Objection That is a fair point. However, both Schopenhauer and Popper denounced Hegel as a fraud[citation needed]. Thus, such denouncements can be found. Admittedly, they do not lead to near unanimous rejection of the alleged fraud. It is not clear why that is. One explanation is that different philosophers start from different fundamental assumptions. Another explanation is that this difference leads to philosophy attracting dishonest people who support each other: their fundamental assumption is not that philosophy is a search for truth but rather to get a nice place in a good university. A suspicion is that large portion of what passes as philosophy in continental Europe is intellectual fraud and that the honest philosophers can do very little about it.
    •   Objection That only means that one has to search for the good philosophy, accepting that a lot of it is no good. It is the reader who supplies the substance, by acting as filter. The motion is sustained.
    •   Objection True. In the ideal world, all the worst philosophy would be filtered away. As a heuristic, if one starts reading a philosopher and several paragraphs make no sense, one may skip the work with perhaps not much loss. If one starts in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one finds a lot of decent content, and one may find some of it interesting.
    •   Objection One can try to figure out one's own philosophy. One can start writing down questions, ideas, come up with conjectures or tentative answers with unknown validity and try to find refutations. However, one should not think that the failure to find refutations means the conjecture is correct. One should get help from others in trying to find refutations. In that way, one does not need to wade through anything. In so far as this process produces anything good, philosophy is some good.
  •   Argument against It passes as standard in philosophy to make oversimplified, misleading or clearly inaccurate claims.
    •   Objection Unfortunately, that is true to some extent. However, one often learns something by trying to clearly, convincingly and conclusively argue against such claims. They often contain some grain of truth or point to something interesting. For instance, one may learn something by trying to clearly explain in what way the notion that "truth is what works" is correct and in what way it is incorrect. And if one does not learn all that much new, one practices the skill of finding holes in claims and articulating them. Such skill is valuable since the world has no shortage of demagogues and bad arguers.

See alsoEdit

Should abortion be legal?

Further readingEdit