Philosophy is useless

Philosophy is useless
sen
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 5:36 AM:
Subject: Philosophy is useless
Okay, so I lurk on other forums, namely science and math forums. Opinions such as this are common:
“You don't need to be told what to read in order to be well-read in philosophy. You can do that independently as a hobby. The degree, however, is a pure, 100% McDonalds degree.”

Philosophy is useless, you can learn it on your own, philosophy is for fools, and so on and so forth. A lot of these claims can probably be attributed to fuzzy definitions of philosophy in the first place. I don’t even think they know enough to make a distinction between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy. That there is EVEN a rather important distinction might have never crossed their minds.

Anyways this can be divided into two questions: What sort of historical impact has philosophy already had? (Anyone here versed in the history of philosophy and its relation with other fields?)

Please get into specifics here. Aristotle of course was a demi-god anyway you put it. He gave the entire world something to chew on for the next 1000 years or so with his invention of Aristotelian logic, political science and empiricism. He even discovered the first law of mechanics long before Newton did. But was that doing philosophy, or science? Following that, we know that Descartes discovered analytic geometry, and Leibniz calculus. But was this a case of philosophy actually being useful, or was this a case of two philosophers simply contributing to mathematics, using mathematical methods?

Also would like to know specifically how philosophy has if at all shaped things like law, societies, the U.S. constitution and that sort of thing.

I think its most obvious and largest contribution to the world is logic. But to what extent? Is logic itself philosophy? Or did philosophy simply spark the inquiry of logic which eventually branched into its own domain? The mathematical logic that is used as a basis for modern computers and what not as far as I know was developed solely in the real of mathematics and not in philosophy. Though philosophers such as Russell and Frege contributed in some way.

Also, many subjects which originated from philosophy make no use of it now. What does this mean?

Anyways, when most scientists say that “philosophy is useless” I think what they really mean to say is something like “Modern Philosophical works such as “On Denoting” have no practical use whatsoever TODAY and are ultimately trivial.”

What are your thoughts?

Where are philosophers making important contributions today (And not the glories of the past)? What would we lose if every philosophy department were to close tomorrow?

P.S. It’s 5am atm so my apologies if my question(s) are a little murky.
discoveryii
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 6:12 AM:

I remember a Biology professor using the terms "sound" and "valid" interchangeably. And an economics professor I very much respect making moral arguments for maximizing the "good" (she didn't use such words, but that was her gist) and when I would argue with her (we'd have lots of conversations after class / during office hours) she would always say "so it's a question of semantics, right?" And I would just say "yeah sure" and the next day go talk to a close philosophy professor who'd completely understand why I thought the economics professor was brilliant but not wise.

Point is people can't function properly without some sort of guidance, and if we tweak cars to be perfect, eat well to be healthy, why can't we tweak our self to be more in tune with that which is central to our being?
MikeMikeMikeMike
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 7:14 AM:

This is my first post here so I'll take a quick go at some of your questions/observations.

sen wrote:
Okay, so I lurk on other forums, namely science and math forums. Opinions such as this are common:
“You don't need to be told what to read in order to be well-read in philosophy. You can do that independently as a hobby.


Of course you can learn anything on your own. What does that mean about the validity of the field itself? Nothing, so far as I can imagine. And being told what to read is an advantage. No one wants to reinvent the wheel. What progress would man make if he had to start everything from scratch each generation? It is useful to answer basic questions in epistemology by starting with Plato and reading through to some of the 20th century philosophers to hear all of the arguments BEFORE trying to dope it out for yourself. I think it might have been Adler who called literature "the great conversation", wherein you get to learn what other serious thinkers have thought so you can clarify your own thoughts. You don't have to agree ... in fact, what would "agree" even mean in philosophy were no one agrees with anyone else? ;-)

sen wrote:
The degree, however, is a pure, 100% McDonalds degree.”


There used to be a concept called a "Liberal Arts Education" ... one where you learned history, philosophy, literature, etc. so that you could understand "the world" and not just how to make particular widgets faster than the next guy. Most of the people who have made a mark in the world have had such an education. Not all, to be sure ... some were very narrowly interested in specific areas and ignored all else. But there is a very definite advantage to having a broad view of the world. And if a person can't make a living with a degree in philosophy, that speaks more to his own creativity than anything else.

sen wrote:
Philosophy is useless, you can learn it on your own, philosophy is for fools, and so on and so forth. A lot of these claims can probably be attributed to fuzzy definitions of philosophy in the first place.


I think that is exactly right. Any man who asks himself any question that begins with "Why..." is a philosopher, in the broadest sense of the word.

sen wrote:
Anyways this can be divided into two questions: What sort of historical impact has philosophy already had?


That is a pretty large question! LOL ;-) I would answer that everything we have done or ever will do is influenced by philosophy ... IOW, how people understand the world. Consider the major branches of philosophy. Beyond those obviously thought of as "philosophy" (i.e. metaphysics and epistemology) there are Ethics and Aesthetics and Politics, for example. So all questions in those areas are philosophical questions and all products of man in any of those areas are products of philosophical thought ... or the lack thereof.

sen wrote:
Please get into specifics here. Aristotle of course was a demi-god anyway you put it. He gave the entire world something to chew on for the next 1000 years or so


Well seeing that he lived at about 400 BC, it is considerably more than 1,000 years or so!

sen wrote:
with his invention of Aristotelian logic, political science and empiricism. He even discovered the first law of mechanics long before Newton did. But was that doing philosophy, or science? Following that, we know that Descartes discovered analytic geometry, and Leibniz calculus. But was this a case of philosophy actually being useful, or was this a case of two philosophers simply contributing to mathematics, using mathematical methods?


Mathematics is just a finer subdivision of philosophy, when viewed more broadly. As we gained more knowledge, we isolated certain things and gave them new names. When Plato and Aristotle thrived, it was ALL philosophy ... love of knowledge. I'm not sure the argument about what is or is not philosophy is all that interesting.

sen wrote:
Also would like to know specifically how philosophy has if at all shaped things like law, societies, the U.S. constitution and that sort of thing.


That is going to take some years of study, I'd imagine. The constitution alone was CLEARLY derived from Mill, Hobbes and others. If you read the biography of Jefferson you can see quite explicitly where he got his ideas from. He did not hide tier origin.

sen wrote:
I think its most obvious and largest contribution to the world is logic. But to what extent? Is logic itself philosophy? Or did philosophy simply spark the inquiry of logic which eventually branched into its own domain? The mathematical logic that is used as a basis for modern computers and what not as far as I know was developed solely in the real of mathematics and not in philosophy. Though philosophers such as Russell and Frege contributed in some way.


That is yet another thing that will take a lot of investigation to fully understand. I'm not sure why it concerns you to decide if "math is math or philosophy" for example. On one level it is ALL philosophy, on another "math is math". It is only a question of how you want to look at it and carve it up. It makes no difference that I can see.

sen wrote:
Also, many subjects which originated from philosophy make no use of it now. What does this mean?


I'm not sure I'd agree that they make no use of it. I'd say that thinking about anything is philosophical, at root. Just because the modern cosmologist answers the age old question of where we came from with pages of math does not mean that the question has changed ... only the way some people have arrived at the answer.

sen wrote:
Anyways, when most scientists say that “philosophy is useless” I think what they really mean to say is something like “Modern Philosophical works such as “On Denoting” have no practical use whatsoever TODAY and are ultimately trivial.”


I think that what they are saying is that idle speculation without reference to experiment and data is not productive ... we have moved beyond that. Aristotle thought big things fell faster than small ones ... because he never did the experiment. Galileo, also a philosopher, did the experiment and saw that it was not true. What "scientists" can't stand is people who have not educated themselves on what we now know arguing about "how things are".

sen wrote:
Where are philosophers making important contributions today (And not the glories of the past)? What would we lose if every philosophy department were to close tomorrow?


You'd lose the ability to educate future generations of thinkers.

Edited by Wolfman on Aug 11, 2010 - 5:12 AM. Reason: spacing
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 8:41 PM:

If you instituted the implications of the word applied as it is used within other systems like applied mathematics and the like; one comes to realize that these arguments claim philosophy vs. application of maths and the like.

So few there are such comparisons of applied philosophy to other things. It's like comparing non-moving rocks to moving cars and then arguing that the rock is not being applied in any way during this comparison and as such is proof that there is no application available for the rock in any way.
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 9:41 PM:

Questions:

Applied mathematics, science, physics etc. determine the group validity of Work as it is relevant to the "it" within the question "Why does it work?" It does not however determine the relevance to the question "Why".

It's like Hot Potato Pie and just plan ol' Potato Pie. Is a Hot Potato Pie still a Potato Pie? Why is it still a Potato Pie?
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Posted Aug 10, 2010 - 10:47 PM:

Philosophy expands the range of your thinking about the realm of possible rational answers and the range of viewpoints of intelligent and informed people. I do not think that is useless.
If you are looking for objective, verifiable universally confirmable answers, well it does not do that.
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Posted Aug 11, 2010 - 3:55 AM:

Cadrache wrote:
So few there are such comparisons of applied philosophy to other things..


I would argue that philosophy is very much alive and should be (and tacitly is) applied to other areas. Take the latest political headlines. The Republicans (in the US) are trying to rescind the Constitution this week (or at least the 14th amendment (or at least one clause of it)). They are so xenophobic that they are searching for any way possible to exclude others ... to blame others for everything that is wrong in the world.

Now philosophy has a lot to say about human rights, about causality, about the folly of spreading hate. Without it, the argument is about how BEST to exclude others. With philosophy the argument is about it being right, and the consequences of doing so.

Whenever times get tough people say: "Oh, don't be philosophical about it ... we need to ACT NOW!" Yet when things seem at their worst ... THAT is the time when we need to STOP and THINK.

Edited by Wolfman on Aug 11, 2010 - 5:13 AM. Reason: spacing
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Posted Aug 11, 2010 - 8:25 PM:

I know! I mean it is amazing how many people look at me aghast when I state explicitly that train rail systems are the longest bridges built by man. (I figure in this case I need to limit 'bridge' as being man-made.)

See.. the whole constitutional 14th amendment isn't about blaming people; it is purely the self-preservation relationship at work. The seperation to the identification between individual residing within a set A and 'member of society' seems to be in the process of change at the moment. The societal arguments tend to claim that this here thing I hold in my hand is a rock because it is a member of a specific group where-as traditionally we cite that because this here thing is a rock then it must surely belong within this type of group.

Philosophical work is soo much more complex and only appears to be contradictary on account that there is no basis to account for relativistic ratios. It becomes difficult to claim an exactness when one begins with the premise that the object itself cannot be accounted for by requiring external factors as proof to its' identity. (like train tracks being bridges!)
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Posted Aug 12, 2010 - 4:09 AM:

I think its most obvious and largest contribution to the world is logic. But to what extent? Is logic itself philosophy? Or did philosophy simply spark the inquiry of logic which eventually branched into its own domain? The mathematical logic that is used as a basis for modern computers and what not as far as I know was developed solely in the real of mathematics and not in philosophy. Though philosophers such as Russell and Frege contributed in some way.


Philosophy permeates the daily speech of people. the way they argue and the way they try to make sense of the world. Logic is but a minor contribution of philosophy. I think ogic should be considered philosophy's handmaiden. It is a way to make sure the arguments used are valid, but that is only a formal part. Philosophy has bigger fish to fry. It is after nothing less than the structures of our knowledge of the world and ourselves. As such, law, culture, but also the sciences begin with philosophical underpinnings and preconceptions formed by the philosophers through the ages, from Plato to Aristotle to Descartes. The fact that many people do not realise that is because the philosophical notions became part of their entire mental furniture and now seem self evident and not worthy of discussion anymore. (The law of non contradiction comes to mind). The number people just don't know any better.
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Posted Aug 13, 2010 - 2:29 AM:

Sometimes I think it is the wording of the processes in the introduction to series that creates some of that problem. No dualitic approach to closed procedural systems.
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