Reflecting on Philosophy

Reflecting on Philosophy
mindovermatter
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Posted Feb 7, 2013 - 6:01 PM:
Subject: Reflecting on Philosophy
To all philosophers who have been studying the subject for years, like myself, what do you think of this quote? It is by Herder, who was Immanuel Kant's student, from his essay called "How Philosophy can become more universal". Not only does he criticize metaphysics in the essay (he argues that it is useless), but he goes so far as to try and knock down moral philosophy:

“And what is moral philosophy? A collection of rules which are mostly too general to be applied in individual cases, and yet always remain too flaccid to oppose a whole stream of bad dispositions and form a people’s whole manner of thought. Nothing is more ridiculous than hearing a thin philosopher… go on about the supreme strength of moral theory. Unless another science helps him –be it metaphysics or politics or often even a miserable economics –he is a mere talker. If you take away from him his philosophical barrel which he stands in, if you take away from him the venerable barbarism of his words, then he gets booed off”
Rich Vernadeau
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Posted Feb 7, 2013 - 8:55 PM:

See my thread Modern Philosophical Fable: Beetle & Snail in the Casual Philosophyesque department here.

Edited by Rich Vernadeau on Feb 7, 2013 - 9:03 PM. Reason: spelling correction
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Posted Feb 7, 2013 - 10:17 PM:

mindovermatter wrote:
. . . what do you think of this quote? It is by Herder, who was Immanuel Kant's student, from his essay called "How Philosophy can become more universal". Not only does he criticize metaphysics in the essay (he argues that it is useless),

Transcendent metaphysics [beyond experience] is useless. But theoretical / speculative reason directed at the natural world (empirical, phenomenal, etc) has its purposes, especially if developing into proto-physics hypotheses that eventually become testable.

Kant ~ "Hence the division of philosophy falls properly into two parts, quite distinct in their principles -- a theoretical, as philosophy of nature, and a practical, as philosophy of morals (for this is what the practical legislation of reason by the concept of freedom is called)." (Critique of Judgement)

Kant ~ "...For it lies generally beyond the horizon of our [theoretical] Reason, to comprehend original forces a priori as to their possibility; all natural philosophy consists rather in the reduction of given forces in appearance diverse, to a small number of forces and powers, adequate to the explanation of the effects of the former, but which reduction only extends to fundamental forces, beyond which our Reason cannot proceed. And thus, metaphysical research, behind what lies at the foundation of the empirical conception of matter, is only useful for the purpose of leading natural philosophy so far as is possible to the investigation of dynamical grounds of explanation, as these alone admit the hope of definite laws, and consequently of a true rational coherence of explanations. This is all that metaphysics can ever accomplish to the construction of the conception of matter -- in other words, for the application of mathematics to natural science, in respect of properties whereby matter fills its space in definite amount -- namely, to regard these properties as dynamical and not as unconditioned [transcendent]..." (Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science)

Since natural investigations have more or less buried a boot into the face of the individual or people as a group (at least in terms of how they traditionally valued themselves), the now blank terrain of transcendent metaphysics (after Kant's critique of speculative reason) can still serve the purpose of restoring some of that bygone worth to rational / moral beings. But via practical reason / philosophy rather than theoretical. And in no way interfering with the method and progress of the physical sciences (concerned with the spatiotemporal entities of the phenomenal world), and minus any deluded claims of validated knowledge of, or accessing and "confirming" anything about the supersensible, as interpersonal experiences [i.e., purely private revelations of that sort could be dismissed, anyway].

John Watson ~ "These two conceptions [theoretical and practical divisions], then, when they are grasped clearly, enable us to keep theoretical philosophy and moral philosophy perfectly distinct. The former is the philosophy of nature, the latter the philosophy of the free or moral subject. These terms, however, have not been consistently employed, but a confusion has been introduced by an ambiguous use of the term 'practical,' which has been applied both to sciences that are occupied with nature and also to the free or moral subject." (The Philosophy of Kant Explained)

Kant ~ [P 617] ". . . But as will be shown, reason has, in respect of its practical employment, the right to postulate what in the field of mere speculation it can have no kind of right to assume without sufficient proof. [...] In the practical sphere reason has rights of possession, of which it does not require to offer proof, and of which, in fact, it could not supply proof. The burden of proof accordingly rests upon the opponent. But since the latter knows just as little of the object under question, in trying to prove its non-existence, as does the former in maintaining its reality, it is evident that the former, who is asserting something as a practically necessary supposition, is at an advantage (melior est conditio possidentis). For he is at liberty to employ, as it were in self-defence, on behalf of his own good cause, the very same weapons that his opponent employs against that cause, that is, hypotheses. These are not intended to strengthen the proof of his position, but only to show that the opposing party has much too little understanding of the matter in dispute to allow of his flattering himself that he has the advantage in respect of speculative insight. Hypotheses are therefore, in the domain of pure reason, permissible only as weapons of war, and only for the purpose of defending a right, not in order to establish it. But the opposing party we must always look for in ourselves. For speculative reason in its transcendental employment is in itself dialectical; the objections which we have to fear lie in ourselves." (Norman Kemp Smith transl)

Kant ~ "Our critical deduction by no means excludes things of that sort (noumena), but rather limits the principles of the Aesthetic (the science of the sensibility) to this, that they shall not extend to all things, as everything would then be turned into mere appearance, but that they shall only hold good of objects of possible experience. Hereby then objects of the understanding are granted, but with the inculcation of this rule which admits of no exception: 'that we neither know nor can know anything at all definite of these pure objects of the understanding, because our pure concepts of the understanding as well as our pure intuitions extend to nothing but objects of possible experience, consequently to mere things of sense, and as soon as we leave this sphere these concepts retain no meaning whatever.'"

[...]

"The dictum of all genuine idealists from the Eleatic school to Bishop Berkeley, is contained in this formula: 'All cognition through the senses and experience is nothing but sheer illusion, and only, in the ideas of the pure understanding and reason there is truth.'

The principle that throughout dominates and determines my Idealism, is on the contrary: 'All cognition of things merely from pure understanding or pure reason is nothing but sheer illusion, and only in experience is there truth.'

[...]

"The enlarging of our views in mathematics, and the possibility of new discoveries, are infinite; and the same is the case with the discovery of new properties of nature, of new powers and laws, by continued experience and its rational combination. But limits cannot be mistaken here [...] the concepts of [transcendent] metaphysics and of morals, lies entirely without its sphere, and it can never lead to them; neither does it require them. It is therefore not a continual progress and an approximation towards these sciences, and there is not, as it were, any point or line of contact. Natural science will never reveal to us the internal constitution of things [again, from the intelligible or noumenal perspective], which though not appearance, yet can serve as the ultimate ground of explaining appearance. Nor does that science require this for its physical explanations. Nay even if such grounds should be offered from other sources (for instance, the influence of immaterial beings), they must be rejected and not used in the progress of its explanations. For these explanations must only be grounded upon that which as an object of sense can belong to experience, and be brought into connection with our actual perceptions and empirical laws [either directly or indirectly, today, by experiment and inference]."
(Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics)

but he goes so far as to try and knock down moral philosophy:

“And what is moral philosophy? A collection of rules which are mostly too general to be applied in individual cases, and yet always remain too flaccid to oppose a whole stream of bad dispositions and form a people’s whole manner of thought. Nothing is more ridiculous than hearing a thin philosopher… go on about the supreme strength of moral theory. Unless another science helps him –be it metaphysics or politics or often even a miserable economics –he is a mere talker. If you take away from him his philosophical barrel which he stands in, if you take away from him the venerable barbarism of his words, then he gets booed off”

"Proper behavior" grounded in the inter-dependencies of this conditioned realm would of course be just matters of convention or local wisdom (what Kant called "technical-practical", actually part of theoretical philosophy [about nature]), spinning around consequences, and inclined to mutability of particular situations. Accordingly with variability across cultures, too.
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Posted Feb 8, 2013 - 3:37 AM:

Philosophy makes the assumption that there are logical rules that govern the world. To the extent that this assumption is sound, and not beyond, philosophy is useful.
mindovermatter
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Posted Feb 8, 2013 - 10:08 AM:

YadaYada wrote:
Philosophy makes the assumption that there are logical rules that govern the world. To the extent that this assumption is sound, and not beyond, philosophy is useful.


Sure, but philosophy also has a purpose. I am speaking of philosophy's usefulness or uselessness with regards to this purpose. Philosophy is not only about logical rules, and whether or not philosophy is useful does not only depend on whether or not this assumption is true. Philosophy could still be useful if logical rules in fact did not govern the world, but logical rules were a product of our psychology.

The question is this... Metaphysics has a purpose, moral philosophy has a purpose... Whether or not these purposes are purposeful is the question, i.e., are we wasting our time as philosophers? We throw around such fancy jargon and abstract away to a theoretical level that we ourselves can barely comprehend. The question is, when we are stripped of our fancy jargon and are removed from our metaphysical, intellectual bubbles (our framework), that seem to be isolated from the concrete/practical world, can philosophy survive, or do we just get 'booed off'?

I'm confused about this question myself. It seems as though philosophy is extremely useful in a sense, since it is the foundation of many other academic fields, such as science, mathematics (this is arguable), etc. Also, many revolutionary periods throughout history (especially in intellectual thinking) have been triggered by philosophical thought and the philosophical academia of the universities. Further, philosophy seems to have come a far way, in a sense, with regards to ethics/bioethics. We have been able to clearly comprehend and make use of universal principles, such as utilitarianism.

Maybe today we have just taken philosophy too far. Maybe it is the highly abstract metaphysical aspect of philosophy that seems useless (maybe this is in fact hitting the boundary of what we can and cannot know). It seems as though, sometimes, the fancier we get with our words and the more we abstract from the ground/empirical level, the more we try and answer ridiculous questions and come up with crazy concepts, only to be left with more questions in the end.

Even within philosophy, we are not consistent with our terminology. We move from one thinker to the other, and suddenly we have to change our terminology. The framework of thinking and the standards change within philosophy. We always have to worry about whether or not our questions or use of certain concepts are 'relevant', with regards to the framework of the thinker.

Ethics. Universal principles. Think about Kant's Categorical Imperative. Is it brilliant or is it ridiculous? At the theoretical level, its absolutely brilliant. It is tempting. At the practical level, not so much (should we really ought to never ever lie? Think about this at the practical level and what this really means).

Then what is the particular usefulness of philosophy, if once we bring it back down to the practical/concrete level, it starts to break apart?


Edited by mindovermatter on Feb 8, 2013 - 10:34 AM
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Posted Feb 9, 2013 - 7:24 AM:

Is metaphysics necessary for philosophy? Does it make any sense to claim that Plato and Kant were only interested in ethics or epistemology or the soul?

What is metaphysics? Is it just classical and modern ontology, as one would gather from almost all texts and internet syllabi of college courses on metaphysics?

Is metaphysics sufficient to produce commonsense, or at least useful practical philosophy?

There has always been an uneasy tension between theoretical and practical philosophy, which is not that different from what is seen in other fields. Theoreticians study pure mathematics, without any regard for possible applications. Unlike mathematics, the analytical approach in philosophy has always been in afterthought. Plato was a moral and political philosopher who spent a lifetime justifying and detailing that which he already concluded to start with. Theology starts with God then asks philosophy to prove that unshakeable belief. Can a theory of knowledge start with anything else but what is already known?

Metaphysical apriorism (that's me) has been correctly criticized for missing the applications, which are the point of philosophy. Unfortunately, if philosophy is not based in logic, then it is nothing more than groundless, and ultimately empty academic speculation. That would hold even if that speculation should turn out to be sound, and useful, and universally acclaimed. The job of metaphysics is to ground the discipline in a logical foundation.

mindovermatter wrote:
are we wasting our time as philosophers? We throw around such fancy jargon and abstract away to a theoretical level that we ourselves can barely comprehend. The question is, when we are stripped of our fancy jargon and are removed from our metaphysical, intellectual bubbles (our framework), that seem to be isolated from the concrete/practical world, can philosophy survive, or do we just get 'booed off'?

Serious charge, and in some respects, we do get booed off. Hawking may be an idiot for proclaiming that philosophy is dead, but the underlying rationale of his nonsense will need to be addressed by future theoretical philosophy. We do not, in this era, have the mentality or the guts to deal with multiple metaphysics of the noumenal world, that Hawking cannot.

mindovermatter wrote:
Maybe today we have just taken philosophy too far. Maybe it is the highly abstract metaphysical aspect of philosophy that seems useless (maybe this is in fact hitting the boundary of what we can and cannot know). It seems as though, sometimes, the fancier we get with our words and the more we abstract from the ground/empirical level, the more we try and answer ridiculous questions and come up with crazy concepts, only to be left with more questions in the end.

The questions addressed today are the details of the arcana deep inside dogmatic metaphysics. No other metaphysics is even discussed, as if Plato, Pythagoras, Democritus, Protagoras, Heraclitus, and Kant never existed.

mindovermatter wrote:
Ethics. Universal principles. Think about Kant's Categorical Imperative. Is it brilliant or is it ridiculous? At the theoretical level, its absolutely brilliant. It is tempting. At the practical level, not so much (should we really ought to never ever lie? Think about this at the practical level and what this really means).

Most people not only confuse Plato's metaphysics, but don't even think it is important or necessary. They miss the undercurrent of the struggling metaphysician working with primitive tools with little historical guidance. What he accomplished in metaphysics is stunning.

Kant is much more difficult to read and interpret, at least to me sad. Critical philosophy's value should ultimately be in its metaphysical adjustments that create a dual world. One world for the sciences and one for everyday appearances. Something akin to Plato's perhaps. Is there a connection? I don't know.

It does seem to me, that Kant insisted and hoped that the Categorical Imperative is and must be grounded in Critical philosophy. With this I agree. Philosophy cannot survive as a popularity contest. It must be what it is.


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Posted Feb 9, 2013 - 10:14 AM:

mindovermatter wrote:


...what is the particular usefulness of philosophy, if once we bring it back down to the practical/concrete level, it starts to break apart?


Depends upon what you mean by "it starts to break apart". If a philosophy's usefulness depends soley on the likely consequences of it's implementation then we have a different matter altogether than if it depends upon folk's willingness to implement it.

The issue, it seems to me at least, regarding features of moral philosophy like the CI is that the world is already deeply entrenched in the notion of justifying that which contradicts it. If we all followed the CI, there is little to no question that the world would be a better place. However, all folk do not act like that, and if all folk began actin like that it would change certain folks lives in ways that they do not want. So, not all folk would adhere to such a notion.

If we were to live our lives in accordance with the CI, we would be at a significant disadvantage to those folk who do not. In that sense the application is self-defeating, for it is not the case that everyone would follow it, even if they understood it. Some folk place what they believe is in their own best interest far above what they think is in everyone's best interest. Violating people's trust is at the heart of all moral matters, and one can intentionally do such a thing for tremendous personal gain. If someone who does this has no fear of negative consequence in their lifetime as a result of doing so, then there is no reason for them to refrain from doing these kinds of things.

In short, a system is only as practical as it's implementation is successful.
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