What is the purpose of philosophy?

What is the purpose of philosophy?
mark black
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 10:48 AM:
Subject: What is the purpose of philosophy?
It's not the first time I've been on a Philosophy Forum and seen a 'metaphysics and epistemology' section, and always assumed they were just similarly unpopular. I see them almost as polar opposites - and thinking on this inspired me to ask the question: what's the purpose of philosophy?

I'm interested in both senses of the question - which is to say, what need or purpose does philosophy serve? and, what need or purpose should philosophy serve? - but the following remarks are directed toward the latter question.

For me, the foundation stone of all good philosophy is epistemology. If we don't first ask 'what can we know?' and 'how can we know it?' - everything that follows is word games and guesses, (or semantics and speculation to use 'reasonable english.')

The disciplines that don't have an epistemological basis - ethics, metaphysics, religion, often reference the ancient greeks, or the ancient church as if they were some kind of epistemological authority, but rather it's that 3,000 years of word games and guesses hasn't moved the discipline on an inch.

It's comparable to the difference between natural and social sciences - Phil of epistemology, math, language and science are like the natural sciences of philosophy because they have an epistemological basis upon which to build. Phil. of metaphysics, ethics, religion and politics, lacking an epistemological basis are pretty much stuck with identifying the right question - because there is no right answer.

That said, for me the purpose of philosophy is establishing an epistemologically sound framwork into which to fit the epistemologically groundless.

I'd welcome any comments.

mb.



Simple Occam
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 3:21 PM:

mark black wrote:
If we don't first ask 'what can we know?' and 'how can we know it?' - everything that follows is word games and guesses, (or semantics and speculation to use 'reasonable english.')


It's interesting that you ask an ethical question, "What should philosophy do?' and then you answer that "philosophy should do epistemology" because the questions of ethics, metaphysics and the rest have "no right answer". It would seem to follow, then that there is no right answer to yor question about the purpose of philosophy. And yet you answered it....

My answer is that philosophy should be trying to produce mutually supported and consistent answers to the most basic questions about the nature of being, knowledge and goodness. It should be loving wisdom much more than it does. By taking the epistemological turn you recommend the history of philosophy turned away from its roots in ontology and ethics , leaving us with a severly limited "knowledge of knowledge" and little or no interest in knowledge of being or goodness. Before there was any knowledge there was being. After there was any knowledge there were moral choices. No philosophy can be complete or even adequate without showing how all three are "grounded".



makerowner
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 3:41 PM:

What do you mean by an "epistemological basis"? And how do you distinguish the branches of philosophy that have one from the ones that don't? Does your metaphilosophy (that philosophy should be based on epistemology) have an epistemological basis?

Edited by makerowner on Dec 30, 2008 - 7:14 PM. Reason: typo
doppelganger
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 3:56 PM:

I believe that to answer the question of what "need or purpose" philosophy serves is simple. We are, according to Nietzsche a certain kind of being which cannot exist without god. Our need for philosophy is to plumb the depths of our existence and determine our relationship with truth. What is our connection with truth? How is it established? A clean answer might be that a conscious being seeks to understand where it is, why it is and what should it do. Clarity about our position in the world is the goal. Even a nihilist would have to agree with this proposition. For the physical sciences, the connection with truth is the scientific method; by using trial and error to predict a result leads a scientist to knowledge (whether provisional or not). For us, I believe that our need for philosophy is to reconcile a transcendent consciousness with an earthly, decaying existence. This duality of our "being" is the source of our being able to conceive ideas outside those which evolutionary theory would have us ask. Why would we need to understand our place in the "universe" to survive, why would it be subject to the law of natural selection. So, to return to the point: in every Age, man has a specific relationship with truth (even if, as is the condition today, it is a negative one). Our need is to find this connection. This is also the should. For if man cannot even start such an inquiry (and I put this in to satisfy [mark black] who essentially says there is no knowledge because it is "groundless") he is left with simple absurdity--a mind capable of transcendence in a bag of bones. That should not be an argument against such a conclusion. Perhaps absurdity is the ground. if this is so, where can philosophy go from there?
I started a similar discussion in general philosophy regarding the source of our value in this age. perhaps this discussion can continue there?

Edited by swstephe on Dec 30, 2008 - 5:12 PM. Reason: fixing illiteracy
awm@uwm
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 4:03 PM:

What is the purpose of philosophy?

I will admit, I didn't read any of the comments, for I feel the answer to this question is simple.

The purpose of philosophy is to find truth, goodness, and knowledge; moreover, it is to gain wisdom.

What else could philosophy's purpose be?
doppelganger
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 4:05 PM:

As a clarification that may not be obvious in my prior post, I equated God with truth. In this Age, as in any other, the concept of God has always represented the ultimate truth. I am not talking about a moral, vengeful, forgiving entity. This is history. We must strip away all of the religious clothing from the concept of God. God is now simply a denotation of truth.
verb4i
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 4:41 PM:

Key here in this thread is the question of Vorstellung. Thus, I ask, is philosophy a guide to the acquisition of knowledge (knowledge understood as Begriff, something multiple, spontanious, an intelletual product, content, an instrument of analysis of phenomenon, which is violent toward the Idee, and acts as the mediator - since no concept can claim identity with its object and thus lends a mediatory function - to enable phenomena to participate in the existence of Idee)? Or is philosophy rather a represtentation [Vorstellung] of truth (truth understood as Idee, unitary, pre-existent and/or given, the form)? Perhaps, neither or both...maybe?

This distinction is taken from "The Origin [Ursprung] of German Tragic Drama" by Walter Benjamin.

Edited by verb4i on Dec 30, 2008 - 9:45 PM
mark black
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 7:27 PM:

Simple Occam,

Yes, I see that I have answered a value question - to which I say there are no right answers. It follows then that I can't consider my answer indisputable. I'm okay with that. Dispute away.

You say: 'No philosophy can be complete or even adequate without showing how all three are "grounded".'

Then surely no philosophy is complete or adequate, and I'm okay with that too.

you opine: My answer is that philosophy should be trying to produce mutually supported and consistent answers to the most basic questions about the nature of being, knowledge and goodness

I think you make mainstays from cross beams. I can only re-iterate that I find epistemology a necessary pre-requsite to any enquiry - agree that the nature of being is a fundamental question but must immediately insert nature of reality. Goodness I'd describe in terms of correctness in respect to these ideas of man and reality.

I'm sure I haven't cleared up everything but please correct me where i err.

mb.


mark black
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 7:42 PM:

makerowner,

In phil. of science, the epistemological basis is related to scientific method, in mathematics to the logic of math, epistemology is its own reward, and language perhsps since Levi Strauss and Sassure.(?) These are at least all grounded in rational epistemologies that state what we can know and how we can know it - where the others don't. All I'm suggesting is that the epistemologically grounded disciplines are mainstays and the other philosopies must fit where they may.

mb.

makerowner
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Posted Dec 30, 2008 - 8:09 PM:

mark black wrote:
makerowner,

In phil. of science, the epistemological basis is related to scientific method, in mathematics to the logic of math, epistemology is its own reward, and language perhsps since Levi Strauss and Sassure.(?) These are at least all grounded in rational epistemologies that state what we can know and how we can know it - where the others don't. All I'm suggesting is that the epistemologically grounded disciplines are mainstays and the other philosopies must fit where they may.

mb.



You still haven't explained what you mean by a "rational epistemology" and how we can tell whether or not a particular branch of philosophy has one. All of your examples are problematic: 1. the idea that there is a specific thing called "the scientific method" has been increasingly unpopular since Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; and besides that, you haven't explained how the "epistemological basis" of philosophy of science is related to the scientific method, and why that relation makes said epistemology "rational" 2) there is, as far as I know, no agreed upon "logic of math" and it's my understanding that Gödel's incompleteness theories had more or less killed the idea of providing a logical "foundation" for math. (And why anyone thought that it needed one is another question.) I admit that I know next to nothing about philosophy of math though. 3) Language is if anything more uncertain today than when Saussure was writing. The study of language is certainly not "grounded": structuralist, speech act, generativist, hermeneutic, etc. theories of language are all extremely different. There's no paradigm (in the Kuhnian sense) for how to study language or what a theory of language should do.

You've also given no reasons as to why you think these branches "state what we can know and how we can know it". Philosophy of science is to a large extent about those questions; how could it be grounded in a rational epistemology that answers them? It seems to me that you're conflating "philosophies dealing with fields in which there is a consensus on how to study them" (eg. math and physics) and "philosophies that have a rational epistemology". I don't see any reason to link the degree of consensus within a field of science with it's "epistemological basis", nor do I see any reason to think that philosophy of math has any more "rational" an epistemology than ethics does.
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