• darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Of course, we can know for certain, certain logical truths. But outside of this, is the philosophical enterprise able to reach a certainty?

    The more I learn philosophy, especially academic philosophy, the more it seems all caught up in a web of confusion and seems more like a game than anything else. I am doubting the infallibility of a priori introspection, that is, armchair philosophy. In my opinion, it seems ridiculous that we could actually assert something positive in philosophy - almost all philosophical positions in the past have been criticized or even flat out rejected later on, which leads me to believe that nothing I am learning in academic philosophy is legitimate knowledge.

    To put it short and sweet, I've given up on the entire traditional philosophical enterprise.

    All of metaphysics is unverifiable and limited to our own, rather small, perspective. So as much as I enjoy thinking about metaphysical questions, the anti-Realist position is the only position that makes sense, which means that traditional metaphysics is nonsense.

    Outside of metaphysics, we have fields such as epistemology, philosophy of mind (which has metaphysical connections), political philosophy, etc. Now these fields don't appear to be dead ends as metaphysics does, but they still are fields that will likely never reach a full philosophical consensus and an objective certainty. Instead, it's just a game. It's nihilistic.

    Enter Wittgenstein, who basically said all I've said above, criticizing the past philosophers of talking nonsense and making questions where there weren't any. His quietism is more or less what I've come to see as the only method of philosophy that is respectable.

    Now, I would like to hear your opinions on this. Is traditional philosophy bullshit? Or is it a respectable enterprise?
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    If we would ever arrive at a definitive consensus in any field of philosophy, then that would be the death of that field, it seems to me. Or, maybe, it could be a case of philosophical inquiry having spawned a domain of empirical inquiry, which is something that indeed occurs occasionally. But this intellectual (or technical) domain then moves outside of philosophy proper.

    Something can't be an inquiry into the conceptual foundations, or basic presuppositions, of some area of thinking and yield propositions that are expressive of factual knowledge. This is not to say that some results of philosophy can't be enduring, and constitute intellectual progress of some sort. But the progress at issue is a progress in understanding, rather than an incremental addition to knowledge. And understanding, unlike empirical knowledge, always is liable to be challenged. When there is definitive progress, it mostly consists in highlighting habitual conceptual confusions that we are liable to fall into whenever we generalize or theorize about anything. But such confusions have a habit of re-emerging under new guises, and their standard modes of elucidation have a habit of settling down into rigid and systematic ways of thinking (philosophical "theories") that in turn spawn new confusions. The impetus to philosophize thus is more akin to a standing responsibility to unravel the confusions inevitably spawned by a constantly evolving understanding (of some domain of inquiry) rather than the expression of a desire, or need, to add to the enduring stock of human knowledge. Sciences, techniques and (conservative) arts can take care of the latter.
  • Pneumenon
    381
    Outside of metaphysics, we have fields such as epistemology, philosophy of mind (which has metaphysical connections), political philosophy, etc. Now these fields don't appear to be dead ends as metaphysics does, but they still are fields that will likely never reach a full philosophical consensus and an objective certainty. Instead, it's just a game. It's nihilistic.darthbarracuda

    I don't think they need to reach a consensus to be productive.

    The people who founded the government of the USA were deeply influenced by John Locke, for example, and his political philosophy seems to have had at least partial responsibility for the political and economic superpower that resulted. Even if political philosophy never reaches a consensus, it still changes things in the real world.
  • Ciceronianus the White
    883
    There is no need for certainty, though. The fact that we deal in probabilities and that conclusions are subject to revision doesn't render philosophy or anything useless or less than legitimate. Intelligence consists of acting, inferring, based on best available evidence. If we require certainty we commit ourselves to futility, but not otherwise.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    However, should we attempt to not latch on to any intellectual theory (scientific and philosophical alike), since it most likely is false?
  • Ciceronianus the White
    883
    However, should we attempt to not latch on to any intellectual theory (scientific and philosophical alike), since it most likely is false?

    If it's most likely false, there's no reason to treat it as anything but most likely false.

    I tend to think much of the problem with traditional metaphysics results from a refusal to accept the fact that we and our "minds" are as much a part of the world as anything else is; that we're not spectators of a world apart from or external from us. We're participants in the world, which makes it rather odd to maintain that we can't know what it "really" is or even whether it is, because we're "in here" and it's "out there." I can't recall if Wittgenstein writes about this, but others have.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Is traditional philosophy bullshit?darthbarracuda
    Yes, if by traditional philosophy you understand the philosophy which gives reason an undue priority in the world, and makes an arbiter out of it.
  • Janus
    8.7k


    There can be no sensible arbiter other than reason; the issue is about how that reason is informed as much as it is about how well it is employed.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    There can be an arbiter. Custom. ;)
  • Janus
    8.7k
    So you think custom is a worthy guide as to what to think; is that a conclusion based on a process of reasoning or is it merely a blind following of custom?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Experience. As Hume showed, it's not reasonable because it's not reasonable to expect that the future will be like the past just because the present has so far been like the past.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    None of us has anything to work with other than experience; either our our own or received deliverances about the experience of others.
    Whether or not you believe the future will be like or will not be like the past is irrelevant, per se , to whether you accept custom as a guide. If anything accepting custom as a guide is more consonant with thinking the future will be like the past.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Yes - but thinking the future is like the past is not based on reason. Hence the acceptance of custom is not based on reason, as you yourself have just admitted.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    That's not what I have admitted at all and nor is it correct. Just because we can obviously have no direct empirical evidence that the future will be like the past, that doesn't entail that we do not have good reasons to believe that it will, at least in some respects.

    You brought up custom as a purported sensible alternative to reason, and I pointed out that following custom can either be done for reasons or blindly. If the first it would be an example of exercise of reason, and hence not an alternative to reason at all, and if the latter then it would not be a sensible alternative to reason.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Yes, and I showed that custom can be trusted because of experience, neither reason, nor blindly. Furthermore, Hume and I think we do not have any good reasons to believe that the future will be like the past, and you have not showed otherwise.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    So, for example, would you say that you have no reason to believe that because people have died in the past, they will die in the future?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    I will say that because people have died in the past, I believe that people will die in the future, but this is not a deductively valid reasoning, and induction itself is not rationally valid - I use it because it seems to be working at the moment.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    Do you have a deductively valid reason for reducing your definition of reason to deductively valid reasoning?
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    What makes you think induction is reasonable?
  • Janus
    8.7k


    Because it consists in postulating reasons (theories) for observed regularities; reasons which are justified not deductively (although deduction comes into it) but by their predictive success.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    You didn't answer my question.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Yes but it is not reasonable to expect the future to be like the past just because that has been the case up until now.

    As for having a deductively valid reason - the reason is that deduction is the only process which guarantees an answer.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    I disagree, it is perfectly reasonable, since all known human experience is of a world overwhelmingly invariant, to expect the future to be along more or less similar lines to the past; the sun will most likely continue to rise in the morning, species will continue to become extinct, people will continue to live, on average between 70 and 90 years ( or their lifespans may continue to increase if the understanding of factors affecting human health continues to increase) and people will continue to be born and die unless there is some devastating event, and so on.
    I think you are confusing yourself into claiming such beliefs are not reasonable merely because they are not deductively certain. This produces a very impoverished understanding of reason.
    Go back and look at the question again; you didn't even come close to answering it!
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    John, I think when you are trying to construct an argument to defend inductive reasoning, you may be involving yourself in a performative contradiction, as it were (though, I may be wrong. This is just a suggestion). An inductive argument, however it is defined, is supposed to be something different than a deductive argument.

    One should not, while defending inductive reasoning, offer some mutually accepted premises (of whatever nature) on the basis of which our interlocutor ought to be able to infer, deductively, that conclusions of inductive arguments (based on true premises) are true. That would be to misrepresent an inductive argument as a deductive argument!

    The defense of inductive reason ought rather be something like an account of the sort of embodied practice engaged in by subjects who thus reason; something that is bound to seem circular from the point of view of a skeptic who only has faith in deductive arguments and may doubt even the existence of the sensible body. Rather than portray the inductive argument as some sort of a risky generalization based on a finite set of experienced 'data', one could explain how the practice of inductive reasoning is, well, reasonable. And for the practice to be reasonable just is for it to be able to secure knowledge. Once the fallibility of our epistemic powers is acknowledged, then we can brush off the challenge offered to us by the skeptic who questions the epistemic status of our beliefs. The skeptic isn't merely challenging a particular belief on some specific rational ground, but our entitlement to any empirical belief whatsoever since such beliefs only are inductively justified (i.e. conceived as the upshot of ordinary, fallible albeit reliable, perceptual powers). The reason why we are entitled to brush her skeptical challenge off, is precisely because we aren't committed to prove everything deductively!
  • Janus
    8.7k
    Hi Pierre, I didn't think I was making an inductive argument, but rather a pragmatic argument to the effect that we have no good reason to doubt that people will die in the future just as they have in the past and so on.
    Having no good reason to doubt just is having good reason to believe.
    Requiring deductive proof to support empirical beliefs is not itself a reasonable demand since it betrays a category error in the understanding of reason, and so just as you say we are entitled to refuse to take the sceptics very artificial, even, it might be said, inconsistent, doubts seriously.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.6k
    Hi Pierre, I didn't think I was making an inductive argumentJohn

    No. I was charging you with trying to advance a deductive argument in support of the validity of inductive reasoning. I don't think just pointing out that we have no doubts that thing will go on in the future as they went in the past is a pragmatist argument in support of inductive reasoning. It seems more like a proclamation of faith (I am not saying this disrespectfully).
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    I disagree, it is perfectly reasonable, since all known human experience is of a world overwhelmingly invariant, to expect the future to be along more or less similar lines to the past; the sun will most likely continue to rise in the morning, species will continue to become extinct, people will continue to live, on average between 70 and 90 years ( or their lifespans may continue to increase if the understanding of factors affecting human health continues to increase) and people will continue to be born and die unless there is some devastating event, and so on.John

    How do we know that what held up in the past will hold up in the future? Let's suppose I try to justify some principle of uniformity of nature; how will I go about it?

    1. Newton's law of motion held from 1600AD-2016AD.
    2. The past will be like the future.
    3. Therefore Newton's law of motion will hold in the future too.

    This works. But notice that premise two is the very principle of uniformity. So how shall I justify it?

    1. The past has always been like the future.
    2. The past will continue to have the same relationship with the future.
    3. Therefore the past will continue to be like the future.

    Notice I smuggled it in again when I tried to justify it. I cannot justify that the future will be like the past without falling into circular reasoning. And furthermore, how could I know empirically that the future will be like the past? All that I can know is that the present is like the past.

    I grant you that I do believe that the future will also be like the past. But this is not based on some reasoning; it is merely the way my mind works. My mind presumes that the past is a reasonable guide to the future; but there is no reason for this presumption. It's just the way my mind works. When it sees the constant conjunction of things, it is inclined to associate the presence of one with the presence of the other. All we can say is that it SEEMS (to whom - to ME!) like the future will be like the past. This is believed out of habit, not out of reason. I have no reason to affirm a matter of fact: that it will really be like this. It is sufficient and truthful if I say that I believe it, and stop there.
  • Janus
    8.7k
    You're misunderstanding that I am claiming that there could be deductive certainty in the matter. There obviously cannot. But given that we have always without fail observed invariance in the past, and that the whole complex and coherent story of science is based on the idea that laws of nature obtain we have far more reason to expect that regularity to continue than to expect the invariances will suddenly and inexplicably fail.

    Of course they could suddenly fail tomorrow, but we have every reason to think that is vanishingly unlikely.
  • Agustino
    11.3k
    Nope, this is false. We don't have a reason to expect that this is the case, but you are right that we do expect that it is the case. Why do we expect it if we don't have a reason? Because our beliefs are not based on reason in the first place - they are based on appearances, on habit, and on the way our mind functions.
  • Soylent
    188
    Yes, if by traditional philosophy you understand the philosophy which gives reason an undue priority in the world, and makes an arbiter out of it.Agustino

    I wonder if you're going too far the other way, in particular with the judgement of "undue". It's not entirely obvious to me whether the priority of reason in the philosophical tradition is warranted or not. In part, the philosophical tradition is an attempt to settle the issue of where reason stands in relation to knowledge acquisition. Indeed, a good portion of the tradition can be regarded as an inquiry into setting the limits of reason. Your declaration strikes me as too presumptuous.

    If I understand John's claim as well, your shift from deduction to custom is not a shift from reason to something otherwise, but just a shift in the form of reasoning. Induction is still a reasoning faculty albeit distinct from deduction, but using custom as an arbiter is still deferring to reason.
  • Janus
    8.7k


    What form could such a deductive argument take? Any deductive argument is only as certain as it's premises, which when it comes to non- tautological arguments, they never are.

    So the argument could look like this:

    • We have no reason to doubt that the future will be, in its general form, like the past (people will continue to be born and die, and so on)


    • having no reason to doubt something will be the case is equivalent to having good reason to believe that thing will be the case.


    • Therefore it is reasonable to believe that the future will be in general form like the past.

    So, if I am presenting a deductive argument this would be it's form. The argument for the premise can only be an inductive argument if it is not something simply taken for granted.

    If I had to make an inductive argument for what I really believe is a self-evident premise this is how it would look:


    • In attempting to understand nature all I have to go on is past experience; both my own and the communicated and recorded experience of others.


    • All the human experience I have access to tells me overwhelmingly that nature is invariant at the 'macro' scale.


    • Therefore it is reasonable to believe that nature is invariant at the macro scale.


    • Therefore we have no good reason to doubt that the future will be in general form like the past.
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