News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!

Via the latest philosophers’ carnival I learn of a recent kerfluffle, started here, and continued here over the usefulness of philosophy and I can’t resist throwing my $0.02 in.

One thing that I have little patience with is the view that dismisses philosophy all together. The view that there is no progress in philosophy is itself a philosophical view. The view that all knowledge is scientific knowledge is also a philosophical view. When people say that philosophy is a waste of time they invariably mean one particular way of doing philosophy is a waste of time. This is clearly illustrated by people like Richard Feynman who spend a lot of time denouncing philosophy in general when a closer looks reveals that he was pissed off about the method used by particular philosophers (that he happened to encounter). This is also born out by the anti-philosophy comments at the linked posts. If you do not like thought-experiments, analysis of ordinary language, or scholastic proofs for God’s existence that is fine, but that is not the same thing as not liking philosophy.

Philosophy is unavoidable. You cannot even say why it is worthless without actually doing some philosophy; that is part and parcel of its sulkiness. I think it was Aristotle who first voiced this sentiment, (though I can’t seem to find the passage any where in my Barnes anthologies)…anyways. Deal with it.

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5 thoughts on “News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!

  1. i never quite understand why some folks are so hung up about this ‘usefulness’ debate. is history research useful? or even more extreme – is music useful? is dancing useful? being useful is good and all that, but sometimes other things matter more to me: like beauty, rigor, depth, intellectual honesty, fun, humor, etc.

  2. Hi scientist, thanks for the comment!

    I agree with your general line in your comment, but I think there is a real issue here. Those who are against philosophy usually see it asa kind of ‘mental masturbation’ (seriously, see how many times this phrases comes up in the comments in the linked posts). I take it that what they mean is that it might be fun for the person who engages in it but that it is something which is otherwise pointless, and which should be kept to oneself (i.e. no knowledge claims). So the ‘usefulness’ question should be interpreted quite broadly to mean ‘good for anything besides self-pleasure?’ Also, ‘should it be avoided by people who want to seriously understand the world we live in?’ On the first measure most (maybe all) of the things you mention above are useful. On the second music, dancing, fun, and humor don’t make the cut…but philosophy does!

  3. These sorts of people should be made aware that philosophers think a great deal of ‘philosophy’ (meaning I suppose the literature and various methodologies used) is crap too. The logical positivists (as a quick well known example) thought Hegel was a fraud, and that talk of ethics and metaphysics was literally meaningless. There are philosophical schools that would appeal to the philosophy bashers (and whether they like it or not they belong to these schools), but they dismiss philosophy too quickly to realize it. Just because a lot of philosophy is garbage doesn’t mean all philosophy is garbage (and determining what is garbage seems like a philosophical exercise to me).

  4. Hi, Charles Myro here,

    Agree completely with you.
    Experiment generally is founded upon broad presumptions about what
    phenomena from what source does or does not support a thesis.
    (eliminating “subjective” sources for instance).
    Science conceitedly presumes its sole validity.

    To prove experimentally that science, say physics, is the only valid
    scheme of the world, would require a definition or concept of validity
    that self-servingly entails the experimental evidence sustaining that conclusion. In other words, it would require a presumption or premise of a philosophical nature (one of many many in science), itself not verified by experiment. And to experimentally verify that presumption or premise would require yet another such premise, and so on.

    Science simply swims in a soup of philosophical stuff that rises directly from the reasoned philosophical dabate of ages.
    Hawking speaks the absurd—–without philosophical presumption, science itself would have no starting point.

    But Philosophy, unlike calcified science, allows such broad presumptions are dubitable and debatable. Philosophy is still the only forum where all dogma, all blind reverence ,all presumption–from top to bottom–may be subjected to reasoned doubt and difference.
    Science is but one context in the broader entity we call life. Only philosophy aims truly to encompass the broadest context. Only Philosophy still takes reasoned aim at the mysteries of all life.
    If the world may be reduced to the machinations of the atoms of physics, then in its fundaments, physics, I insist, may be reduced to the reasoned machinations of Philosophy.

    I am proud to consider myself part of the Philosophical fraternity.

  5. Not to be overly cynical, but I view those who think that philosophy is not useful are just actually saying, “philosophy is not financially viable.” But that could be said of other disciplines also.

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