Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Three Things

In a reckless bout of philosophevangelism, I submitted the following brief article to my hall of residence newsletter. I reprint it here in case any fellow residents want to respond in comments, e.g. to complain about my being a pompous ass. The final sentence is pure provocation, but that may be appropriate in light of my pseudonym.

(Note: regular readers may find this redundant after my previously posted "ten things", though I've made a few revisions in light of helpful suggestions from Clark and Duck.)

3 Things everyone should know about Philosophy

1) Philosophy (and that includes ethics!) isn’t just a matter of opinion. Some opinions are better justified, or more reasonable, than others. We should aim to hold those judgments that are best supported by reasons.

2) Philosophy is an academic discipline, and hence something you do, not something you have. (No-one would go up to a scientist and ask “What’s your physics?” Similarly, to ask “What’s your philosophy?” is to misunderstand the term.)

More specifically: philosophy is a form of inquiry, not rhetoric or apologetics. One should be open to the possibility of changing one’s mind, and so view “opposing” arguments as opportunities for learning, rather than threats to be dismissed at all costs.

Corollary: The aim of argument is not to convince others to your point of view regardless of its true merits, but rather to adduce rational evidence that the view is most likely correct.

3) Philosophy is inescapable. If you dismiss it as worthless, you’re making a claim about ethics or value theory, which are sub-fields of philosophy. If you think it’s an unreliable source of knowledge, that’s epistemology.

All your “common sense” beliefs rest on philosophical assumptions. Most people prefer not to examine them, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just means everything you think and do could be completely misguided and you wouldn’t even realize it.

-- By Socratic Shadow -


  1. If you really want to charm the outsiders apply analytic philosophy to politics. Talk about the implausiable mind body dualism that pro-lifers depend on, or the cyrpto-retributivism that the closure argument for capital punishment involves as Majikthise covers here:

  2. Thumbs up for an excellent peice though! ( Not sure about the pseudonym though.)

  3. I'm not sure I accept #2. Indeed a common view, especially within philosophy of science, is that we all have philosophies. It's just that some of us work to be aware of what those philosophies are.

    Which reminds me of Davidson and his aim of working out the ontological commitments entailed by taking certain sentences as true. I've long thought that one of the more valuable things philosophy can do.


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