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What does a philosopher use in order to reach conclusion?

There are many methods proper to philosophers' reaching a conclusion. Together with Julian Baggini, I set out many of them in our Philosopher's Toolkits. Briefly, however, I might say that to reach conclusions philosophers variously use the following (and there may be some overlap in these): (1) the methods of deductive and inductive logic; (2) appeals to intellectual insight evoked through the articulation or synthesis or exhaustive scrutiny of one or more philosophical visions, descriptions, explanations, axioms, or theories; (3) indirect forms of discourse that attempt to show obliquely what can't be said directly, sometimes by placing theories and other discursive practices side-by-side or in opposition or in contrast or in tension with one another or by altering the context in which they're given voice or utterance (whew!); (4) dialectical reasoning, where thinkers engage a back-and-forth process of argument-criticism-questioning until a conclusion emerges; (5) appeals to reflective equilibrium where...

Should philosophy be considered among the group of disciplines we consider sciences or among the humanities? I understand that the answer to this is typically taken to be that philosophy is among the humanities but I also know that philosophers sometimes resist this categorisation. Obviously we'd need to refine our definitions of these categories first to see if we can produce a useful answer. And perhaps the answer is that there's a third category that philosophy should belong to all on its own?

It's funny you asked, as I have just been discussing with the Physics faculty at my university the possibility of having my course in Metaphysics count as an elective in their program. One might ask, I think, why there are categories at all. Why not just have disciplinary programs. The reason is often more administrative than pedagogical or theoretical. Universities need means of distributing budgets, committee assignments, and review procedures. Sure there is a background in the medieval division of the ancient liberal arts into two categories: the verbal studies of the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic) and the quantitative studies of the quadrivium (music, astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry). And there's a stream of division that extends out of nineteenth-century ideas about the human sciences. But I find very little theoretical consideration given to the division today. My hope, in fact, is that it will diminish somewhat in importance as interdisciplinary studies gain in prominence. And that...

What exactly is metaphysics? I’ve heard it argued that metaphysics is simply asking about the existence of things that are or the nature of that existence. I cannot say, “it is,” without talking about metaphysics. Would that mean that everybody is a metaphysician?

Gosh, wouldn't it be great if everyone were a metaphysician? Unfortunately, using ideas that metaphysicians explore no more makes one a metaphysician than using using religious concepts makes one a theologian. There's no simple definition of "metaphysics," but as a serviceable start one might say that metaphysics is that branch of philosophy that investigates the most fundamental and the most general features of reality or what we think about reality. So, for example, while a historian might ask, "What were the causes of the Crimean War?" A metaphysician might ask, "What is history, what is time and history, what are historical causes, and what are human agents such that they can engage in war?" While a biochemist might ask, "What are the compounds that cause a specific reaction in the intestines?" A metaphysician might ask, "What is 'Being' generally, and what is causation generally?" While someone might ask whether or not she should return a wallet she's found on the ground, a metaphysician might ask...

I would like to know more about the (supposed) difference between dictionary and philosophical definitions. There is a free access introduction by Norman Swartz on the Internet. Swartz says that dictionary definitions are "reports of common usages". My problem is that dictionaries (try to) explain what words MEAN in common usages. Even if you accept that there is not more to meaning than usage itself, dictionaries seem to report THEIR UNDERSTANDING of usage, which is something quite different from usage. For instance, when dictionaries quote writers who used some word, they never give information on how READERS reacted to that usage. I think that they assume that those quotations somehow prove by themselves the accuracy of the proposed definitions. On the other side, I suppose that philosophers also rely on usage when they try to define the meaning of a term (if they are not stipulating it). Aren't philosophers reporting their (or arguing for a certain) understanding of a word usage?

I think you have a real point here. Standard dictionary definitions don't simply "report" usage. Both philosophical and standard dictionary definitions "explain" (as you put it) or "interpret" (as I might put it) the meanings of words. And both the authors of standard dictionaries and philosophers may be reasonably described as advancing "arguments" for their interpretations. There are, of course, different methods of argument at play in the production of philosophical and standard dictionary definitions; and philosophers and the authors of standard dictionaries interpret words in different ways, in the light of different audiences and different histories. In short, the contexts of usage with which philosophical definitions and standard dictionary definitions are concerned is generally different (though sometimes overlapping). The word, "valid," for example, is used differently and means something different in the contexts of ordinary conversation and the formal language of deductive logic. ...

Hi, I have an engineering background but I have been studying philosophy for a couple of years. The problem I have is this. When I read a scientific (that is, not philosophical) problem, I almost always easily understand what the problem is (of course, I do not mean that I can easily solve the problem). A good way to test understanding is to try to explain the problem to another person. And most of the time I can easily explain a scientific problem to another person. But, in philosophy this is not the case. Even I spend so much time trying to understand what a philosophical problem is, I almost always have the feeling that I do not understand the problem. And the test I told above confirms me. Most of the time it is very difficult for me to explain the problem to another person. I suspect that the reason for this situation is something related with the nature of philosophy. What do you think? and what should I do to remedy this situation? Thanks, Unakil

Dear Unakil, I started in engineering myself, and you may be interested in learning (if you don't already know) that the great 20th-century Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was also an engineer. I also think your method of testing is a pretty good one; but its reliability does depend in part on the capacities of the person to whom you're explaining things. There are those, I think, with a sort of "tin ear" for philosophy. Another thing to say about philosophy is that it is very difficult to state matters clearly because philosophical matters are so very complex and subtle. It really does take years to reach a settled way of stating many issues, and even then there remains an open-endedness about philosophical matters that may be intrinsic to those matters or perhaps to language itself that leaves them open to further articulation and revision and clarification. Something else to say about philosophy is that the issues it addresses, while in a sense perfectly ordinary and ubiquitous in life,...

What's the METHOD in philosophic research? Don't tell me, please, that it's logic or the principle of inconsistency. The logic can be applied to all kinds of thinking: scientific, religious, philosophic, and even artistic. What I mean by METHOD is something like case-control or cohort methodology in scientific research. Is there any methodology in philosophic research? Do philosophers conduct any research for testing their propositions/hypotheses with some kinds of evidence? How? Which kind of evidence are they concerned about? How much evidence is enough for approving or refuting a hypothesis?

While it's right to say that philosophy has no single distinctive method, over time it has developed what I suppose could be called families or quivers of methods and tools. In some ways this collection has also determined the distinctive character of philosophy as a form of investigation. Among these tools and methods, I'd include things like: logic, yes, but also dialectic, transcendental argument, thought experiments, reductions, and intuition pumps; then there's normative principles of thought like Ockham's razor, Leibniz's law of identity, the principle of sufficient reason, and the principle of saving the phenomena; there are critical techniques like those related to class, sex, power, and race; there are conceptual distinctions used to analyze and order ideas like essence/accident, think/thin, acquaintance/description, a priori/a posteriori, categorical/modal; there are grounding ideas like those of 'basic', 'primitive', 'complete,' 'self-evident,' and indefeasable.

This is a question about the pertinence and legitimacy of the approach towards contemporary philosophy. Increasingly it seems that philosophy has become divorced from common culture, which is sad as the subject has offered so much insight on, and for the sake of, society throughout the ages. Since the advent of the 'new realism' philosophers do not, as I understand, attempt to build systems of philosophy but rather try to answer small and well-defined questions with consistency and through giving a justification for their own notions. However, there seems to be several problems with this approach which I will present: (a) One can be consistently false. In particular, if one focuses on small questions, chances are one is just not including anything within the remit which will challenge one's argument. (b) If one begins from the standpoint of one's own intuitive notions, this is effectively reinforcing one's own opinion and bias. If two people give an argument justifying their opinion, this will not...

I have often found the appeal to intuitions, unsatisfying and sloppy. But I'm not sure it's always so, especially in cases where the intuition is widely shared, or anyway shared by the audience or readership. In that case, it is true that the intuition itself lacks scrutiny, but I have my doubts that we can ever get to the sort of bedrock Absolutes you describe. In fact, even with an appeal to the Absolute, I don't see any way one can be sure one isn't consistently supporting a delusion--since one's appeal to the Absolute might be erroneous. In fact, the many different Absolutes that people have promote today demonstrates that most and perhaps all appeals to the Absolute comprise systems, perhaps even consistent systems, of falsehood. And in any case, is there any difference between calling "p" an Absolute Truth from saying simply, "I believe p very strongly"? I'm inclined to say that appeals to Absolutes and articles of faith impede philosophical discussion by placing certain ideas beyond...

I do not have much experience with philosophy, but am interested in debating. Can you recommend any good and thorough introductory texts to both formal debating and philosophical argumentation? Thank you.

I'd recommend these: 1. The Philosopher's Toolkit (Fosl & Baggini) 2. How to Think about Weird Things (Schick & Vaughan) 3. A Rulebook for Arguments (Anthony Westin) 4. The Art of Deception (Nick Capaldi) 5. Nonsense (Gula) 6. Crimes against Reason (Whyte)

What are the most important similarities and differences between "Literature" and "Philosophy"? Akbar Baharlou

First, I would like to say that I don't think there's a clear or distinct line marking the difference between "literature" and "philosophy." Rather, I think that philosophy is a type of literature, or better a family of sub-types of literature. My own sense is that for any specified criteria distinguishing philosophy and literature, significant exceptions can be found. Plato and Kierkegaard use characters and plot, Kundera writes essays, Nietzsche is poetic, Berkeley wrote dialogues, Heraclitus and Wittgenstein are oracular, aphoristic and paradoxical, Dostoevsky uses arguments, etc. Having said this, as a rule one might say that philosophy uses fictitious character, plot, setting, and poetic trope in a less central way. It's easier to think of philosophy without plot or character or metaphor than it is to think of fiction or poetry. One might also, I think, say that philosophy has more often aspired to formulating general truths and doing so through modes of argumentation, while other forms...