One Conception of Philosophy
Philosophy is that discipline which attempts to understand
problems which are important but mysterious and unclear in the
formulation and which we do not yet know how to solve. If
philosophers clarify these problems and we discover they can be
fruitfully studied by science or math, then philosophers give the
problem over to another, often a new, discipline. While the
problems cannot be so solved, and perhaps also if the problems
will never be so solved, then philosophers study them.
Branches of Philosophy
- Metaphysics: study of fundamental nature of the universe.
Example issues include:
- Is there a God?
- Is the mind physical?
- What is time?
- Epistemology: study of knowledge. Core questions are:
- What is knowledge?
- How do we get knowledge?
- What justifies belief and makes it knowledge?
- Logic: study of the forms of reasoning and of pure structure.
This is hard to describe but easy to show. Examples include:
- What is good reasoning?
- What kind of structures are possible, and what are the
features of those structures?
- Ethics: study of how one should live, and how we should live
together. Questions addressed include:
- What is the good?
- How should we make moral decisions?
- How should one live?
- How should we live together?
- [History: study of past philosophy]
Progress and Challenges
It is common to suppose that there is no progress in philosophy.
I believe that there is (hence the definition I provide). But
don't take my word for it. I will try to convince you of a number
of things this semester, including:
Still, philosophy is concerned with difficulties, and these include:
- No one has identified a valid argument for the existence
of good, and the most famous arguments, if they worked, would
prove the existence of only a "philosopher's God." It follows
that religion must be based on faith.
- All knowledge requires some assumptions -- for example,
scientific method is based on faith in induction --
nonetheless, scientific method is the best and most compelling
method we have to answer questions about physical world.
- Many of the traditional objections to the idea that a
computer might think have been shown invalid. The strongest
remaining concerns are meaning, and consciousness.
- Ethics is possible without religion. In fact, there are
compelling arguments that it is independent of religion.
- Explaining norms (that some things have purpose) remains
the single greatest challenge to philosophy.
- Compatibilism is the view that we are determined and "free."
Many find this view an evasion of the problem of free will.
- Ends-justify-the-means reasoning is often better than
a set of ethical rules, and sometimes worse. We don't know
how to reconcile rules and ends reasoning.