In what order to study philosophy?

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Twirlip
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 06:23 pm
I'm just trawling for comments, as a reality check on whether it is possible to study philosophy in approximately this order.

As I've surely mentioned before, I find it a struggle to get through any books at all these days, so I'm likely to prove a slow pupil. This is somewhat maddening for me, and no doubt also will be for anybody who wants to enthusiastically recommend something for me to read.

Nevertheless, I'm trying to organise some sort of provisional list of philosophers to read (not yet at the level of individual works, although suggestions are welcome).

I've been fairly flexible as to whom I consider to be "philosophers", although most of the names on the list are mainstream. Some names (Derrida, for example) are conspicuous by their absence; I can't do anything much about that at the moment, other than mentioning that I'm extremely averse to relativism of any kind. (Feyerabend is about as far as I'm willing to go in that direction at the moment.) Russell is absent, because I've read a fair bit of him over the years, although nothing recently. The names near the end of the list are included with reluctance, because I know they're important, and I must make an effort. I've put Nietzsche higher up the list than I'm emotionally inclined to do - someone I'm that averse to must be telling me something important.

I know Heidegger is appallingly difficult, but I'm attracted to him (on a desert island I'd probably have to have Plato, Kant, and Heidegger), and attraction is going to be important, if I'm going to get through any of this lot at all!

As general historical reading, I'm thinking of Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind. I haven't got the money to get Copleston's 11-volume history, nor am I likely to find the time and energy to read anything that big (although I know I should).

The bias towards Western philosophy is shameful; I just don't have any clear idea how to remedy it; also, of course, it is easiest to consolidate ideas which have already influenced me through the culture into which I was born.

The list is, of course, highly provisional, not yet intended to be taken with great seriousness. (The numbering started with (1), but then I had to promote some philosophers ahead of the rest, hence (0).)

Philosophers (0)
------------

Berkeley
Meister Eckhart
Heidegger
Mill
Plato
Schopenhauer

Philosophers (1)
------------

Chomsky
Descartes
Feyerabend
Fromm
Jung
Sartre

Philosophers (2)
------------

Bergson
Freud
Kant
Kierkegaard
Locke

Philosophers (3)
------------

Aquinas
Aristotle
Gabriel Marcel
Marx
Merleau-Ponty
Popper

Philosophers (4)
------------

David Bohm
Bradley
Emerson
William James
Marcuse
Nietzsche
Rousseau

Philosophers (5)
------------

Hegel
Hume
Husserl
Leibniz
Spinoza
Wittgenstein

Philosophers (6)
------------

Averroes
De Beauvoir
Hobbes
Machiavelli
Maimonides
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 06:51 pm
@Twirlip,
One thing that you may consider useful, especially in regards to modern philosophers, is the sequence of philosophers from Descartes to Berkeley. Usually, the order goes from rationalists to empiricists; rationalists [Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz (not in your list), Malebranche (not on your list)], empiricists [Locke, Hume, Berkeley]. It's difficult to read Hume before Locke, and Spinoza before Descartes since each predecessor contributed something either positive or negative to the formula of the latter (like Locke and the theory against innate ideas (purported by Descartes et al.). And even then, it depends on what you are reading for each philosopher. Locke has political theory that do not mesh well with his metaphysics.

You also need to read Plato before you read Aristotle, since many things that Aristotle writes (especially in Metaphysics) depend on previous knowledge of Platonic forms and other notions. But even within the context of a single philosopher like Aristotle, you have to read texts like Categories before Metaphysics to derive the proper contexts for the various books in the text. Same applies to Descartes (Principles before Meditations)
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 07:15 pm
@Twirlip,
Without knowing how much background in philosophy you have, or the areas of interest, it is difficult to give good advice. There are many names on your list that seem secondary writers, or not philosophers at all (though that doesn't mean one should not read them), and some that are quite demanding and presuppose a lot of prior knowledge.

Rather than group philosophers in some arbitrary fashion, it might be better to group them historically and begin at the beginning and work through to the moderns. I say this for two reasons. First, a great deal of philosophy consists in debates and revisions or outright rejections of what has gone before (Aristotle in the first book of the Metaphysics, or Hume awakening Kant from his dogmatic slumber), as VCS correctly notes. Second, within a historical cluster, philosophers often will share a similar vocabulary and presuppositions and preoccupations that helps in understanding their thinking as you read.
I think it also important to be able to place philosophical works within a timeline of the history of ideas that mold civilisation, especially if you have some historical knowledge already.

Another way of approaching the task at hand is to begin with a one-volume history of philosophy (Bertrand Russell, for example and with the usual resevations). Copleston's history is magisterial, but most use his History as a reference work for specific periods or philosophical works.
Having an overview, as it were, of several thousand years of philosophy will perhaps indicate which philosophers in the list should be studied, which simply known about, and which are unimportant for you at your current stage.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 07:48 pm
@Twirlip,
I wonder why it is that people automatically assume that studying philosophy means studying philosophers. I am not saying that is not one way of doing it. But it need not be the only way of doing it. It may be that you want to study the problems of philosophy.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 08:10 pm
@VideCorSpoon,
VideCorSpoon;134254 wrote:
Does your list show 0-6 with each group your more preferred philosophers? Of which, which is the most preferred, 0 or 6?

(By the way, I forgot to mention that within each group the order is merely alphabetical.)

My vague intention is to have a go at reading the groups in increasing numerical order, probably starting with a few of Plato's dialogues.

(So far, I have only read the Protagoras - and that was a very long time ago - and I skimmed quickly through The Republic, when my daughter needed some information about it for an essay.)

Since there's no hope of reading everything that has been written in two and half thousand years (!), a linear chronological approach seems as doomed as the linear alphabetical approach of the poor 'Autodidact' working his way through the library from A to Z in Sartre's Nausea.

Nor will a mere historical summary satisfy me (although it will be a useful guide); I have to read some of the works of the major philosophers themselves.

But it's hard to know what other approach to take, other than following my nose - which is what I'm doing.

Given the way I'm approaching this, i.e. going by gut instinct, naturally I've tended to put the philosophers I feel most attracted to earliest in the list.

If there is any principle, rather than just dumb instinct, in the way I'm approaching this, it might be that I'm looking for thinkers who can help to compensate for what is most missing from the 'common sense' of our time and culture. 'Common sense', which incorporates a residue of much past philosophical, scientific, religious, and psychological thought, already does some of the work, which might be what makes it possible to miss out some of that two and a half thousand years of intellectual history.

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:35 AM ----------

(For instance, unlike Kant, I'm aware of non-Euclidean geometry.)

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 03:27 AM ----------

kennethamy;134277 wrote:
I wonder why it is that people automatically assume that studying philosophy means studying philosophers. I am not saying that is not one way of doing it. But it need not be the only way of doing it. It may be that you want to study the problems of philosophy.

Well, my aim is not to acquire a competent academic knowledge of the field, not even of one part of the field (except, eventually, the philosophy of mathematics - but I am not even approaching that topic by reading what philosophers say about it - although Plato and Kant are interesting).

Nor is my aim just to have an intellectually stimulating hobby, to stop my brain deteriorating in old age. For that, I could do cryptic crosswords, or indeed solve mathematical problems, or write computer programs.

My aim is, simply, to understand some things about myself, other people, and the world we all live in. To try to have some such understanding seems as natural to me, and as necessary, as breathing - and if I can't do it, then I'd literally rather not breathe, either.

In trying to understand self, others, and the world, it would be foolish to rely on one's own unaided guesswork, or on conventional wisdom, or on the opinions of friends, or on science, or on established religion, although all of these (even the last) can be of some help.

I don't know any word better than 'philosophy' to describe the search for an overall understanding of one's place in the world. And, just as it would be foolish to rely on the sources of opinion I have just listed, it would be foolish to neglect the opinions of philosophers who are or were, by common consent, great (even if they made great mistakes).

When I introduced myself to this forum, I made a number of statements (here I'm running them all together, strictly for illustrative purposes):
Quote:
I believe in a God who is immanent in each of us, universally loving, and (unlike any human being or social institution) an absolute moral authority. [...] I'm inclined to think that God, although deserving worship [...] is /not/ omnipotent, and He (or She, or It!), just like any of us, is constantly engaged in a struggle with Its own deluded dark side. [...] I think God's 'dark side' is a real power in the world for evil [...] I [...] believe in the existence of paranormal phenomena. I think that Jung's concept of synchronicity provides ample room for such phenomena to occur, within what is called coincidence. I believe that human beings are minds, not bodies; and that it is a philosophical error, and it fatally damages confidence in human judgement, to imagine that knowledge about human bodies could give a human mind enough knowledge of other human minds, or its own self. I am a political liberal, and a moral realist. (That seems to be an odd combination!) I think animals have rights. However, I eat meat. Contradiction?
I'm sure you'll agree that it would be foolish to rest content with such vague and provisional statements about such deep and perplexing matters!

Does it not seem sensible to read some of what some great philosophers have had to say about them? The question then is where to start - or, whether these weighty matters are so perplexing that they should be left, like so much else, to 'experts', and I should opt for a lobotomy instead!
 
Pythagorean
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 10:34 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip:

I would recommend that you seek out books. You cannot get an understanding if you don't read good books. Good books are books that give you the kind of material that is most urgent for you.

I love books. I collect books and I adopt the ones that I find most valuable. For me, it's all about books. And of course, there are many, many different kinds so it should be easy enough to find some that are capable of teaching you the kinds of things you most urgently need to learn about.

Thanks.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 1 Mar, 2010 10:43 pm
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134287 wrote:

Does it not seem sensible to read some of what some great philosophers have had to say about them? !


Of course it does. I hope I didn't say anything that gave you a different impression. I do think it is very difficult, maybe impossible, to understand many great philosophers without some guidance, though. I think a history of philosophy to order things for you would be a good idea. I like Anthony Flew's, An Introduction to Western Philosophy, because I think he takes a very sensible approach to the subject, and gets into interesting relations among the ideas of the philosophers he discusses. I think reading that first would give you a better idea of which philosophers you really want to read. And why.
 
ughaibu
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 12:09 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134287 wrote:
My aim is, simply, to understand some things about myself, other people, and the world we all live in. To try to have some such understanding seems as natural to me, and as necessary, as breathing - and if I can't do it, then I'd literally rather not breathe, either.
My suggestion is to read articles by contemporary philosophers. You'll find several thousand here, listed by subject: People with online papers in philosophy
This way you get an immediately relevant idea of where your background is lacking and what, and by whom, to read next. Also, articles can be read at a rate of several per day, books generally dont afford that facility.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 12:16 am
@ughaibu,
Twirlip wrote:

My aim is, simply, to understand some things about myself, other people, and the world we all live in. To try to have some such understanding seems as natural to me, and as necessary, as breathing - and if I can't do it, then I'd literally rather not breathe, either.

In trying to understand self, others, and the world, it would be foolish to rely on one's own unaided guesswork, or on conventional wisdom, or on the opinions of friends, or on science, or on established religion, although all of these (even the last) can be of some help.

I don't know any word better than 'philosophy' to describe the search for an overall understanding of one's place in the world. And, just as it would be foolish to rely on the sources of opinion I have just listed, it would be foolish to neglect the opinions of philosophers who are or were, by common consent, great (even if they made great mistakes).


I would recommend psychology over philosophy. Remember that many of the philosophers you listed were from a time when the psychological questions were a part of philosophy.

"understand self, other people" --> psychology

Philosophy is very valuable of course. Our ideas and values are an important part of us.
 
Pepijn Sweep
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 12:30 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134240 wrote:

As I've surely mentioned before, I find it a struggle to get through any books at all these days, so I'm likely to prove a slow pupil. This is somewhat maddening for me, and no doubt also will be for anybody who wants to enthusiastically recommend something for me to read.

The bias towards Western philosophy is shameful; I just don't have any clear idea how to remedy it; also, of course, it is easiest to consolidate ideas which have already influenced me through the culture into which I was born.

Philosophers (0)
------------

Berkeley
Meister Eckhart *
Heidegger
Mill
Plato *
Schopenhauer

Philosophers (1)
------------

Chomsky
Descartes *
Feyerabend
Fromm
Jung *
Sartre *

Philosophers (2)
------------

Bergson
Freud
Kant *
Kierkegaard *
Locke ?

Philosophers (3)
------------

Aquinas
Aristotle ?
Gabriel Marcel
Marx *
Merleau-Ponty
Popper *

Philosophers (4)
------------

David Bohm ?
Bradley
Emerson
William James
Marcuse
Nietzsche *
Rousseau *

Philosophers (5)
------------

Hegel
Hume
Husserl
Leibniz
Spinoza
Wittgenstein

Philosophers (6)
------------

Averroes
De Beauvoir
Hobbes
Machiavelli *
Maimonides


What a nice reading list ! I started with a few books on 25 cent. of western philosophy to get a global idea...

Eastern philosophy is less easy to understand; I think boeddhism is great to stimulate humanistic thinking. Confucius and tao-ist writings learned me a lot about Han-Chinese culture.

I miss two early humanistic writers; Thomas Moore and Desiderius Erasmus. Just started reading Erasmus and he is suprisingly modern.

To my shame I don't read certain roman-catholic writers on philosophy because I am biased; I don't believe in a single religious approach to the World. As a baptised protestant (not with consent) I'm questioning religion to the bone.

May-be Sir Isaac Newton's eso-teric writings are interesting and will explain his scientific thinking better than the (again) apple falling of the tree. I see you put Meister Eckhart on your reading list. I did not get any grip on his ideas in University, may-be later...:whistling:

---------- Post added 03-01-2010 at 11:46 PM ----------

Pythagorean;134388 wrote:
Twirlip:

I would recommend that you seek out books. You cannot get an understanding if you don't read good books. Good books are books that give you the kind of material that is most urgent for you.

I love books. I collect books and I adopt the ones that I find most valuable. For me, it's all about books. And of course, there are many, many different kinds so it should be easy enough to find some that are capable of teaching you the kinds of things you most urgently need to learn about.

Thanks.


I love books too... I kept all my books over the years and they start to block my study. I am selecting them now and putting them in boxes to give them to charity. There are suprisingly few books really worth keeping. The really interesting books seem to me to be an end-less story of oral history put to paper centuries after, translations of translations of translations...I prefer The Hobbit !
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 06:49 am
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;134441 wrote:
I would recommend psychology over philosophy.

It certainly has its uses. Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority, for example, is a book everyone should read. And everyone should try to get to grips with the idea of an unconscious mind (not easy!). But are you really suggesting that there exists a scientific field, called 'psychology', which addresses (and even answers) the kinds of questions I listed, about good and evil, God, liberalism, animal rights, synchronicity, the concept of a person, and so on? That is very surprising, and hard to reconcile with what I already know (little though that may be). Does there now exist an experimental method for determining whether any entity exists that might reasonably be called 'God'? Whether a person can be identified with his or her body? Whether political liberalism is compatible with moral realism? Whether there exist infinite sets? (I forgot to mention that one, except for the remark that I'm not looking to philosophy as such for the answer.) Whether dreams and coincidences can have meanings? Whether it is wrong to eat meat? Whether aesthetic judgements are nothing more than statements of subjective preference? (Another one I forgot to mention.) If science has advanced so far, it must have escaped my notice. On the other hand, if a 'psychology' which addresses such questions is not a science (how could it be?), then is it not still philosophy?

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 12:52 PM ----------

Pythagorean;134388 wrote:
I would recommend that you seek out books.

That was kind of the point of my question ...
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 06:56 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134545 wrote:
Whether there exist infinite sets? (I forgot to mention that one, except for the remark that I'm not looking to philosophy as such for the answer.)


I was under the impression that a man called Georg Cantor has proved there were (and transfinite sets too). It is now a branch of mathematics.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 07:32 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;134391 wrote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Twirlip http://www.philosophyforum.com/images/PHBlue/buttons/viewpost.gif
Does it not seem sensible to read some of what some great philosophers have had to say about them?
Of course it does. I hope I didn't say anything that gave you a different impression.

I was replying to:
Quote:
I wonder why it is that people automatically assume that studying philosophy means studying philosophers. I am not saying that is not one way of doing it. But it need not be the only way of doing it. It may be that you want to study the problems of philosophy.
It would seem vain, wouldn't it, to presume to study the problems of philosophy without studying what the great philosophers have written about them? The question is, rather, what I wrote to give you the impression that I wanted to study philosophers (meaning, read their biographies?) rather than learning from their writings about the problems of philosophy. I took it as read that that was what I wanted to do. This is no "automatic assumption", but a conscious decision.

And I'm certainly not ruling out reading books by people other than the recognised Great Philosophers. For example, I've been dipping into Wayne C. Booth, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of AssentThe Passions. Also, an academic textbook for beginners in moral philosophy: David McNaughton, Moral Vision: An Introduction to Ethics.

But I'm painfully aware of my lack of general background. Tackling Heidegger, in particular, seems like sheer folly without some preparation. On the other hand, do I have to plough through the Nichomachean Ethics first? Aquinas's Summa Theologica? All of Kant, all of Hegel (God help me!), all of Husserl? What do I actually need to read? Heidegger already makes some sense to me, but I don't imagine I would get far by starting at page 1 of Being and Time and trying to plough straight through (not even with a guidebook).

I suppose my question is, where am I less likely to come a cropper than with Heidegger? Plato, certainly - that's a given. Plan A is just to read a few of his dialogues. And Berkeley's Three Dialogues looks very inviting: I'm about to order a copy of that (unless someone tells me that it is essential to read his Principles of Human Knowledge first, but that seems unlikely). But then, might I not have to be already well acquainted with Locke? Even an abridged version of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Hackett) runs to nearly 400 pages (and I'm a slow reader, even when I can manage to persevere in reading at all). And so on.

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 01:44 PM ----------

kennethamy;134548 wrote:
I was under the impression that a man called Georg Cantor has proved there were (and transfinite sets too). It is now a branch of mathematics.

My immediate problem there is: how would I convince Doron Zeilberger of that?

See this thread in the Usenet newsgroup sci.math:
sci.math | Google Groups ("Surely You're Joking, Mr. Zeilberger?")
There's not much point in reading all the way through it, however, because we didn't come to any conclusions.

The point is that DZ is a very able professional mathematician who believes that there is a largest natural number, and that infinite sets do not exist. I feel in my bones that he is wrong, but he's probably cleverer than I am, so how do convince him of the truth of the "axiom" that there is an infinite set?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 07:44 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134555 wrote:
I was replying to:
It would seem vain, wouldn't it, to presume to study the problems of philosophy without studying what the great philosophers have written about them? The question is, rather, what I wrote to give you the impression that I wanted to study philosophers (meaning, read their biographies?) rather than learning from their writings about the problems of philosophy. I took it as read that that was what I wanted to do. This is no "automatic assumption", but a conscious decision.

And I'm certainly not ruling out reading books by people other than the recognised Great Philosophers. For example, I've been dipping into Wayne C. Booth, Modern Dogma and the Rhetoric of AssentThe Passions. Also, an academic textbook for beginners in moral philosophy: David McNaughton, Moral Vision: An Introduction to Ethics.

But I'm painfully aware of my lack of general background. Tackling Heidegger, in particular, seems like sheer folly without some preparation. On the other hand, do I have to plough through the Nichomachean Ethics first? Aquinas's Summa Theologica? All of Kant, all of Hegel (God help me!), all of Husserl? What do I actually need to read? Heidegger already makes some sense to me, but I don't imagine I would get far by starting at page 1 of Being and Time and trying to plough straight through (not even with a guidebook).

I suppose my question is, where am I less likely to come a cropper than with Heidegger? Plato, certainly - that's a given. Plan A is just to read a few of his dialogues. And Berkeley's Three Dialogues looks very inviting: I'm about to order a copy of that (unless someone tells me that it is essential to read his Principles of Human Knowledge first, but that seems unlikely). But then, might I not have to be already well acquainted with Locke? Even an abridged version of his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Hackett) runs to nearly 400 pages (and I'm a slow reader, even when I can manage to persevere in reading at all). And so on.


Well, if you really want to ask me, I would not read Heidegger at all. In fact, if you read him, I think you should read three dialogues by Plato, and Hume's Enquiry to make up for your loss of philosophical acumen as the result of reading Heidegger.

But, as I said, my own opinion is that you should start with a history of philosophy as a guide, and a basis on which to make up your mind whom to read. I suggested one such history of philosophy.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 08:19 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;134391 wrote:
I like Anthony Flew's, An Introduction to Western Philosophy, because I think he takes a very sensible approach to the subject, and gets into interesting relations among the ideas of the philosophers he discusses. I think reading that first would give you a better idea of which philosophers you really want to read. And why.

OK, I'm about to order a second-hand copy of that. One question: the subtitle seems to have changed from Ideas and Argument from Plato to Sartre to Ideas and Argument from Plato to Popper (!), so does this mean that there are large differences between different editions?

(I'm also distressed to discover that my copy of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy seems to have got lost, probably at my ex-wife's house, like so much else.) :depressed: (Yes, I know it's not exactly an unbiased account.) (Either Russell's account of history, or my implied account of marital woes!)

Talking of bias: I did read one book of Flew's, a long time ago, one of those "straight thinking" books, like Thouless. (Now so long out of print that it isn't even listed at amazon.co.uk!) I remember thinking that his conservative political philosophy rather infected his account of rational thinking. Is his history as unbiased as Copleston's is reputed to be (and Russell's isn't)?

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:29 PM ----------

Quote:
May-be Sir Isaac Newton's eso-teric writings are interesting
I hadn't thought of that, but indeed they might be (although it might be very hard for me to get into the right frame of mind to understand them). Do you have a reference, say, to an online version of some of them?

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:30 PM ----------

(Sorry, that was a reply to Pepijn Sweep's message #10. I'm not yet very adept at using this interface.)

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:48 PM ----------

kennethamy;134557 wrote:
Well, if you really want to ask me, I would not read Heidegger at all. In fact, if you read him, I think you should read three dialogues by Plato, and Hume's Enquiry to make up for your loss of philosophical acumen as the result of reading Heidegger.

I shall try to make sure not to take him as a philosophical Fuehrer!

I will try to get around to buying the Hackett edition of Plato's complete works (1800 pages, is it?) so that I can do proper penance.

I'm putting off Hume until very late (just as I am with Nietzsche, for different reasons), on the grounds that we are all Humean beings now - he is part of that "common sense" I wrote about - we are no longer permitted our dogmatic slumbers, and I need to learn to dream, like Berkeley perhaps, before Hume brings me back to Earth with a bump. My own disbelief in the supernatural is for reasons quite close to Hume's disbelief in miracles, I seem to remember. I did have a copy of his Treatise, but it seems to be lost (shamefully unread).
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 08:51 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134545 wrote:
It certainly has its uses. Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority, for example, is a book everyone should read. And everyone should try to get to grips with the idea of an unconscious mind (not easy!). But are you really suggesting that there exists a scientific field, called 'psychology', which addresses (and even answers) the kinds of questions I listed, about good and evil, God, liberalism, animal rights, synchronicity, the concept of a person, and so on? That is very surprising, and hard to reconcile with what I already know (little though that may be). Does there now exist an experimental method for determining whether any entity exists that might reasonably be called 'God'? Whether a person can be identified with his or her body? Whether political liberalism is compatible with moral realism? Whether there exist infinite sets? (I forgot to mention that one, except for the remark that I'm not looking to philosophy as such for the answer.) Whether dreams and coincidences can have meanings? Whether it is wrong to eat meat? Whether aesthetic judgements are nothing more than statements of subjective preference? (Another one I forgot to mention.) If science has advanced so far, it must have escaped my notice. On the other hand, if a 'psychology' which addresses such questions is not a science (how could it be?), then is it not still philosophy?


A crucial point in whether it is wrong to eat meat involves understanding consciousness and sentience. Why and how we dream is a field of study, the human tendency to assume a pattern behind coincidences has been studied. What goes into someone making an aesthetic judgement has been studied. What makes someone believe in god has been studied.

See, you can argue theoretically about whether aesthetic judgements are nothing more than statements of subjective preference if you want. It's useful to be sure. But if you can watch someones brain activity while making a judgement, and use it to prove your point, isn't that the ultimate trump card?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 08:55 am
@Twirlip,
Twirlip;134564 wrote:
OK, I'm about to order a second-hand copy of that. One question: the subtitle seems to have changed from Ideas and Argument from Plato to Sartre to Ideas and Argument from Plato to Popper (!), so does this mean that there are large differences between different editions?

(I'm also distressed to discover that my copy of Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy seems to have got lost, probably at my ex-wife's house, like so much else.) :depressed: (Yes, I know it's not exactly an unbiased account.) (Either Russell's account of history, or my implied account of marital woes!)

Talking of bias: I did read one book of Flew's, a long time ago, one of those "straight thinking" books, like Thouless. (Now so long out of print that it isn't even listed at amazon.co.uk!) I remember thinking that his conservative political philosophy rather infected his account of rational thinking. Is his history as unbiased as Copleston's is reputed to be (and Russell's isn't)?

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:29 PM ----------

I hadn't thought of that, but indeed they might be (although it might be very hard for me to get into the right frame of mind to understand them). Do you have a reference, say, to an online version of some of them?

---------- Post added 03-02-2010 at 02:30 PM ----------

(Sorry, that was a reply to Pepijn Sweep's message #10. I'm not yet very adept at using this interface.)


Coplestone's is slanted. (He was a Catholic Priest) and was pretty innocent of analytic philosophy. Russell's comes from a certain point of view, and so does Flew's. Analytic. And it is my point of view too. I don't think that coming from a certain point of view is the same thing as being biased. Bias involves distortion. You can have a particular viewpoint, but not distort what you write.

I think that the change in the subtitle is mostly cosmetic. I think the new edition is better than the older one, myself. It is written more crisply. Flew's "Thinking about Thinking" is a good critical thinking book. You are right. It is on the lines of Thouless.

Good luck. You are making it too much of a task or a duty, I think. Unless you enjoy philosophy, don't do it. There is other stuff in the world.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 09:37 am
@Twirlip,
I have to disagree that Copleston is slanted, even though he writes as a Thomist and within the Jesuit tradition of scholarship at the highest level. He is very careful to separate and distinguish any religious observations about a position from the exposition itself.
EVEN Wikipedia admits that "Copleston's work has arguably come to represent the finest and most complete summary of Western philosophy now available."

Now while it is possible to read philosophy by concentrating on a particular branch (e.g. ethics or politics) that seems important at the time, and garner all sorts of different viewpoints and positions about a particular subject, I am not convinced that this method is the best. Of course, one learns a great deal about a certain subject by reading (generally excerpts), but one is deprived of any kind of understanding about how a particular position in that area fits an architectonic structure that encompasses a total perspective about the world, and how that structure helps persuade the reader that that position makes sense. [Digression and example: Plato's political philosophy only makes sense if one understand how it fits into his educational philosophy and his view of true knowledge as an understanding of the Forms.]

For one of the important things philosophy can accomplish for an individual is to present a different way of viewing the world than he might come to on his own, just as in better times, a young man, having finished his formal studies, would normally spend a year or so travelling the world.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 09:44 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;134594 wrote:
I have to disagree that Copleston is slanted, even though he writes as a Thomist and within the Jesuit tradition of scholarship at the highest level. He is very careful to separate and distinguish any religious observations about a position from the exposition itself.
EVEN Wikipedia admits that "Copleston's work has arguably come to represent the finest and most complete summary of Western philosophy now available."

Now while it is possible to read philosophy by concentrating on a particular branch (e.g. ethics or politics) that seems important at the time, and garner all sorts of different viewpoints and positions about a particular subject, I am not convinced that this method is the best. Of course, one learns a great deal about a certain subject by reading (generally excerpts), but one is deprived of any kind of understanding about how a particular position in that area fits an architectonic structure that encompasses a total perspective about the world, and how that structure helps persuade the reader that that position makes sense. [Digression and example: Plato's political philosophy only makes sense if one understand how it fits into his educational philosophy and his view of true knowledge as an understanding of the Forms.]

For one of the important things philosophy can accomplish for an individual is to present a different way of viewing the world than he might come to on his own, just as in better times, a young man, having finished his formal studies, would normally spend a year or so travelling the world.


Yes,"slanted" is the wrong word. But "has a particular viewpoint" is not. As I said, he was innocent of analytic philosophy, and his writing shows it. He constantly fails to make interesting and obvious points. And also, he does not discriminate among philosophers. Even when he should. The landscape is utterly flat.
 
Twirlip
 
Reply Tue 2 Mar, 2010 10:11 am
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;134577 wrote:
But if you can watch someones brain activity while making a judgement, and use it to prove your point, isn't that the ultimate trump card?

Not really, no. Perhaps there are two reasons why not.

This is a big subject, of course, and I don't feel able to go into it in depth, certainly not right now, but these are the reasons that immediately occur to me.

The first is that somebody could be scanning your brain right now, and "explaining" your belief that you have made a valid logical point, but that does not disprove what you have just said; nor, similarly, does the possibility of being brain-scanned disprove anything anybody else says, not even if what they say is that invisible green lizards from outer space have been stealing their cookies.

The second reason is closely related, and is that brain scans have to be interpreted in terms of subjective experience, and no dictionary for the "language" of brain activity can be written without considering subjective experience in its own terms - just as, in the first point above, any argument you are I or anyone else gives has to be evaluated in logical terms, not in terms of whether it is caused by brain activity - we can take it as read that everything that goes on in our minds is caused by brain activity, but we still have to go on thinking and arguing!

There is certainly a spectre of epiphenomenalism which haunts us all, but the point is that it haunts all of us equally, even the most thoroughgoing materialists (ain't it amazing how grand philosophies like logical positivism and postmodernism all seem to fall victim to their own grand negative claims?), and you can't pick and choose which human beliefs to invalidate by saying, "Ah, that's just your brain doing that."

I'm sure everything I've just written is full of holes, but all I want to do is make explicit that: (a) any supposed correspondence between mind and brain must be described from both sides, so even the existence of such a correspondence does not mean that we can dispense with a concept of mind, and make do with a concept of brain instead (even to assert an identity between two things, you have to have two things to assert to be identical; mind-brain identity, even if true, is not a tautology); (b) such a correspondence, having been described, has to be proved to exist (although I am not much disposed to argue about it, and will probably usually just take it for granted that it does exist); and (c) what is alleged to follow from the supposed existence of such a correspondence must be argued for, and we should not simply jump to conclusions in a blind panic, thinking perhaps, "Oh my god! All these things going on in my mind are just electrical or chemical stuff going on in my brain, and my brain is a machine, therefore free will is an illusion, and nothing I believe to be true can be trusted or makes any sense at all!"

I apologise for the inadequacies of all this; I'm more trying to record my opinion than to argue for it. Another time, another thread, another forum, perhaps. Also, I'm not arguing so much against anything you've said (I imagine you are aware of being crudely misrepresented), as against what my own mind is disposed, in a panic, to conclude from the fact that my mind has (is?) a brain and brains are organs which can be looked at by doctors and scientists with clever machines. The panic needs to be resisted, and any conclusions drawn carefully and calmly. More: the damage already done by the intellectual panic must be undone. If I am not, perhaps, just a lump of matter with ideas above its station, and if I really can think and understand some things and make judgements that can be relied upon, then I must reevaluate everything I have believed about myself, and other people, and the world we live in. For, you see, the position for which you seem to be arguing (unless I misunderstand you) is not one that's unfamiliar, but on the contrary, one that's only too familiar, and from which I am trying to recover. With a large part of my mind I already believe that I am just a walking gene machine with a kludgy brain whose ideas are delusions without significance; but, with what is left of my mind, let me carefully examine all I know and make my own judgement as to how much of this depressing view of myself and others and the world is true. Even if the very worst is true, I still must in the end depend on my own judgement that it is true. And I might even judge it to be false.
 
 

 
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