How do philosophers approach philosophical questions?

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Reply Sun 25 Apr, 2010 11:57 pm
Something I've learned gradually is that when approaching a philosophical question with others there are

What I want to get out of this rather is, from everyone's experience of others along with any personal insight, how does a person's approach towards a philosophical question mature or progress?

For example, If I were to ask the question "What is the meaning of life?", is it not perhaps more important how the philosopher him/herself matures in the approach taken towards answering the question than the answer itself? The question does not demand an evaluative answer, because through asking such a question that is not our desire to find. What we want rather is clarification, and to know what's going on when one brings up the question, why it needs to be brought up by the individual or by the culture, perhaps why it's philosophical at all, and what is going on in the minds of those who are answering it, how are their opinions limited? Why? How can this change?

I know this may sound like an absurd question, but, is sharing opinions part of what makes up philosophy? Sharing ideas is different. Is philosophy concerned with opinions at all, or are they simply extraneous to the practice?

Normally, a question demands an answer. From the brain's perspective it does not see question and answer. It just sees information, the causal tenses "question" and "answer" are invented. All relief one gets from the discussion of a question he has posed - is this the result of one's ability to create a solid opinion of what is going on, or a solid understanding and clarity of what is going on? I know this may sound silly, but is it going too far to regard the necessity of an opinion as a failure in one's philosophical thought towards a question? One starts with an opinion, because you have to start somewhere, but doesn't it end dissolved, in some sense. The relief comes not when one has been able to formulate an opinion, but when it has ended, when one no longer feels the need to chance a statement of what is the case, but feels that it is known to him.

In the question "What is the meaning of life", what we desire from it is not actually a correct answer, because a correct answer demands necessarily an opinion due to the nature of the question, but instead, further clarity. The problem with this question is, there is no place to start which suggests itself. One enters in the discussion with an opinion, and it is destroyed, because the opponent inevitably goes about his method seeking a way to ridicule the fascination in the other's suggestion. What doesn't seem suggestive to him, could seem to so the other. And then the idea that it must be all relative emerges. And then we give up. Is there a more refined method?

Otherwise what one comes up with is something considered witty, taking the form of aphorism which is like a part opinion and part demonstrating what is the case. I think that's why aphorisms are considered so philosophical. When one permits himself the train of thoughts where aphorisms just flow out what he is doing is finding places of what is the case which can be expressed as a generalization in language yet remain valid, or at least, in a witty way. One is willing to adopt nature to the aberration wit has created as opposed to the other way around. That is how we come to be taken by a great phrase, and the really great ones shift nature far, or rather, our conception of it.

I cannot help but feel that there is something useless about the sharing of opinions as if that's all there would be to it in philosophy discussions. We share our opinions and then we prove them. But is this all? People don't think in opinions, words do.

Is perhaps the meaning of life to absorb oneself in enough of these moments of relief upon which one gains enough of satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness so as to forget the question?
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 12:06 am
@Holiday20310401,
My normal first step and maybe the most important is to distance myself from the question in such a way that my emotion is less likely to influence the result. The second step I take is a sort of meditative extension of the first step, which is coming to understand that it really doesn't matter what answers I manufacture. After that i suppose its normal pattern recognition and hopefully "rational thought". I guess this is why many think me heartless, especially in threads with hotbutton topics.
 
Deckard
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 12:22 am
@GoshisDead,
I usually walk around the question a few times and look at it from different angles. Then I usually deal some less than fatal blow slightly tangential to the main point but still relevant and then back off and walk around it a few times more. I repeat this process until I'm bored with the question. It's sort of a cat and mouse game for me.
 
platorepublic
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 12:25 am
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;156648 wrote:
My normal first step and maybe the most important is to distance myself from the question in such a way that my emotion is less likely to influence the result. The second step I take is a sort of meditative extension of the first step, which is coming to understand that it really doesn't matter what answers I manufacture. After that i suppose its normal pattern recognition and hopefully "rational thought". I guess this is why many think me heartless, especially in threads with hotbutton topics.

Why would anybody call you heartless if they could reasonably think what you think is (perhaps) rational?

Ugh.

Maybe, people think I am heartless too - especially those who are (used to - unfortunately or fortunately depending the way you see things) close to me.

Actually, I sometimes think I am heartless, but not any longer. I have so much heart now because of my "rationality" - whatever that may be called - and fearlessness.
 
TuringEquivalent
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 02:24 am
@platorepublic,
Like all questions, you ought to research, research research.....etc.

When i ask the question "what is brute facts", i had to look up multiple books, sources:


http://www.philosophyforum.com/blogs/turingequivalent/933-notes-brute-facts.html
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 06:56 am
@platorepublic,
platorepublic;156654 wrote:
Why would anybody call you heartless if they could reasonably think what you think is (perhaps) rational?

Ugh.

Maybe, people think I am heartless too - especially those who are (used to - unfortunately or fortunately depending the way you see things) close to me.

Actually, I sometimes think I am heartless, but not any longer. I have so much heart now because of my "rationality" - whatever that may be called - and fearlessness.


Because, I suppose, they have Keats' sentiments:

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow.
--John Keats

Actually, Keats was talking the physical sciences, not philosophy as he understood it. He was a confirmed Platonist. But, I am reasonably sure he would have expressed those sentiments about analytic philosophy. As many on this forum have done.
 
platorepublic
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:36 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;156687 wrote:
Because, I suppose, they have Keats' sentiments:

Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an angel's wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine
Unweave a rainbow.
--John Keats

Actually, Keats was talking the physical sciences, not philosophy as he understood it. He was a confirmed Platonist. But, I am reasonably sure he would have expressed those sentiments about analytic philosophy. As many on this forum have done.

What do you mean he was a Platonist.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 07:41 am
@platorepublic,
platorepublic;156699 wrote:
What do you mean he was a Platonist.


All the Romantic poets were Platonists. That is, they believed Plato's philosophy of eternal forms. Keats' famous Ode on a Grecian Urn is primarily an expression of the Platonic view that only what is eternal is real.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 08:41 am
@Holiday20310401,
As a philosophical mind matures, it seems to find even more questions lurking behind the original one, in this example, "what is the meaning of life." It will inquire into the definitions of the terms used in the question, and perhaps question whether these are meaningful or appropriate to ask; it will begin to draw up a tree of distinctions of meanings. It may also draw upon its knowledge of other possible positions made by other philosophers in its effort to understand and clarify its own thinking.
The clearer the question becomes (and it will also necessarily deepen itself) the closer the philosopher becomes to tentative answers, if for no other reason that the clarification will entail a rejection of certain avenues of thinking and the possible answers they entail.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 09:18 am
@jgweed,
jgweed;156713 wrote:
As a philosophical mind matures, it seems to find even more questions lurking behind the original one, in this example, "what is the meaning of life."


It is a common error to believe that just because there are other questions connected with the question you are dealing with, that the question you are dealing with cannot be answered satisfactorily. As in science, it is possible to know one thing without knowing everything. Amateur philosophers often become confused because they think that you cannot, for instance, determine whether the cat is on the mat unless you can define "cat", "mat","is", and "on". That is, of course, false. And leads to paralysis. Divide and conquer is the proper method in philosophy as it is in science.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Mon 26 Apr, 2010 10:04 am
@Holiday20310401,
Holiday20310401;156644 wrote:
... from everyone's experience of others along with any personal insight, how does a person's approach towards a philosophical question mature or progress?


I've found that, for me, my purpose is best served by initially asking myself the question (or about the issue) critically and without analysis. From then, I ask myself 'why' and go through a pseudo interrogation; can it be justified? Is it rational? Does jive with what I know - or strongly believe - to be the case with related phenomena? etc. Then comes my answer's implications, expected effects and relationship with others.

I find that through this methodology I have the best potential for grasping a new twist on an existing theme or even questioning those I've held but have not examined in such a light.

As far as opinion goes: Yes, I think it plays largely in philosophy. Opinion, to me, is the brother of belief, faith and even some knowledge elements that might rise to the level of 'knowledge'. As others state opinions - as opinions - I try to take it on face value. In that case, where that opinion lies within the communicator's head, to me, remains murky until I can draw contextual clues as to what weight that person gives the opinion.

Holiday20310401;156644 wrote:
...but is it going too far to regard the necessity of an opinion as a failure in one's philosophical thought towards a question?


Yes, as a general statement, it is. Unless the context, tenor and flow of an existing discussion warrants such a judgement (which it might); in general, to say that the existence of an opinion represents any kind of failure is short sighted and narrow minded, and here's why: When we state an opinion as an opinion, we implicitly open ourselves as a communicative receiver as being 'open' to other (or opposing) ideas since the word, by definition (and not otherwise strongly qualified), carries with it an intonation of malleability. Philosophy's best approached this way because it lubricates the discussion process towards learning, rather than dogma-spewing.

Thanks
 
Zetetic11235
 
Reply Tue 4 May, 2010 06:44 pm
@kennethamy,
Questions vary so widely there really isn't a single method that always works. I will say that there are two distinct fields of 'questions', each of which can be attacked in a manner I will attempt to -very- broadly outline.

Case 1. This is the bane of the analytic philosopher. The question that is too ill defined to answer sensibly without making a whole rash of assumptions playing more to human psychology than to empirical fact. "What is the meaning of life" is probably the one spouted about the most. I think on this sort of question one finds someone like Camus more helpful than someone like Kant (though with folks like Dennett, there could be a bit of technical insight about natural tendencies that might come to bear light).

Camus does not attempt to provide a solid answer or concept that can be utilized in understanding an external reality. Camus' writings contain psychological insight, and the same is true of Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Dostoevsky and many others. One aspect of philosophical investigation is the search to understand yourself and the social context in which you exist.

Case 2. This is the joy of the analytic philosopher. The class of questions that interplay with and clarify aspects of and topics in mathematics computer science, linguistics, Neuroscience ect. When a question is very broad or ill defined, the analytic philosopher can step in and decompose it into a rational question with a clear (but often hardwon) answer. I would say that 'What is a good working definition of "effectively computable", and how can we determine what is not effectively computable', when it was first asked and seriously pursued in the early 20th century, was very much a question of analytic philosophy. There was no computer science then; that came about shortly thereafter.

I would claim, generally, that analytic philosophy is ideally the first stepping stone to a legitimate field of science. The tradition is old, from Aristotle to Leibniz/Newton to Turing/Godel and on. Analytic philosophy provides a forum in which we can fumble around with weak bearings on what it is we want to accomplish, with the ultimate goal of applying our new-found understanding to the body of human knowledge in a refined form that is usable in everyday tasks.

Case 1 Section 2: The Method of Attack.

There is not much to be said here beyond that what is required is a great deal of honest self exploration and interaction with those around you. Combined with this, you should liberally apply sense and reason to what you are observing, and with experience you can draw reasonable, and sometimes very cutting and insightful conclusions. Coincidentally this is also the playground of the rank amateur, as it is very relevant to coming to a sense of self.

Case 2 Section 2: Method of Attack.
So much has been written on how to systematically attack problems this seems fairly redundant. You try to use your intuition to give a reasonable interpretation (or sometimes many) and then once you have working definitions and a fairly clear outline of the problem, you think about how you might break it down into smaller parts. You tackle each part of the problem, possibly dividing it into digestible subparts and you use your intuition and ability to analyze and attack the subparts from various angles. Some will fall easily, some may be insurmountable, depending of course on the depth of the problem and your facility with reason and your breadth of relevant knowledge.


There is no clear strategy to solving the small problems outside of becoming fluent with the process of analysis and practice with reasoning skills. It has been extraordinarily helpful for me to tackle difficult subject matter that forces me to think logically and creatively at the same time such as mathematics, logic and computer science.
 
Salvorisen
 
Reply Mon 9 Jan, 2017 11:08 am
Science provides a second way to approach this issue. In scientific methods, if you determine that the answer to a question will necessarily be unclear, then you have to adapt either your question or your parameters, at the risk of wasting your time with useless results.

In discussing opinion as it may evolve through aphorism, idea, and statement, we've looked pretty well here at the latter principle, adjusting parameters, discussing specifically the measures of adequate scholarship and of personal satisfaction that might be used to declare an end to a search in a question with no answer.

But, if we accept as a given that *answering* questions, not just posing them, provide the satisfactions sought, the former scientific principle is frequently more apt.

That is to say: if you can't answer a question clearly, and answering questions is your goal, then ask better questions. Thus "What is the meaning of life?" becomes a series of more useful, and likely solvable, questions: What is meaning? To whom? How is it measured? Why is it measured? How can it be increased? How is it decreased? What is regret? How can it be mitigated?, etc.

Thank you for reading, please respond as inspired, and have a nice day.

Smile

PS: I got to this discussion via the search for a way to make a question more answerable. Thank you all for your help.

PPS My flawed question: “Why didn’t mass production and automation release people from endless toil (and may have exacerbated it)”? Feel free to chime in!
 
 

 
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