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DoomUK
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I was going to respond to something on this topic in that supernatural thread before it got closed, but I can't resist bringing this up.

I'm sure that thinking about things is the basis of all science and productivity. Broadly speaking, without thinking about the nature of existence we wouldn't have had the inclination to develop objective sciences in which we do our utmost to understand the way ourselves and the universe work, making our immediate surroundings a more comfortable place in the process - an abundance of yet-unexplained mysteries notwithstanding. But is serious philosophical discussion a requirement in this "enlightened" age? If it is, then why isn't metaphysics or epistemology taught in schools in conjunction with science and other academia?

I'll confess that I can find even the most "down to earth" philosophers a little baffling, and when their arguments aren't sailing over my head they're eternally disagreeing with each other; maybe this is just my experience, but lurk on any philosophy forum and you'll be hard pressed to find a discussion which results in a sensible conclusion, despite at least a percentage of it's community appearing to know what they're talking about (or not :p).

Of course, any philosopher will tell you (ideally in simple terms) that philosophy is everywhere, and you can't escape it's principles any more than you can escape physics or biology and, like the "practical" sciences, not understanding it doesn't negate it's relevance. A fair point. But why bother making eloquent contemplations about existence in a world where our planet and the universe aren't the vague mysteries that they once were, and there's no sensible reason to invoke beliefs in the supernatural and so on?

Last edited by DoomUK on 12-01-12 at 19:15

Old Post 12-01-12 18:57 #
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durian
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Short answer: I hope so! Or I'd be out of a job :)

Less short answer: I think it would odd to say that reflection on philosophical questions was a requirement - a requirement in what sense?

But you highlight an important issue, in that - on the one hand - people are natural philosophers. That is, we tend to be drawn to reflect, however haphazardly, on certain phenomena that pervade our everyday lives to such an extent that it's easy to take them for granted - e.g. the nature of knowledge, truth, consciousness, etc. But - on the other hand - philosophy as its practised in academia, where serious work is being done on these topics, is not at all accessible to the lay person - it's replete with semi-technical jargon, some understanding of which is presupposed by its practitioners, and the significance of the issues being discussed is easy to miss because philosophers tend to focus on highly specific issues, that only arise once you already have some theoretical machinery in place, the implications and relevance of which is not at all obvious unless you already have some knowledge of the broader debate.

However, it's perhaps unwise to think that progress in philosophy is akin to progress in the sciences - issues are rarely settled in philosophy in the same way that they would be, were the questions such that we could verify potential answers through empirical confirmation.

edit

A nice quote from Tim Crane, of Cambridge.

When a discipline [like analytic philosophy] is as successful as this, its members only have to talk to those who already endorse their assumptions. Orthodox economics is in a similar kind of situation, it seems to me. This can make it difficult for analytic philosophers to explain to other intelligent people not just the importance of what they do, but what it even is. Analytic philosophers are trained to have an ‘area’ and to make progress by focusing narrowly on very precise questions. And it’s true, this can result in progress, and the results can be impressive. But often when you asks a philosopher what they work on, they respond ‘in the literature a lot of philosophers have said X, and I think X is wrong’. This is fine when talking to philosophers, but it does nothing to help those outside the subject to know what it is that we do.

edit again

Oh, to address your 'why bother?' question. Well, there are certain questions and puzzles that are very interesting, and that are worth thinking about, if you want to further your understanding of the world, and your place within it. By 'further your understanding' I don't necessarily mean that these questions and puzzles will be solved by reflecting philosophically on them, but that's not to say that we can't make any progress at all. For instance, in my own area - philosophy of mind - there is obviously some broad overlap in interest with cognitive psychology, but that's not to say that the philosopher and the psychologist are asking the very same questions, and that they're in a race to see who, with their different methods, can come up with a compelling answer. Still, the implications that various experimental results have for an account of the nature of the mind, for instance, will vary depending on what we take the relationship to be between the various systems and processes that the psychologist is investigating, and personal-level mental phenomena, and that is a metaphysical question - and since a variety of answers to that question are compatible with what the pscyhologist knows (and, perhaps, could come to know), philosophical reflection is useful in order to understand what could turn on plumping for one answer rather than another.

Last edited by durian on 12-01-12 at 20:23

Old Post 12-01-12 19:34 #
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DoomUK
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durian said:
I think it would odd to say that reflection on philosophical questions was a requirement - a requirement in what sense?

Well, it's a requirement for your job at least. :p

Teasing aside, I suppose what I should be asking is: "What practical applications does serious philosophy have in the 21st Century?". It's a blunt question, but not being an "insider" and only having a very general idea of it's main avenues - and probably not even being aware of the very latest things being discussed - I'm admittedly ignorant to what influence it currently has, or even has recently had on other kinds of thinkers in the world.

Old Post 12-01-12 20:29 #
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durian
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Well, I could give two answers to that question.

(1) None. If by practical you mean, broadly - how will the results of contemporary philosophical research benefit me, or society at large. Philosophy is not like, for instance, the medical sciences in that generations of progress in medical research has enabled us to live lives that are freer of ailment and disease than those of our predecessors. I suppose it is of some practical benefit to those of us who make a living out of it, but the world certainly isn't going to come to a stand still if all the philosophers stay home and play DOOM instead - the biomedical, and other, sciences would continue to advance just as the have done, with all the benefits that such advancement brings. So, in terms of improving the lives of we humans, philosophy is pretty useless. One caveat to that, I guess, is that logic, formal languages, and - as such - computer science, has its origins in philosophy (esp. Frege), but that was a while ago now!

(2) Some. If by practical you mean, 'can philosophy or philosophical thinking be useful to other things, rather than merely an end in itself', then yes, I think. As I indicated earlier, if we're understand the significance of certain claims made in other disciplines, that uncritically invoke everyday notions like, 'object', 'property', 'event', 'part/whole', as (I presume) occurs in the sciences, or perhaps 'meaning', 'truth', 'understanding', as occurs in linguistics, or 'mind', 'belief', 'desire', 'intend', 'perceive', 'represent', as occurs in psychology, then it's useful to have reflected on the significance of these notions, and on the nature the things that they putatively denote. But - as far as I know - there's no experiment that will tell you what an object is, or what a property is, or what it is for one thing to be a part of another, or what the relationship is between an object and its properties. So, philosophy is useful if we want to better understand the broader import of claims that are made in other disciplines - disciplines that, presumably, are of some practical benefit - that make use of some very abstract, but still everyday, notions.

But, personally, I'm happy enough with (1). I think that many things are interesting, and - as such - worth reflecting on, even if doing so is of no practical benefit to the world at large.

Old Post 12-01-12 21:01 #
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DoomUK
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durian said:
One caveat to that, I guess, is that logic, formal languages, and - as such - computer science, has its origins in philosophy (esp. Frege), but that was a while ago now!

I specified the 21st Century because I'm aware of the historical impact of philosophy, alongside various old school philosophers' impact on other fields. In no way am I asking "What has ever been the point of philosophical enquiry?"; that's just vandalism of all kinds of intellectual progress.

Old Post 12-01-12 21:18 #
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durian
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Ah, well if we're talking just about the past decade, I guess the area where there's been the greatest amount of interaction between philosophy and less abstract endeavours, would be some elements of philosophy of language - esp. natural language semantics, where developments like 'contexualism' and dynamic semantics have fed directly into work in linguistics. This isn't at all my area, but my impression is that there's a healthy dialogue between (some) philosophy of language and linguistics, with researchers from each discipline drawing on each other's work.

Old Post 12-01-12 21:28 #
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Aliotroph?
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I always figured we'll need you philosophers to help convince the stupid magic-thinkers that our AIs really are AIs, or at least deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of how they're treated. We get to put up with a lot of "but it's just simulating a mind!" crap from people who insist both that only God can create souls, and God will only do this for things that weren't created by one of His creations. Damn, I hate religions.

Old Post 12-01-12 23:25 #
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Maes
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Seeing that it's so interrelated with fields such as liguistics, psychology, communication sciences, mass control, politics, traditional logic, artificial intelligence and even The Web through concepts such as (buzzword warning) ontologies, context, semantics etc. I'd say it's pretty damn important.

Even if some government was to abolish all philosophical thinking -hoping that no opposing ideologies or influences emerge- it would actually just be promoting its OWN philosophy. Even the complete lack of coherence, continuity, justification etc. in one's actions, could be interpreted as a "chaotic philosophy" of sorts.

Hey, even the thread's title poses a philosophical question ;-)

Old Post 12-01-12 23:36 #
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durian
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Aliotroph? said:
I always figured we'll need you philosophers to help convince the stupid magic-thinkers that our AIs really are AIs, or at least deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of how they're treated. We get to put up with a lot of "but it's just simulating a mind!" crap from people who insist both that only God can create souls, and God will only do this for things that weren't created by one of His creations. Damn, I hate religions.

Interesting. In the latter part of the 20th century, machine intelligence was very much a hot topic in phil mind. Many philosophers were impressed by the ascendence and progress of cognitive science, where the computational theory of mind was, and still is, very much the orthodoxy, and they suggested that we might make progress on naturalising the mind if we characterised it in terms of a computational system - a very complex Turing machine. Of course, there was a backlash, most notably in the form of John Searle's 'Chinese Room' argument, the conclusion of which is that computation is not sufficient for understanding, so we cannot explain understanding just in terms of computation. If these arguments go through, then - with respect to AI - there might be some bite to the claim that 'it's just simulating a mind!', although it wouldn't be motivated by religious concerns.

Old Post 12-01-12 23:49 #
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stewboy
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I would say yes, philosophy is definitely needed in the modern world, although it depends of course on your definition of 'philosophy'.
When I put 'define:philosophy' in google, the first meaning is "The study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, esp. when considered as an academic discipline." I think this is definitely needed, at least to some extent. I find reflection on knowledge and experience to be very useful, and in fact something that we do automatically all the time, if only to a very small extent. I don't think we can ever fully understand the 'fundamental nature' of knowledge and existence, in the sense that I don't think there is one, but I'm certain that the process can create useful offshoots.

As for the subject of machine intelligence, I've thought a lot about that as well, and I could probably write a lot on it, but here is probably not the right place.

Old Post 12-02-12 00:58 #
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Harmata
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It's not needed because it never solved any problems or answered questions that they themselves created. 2500 years of wars, genocides and human suffering show that perfectly.

Old Post 12-02-12 04:57 #
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Joshy
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Durian pretty much said it all, heh. Not sure if I am just merely stating the obvious, but ethics, as well as bioethics, is certainly something that is needed too. On top of that, philosophy is also useful in understanding the ontologies of oppression and disparity between differences, and the idea of a 'universal' justice (while also taking differences into account, instead of restricting oneself to objectivity) which I'm sure is a contending issue at the moment. Personally, I'm more of a fan of phenomenology, language/education/individual development, and existentialism, as it's something I can relate to strongly and the minority community I belong to. I'd say these ideas (as well as others) hold ageless merit.

So yeah, it's definitely needed! Empirical evidence can only help us to an extent. So a bit of argument, discussion and speculation is needed to supplement such empirical evidences. Not to mention, people often perceive the ideal argument to be inevitably conflated with masculine aggression; philosophy, for me, overcomes the need of aggression and power, and focuses onto a egalitarian-based discussion driven by refined thinking and questioning. I think that's a kind of practice philosophy can exercise better, whereas other disciplines cannot provide that kind of practice as much, in a sense.

Old Post 12-02-12 05:34 #
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DoomUK
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Maes said:
Hey, even the thread's title poses a philosophical question ;-)

Of course. Again, we just can't escape it any more than we can escape the laws of physics. But I think there's a patently obvious difference between the "hardcore" and "casual" types of philosophical thought. As durian pointed out, serious academic philosophy just isn't accessible to the "outsider"; the layperson who hasn't spent hundreds or thousands of hours poring over philosophical texts and is engaged in it as an occupation or at least a full-time hobby. Ethics, for instance, is a critically important aspect of life and something most people understand at a foundational level, but I can't call myself a philosopher just because I understand that, say, murder is wrong, because - duh - it's the irrevocable theft of someone's life.

I run the risk of bringing up a whole new topic, but Stephen Fry sums up the difference quite nicely, here (a small snippet from a lengthier interview). Just ignore the Buddhism thing and apply it to every time people use the word "philosophy" in common parlance.

Last edited by DoomUK on 12-02-12 at 09:27

Old Post 12-02-12 08:59 #
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Harmata
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Yeah, homosexual comedian sums up difference between hardcore and casual philosophy pretty swell.

Just ignore Buddhism.

Because ignoring is so philosophical.

Old Post 12-02-12 09:25 #
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DoomUK
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Harmata said:
Yeah, homosexual comedian sums up difference between hardcore and casual philosophy pretty swell.

Just ignore Buddhism.


Yeah, a troll trolls pretty badly.

Just ignore him.

Old Post 12-02-12 09:28 #
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Harmata
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And if this was 1939 you'd shoot me in the back of my head, somewhere in the woods, and then write 500 pages calling me an enemy of the state or a Jew.

Old Post 12-02-12 09:42 #
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durian
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I can't say that I'm entirely clear on the point that Fry is making here. He seems to be making an unfavorable comparison between the present day and times past, with respect to people's propensity to undertake hard philosophical work. But, on the one hand, it's not clear to me that, in times past, more people were willing to engage in hard philosophical work - why think that? And, on the other hand, in the present day we have more people undertaking philosophy PhDs, and shooting for academic careers, than ever before (one upshot of which is that the job market is pretty horrible) but, if it anything, this presumably indicates a greater willingness of the people of our age to undertake hard philosophical work.

Still, the point about accessibility remains. There are, though, some very good resources out there for the interested lay person who wants to better understand elements of contemporary academic work:

The SEP is a great resource, and many of the entries should be accessible to the lay reader.
The IEP is also not bad.

And, to my knowledge, there are two journals that are aimed at a more general audience: Think, and Philosophy Compass. The latter publishes peer reviewed survey articles on specific contemporary debates.

My very limited exposure to philsophy forums does not leave me with the impression that they'd be very useful to anyone.

edit

I forgot philosophy bites - short introductory lectures by experts on various topics - some really good stuff.

Last edited by durian on 12-02-12 at 10:35

Old Post 12-02-12 09:48 #
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DoomUK
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durian said:
Think

I've had that little book on my shelf for years, and it's been read at least more than once.

It's fascinating; hopefully nothing I've said so far would remotely imply to the less attentive reader that my opinion of philosophy was that it's "boring" - interestingness and relevance are completely unrelated qualities. But even when certain concepts are put across in a relatively easy-to-understand way, I still find them difficult to grasp. Some of them are never grasped at all. Intelligence is a strange thing to quantify, but by general measurement I don't consider myself unintelligent; I've faired above average on every IQ test I've taken and I have a general understanding of how the world works (certain members of Doomworld may be itching to dispute my "bloated" opinion of myself entirely, or at least remind me of my poor argumentation skills, but... sticks and stones :p). I do wonder though, with a degree of embarrassment, whether I'm just not smart enough to "get" a lot of what philosophy has to offer.

I appreciate the other links though. I'll be sure to peruse them.

Last edited by DoomUK on 12-02-12 at 11:01

Old Post 12-02-12 10:48 #
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durian
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DoomUK said:
I do wonder though, with a degree of embarrassment, whether I'm just not smart enough to "get" a lot of what philosophy has to offer.


Well, in my experience, understanding is very much like physical fitness - the more exercise you do, the more physically fit you become, similarly, the more well structured exposure you have to difficult ideas, and the more you exercise your understanding in trying to grasp them, the better you get - in general - at quickly getting to grips with difficult ideas. So, I don't know if it's really a matter of whether one is, intrinsically, smart enough to understand certain things - I couldn't run a marathon now if I tried, but in principle I could if I submitted myself to suitable training.

The thing with philosophy is that, in addition to reading, the best way to train is to write papers - that's when you find yourself really thinking things through, and getting to grips with ideas - and to receive (if necessary, brutal) feedback on what you've written from others. So, I think that, to properly exercise your understanding, it's probably not sufficient to simply read philosophical works - even if they seem straightforward when you're reading them, when you try to engage with them on paper you often find that they're anything but. As such, I think it's probably very difficult to train yourself, but that certainly doesn't mean that you're not, in principle, smart enough.

There is I think, to a limited extent, a 'knack' to doing philosophy, but mostly it's just a matter of hard work and training.

Old Post 12-02-12 12:09 #
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Harmata said:
It's not needed because it never solved any problems or answered questions that they themselves created. 2500 years of wars, genocides and human suffering show that perfectly.



Harmata said:
Yeah, homosexual comedian sums up difference between hardcore and casual philosophy pretty swell.

Just ignore Buddhism.

Because ignoring is so philosophical.




Harmata said:
And if this was 1939 you'd shoot me in the back of my head, somewhere in the woods, and then write 500 pages calling me an enemy of the state or a Jew.


Watch it, You're being philosophical.

Ignoring is so lowering my blood pressure. Which is why I am ignoring you.

If this was 1939 I'd ignore you then, too.

Last edited by Csonicgo on 12-02-12 at 19:38

Old Post 12-02-12 19:14 #
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Woolie Wool
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Aliotroph? said:
I always figured we'll need you philosophers to help convince the stupid magic-thinkers that our AIs really are AIs, or at least deserve the benefit of the doubt in terms of how they're treated. We get to put up with a lot of "but it's just simulating a mind!" crap from people who insist both that only God can create souls, and God will only do this for things that weren't created by one of His creations. Damn, I hate religions.


Well we also need philosophers to help lay down some of the theoretical groundwork needed to make an AI (theory of mind, etc.) in the first place.

All the sciences ultimately rest on a foundation of philosophy. Without philosophy, science could not exist.

Old Post 12-03-12 02:47 #
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myk
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DoomUK said:
But why bother making eloquent contemplations about existence in a world where our planet and the universe aren't the vague mysteries that they once were, and there's no sensible reason to invoke beliefs in the supernatural and so on?
Why relate philosophy with the supernatural? One thing that has become very clear is that understanding is a type of relation and something that is done, rather than something you accumulate like coins in a pouch. This makes philosophy quite actual and necessary. There's whole conception of philosophy, along with ideology, being dead, but that's just an ideology assuming it reached some kind of objective supremacy. It has more to do with political control of media and academics that literally what it pretends.

Old Post 12-04-12 06:47 #
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durian
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myk said:
There's whole conception of philosophy, along with ideology, being dead, but that's just an ideology assuming it reached some kind of objective supremacy. It has more to do with political control of media and academics that literally what it pretends.


Indeed. This is currently an irksome trend in public discourse. Otherwise highly intelligent people - such as Hawking - have said some rather asinine things on the subject, which suggest a failure to understand the kinds of projects that philosophers are engaged in. This confused discussion between physicist Lawrence Krauss and Julian Baggini is another recent hatchet job (irritatingly, they did not care to recruit a practising academic to defend the discipline). But a nice indicator of the relevance of philosophical thinking to work in physics is supplied by this review - by a philosopher of physics - of Krauss's recent book.

Old Post 12-04-12 07:56 #
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