why philosophy is silly
April 11, 2002 02:07 PM

Not to say that philosophies, beliefs or logic are silly. But rather that the structure by which we pursue philosophical study seems to have been developed by men who were like the little boys who were always trying to catch you in a lie or trick you into seeming stupid with a technicality.

Sorry, you don't even know what I'm talking about yet. I'm talking about the philosophical health check, which highlights the following opinions as contradictory...

(agreed)The environment should not be damaged unnecessarily in the pursuit of human ends

(disagreed)People should not journey by car if they can walk, cycle or take a train instead

When you journey into the subjunctive, you start dealing with vagaries. Like, what if the train is more expensive? What if you need to keep your schedule flexible? What qualifies as "necessary" or "unnecessary"? These two questions aren't really in opposition, because they're vague.

(agreed)Severe brain-damage can rob a person of all consciousness and selfhood

(agreed)On bodily death, a person continues to exist in a non-physical form

This one just fails to think about the science and/or definition of a "non-physical form". In a case of severe brain damage, the nature of electrical activity in the brain is vastly different. It breaks down, even. There is still electricity, and that person does still exist to an extent, but might have no perception of herself, right? Isn't consciousness and selfhood a subjective experience? I won't even get into what I actually think about existence after death, as I think more about energy than about souls and ghosts. It's not really relevant to this argument, though. What's relevant is that, as with the previous question, they're catching you in a trap of vagary.

(agreed)The government should not permit the sale of treatments which have not been tested for efficacy and safety

(agreed)Alternative and complementary medicine is as valuable as mainstream medicine

This isn't contradictory at all! I believe we need standards for testing alternative medicines, and that we need to expand our thinking about medicine in general so that it's possible to test things like acupuncture, crystals, homeopathy in a fashion that makes sense.

(agreed)There are no objective truths about matters of fact; 'truth' is always relative to particular cultures and individuals

(agreed)The holocaust is an historical reality, taking place more or less as the history books report

Okay, I can see the logic of this one. If you accept the words "truth", "fact", and "reality" as entirely synonymous, these two statements contradict each other. But I tend to (however rightly or wrongly) interpret "reality" as a thing happening apart from the perceptions of participants, versus "fact" and "truth", which are often perceptual and intuitive. So I'm less annoyed with this pair than the others, as it's largely a difference of semantics.

In any case, I'm curious to hear what other possibly absurd tensions are "revealed" through this test. If you take it, let me know if you uncover anything else annoying.

By the way, if you're an undergraduate philosophy major, I'm sure your opinion is valid and important, but I don't want to hear it. Unless, maybe, you're the sort of philosophy undergraduate who can think this is funny (and accept that, really, it describes you perfectly).

PS - thanks to cinnamon for the original link, and this entropy boy for the funny bit.

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your wicked thoughts

Philosophy drives me batty. I am technically a philosophy and religion major, but that's just because my uni doesn't have separate departments. In everything but name, I'm a religious studies major. Philosophers are always coming up with arguments like this: A being with infinite attributes must exist, because existence is an attribute. God is conceived as a being with infinite attributes. Therefore God exists, or God wouldn't have infinite attributes. Thank you, Descartes. At least after this semester I don't have to take any more philosophy courses.

these are the thoughts of Cabell on April 11, 2002 03:22 PM

yeah - i agree. i have my personal philosophies, but the whole of "philosophy" itself is nuts. i recall a quote once that said something along the lines of having an idea in your mind does not mean you have to accept that idea. i think philosophy should be a very personal endeavor. when this test mentions cultural and societal situations, thats really more of a psychological interpretation than a philosophical one. anyways, i got 27%. (insert baaa here)

these are the thoughts of eris on April 11, 2002 04:31 PM

Hey, I am an undergrad phil major, and this kinda crap bugs me too(You might find this funny if you haven't already seen it. I did.). It seems like everyone is too bogged down in semantics and little ideological quibbles these days to think about big ideas that might actually apply to human lives. Hence, I am an alienated undergrad philosophy major :[

But, I don't think it has always been this way(at least, most of my favorite philosophers didn't pull this kind of crap), or that it need remain like this, either. I'm not giving up on it just yet, at any rate.

these are the thoughts of J. Dunn on April 11, 2002 05:09 PM

much agreed there mr. dunn - its the main reason i'm not a philosophy major. i wonder if having favorite philosophers and not agreeing with the way philosophy is approached as a study is a "tension" in itself. hah. nevermind me. i've got a few favorites myself, though i dont know if they've made their way into class studies.

these are the thoughts of eris on April 11, 2002 05:47 PM

The one you were least annoyed by, I was most annoyed by! (I got all the same "contradictions" as you, by the way, though my medicine-government one had to do with illegal drugs, not alternative meds. We need more testing. Again.)

In fact, I believe that the two statements they give are flatly noncontradictory. I am completely secure in my belief that there is no absolute truth -- more secure than in any other belief I hold. Which is why, should you ask me, "Could somone believe truly that the holocaust never happened?" I would say "yes." For them, it didn't. What happened was a national movement. Or a war. Or a propagandist conspiracy. Interpretation is everything. But do _I_ believe that the holocaust happened? Yes. I do. From my viewpoint, truth is that the holocaust was an historical event.

Notice that I do not claim, however, that my viewpoint is the only one, or that my belief is absolute or exclusionary. It is not. This is the fallacy in the test's contradiction, and it's a pretty big one. They fail to specify the limits or a priori assumptions of their statements -- in itself a philosophical contradiction! The second statement, in other words, is not a valid measure of the truth of the first. It is instead testing a different construct: your belief about the holocaust. The idea that one who does not believe in absolutes must say "that depends" is an erroneous one.

What is silly, I think, is some attempt to judge philosophically without proper judgements and limits. Logic is a useless system unless it is being used dialogically! I think the problem here is that philosophy is dialogue, and ridiculous without that. (Besides the fact, of course, that "contradiction" is, in and of itself, no blow to a belief system at all. I think it may in fact be necessary. Only a very rigid mind can endure no contradiction.)

these are the thoughts of gloamling on April 12, 2002 12:29 PM

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