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The worth of philosophy

To most people the idea of the philosopher is strange. What does a philosopher do exactly? What worth is the philosopher? And why don’t they go to work like the rest of us (except for myself, being of the philosophic persuasion)? Who is a philosopher for that matter? Can you name one that is alive?

The “problem†, if I can say so without bringing up any philosophic problem, with philosophy is three fold. First, philosophers often disagree with each other fundamentally. When you mention “philosophy†you are mentioning people and arguments that are completely apposed to each other and have nothing in common, all at once. And so, no imagine of the word “philosophy†can be produced. In philosophy we would say the word philosophy has no meaning, since it can mean anything.

The second problem with philosophy is that it takes centuries to even figure out what philosophers were trying to say. Then it takes millennia to figure out who was right. By the time any issue is resolved humanity has so gotten used to the idea the fact it was contended is forgotten. And so, since philosophic progress is so slow, it’s easy to think that it doesn’t happen at all.

The third problem with philosophy is that every position is so advanced in its intricacies that the debates philosophers have don’t seem at all relevant to one’s own thinking. Philosophers have to think many moves ahead to survive in a philosophic argument, and so arguments seem very convoluted. Also, when attacking another position the most assured way to defeat it is to show that it leads to absurdity. And so instead of talking about situations that might actually happen, philosophers use the simplest situations they can think of in their crazy schemes; situations, which consequently never actually happen. All arguments get pushed to the extreme to see if they hold up. It’s left to the reader to interweave what is discovered about strange simple situations into the complex situations of normal life.

Also, philosophers generally speak in the general case, as in statements about an infinite amount of situations. In day to day life we generally only speak about the situation we are in or were in yesterday or might be in tomorrow. Our language has developed from how we regularly use it, and so it becomes strange and cumbersome to talk about general situations. However, after a bit of getting used to it is actually easier to think about general situations than specific ones, since general situations can have only a few characteristics, whereas specific real situations have infinite characteristics.

Suffice to say, it takes years to even begin to understand what philosophers have been talking about for the last three thousand years. So why bother?

The answer is simple. The practical application of philosophy is the attempt to not appeal to yourself to justify your actions. What does appealing to yourself to justify your actions mean? It means that the basis of your decisions is some “characteristic†of yourself that just happens to be there. When you ask someone why they are doing what they do, generally the answer comes down to that’s just how they are in a quaint sort of way.

The two main branches of self referencing theories are appealing to your own beliefs to justify one’s actions, and appealing to your own wants to justify one’s actions. What both theories try to accomplish, without the theorizer being aware of it, is the ability to found thinking upon things that don’t need to be considered. “Those are just my beliefs†or “it’s just what I want†. There are two main draw backs to these types of theories.

First, if one ever changes one’s beliefs or wants, then one must ask why. And the answer would then have to supplant the self reference theory. One would then be in the position for saying there are reasons behind the beliefs or wants, and ipso facto beliefs and wants are no longer fundamental.

People have to have beliefs and wants, you might say. Not true, first, it’s possible to imagine a person with no wants or beliefs (a good example of a simple situation that would never happen, but is the bread and butter of philosophers).

Second, in philosophy the word “belief†simply denotes an assumption a given person is laboring under. The word comes in handy because often times one considers many arguments, explores many premises, and sometimes it’s necessary to clarify which statement you think is correct. However, you believe them because they are correct, not the other way around. “Belief†simply describes a persons relationship with an idea. It is a preposition like ‘beside’ or ‘above’, it is not a real object like a rock or a tree. Beliefs are not something that are stuck inside you and can’t be changed. If ‘belief’ was replaced with ‘under the assumption’ then this whole ‘belief theory’ might just fade away.

Likewise for wants. In philosophy a ‘want’ simply is an easy way to describes behaviour. It’s very difficult to describe what somebody is physically doing (as in a play by play description of all their limbs in relation to their surrounding), and so instead of trying to distances, momentum, velocity, angle and so on of a person it’s usually convenient to describe what final situation they are trying to achieve. Again, want is a preposition, it defines a relationship between a persons actions and a situation. It is not the starting point of a thought process, but just a handy word to talk about what those thought processes mean when acted out.

When we grow up we are given certain ideas and we don’t question them and eventually we don’t even really know where those ideas came from. Eventually, we find out that some of our ideas are at odds with each other. One solution is to place one’s ideas as the starting point and not think about whether they are correct or not. Everybody’s beliefs are different; and so no one has to explain their ideas, show they make sense, or are better than everybody’s ideas. The other solution is to say, “I could believe anything or want anything, so I don’t just have beliefs or wants, and so I should probably figure out what I should believe or want.â€

If you can’t appeal to yourself, then what can you appeal to? The answer is truth. It is truth that philosophers are after. Ah but what is truth? As soon as we turn to it, it slips away, even though for every sentence I have written you ask “is this sentence true or not?†and this is a very meaningful question, but as soon as you mention truth ...

Philosophers certainly agree that the idea of truth cannot be done away with. Otherwise we couldn’t argue with each other because to argue with someone is to say what their saying is not true, and if we couldn’t argue with each other then philosophers can’t exist. There is one opinion that the definition of truth cannot be captured. Basically, arguments can be argued to be attempting to give a truth value to a statements (true, not true, meaningless) and so no truth value can be given to a statement about truth, since that would be self reference which is strictly shunned in philosophy.

I both agree and disagree. For instance “true statements are not true†seems to be a statement that isn’t true, and “true statements are true statements†seems to be a meaningless statement. As for true statements about true statements, I think they are possible, but may never represent the entirety of the truth. One of the most important one’s is “true statements do not contradict themselves†.

Philosophic discussion is very difficult and lengthy, however, it is precisely because philosophers try not to appeal to themselves that discussion is actually possible. Because if you try to defend the people appeal to themselves theory, then you are actually defending just as assuredly everyone else position as you are defending your own personal one. You must in the end admit that you are defending the validity of my “people shouldn’t appeal to themselves†when you defend the people appeal to themselves (for clearly I am appealing to myself, the defense of the theory usually means that it’s impossible to not appeal to yourself). Or, more precisely the arguments go: you believe that my beliefs are as valid as your beliefs; I believe that your beliefs are wrong, and so my belief that your beliefs are wrong is just as valid as your beliefs; and so you believe that your beliefs are wrong just as much as you believe your beliefs are right.

The alternative to philosophy is everyone simply endlessly stating facts about themselves which could change in the next second if they suddenly believed they should change or wanted to.


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