The Nature of Philosophy

As is the case with most cultural pursuits which hearken back into the dark recesses of history, philosophy has no universally-agreed upon definition.  Even in academic circles, the definitions of the enterprise called “philosophy” is likely to be as numerous as the number of philosophy department chairs one asks.  This is a phenomenon[1] that vexes many analytic-minded[2] philosophers, given their obsession with necessary and sufficient conditions[3].

While I write and think very much like an analytic, I do not feel that it should be absolutely crucial to assign a definition to philosophy which outlines necessary and sufficient conditions.  At the same time, however, I am not inclined to do as postmodern[4] and continental[5] thinkers tend and simply hand-wave the issue and say “it’s a family of activities that generally resemble each other”.  The only remaining option, then, is to make an attempt at crafting a heuristic[6] for identifying philosophical activities as opposed to any other activities within the scope of human intellectual experience.

Looking at the historical context of philosophy, one may get a feel for the “family resemblance” of philosophical activities.  The helps one create a genealogy of philosophy.  This genealogy begins with ancient thinkers were predominantly concerned with “living the good life” as well as understanding how the world worked.  One of the tools that was of utmost importance to the ancient thinkers and has maintained its utility (at least, up until the point where the postmodernists have taken over) is logic.  In the middle ages of Europe and comparable periods of time in locales such as India and Japan, there was a burgeoning attempt to ascertain the fundamental qualities of existence; admittedly, this was universally in a religious or theistic context of some form or another, but that does not negate the contributions made.

In the more modern eras, from the enlightenment[7] to today, the philosophical enterprise has been a predominantly directed at understanding the manner in which man interacts with reality, from the nature of sense experience to the nature of knowledge and its acquisition.  Additionally, there has been a lot of emphasis on the manner in which the individual interacts with mankind at large and how that interaction ought to be conducted.

Depending on one’s definitions and motivations for constructing a narrative, philosophy can be seen as the progenitor of, handmaid to, or companion of nearly other activity in human intellectual life.  Modern scientific methods are the product of ancient natural studies and enlightenment-era epistemology[8].  Computer science is predicated on mathematical principles and linguistic theories which have been formed through philosophical discourse.  Theology is, by and large, the application of philosophical tools to puzzles related to spiritual revelations and religious doctrines.  Economics[9] is the result of a-priori[10] reasoning in conjunction with philosophical tools of introspection and observation.  These relationships cannot be ignored, but the exact nature of these relationships is at the heart of many lively debates.

I can (and have) gone on a much more rigorous exploration of the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be considered philosophy, but that sort of exercise is better suited for a longer, more exhaustive, procedural work.  For now, I think it would be most prudent to do a quick breakdown of the etymology[11] of the word “philosophy”.  The word, itself, hails from ancient Greek and effectively means “love of wisdom”.

Of course, nothing in Greek translates so directly into English.  For example, ancient Greek has at least four words for love (arguably, there are a few more).  This particular root, “-philia”, would be most appropriately used in the context of a dispassionate desire for (non-sexual) intimacy, such as that of close friends.  Additionally, “sophos” is a Greek word the denotes a wide array of practical and virtuous skills and habits regarding wisdom, rather than just the sterile modern English concept of knowing a lot or having advanced experience.

The best I can do to describe the Greek root of the term is to say that it is “an actionable desire to develop intellectual virtue and put it into practice in the world at large”.  This takes many different forms, as demonstrated by Socrates and Diogenes relentlessly badgering their neighbors concerning how wrong their ideas of how the world worked really were, while Aristotle, Pythagoras, Epicurus and Zeno started schools and lectured ad-nauseam.  Later in history, the general attitude of a philosopher had largely homogenized into academic bookishness and the writing of essays and long-form treatises.  The exact nature of each essay and treatise may be radically divergent with regards to content, method, and end, though.

Ultimately, taking into account all these diverse enterprises and the influence of postmodern thought, I believe that any human enterprise directed at creating an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical actionability, utility, and (ultimately) Truth can be rightly considered to be “philosophy”.[12]

In order to attempt to construct a worldview that correlates to reality, there are a great many prerequisites that must first be met.  For example, there is the assumption that there is a reality to which a worldview can correlate.  Another example would be establishing the fundamentals of logic in such a way so as to be certain of their utility[13].  Yet another assumption would be that one is capable of constructing a worldview at all.

Rather than dragging my readers through the most meticulous and technical aspects of post-enlightenment thought, I’d like to discuss the general methodology of philosophy and, if my readers are so inclined so as to investigate these problems in their fullness, I can recommend some starting places.[14]  These problems of philosophy are quite significant, and I believe that these issues ought to be examined, but they are not issues for beginners or the faint of heart.

Instead, I recommend familiarizing oneself with the fundamentals of philosophical methodology and begin exploring this new way of perceiving reality, first.  Even though it has taken many different forms throughout history and our contemporary academic landscape, the fundamental methodology of philosophy has found no better expression than that of the trivium and quadrivium of the middle-ages in Europe.  Although these fields of study were crafted in a theistic environment and are, therefore, often ignored or denigrated by modern (leftist) scholars, the methodology they present are still quite valid, even if they may have been used to reach illicit conclusions.

The trivium consists of three stages of thought: the logic, the grammar, and the rhetoric.  Initially, these stages of thought were applied exclusively to language (hence their names).  The logic was the basis of linguistic thought; it contained the a priori principles such as the law of identity[15], the principle of non-contradiction[16], and the resultant laws of induction.  The grammar demonstrated the rules of language which reflected the logical principles outlined earlier; subject-object relations and other syntax relationships are important to maintaining fidelity to the logical principles underlying that communication[17].  The rhetoric refined the above skill sets so as to aid a thinker[18] in convincing others of the facts which he had uncovered through the application of logic and grammar.

Since its inception as a linguistic methodology, the trivium quickly expanded into a philosophical methodology.  This is partly due to the close relationship that language and philosophy has always held and partly due to the axiomatic nature of the trivium lending itself to the inquiries of philosophy.  In essence, a thinker must first establish the furniture of the world (the fundamental principles and objects of those principles), then explore the relationships between those objects, and then must find a means by which to express those relationships.  For example, the “Socrates is a man” syllogism I referenced in the footnote on this page contains material that isn’t merely linguistic.  For example, the categories “Socrates”, “man”, and “being” are assumed to correlate to realities in the observable world.  Additionally, the grammar of the statement establishes a relationship to those categories which are assumed to correlate to the observable world.  This trend is maintained through the rest of the syllogism:

Socrates is a man,

All men are mortal,

∴ Socrates is a mortal.

At each level of the syllogism, new categories and relationships are assumed or established.  On a linguistic level, logic serves as the structural framework for the grammar to populate with the symbols for Socrates, man, etc. and the rhetoric is the manner in which one would express this syllogism to others and defend the validity of the syllogism.  On a philosophical level, the logic serves as the source for the objects Socrates, man, etc. the grammar denotes the relationships between those symbols, and the rhetoric serves as the means by which these ideas move from my mind to the page for your mind to reassemble[19].

This quick introduction into the methodology of philosophy will be expounded upon in the next chapter, as we explore the role of philosophy in daily life or, as the ancient Greeks put it, “how does one live the good life?”

[1] Phenomenon (n): The object of a person’s perception or discussion; an event of which the senses or the mind are aware.

[2] Analytic Philosophy (n): A school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by English-speaking philosophers which emphasizes procedural methodology and strict definitions and application of logic.

[3] Necessary and Sufficient Conditions (n):  The requirements of any given subject to meet a definition; necessary qualities are qualities which, if absent, preclude subjects from being defined as such and sufficient qualities are qualities that, if present, allow a subject to be defined as such.

[4] Postmodern (adj): Relating to a school of thought which maintains certain attitudes such as indefinability, plurality of reality, and subjective narrative ontologically trumping objective reality.

[5] Continental (adj): Relating to a school or tradition of philosophical thought predominantly populated by thinkers from mainland Europe which emphasizes meta-philosophical influences on philosophy such as culture and economics.

[6] Heuristic (n): A method or system of interpreting ideas as they are presented.

[7] Enlightenment Era (n): A period in European philosophical history, commonly accepted to be from as early as the 16th century to the end of the 18th century; the era is marked by a sudden surge in scientific advance, political upheaval, and sheer number of philosophical schools of thought.

[8] Epistemology (n): The study of knowledge, the manner and mechanisms by which one knows.

[9] Austrian Economics.  This will be discussed in Chapter 4: Political Philosophy and its Discontents.

[10] A priori (adj): A logical justification for a claim based on syllogisms, moving from given premises to their necessary conclusions.  This is often set in opposition to a posteriori or “empirical” reasoning.

[11] Etymology (n): The study of the meaning of words and the changes of those meanings throughout history.

[12] There is a good amount of jargon in this proposed definition; as these terms appear later in this book, they will be defined in more detail.

[13] Utility (n): The capacity for a thing to provide or contribute to accomplishing one’s end, usually in the context of alleviating discomfort.

[14] “The problems of Philosophy” by Bertrand Russell, “Cartesian Meditations” by (((Edmund Husserl))), and (for the preeminent masochist) “Critique of Pure Reason” by Immanuel Kant

[15] Law of Identity (logic): A=A (A equals A), A≠¬A (A does not equal not-A)

[16] Principle of Non-Contradiction (logic): The logical principle that something cannot both be and not be in the same mode at the same time. (Abbreviated as PNC)

[17] For example, in the over-used case of the “Socrates is a man” syllogism, if you were to mistake the subject-object relationship, you can end up with things like “Man is a Socrates” which is not only incorrect, but it is nonsensical.

[18] i.e. The philosopher

[19] There are deeper epistemic realities hidden in this discussion of the trivium method, but those will be addressed in the coming chapters of this book.

Liberty Classroom: an Invaluable Tool

If you are reading this near the end of November in 2016, you can get some major discounts and provide a great deal of support to the Mad Philosopher project by going to Tom Woods Liberty Classroom and subscribing.  If you are reading this at any other time, you can still provide a great amount of value to the project by doing so.

Tom Woods Liberty Classroom is easily one of the most undervalued resources available on the internet, as it provides a legitimate PhD-level resource on a number of crucial subjects such as history and economics.  The term “legitimate” is important, here, as what most universities provide is only half-true and full of leftist propaganda.  This resource is the closest to comprehensive and the closest to unbiased as can be found.

Click Here to get some coupon codes and subscribe.  This affiliate program is definitely one of the best ways to support the Mad Philosopher project, second only to just sending me Bitcoin directly.

 

Here’s some free samples (the best stuff is behind the paywall, obviously):

the best way to fulfill the maxim “Carpe Veritas” is to subscribe to Liberty Classroom and take advantage of everything such a subscription provides.

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Pope Francis and Shrek Babies

The Pope is making headlines again, as he made an allusion to the Thomist position on contraceptives similar in function to the condom being ok in some circumstances. In some ways, this is nothing new… The Church has a history of having such discussions when talking about AIDS in Africa and similar instances of terminal STDs.
 
What is new, though, is the Pope’s excessive dependence on pro-state activist scientists who amount to nothing more than snake oil salesmen. The Zika virus has nothing more than a flimsy correlation with the Shrek baby epidemic in South and Central America. There are far greater correlations that have more causal explanative power than a virus that’s been around for nearly a century and has never before had a correlation to Shrek babies.
 
This is dangerous territory to be wading into, as this sets a precedent for drastically lowering the threshold of severety in situations in which contraceptives would be morally and ethically permissible, almost to the point of conceding that point entirely to the culture of death.

Rant 2: Social Darwinism IS Darwinism

Time for another rant:

“I’m totally a darwinist, but I couldn’t bring myself to adopt social darwinism.” Then you’re not a darwinist, you’re an intellectually dishonest waste of everyone’s time.
If humanity is the result of natural pressures (ie. scarcity) driving some monkeys out of the jungle and into the fields, an environment where something as flimsy as a human would have to develop at least partially K-selective behaviors such as lower time preference, increased intelligence, and social interdependence, then the forms those social interdependencies, time preferences, and ideologies take on are a natural extension of those same evolutionary forces.
If you are unwilling or unable to accept that some genetic lines are simply dead-ends and that the species as a whole would be better off if they just ended, rather then being subsidized at the expense of successful genetic lines, YOU ARE NOT A DARWINIST.
What you are is a lukewarm idiot. Don’t take on labels and ideologies out of social self-promotion, only to eschew them on the occasions that they aren’t politically expedient. In the same way every single politician at the debates this cycle (and every politician that ever came before) has changed their positions on how to best use initiatory violence based solely on what they think will get them (re)elected, you are a liar and a whore.
One cannot simply put on and take of different philosophies or hats based on one’s feelings at any given moment, it requires extensive research and contemplation to be able to contribute any value in the marketplace of ideas. Those that have demonstrated that they are incapable of doing so should just remain silent, rather than saying assinine things like “I’m totally a Darwinist, but I don’t feel like following such claims to their logical conclusion.” You’re wasting everyone’s time get a real job and shut the fuck up.

I’m actually an agnostic with regards to the whole “Darwinian vertical-evolution” thing, but it’s not for lack of research and contemplation. If someone who isn’t even committed to your alleged position can explain it better than you can, you’re either stupid or intentionally maligning the position you claim to adhere to. I’m pretty certain you aren’t intelligent enough to plan that far ahead, though.

SCIENCE! and Epistemology

Today’s resource suggestion is a little more involved than previous ones.  Today’s resource suggestion is Karl Popper’s Conjectures and Refutations.  This book primarily concerns itself with the problem of doing science from an epistemic standpoint.  This may not seem to be too important to the project I have been engaged in with this blog, but to anyone who reads the book, you will likely see the connection very quickly.  My post on Paradigmatic Awareness is, essentially, a synthesis of this work and another by Thomas S Kuhn, which will likely be another resource suggestion soon enough.

While Popper was primarily interested in the philosophy of science in this book, I believe his insights apply to all of epistemology, not just the study of the material world.  As a classical liberal, Popper extends his epistemic reasoning out to his own version of social contract theory.  I think that, while he had a good basis to work off of and an amazing intellect, he made the mistake that many classical liberals made: he forgot that the institutions he advocated for would never go away; where tolerance, as he imagined it, was only supposed to be implemented so long as it was practically useful to collective flourishing, it has become the monster that it is today… inspired by his own words.

So, please read Conjectures and Refutations.  It will help broaden your understanding of how one can say that they know what they know, how science as an exercise ought to be done, and reveal a great deal of the social philosophy that has gotten the western world into the trouble that it is in now.

http://www.amazon.com/Conjectures-Refutations-Scientific-Knowledge-Routledge/dp/0415285941

Police Accountability or Racism? Your Choice.

I haven’t been posting very much this week.  To those of you that care, I apologize; I’ve been working on editing, formatting and writing new chapters for the book I’m trying to get done by the end of this year.  Between an insane work schedule and the amount of effort I’ve been pouring into this book, I haven’t had time to even feed or bathe myself properly (gross, I know).

Anyway, there was this little gem I found the other day, and I had to carve out some extra time to share it with you guys.  Lately Chris Cantwell has been worrying himself more with how different genetic and cultural factors are not conducive to freedom as opposed to sticking to his “thin” libertarian brutalism, which he used to be so well-known for.  Basically, he’s gone “thick-right” to the same degree as those that have gone “thick-left” in the libertarian movement.

One of the interesting results of this move is how quickly and effectively he resorts to tearing apart left-libertarians, even as compared to before.  Today’s Daily Resource Suggestion is this video in which he argues with CopBlock, an organization that used to be a police accountability group that is now a Black Lives Matter soapbox.

I don’t agree with everything Cantwell says, I never have.  but he is definitely in the top three celebritarians as far as rational consistency, epistemic rectitude, and actually researching the subjects they discuss.

 

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Something a Little More Uplifintg

Hans Rosling is a very smart man who has a lot to say.  Fortunately, he’s entertaining to listen to.  Given his age and his profession, he is a true scientist.  In his talks and lectures, he presents quite a lot of food for thought.

He has certain ethical commitments that I don’t agree with (he’s a big fan of population controls and contraception as well as curbing greenhouse gasses/fossil fuel use), but he presents the information in a manner that allows one to pick apart the data and make their own analyses.

Today’s Suggestion is this small collection of short videos presented by Rosling.  Consider it a late thanksgiving.

Ben Shade Interview

This week’s full post is another audio-only post.  As compared to last week, though, I get the feeling that this one has a fair amount more utility to provide most listeners/readers.

It’s an interview with Ben Shade, professional biologist.  He provides is unique perspective on the subjects often covered on this blog.

I think you can probably play this at 1.5 speed, so it’s not quite an hour and a half in duration.

My Last Love-Letter to Science for a While

Today’s resource suggestion is another Cantwell Production.  Like Tom Woods, he consistently produces quality content… and by consistently, I mean 2-3 pieces of content a day that are simply spectacular.  I thought I was done discussing my frustrations with the “scientific” community and people’s misconceptions about how science works, but Cantwell managed to take (almost) everything I had to say on the matter and put it together into this handy little production.

 

He didn’t quite go into the fullest depths of my position concerning philosophy of science, but this effectively explains why I decided to not pursue a career in physics (which is what I was set on until about a year before going to college).

More Science Complaints

As a fun follow-up to my recent post concerning some of the troubles with how people do science, I present to you an otherwise very smart man who would rather try to fix politics than academia.

This article is primarily about The Needless Complexity of Academic Writing and the ill-effects it has on academia as a whole.

Related to that article is a fun example of what he’s talking about:

20 Grad Theses explained in common terms

Scientists Are No Longer Skeptics

I have previously shared resource suggestions critiquing she way in which “science” is done today.  I do this not out of distaste for science, but instead because I love it.  The primary avenue by which I chose (and dropped out of) a college major was because of my relationship with science.

I wanted to do science, but discovered that the way science is done today is totally broken.  I believe the reason for that brokenness is the lack of philosophical grounding in the science community coupled with the pernicious influence of state funding.

Today’s Resource Suggestion is an exploration of one small symptom of science’s brokenness.

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/13/8591837/how-science-is-broken

Pre-History Humans?

Anarchists, in particular, ought to be interested in history, both for the sake of understanding how the world works and for coming to know one’s enemy (the state).  A number of conflicting accounts have been presented concerning human origins, pre-history, and the nature of civilization.  However, through this plethora of theories and paucity of available information, certain narratives have gained traction based on what evidence is available, and it (conveniently enough) begins to support certain anarchist understandings of the world that are similar to my own.

One such narrative that has emerged is one which claims that the “out of Africa” theory of human origins is a load of bunk, which is based on the biological fact that race is genetic, not social.  While this particular pair of suggestions is from a website that is suspect, the case they are presenting is present in numerous publications.  The reason I chose this particular site to share is due to it’s readability (less academic jargon) and due to the fact that it is based in South Africa, which is of particular interest to me as an anarchist.