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mathsphysicsnormally's avatar

Is philosophy a poor system at understanding things and can it be extremely lazy?

Asked by mathsphysicsnormally (324points) January 17th, 2011

I’ve only just been thinking about this so sorry it’s not thought out.

This is mainly about my hate when people use the word subjective.
If I went who looks better than who, a philosopher may say it’s subjective and there is no better looking person.

What about if I got some mud and a chocolate bar, what one tastes better? Again you could say it’s subjective though I feel that’s a very lazy answer, if you asked multiple people you would have a good understanding of what one on average tastes better and using maths and science you can work out why that is.

I’ve been thinking about it after reading this

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12 Answers

SavoirFaire's avatar

First, philosophy is not a system. Some of its practitioners have been system builders, while others have merely been systematic without systematizing, but that rests on the individual. Philosophy itself is an academic discipline which aims at truth and understanding through argument and reason.

Now, anything can be done lazily, and philosophy is certainly no different. But clarity and rigor are typically valued in philosophical discourse, so an unsatisfying answer is often the result of a poorly framed question. It’s not philosophy that is imprecise, but rather the question “Which tastes better, mud or chocolate?” that is imprecise. Better to whom? I prefer chocolate to mud. So do most (all?) human beings. Does this make it better or just preferable relative to a certain subset of creatures with taste buds? The latter, it seems. Chocolate may very well be repulsive to some other subset of creatures.

Philosophy, then, helps us increase the precision of our questions. When it seems like the discipline itself is imprecise, it is because of the complexity of the questions themselves. Some things take a long time to clarify, and it hardly seems sensible to critique the discipline merely on account of it being more difficult than some others.

The article you link to is, unfortunately, ignorant of the actual progress of history. Yes, the sciences have spun off from philosophy once the discourse has settled on some empirical questions that would be relevant to the conversation, but those empirical questions do not mark the end of philosophy. We do still philosophize about biology. Indeed, science is rife with philosophical baggage that it often does not even recognize. The debates between Einstein and Minkowski on how to interpret relativity theory, for instance, are emblematic of this fact.

And finally, there are some areas where there may be no facts but where we still need answers. Science is typically useless in such circumstances, except at times when the odd empirical claim becomes relevant. Here the ability of philosophy to adjust to the context is invaluable. It’s status as “the most liberal of the liberal arts,” which is to say its flexibility and adaptability, make it quite suited for guiding institutions that can only work by changing over time.

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Uberwench's avatar

That website actually mirrors an old idea from Derrida: that the goal of philosophy is the completion of philosophy, meaning that it is ultimately aimed at self-destruction. The reasoning for this is that if philosophers ever came up with a complete and demonstrable worldview, there would be nothing left for them to do. But this is at least as true of any other discipline, especially the sciences. If we answer all the questions of biology, the biologists will be out of work. If we answer all the questions of astronomy, the astronomers will be out of work. So all science-like disciplines are suicidal, and philosophy is no different. They’re all aimed at one big book of philo-scientific knowledge that we can all read before going off to do something pleasant like reading or painting.

wundayatta's avatar

Yeah. In social science, the way we figure stuff out is through statistical analyses.

We can survey people as to their likes (and we do it all the time) and then we measure other factors and try to see if we can make an equation that predicts the choices an individual makes. But there is always some unexplained variation. Always. Humans don’t always make the same decisions in substantially similar situations. There is no such thing as exactly the same situation, because each person has grown in their own unique circumstances.

Science (philiospohy) can only take us so far. There will always be room for unexplained variation.

crazyivan's avatar

The best thing I’ve ever seen on philosophy (not safe for work)

963chris's avatar

thats why any epistomology (philosophy of knowledge) is bound to fail. thats a throwback project to the ae of reason + can be exemplified in thinkers such as bertrand russell with his principia mathematica + many of the analytical philosophers who try to frame reality around the structure of language.

Fyrius's avatar

I’m going to address mainly your example, since that seems to be at the heart of your question anyway.

“Subjective” does not mean it’s not real, or that it doesn’t count. The difference in your appreciation of one thing compared to that of another, that’s a very real and verifiable fact. If you would take a brain scan of yourself while tasting ice cream, and another one while tasting mud, you could see a physical difference in what’s happening inside your brain that corresponds to the different sensations and reactions those things cause.
It’s just that these are facts about your mind, not about the people you would call pretty or the things you would call tasty.
I’ve been thinking about introducing a less confusing idiom for this – “bananas are tasty to me.” I doubt it would catch on, though.

I wouldn’t call philosophy lazy. But a poor system for understanding things, well, I can’t entirely disagree there. It has a way of hazing up what should be simple issues.
If understanding things is particularly important to you, consider taking a less philosophical and more scientific perspective. It tends to be a whole lot less confusing and to have more useful results.

963chris's avatar

it may be diffcult to be scientific about subjectivity! ;)

Fyrius's avatar

It’s pretty simple, really. I just did so. :/
Subjectivity means something only exists inside your skull. There are fields of science that deal with the inside of your skull. Neuroscience and the cognitive sciences.

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ninjacolin's avatar

Just to backup @SavoirFaire‘s comment..

The reply “It’s subjective” saves the answerer from committing a fallacy of relevance such as an “assumed premise.”

Asker: What day is it today?
Answerer: Today is the 14th. (the assumed premise is that it is a question about date)
Asker: No, I mean what day of the week?

In the above case it could have went this way:
Asker: What day is it today?
Answerer: The answer is subjective (based on what you mean by the term “day”)
Asker: I mean, what day of the week is it?
Answerer: Today is Monday.

963chris's avatar

@ninjacolin: it could also go like this.

a: what day is today?
b: the answer is subjective (based upon what you mean by ‘the’ + ‘day’ + ‘is’ + ‘today’ as well as all the language-specific conventions, context , etc)
a: i was referring to thailand.
b: yes

this could be encoded.

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