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Old 04-08-2011, 10:56 PM   #1
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Is philosophy dead?

I've seen this question posed a fair bit lately.
The frequency of the question has certainly increased after the publication of Steven Hawking's latest book The Grand Design where, on the first page, you see the words written "philosophy is dead". But even before this book I often heard the declaration in some form or another, mostly from physicists and biologists.

My first reaction was one of incredulity, and even now I am not completely on board with the assertion. But, I think there is some kernel of truth there.

Aristotle said that the main thrust of philosophy is the analysis of cause, and ultimately to discover the primary cause. And he's right, I think. Long before his Metaphysics - and long after - philosophers had mused over things like ground substance and the nature of being. My favourite of these is Plato's Theory of Forms; there is such ingenuity on display there!

However, perhaps nowadays we've come full circle and have placed a very material lid on the whole problem in the form of quantum physics. To seriously discuss "ground substance" today you probably have to get into quantum mechanics, or theoretical physics and math (i.e. String Theory) Someone educated purely in philosophy will simply be unable to broach these subjects.

But, it isn't dead. The study of the notions leading up to modern science is still important, and besides, philosophy isn't limited to a search for cause. There are still valuable inputs regards morality, ethics, and the even the very way we discuss problems. The Socratic Method (evolved as it is) is alive and well, and I think has no rival as a way of arriving at truth.
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Old 04-08-2011, 11:06 PM   #2
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It depends by what you mean dead. It's dead in that many sciences try to replace it with different branches of science. It's not dead if you believe we shouldn't forget what we've learned so far. Even ideas like "positive psychology" borrow from philosophies and religions but remove dogma and unscientific positions. Feeling less insane isn't as attractive as feeling happiness, equanimity and psychology is attacked because it doesn't appear do enough to maximize well-being.

The fact that someone can read Aristotle today and still get some good hints (read his discussion on friendship in Ethics) that are still applicable today is a sign it's not completely dead. I love philosophy.
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Old 04-08-2011, 11:38 PM   #3
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I'm pushing my way through The Metaphysics right now. Before that I had read Plato's The Republic and was stoked up for more.
Plato was a much more accessible writer, though, his student is proving to be much more difficult. I have to read much slower, and even still I have to reread and reread. But, I am finding that the deeper you get the more "used" to his prose you become.

I'll have to get Ethics next.
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Old 04-08-2011, 11:39 PM   #4
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I'm pushing my way through The Metaphysics right now. Before that I had read Plato's The Republic and was stoked up for more.
Plato was a much more accessible writer, though, his student is proving to be much more difficult. I have to read much slower, and even still I have to reread and reread. But, I am finding that the deeper you get the more "used" to his prose you become.

I'll have to get Ethics next.
Ethics is fun but we don't have Aristotle's full books. These are notes from what I remember so it reads a little slower.
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Old 04-09-2011, 06:01 AM   #5
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No it isn't. Philosophy is valuable for making sense of the world and is essential for understanding knowledge. I cringe at scientists who attack philosophy as useless when in fact it can approach ethical and existential issues in a way that compliments a scientific outlook.
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Old 04-09-2011, 09:10 AM   #6
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I'm not even clear what Hawkings' assertion is meant to mean. Philosophy in the olden days incorporated a bit of damn near everything I suppose, but the parts of it that are now understood as physics are well and truly hived off as their own discipline. To my way of thinking, philosophy is basically politics by another name. And no, that isn't going away.
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Old 04-09-2011, 09:49 AM   #7
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How about this saying: "there's no teacher who could teach anything knew, he could just help us remember the things we always knew" ?
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Old 04-09-2011, 10:21 AM   #8
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How about this saying: "there's no teacher who could teach anything knew, he could just help us remember the things we always knew" ?
Well, first off, how would you explain that? What are your thoughts? How would you define what it is to remember in this case?

For myself, the idea that birth is but a forgetting is interesting and thought-inducing, and I think there may be a way of approaching it that is true. The sum of human knowledge is acquired, so when a physician learns how to diagnose a disease, for example, he is in some sense "remembering" how to do something is already a part of acquired human knowledge.

But I use 'remembering' there loosely, as I do not think that an individual already knows how to diagnose bacterial meningitis, but has simply forgotten it at birth. I tend towards tabula rasa, or the notion that we are born with a blank slate and need to learn things that we previously didn't know
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Old 04-09-2011, 11:55 AM   #9
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Well, first off, how would you explain that? What are your thoughts? How would you define what it is to remember in this case?
I think when that quote says "we", it is doesn't mean us as individuals but as a whole race or species if you will.

I don't think anything new could be taught. It would just be a repeat of what the philosophers of Ancient Greece, China, etc. said.
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Old 04-09-2011, 12:27 PM   #10
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there is nothing new under the sun, but surely we as a species haven't learned all there is to learn?
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Old 04-09-2011, 12:40 PM   #11
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I'd like to think we haven't, but I can't fathom what we could learn. Then again, I'm not Plato or Lao Tzu.
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Old 04-09-2011, 12:52 PM   #12
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There is a lot coming down the pipes in modern society. Technological advancements and scientific discoveries will almost certainly challenge what we think we know about ethics.

It is already possible to control a rodent via neurological implants, effectively ridding it of its autonomy. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. The world is going to get a whole lot crazier in the coming centuries. Not only will we learn more and acquire new knowledge, but I dare say we'll even have to go back and re-examine those things which we already take for granted.
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Old 04-09-2011, 03:46 PM   #13
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Can anyone fill in the context in which Hawking said this? I'm not familiar with that book. Following up on what Kieran said, I can see an argument that metaphysical cosmology as a subdiscipline is "dead" i.e. rendered irrelevant by modern physics, but without the context I don't understand what such a broad assertion even means to say. Does Hawking have any background in philosophy?
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Old 04-09-2011, 05:55 PM   #14
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The arrogance of the modern age is that we know nothing but don't even realise that we know nothing. Those Japanese nuclear plants were regarded as cutting edge, or at least better designed than those in most countries.

As a strict materialist atheist, I believe that human problems will ultimately be solved by science rather than the branch of religion known as philosophy.
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Old 04-09-2011, 07:55 PM   #15
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Isn't that a very narrow view of philosophy? Surely materialism itself is a philosophical position?

Metaphysical contemplation is but one application of philosophy

yolland: there isn't much context in the book. It is a very poorly backed up proclamation. They basically say that philosophy has not been able to keep up with physics.
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