[hist-analytic] Philosophy as Nonsense

Scott Holbrook scott.holbrook at gmail.com
Sat Oct 8 10:07:34 EDT 2011

I agree philosophy is nonsense.  I also agree it is important nonsense.

I am using "sense" in a Fregean inspired way (sense is how the thing
is presented to us) with a dash of Wittgenstein (how the truth of a
claim is determined).  For me, the sense of a claim, is the way in
which we determine what the claim is claiming.  As it happens, I have
a pretty holistic, almost Quinean web of belief view on this this.
Consider the claim:

"There are electrons."

In order to determine what is being claimed, I must make use of a vast
chunk of modern physics.  As a result, the electrons of Faraday and
the electrons of today, cannot have the same sense.  That is, it would
be impossible to determine what the previous claim is claiming in the
same way.

So, given that philosophy at it's best pushes the against the limits
of our understanding, it must be the case that much of what it claims,
cannot have sense.  That is, it cannot be determined what exactly is
being claimed.  But, with lots of work, Philosophy is able to expand
the limits of our understanding, thereby giving sense to it's claims.
Once the claims become sensible enough, a new discipline is born.

Let's stick with atoms and such.  Democritus was talking about a
proto-version of  these things quite some time ago.  The Mechanists of
the 17-18th centuries were as well.  Of course, their tools for
determination of what such claims were claiming was limited to the
conceptual tools of their time.  Clearly the Mechanists had a more
refined version, a more sensible version, of the Democritus'
indestructible pieces of a substance.  But that refinement took place
within a vastly enlarged field of "natural philosophy."  Today, we
have a much more refined notion of both the motions (of the
Mechanists) of those indestructible pieces of substance than either of
the previous.  For example, our concept of an "element" allows us to
maintain Democritus original idea of indestructible substance while
also allowing us to describe (in terms of motions) how they hold to
together, all the while expanding the concept to allow that they are
not, in fact, the most elementary building block of the universe (as
both Democritus and the Mechanists maintained).

So, I would want to claim, that what philosophy at it's best does (and
should do), is gives us new ways of talking about our experiences in
the world that not only give credence to what has gone before, but
allow the creation of new conceptual tools with which to situate what
is yet to come.  The task of philosophy is to expand the limits of our
language in order to allow us to give sense to aspects of our
experience that, as of now, are nonsense.

So, how do we know if we have asked a philosophical question, given
that it's all nonsense anyway?  I think one way (admittedly a
retroactive way) is to judge by the fruits of the labor.  If it's the
case that new avenues of linguistic expression have been opened up,
sense given where before there was none, then the question was
philosophical.  If not, then not.

The upshot is that we never know beforehand which questions, which
nonsense, is worth pursuing...Thus, philosophy will always begin in
wonder and only reward those curious enough to follow any given path.
Both of those are as it should be.

"Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention,
largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of
-- Bertrand Russell

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