[hist-analytic] Philosophy as Nonsense

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Sat Oct 8 14:29:20 EDT 2011


Thanks for the reply. A couple of reflections on your observations, taken more or less in order. 

"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." 

What is it about philosphy that would have us push against the limits of our understanding? How does this differ from, say, physics pushing the same limits? 

Can't a layman know what is being claim by 'there are electrons'? How much must a student know before he can say "Now I know what the claim 'there are electrons'" means? This goes to the heart of current issues on the role of "expert opinion." There is, also, the related problem of how I know when a claim has changed; that is, there is some controversy within physics as to what some of these claims are, depending on the theory. When does a claim about one thing become a claim about another: are the atoms of Democritus the atoms of Bohr?  How do we decide? 

Are the limits of our understanding circumscribed by the world; or can our understanding consist in more than understanding the world, the 'world' being, say, what can be figured using the concepts of mass, distance, and time. 

Doesn't philosophy do more than show us a way of talking? Isn't the concept of justice, as far as concerns philosophy, more than talk? Isn't action suggested by the conclusions we draw about justice.  We paint a picture; and then paint a new one over it. Compare: "a new way of talking." 

If you take 'sense' in the way Frege does and assuming senses are intensions, then how can philosophy be nonsense and provide a way of "talking." 



----- Original Message -----

From: "Scott Holbrook" <scott.holbrook at gmail.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Saturday, October 8, 2011 9:07:34 AM 
Subject: Re: Philosophy as Nonsense 

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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