Saturday, May 01, 2004

Does philosophy succeed or fail?

In response to an interesting post at Ektopos, claiming that philosophy was a failiure and an "untruth," I had some thoughts...

Whether philosophy fails at its goal depends on what the goal is supposed to be. If philosophy is an ongoing endeavor continuous with the Greeks, and if that endeavor was a program to discover the truth about the foundations of knowledge and reality, then yes, it has probably failed thus far. Neither have the sciences yet filled in the gaps, if such a thing is even forthcoming.

If you accept the arguments of the pragmatists, philosophy failed self-consciously to find a foundation for certainty. If you go farther and accept the arguments of many of the latter 20th century philosophers, then philosophy failed even to form a coherent tradition of reasoning from which to explore the questions of importance to us. (I'm partial to the pragmatists, but the latter argument seems to me to often be too pessimistic about human knowledge).

On the other hand, if you think of philosophy in a less conventional way, as a questioning process, identifying the issues and assumptions, grouping issues by intellectual history, traditions of reasoning, and background assumptions, and less emphasizing the solving of problems, then it still seems very relevant to each of us personally in our thinking.

That is to me somewhat independent of academic fashions in philosophy, and not reliant upon technical expertise in the field.

Philosophy as a lifelong study and a way of thinking still supports the individual search for knowledge and wisdom, and serves as a useful way to organize our reasoning, without neccessarily being a solution finding process per se.

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