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Philosopher Octagon Live

Don't like Marx? Hate Ayn Rand? Here's your chance to get up and have at them.
  [vote for,

The show would consist of a dozen or so actors who would be well read experts, and I mean world's leading experts, on the philosophers they would play in a live show.

Now finding smart actors might be what would make this impossible, because they'd have to really know their stuff for this to work.

After a brief, say 5 minute dialog summarizing that particular philosopher's point of view, they'd begin the live audience interaction part where they would be questioned about their philosophies.

I might ask Marx (that is, the poor bastard stuck with playing Marx) what he thought of the concept of the "Vanguard of the Proletariat" and if it was at odds with the workers it was supposed to support.

Of course he might say "What's that? I died before any of that happened."

I'd also instruct some of the ones from more ancient times to scream whenever an airplane flew by, point and say "Aaeeee! Iron bird!!"

doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

The secret behind some modern philosophies? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poppers
[doctorremulac3, Jan 03 2011]

Ludwig & Bertrand http://www.youtube....watch?v=r0cN_bpLrxk
[mouseposture, Jan 04 2011]

Doctor Octagon Live http://www.youtube....watch?v=u68xEdSFBYU
For some reason this idea's title keeps reminding me of this chap. Has he changed career? [Wrongfellow, Jan 05 2011]

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       I agree with this idea except i think it should be run by philosophers. We have a reputation for not being very employable. It's not that acting is likely to be a philosopher's forte but that's less important than knowing your stuff in this setting and it can't be busked.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2011

       [19thly] You're a philosopher??
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       Yes, did you not know that? I may be a reluctant herbalist to make a living but i dropped out of a career as an academic in two decades ago because i was impatient about toeing the line and i still practice philosophical counselling as in Tim Le Bon's stuff and so on. Herbalism is just supposed to be a sideline but philosophy isn't very marketable.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2011

       Yes, Groucho, Harpo and... uh... Sneezy? What ever the 3rd guy's name was, he should have put a little more work into his act if he wanted people to remember him. Groucho walked like a duck, Harpo honked a bike horn (ahh, the great entertainment of yesteryear) but all I remember about the 3rd guy is that he wore a hat.   

       Or was that Harpo?
doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

       [19thly] No, I didn't know, or else I forgot. Next time I need some philosophy, rest assured I will be in touch.   

       [doc] You're thinking of Chico, the Italian one. There was also a fourth brother, Zeppo (the straight-man), and a tiny little fifth brother called Pico.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       C'mon, you're making these names up to mess with me, right? And a sixth one named Giaganto?   

       (goes to search engine, comes back)   

       Well I'll be darned, unless I stumbled upon the one section of the internets that has disinformation, there's even a brother called Gummo. No, didn't make that up, I'm not that creative.   

       I've got a bit of a sick sense of humor so I won't share the joke that comes to mind about what his act was.
doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011


       Mmmm, probably not. It has to do with dentures, I'll leave it at that.   

       Let me put it this way, if you yelled at the actress playing Ayn Rand: "Hey Ayn! How about a gummo!" you'd get kicked out.
doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

       Can anyone summarize, in three sentences, the most significant advances made in philosophy in the last 100 years?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       // ~~~~# //   

       Having never heard of Gummo before I am now somehow left with an image of the scene selection menu for Gummo's no-dentures adventures.   


       Yea, told ya. Unfortunatly, once you've heard about it, you can't "un-hear-about-it" no matter how much you want to.   

       Max, that's a little tough. Can we just list the top 3 advancements in toaster pastries of the last 50 years? 'Cause I'd put PopTarts right up there.   

       MMhhmmm. Toasty. Convenient too.
doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

       I think it would be possible for a knowledgeable person to list the main achievements in toaster pastries in the last 50 years, yes.   

       But the last century's major progress in philosophy? I leave that to [19thly] to answer.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       Ok, get back to me if the subject turns back to the toaster thing.
doctorremulac3, Jan 02 2011

       I can give it a go, [MB], but feel very conflicted - lots of different voices calling me as it were: Existentialism, phenomenology and postmodernism (if that's an advance) in Continental philosophy, and Russell's Paradox, personal identity issues and anomalous monism in analytical. Having said that, i think i must be wrong.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2011

       Go for it, [19thly]. Also, the three sentences have to be in English.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       To reword it then (would you want to reword sense, anti-sense and nonsense in molecular biology? Would it help?):   

       Existentialism: being forced to be free, the inevitability of death, the meaninglessness of life, the impossibility of being someone else, and how to respond to that.   

       Phenomenology (in the philosophical sense): What something is like, described rigorously.   

       Postmodernism: Death of the author, everything is just language and nothing is more important than anything else - everything is superficial and unimportant.   

       Russell's Paradox: Is the set of all sets which are not members of itself a member of itself? Important for the foundations of mathematics.   

       Personal identity: How much can you change before you're someone else and what makes you you? Could brain surgery do it?   

       Anomalous monism: When something going on in your mind is followed by something else going on in your mind, then later on that same something going on in your mind is followed by that same something else going on in your mind, it means something is going on in your head, but it might not be the same thing twice. And now [grayure] wants the laptop and i can't clarify what i just typed - bugger.
nineteenthly, Jan 02 2011

       //would you want to reword sense, anti-sense and nonsense in molecular biology? Would it help?//   

       I would automatically reword those pieces of jargon if I were talking to someone outside my field (for example, as "the DNA strand that codes for protein", "the mirror image of the DNA strand that codes for protein" and "a DNA strand that doesn't code for protein" - depending on context).
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       Hang on a tick, though. They were meant to be the top 3 in the last century.... you gots ta choose.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 02 2011

       like being an artist, being a philosopher is largely about making a living. The degree to which you can claim a profession (poet, artist, philosopher, etc.) is roughly equivalent to how much of your income it brings in.
WcW, Jan 02 2011

nineteenthly, Jan 02 2011

       Greta detective, we love that guy.   

       // Can anyone summarize, in three sentences, the most significant advances made in philosophy in the last 100 years //   

8th of 7, Jan 02 2011

       //The degree to which you can claim a profession (poet, artist, philosopher, etc.) is roughly equivalent to how much of your income it brings in.//   

       I don't know that TS Elliot, William Carlos Williams, or Wallace Stevens ever actually claimed the profession of poet, but that's certainly how most people think of them.
mouseposture, Jan 02 2011

       In three sentences, the most significant advances made in philosophy in 100 years:   

       Well the very cognitive system by which you wish to evaluate the meritoriousness of philosophy is James' turn of the last century development of pragmatism. Foucault archaeology / genealogy of knowledge is a notable advancement. Derrida's discourse analysis is also a useful advancement in a similar vein as research methodologies. In four sentences, also plausibly media studies.
rcarty, Jan 03 2011

       // Can anyone summarize, in three sentences, the most significant advances made in philosophy in the last 100 years //   

       No, but I can summarize in two sentences, including this one. Philosophy has learned, through painstaking analysis, that nothing about the world can be ascertained by painstaking analysis alone.
sqeaketh the wheel, Jan 03 2011

       [WcW] I'm similarly incredulous as [19thly] about the income:claim profession positive proportionality.   

       First, philosopher is not quite a profession. Second, profession only implies that a role is renumerated, not the extent to which it is renumerated. Third, renumeration is not directly proportional to ability, but based on a number of other variables. Evidence of the first point, is that many of the major classical philosphers were paupers. Second point, an actor in a local theatre who visits the food bank may be the most skilled, but never have the mass appeal of a Hollywood star who makes millions. Also consider a paperboy. Third point, isn't this the number one cause of occupational rivalry and discontent, "why does he make more than me?", possible answers: nepotism, favoritism, gender inequity / inequality, seniority, qualifications / credentials etc.
rcarty, Jan 03 2011

       sp: (poppers)   

       I think you meant to say: "many of the major classical philosophers DID poppers"   

       Unless you meant to say paupers. Although the poppers would explain a lot about where philosophers get their ideas. (see link)
doctorremulac3, Jan 03 2011

       // Can anyone summarize, in three sentences, the most significant advances made in philosophy in the last 100 years //   


       One would think that a good philosopher would also have employable skills as a good writer and logician. Have you considered perhaps a place in law?
RayfordSteele, Jan 03 2011

       That has been mentioned before but no, i've gone in a totally different direction now. I think programming would work though, if i could avoid being arcane.   

       Philosophy has useful by-products.   

       One of the weird things about analytical philosophy is that most of the big names in it are completely unknown to the general public. Russell would be an exception. Continental philosophy is different - people have heard of Sartre, Nietzsche, Derrida and so forth. But Saul Kripke? Willard Quine?
nineteenthly, Jan 03 2011

       The BBC(?) used to run a series of interviews with famous dead people, occasionally they'd have more than one for a roundtable discussion. I'm not sure I see much of a difference if you make the guests philosphers instead of world-statesmen, scientists, etc.
FlyingToaster, Jan 03 2011

       The difference is that nobody would watch it because it would be far too good.
nineteenthly, Jan 03 2011

       [doctorremulac3], would you accept that was a pun on Karl Popper?
rcarty, Jan 03 2011

       Maybe the BBC could do a "Philosophy Live" programme - a bit like Springwatch, but with philosophers actually doing philosophy right there.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 03 2011

       Yes, in complete darkness using an image intensifier and a similarly intensified earnest commentary by David Attenborough. Philosophers in their natural habitat, sitting in dingy hovels like this one.
nineteenthly, Jan 03 2011

       You can't really call the HB a dingy hovel. Maybe your screen needs a scrape?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 03 2011

       //[doctorremulac3], would you accept that was a pun on Karl Popper?//   

       As long as you accept my good natured ribbing, absolutely.   

       As well as not looking into MY long personal history of misspellings. ;)
doctorremulac3, Jan 03 2011

       That was something a little more sinister than a misspelling. I think I associated Karl Popper with Karl Marx and the latter to paupers.
rcarty, Jan 03 2011

       Well, however it got there I got to make the poppers joke and cap on philosophers so I'm happy. Not that I have anything against philosophers, I just think scientists and engineers built civilization while many of the "great" philosophers sat around wringing their togas in anguish over the human condition. Or where their next paycheck was coming from.   

       That being said, some of them, especially those with a scientific background, like Mach for instance, created the looking glass through which we see the modern world so it would be fun to talk to them in person with your little list of questions. Some of them it could also be said have created ideas that have wrought terrible destruction upon mankind, it would be interesting to talk to these people as well.   

       And for the actors playing the parts, it would be quite an accomplishment. I would assume university professors who taught courses about the person would get the job over somebody who looked the part. That would be the big difference between this and a show where they have little scripted debates between Julius Caesar and Ronald McDonald. This would be live, the questions would be unknown to the person before hand and they'd have to be razor sharp to synthesize the answer that philosopher would most likely give. A script wouldn't do much good, you'd have to be the closest thing possible to Plato incarnate to pull if off.   

       Who knows what those guys looked like anyway? They either had a beard or they didn't. None of us could pick Socrates out of a lineup so just hire the professor who was best qualified, dress him in period clothes, voila. I'd think it would be a killer gig for some professors out there with a little flare for theatrics.
doctorremulac3, Jan 04 2011

       //Philosophy has learned, through painstaking analysis, that nothing about the world can be ascertained by painstaking analysis alone.// More succinctly: "philosophy leaves everything as it is"   

       Scientists and engineers value intellectual rigor, do they not? But they sacrifice it, a little, for the sake of getting things done. Philosophers (I claim) are distinguished by their refusal to make that sacrifice.
mouseposture, Jan 04 2011

       Both have their value, I'm just making a subjective judgement from my own perspective. I get more of a thrill seeing a man walk on the moon than hearing people say things like "The judgment of any system, or a priori relationship or phenomenon exists in an irrational, or metaphysical, or at least epistemological contradiction to an abstract empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself."   

       I mean, a philosopher can put these "flow chart" sentences together whose meaning can be pried open with a little work but sometimes it seems more like poetry or semantics calisthenics than a real attempt to unlock any secrets of the universe.   

       Nothing wrong with that though I suppose.   

       But I'll point out, my idea was to have a show where you talk to famous philosophers, not engineers or scientists which would be pretty boring. I love science and engineering, but that's best experienced with the most direct and efficient transfer of information. Discussing philosophy has the human element that can be intriguing. To put it another way, science and engineering is either right or wrong. For a topic of conversation and debate, almost all philosophies are equally worthwhile if presented in an interesting fashion.
doctorremulac3, Jan 04 2011

       Doctor, you might enjoy <link>, or, indeed, the whole movie.
mouseposture, Jan 04 2011

       The difference between philosophy and science is fairly recent historically, and only applies to Western philosophy. Natural philosophy is one of science's predecessors. I would also say, and people may not like this, that rationality is a superset of science and that analytical philosophy is in that superset. I see a lot of philosophical naivete among people who have faith in science, not so much here but in other places on the web and in real life. This is particularly true among the people who might be described as the acolytes of Richard Dawkins, with obvious exceptions such as Daniel Dennett.   

       You have to be very careful what you say because people do mash ideas together a lot and blunder through without knowing it. This applies in science and in philosophy. You may be more familiar with the vocabulary, stylistics and nomenclature of science, but to someone who isn't, that is as opaque as philosophical language may seem to someone who's unfamiliar with that. It's not of a higher order of obscurity. There's also the issue of lucid communication and philosophers and scientists both vary with that. I would say that Wittgenstein and Hume are models of clarity (and Wittgenstein is an engineer and a mathematician as well as a philosopher), whereas Hegel seems to have a bit of a problem.   

       And then there are the continental philosophers, many of whom are just a shower of bastards and should've been strangled at birth.
nineteenthly, Jan 04 2011

       This is what I love about the halfbakery. It contains ideas I know that would never be 'mainstream' enough to be real, but still ones I would pay very good money to see/own.
NeverDie, Jan 04 2011

       //There's also the issue of lucid communication and philosophers and scientists both vary with that. //   

       Yes, but get the feeling that most philosophers revel in their obscurification. Most of the good scientists I know, or have known, can explain to a complete layman the essence of what they do, and why they do it - and they enjoy doing so.   

       I seldom come across any lucid explanations of what philosophy is and why, which is perhaps why I tend to view it as a rather academic (in the negative sense of the word) art.   

       Your summary of five main points of progress, a few annos back, is fairly understandable, which is nice. But then you run into another thicket, as follows:   

       The first and third items seem like the sort of internal ponderings that everyone (particularly teenagers) has about their own life and the world. Is there anything new there?   

       The second item seems like semantics. What is something "like", rigorously? If it's a brick, I can describe it in physical detail; if it's "brickiness", that's an arbitrary construct. It seems as if philosophers may be defining a new meaning of "description" which they can then address, but it's not clear to me.   

       The fourth item is a piece of mathematics - I don't see why it's philosophy (addition is commutative, but that's not philosophy - it just is).   

       The fifth item sounds like navel-gazing. How much can I change before I am a different person? Answer: 6.3 It's an arbitrary thing. Has philosophy come up with a solid answer to "how much"? If so, is it significantly different from the obvious answers?
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011

       What's this got to do with Octagons?   

       Which reminds me to ask about philosophy and mathematics - both are highly abstract, yet have application in the real world, and both have a pretty large body of material that overlaps - so what's the difference?   

       Also, weren't Rand, Marx and a few of the other ones mentioned above Sociologists, Economists, or at least Journalists/Social Commentators? Does becoming a philosopher happen by gaining some critical mass in terms of reputation? If 1000 people say that Eric Cantona is a philosophist, does that actually make him one, or is there a more objective measure that we can apply to determine who is, and who is not a philosopher?
zen_tom, Jan 04 2011

       Thank you for the link M, I'd like to see more.   

       I think what gets my propeller beanie spinning is that I find some philosopher's statements pretty un-fathomable at first. Then when I spend the time to plow through the jargon and get to what the guy's point is I'm often left saying: "That's it?" This sets my b.s. alarm off. As Max pointed out, the better the scientist, usually, the better they are at making a complicated point clear. Not so with many philosophers.   

       It reminds me a bit of shamanism. B.S. the people into thinking you've got some link with the unseen world that you're willing to sell. Make it too clear what your bottom line is and you don't have the consumer on the hook to buy more books.   

       Let me put it this way, how many books will you sell if your philosophy is "Be nice to people without letting yourself get pushed around, try to learn something new every day and go for a walk when the weather's nice."?   

       I agree with that philosophy but wouldn't invite that guy to my philosopher octagon. Boooring.
doctorremulac3, Jan 04 2011

       //The fourth item is a piece of mathematics - I don't see why it's philosophy// - on the other hand, Godel's Incompleteness Theorem and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle are 'philosophy' in that they suggest limits to our ability to know and understand things.
hippo, Jan 04 2011

       I disagree [hippo]. This may be because I have no real idea of what philosophy is (or is for).   

       However...to say Godel's or Heisenberg's are "philosophy" because they tell us the limits of our ability to know is, I think, wrong. They are simple statements about the universe.   

       It may be that they can _inform_ philosophy, but they are not philosophy themselves.   

       Newton's laws of motion tell me how I can (and can't) move - that doesn't make them "philosophy". Nor are the rules of tennis "philosophy" simply because they constrain the way people play tennis.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011

       You may be right. Defining philosophy is hard - I quite like to define it that which answers the question "How should I act?"
hippo, Jan 04 2011

       Presumably the original, Classical Philo-Sophists would have been those who thought that the Sophists were brilliant. The Sophists were those who were professionally "wise" in Greek Society, using their mental, linguistic and rhetorical skills to train others in the arts of civilised comportment, to represent them (both legally and in public relations efforts), and to assist in the drafting of legislature and enscribery. In other times, these types would be members of the Royal Court - or today, those occupying positions within the legal, medical, media, judicial, political, PR, educational, scientific and other civic professions. A pretty practical lot by today's standards - and since their founding days, often accused of talking bollocks - Socrates wasn't all that keen on them for precisely this reason.   

       Today though, there's also a great deal of post-modernism going on, which makes it difficult to ascribe any meaning to anything without drawing criticism. When you're faced with that, it's incredibly difficult to say anything at all, except by inference and through allegory - which is kind of fitting since that's how they did it all the way back in Classical times. Seems reasonable to suggest that much of what people thought about then is the same as what people think about now - and that's not such a bad thing either - it would be more of a worry if people had radically changed in terms of what they thought, in existential-terms - as it shows that we are, if nothing else, consistent.
zen_tom, Jan 04 2011

       That discussion in the linked video really wasn't up to snuff.
rcarty, Jan 04 2011

       //I quite like to define it that which answers the question "How should I act?"//   

       For my money, that's what I'm looking to get out of a philosophy. As opposed to "philosophies" that seek to ask "What am I?", "What is it to be?", "What difference does it make how I act?", "What's the point of putting value on a course of action with words like should" etc.   

       I get the feeling some philosophers are dissatisfied with that nagging little truth that we're all little grunting beasts that eat, breed and die so they create these flowery complicated tomes that "no mere beast would ever understand". I have no problem with being simply a branch of the family of animals being so in awe of the amazing confluence of events that came together to create even the lowest, gruntiest of beasts. I'm happy to be part of the club.   

       And if I need an ego boost about being a human, I look at the chance that we may be the first chunk of matter that came together in such a way as to have consciousness. It had to happen first somewhere right? Are we the first part of the universe to look at itself? Are we the latest in a line of entities, starting with the first light sensitive one celled organism, that are the first to look? That's the kind of deep search for the truth that puts a tent pole in my toga.   

       As far as the video, when the teacher stormed off the stage I would have yelled: "Hey you! Get back here and philosophize you big baby!"
doctorremulac3, Jan 04 2011

       "why f- that?" Because its there, of course.
RayfordSteele, Jan 04 2011

       It's not surprising that something gets lost in translation, [MB], which could have happened here. Concerning adolescence, i haven't really addressed poetry or read literary novels since then and poetry is something in which many people engage as teens and never touch again, but some people are poets, and whereas the form of their poetry may superficially resemble what they or others wrote during their youth, the fact that most people never bothered again doesn't make the exercise of writing poetry an adolescent activity.   

       Concerning mathematics or other fields into which philosophical insights might be placed, they are still insights. This might mean that philosophical insights are rather annoyingly defined as insights which philosophers have. However, one could also drop the concern about what subject something is, though this might involve some crudeness.   

       I find it useful. For instance, there's a lot of talk about rights. This can be turned round into talk about duties usefully, or even about virtues and vices. This is rather like the idea of swapping something over to the other side and changing the sign in algebra. You can look at an electrical appliance with only two pieces of information about its characteristics and work out the third when you need to, which is important if you would prefer not to start a fire, be electrocuted or waste a large amount of money. Similarly, you can listen to someone talking about rights and wonder why they ascribe them to one party rather than construing the same activity in terms of duties by the same or another party, or just think of the whole thing in terms of some other form of ethics and follow that. That's not useless. It might allow you to make a rational voting decision or defend yourself in court, or just win a marital argument.   

       My brother's also a philosophy graduate. Both his ex-wife and my wife say it's unfair because we always win arguments, and they don't mean we think we do, they're genuinely convinced by them. That might not work here, but if you have a discipline which enables you to be more successful in winning arguments, that really is a useful thing to be able to do.   

       [Zen_tom], postmodernism is them, not us. Also, though this is never going to happen, if philosophy is over, why are they still getting paid?
nineteenthly, Jan 04 2011

       I still don't get it. I'm not trying to be obstructurous - I'm sort of half hoping you can convince me I'm wrong. But...   

       So, some philosophical questions are like teenage poetry, but that's OK because some people grow up to be poets.....yessss, but my contention is that the "philosophical" questions of that type are not clever (everyone has them - they're as natural as passing wind); and also philosophy doesn't seem to have answered any of them anyway. Does philosophy have an answer, say, to "the meaninglessness of life" _besides_ the usual "folk remedies" (ie, don't think about it and enjoy the moment/believe in an afterlife/live on in your children/live on in your work/live on through the happiness of others/don't believe in the passage of time/hope cryopreservation works/believe life is only a dream etc)?   

       Then, concerning the mathematics - I still contend that mathematical insights are mathematical insights, and philosophers are free to ponder on their meaning or not; but the philosophers seem only to do just that. Again, there doesn't seem to be a philosophical finding or product generated.   

       Then, concerning the argument that philosophy might prompt one to think of an argument from a different perspective (duties instead of rights, per your example), well, yes - but again, that's not really a huge intellectual leap. In fact, I am sure many thoughtful people do exactly that. In fact even I, in my more insightful moments, have done that. But in doing so, I was not building on the collective progress of two millennia of philosophy.   

       Finally, as a means of winning arguments - you'd have to give an example. It would be useful, admittedly (the more so if the person winning the argument were right), but I'm not convinced. Example, maybe?   

       I guess my bottom-line question is whether philosophy allows you to actually do anything any differently; and, if so, whether it allows you to do more things better than it did, say, 2000 years ago. The only real purpose I can imagine for philosophy is in increasing human happiness, so, how much better is today's philosophy than the philosophy of 0BC at making people happier?   

       I really would like to be shown something that "works" - it would please me in the same way that, say, gedanken experiments are immensely satisfying.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 04 2011

       Good philosophy =/= marital bliss. Got it.
RayfordSteele, Jan 04 2011

       Application software design is a sort of Applied Metaphysics. It is possible (though hard to prove) that one of the reasons why much application software is so badly designed is that the people designing it have no background in metaphysics. So, [MaxwellBuchanan], there's a sort of product for you, if you like.
pertinax, Jan 05 2011

       My book (see profile page) is also a philosophical product, in the sense that, although it is systematic, it is, intentionally, not scientific. It is not scientific partly because science generally offers new facts, whereas philosophy can rearrange facts you already knew in such a way that they make more sense. (NB: You might want to ignore the blurb on the publisher's website; it was written by someone who didn't really "get it" at all).
pertinax, Jan 05 2011

       That sounds like a good example.   

       [MB], possibly preliminary reply for you. Two examples of application, both in computing: the use of phenomenology in artificial intelligence and of the likes of De Morgan's laws in the design of digital circuits. Now you could of course claim that formal logic is a branch of mathematics, but that brings up a possible reason for our disagreement. Can you give me examples of what you see as philosophy? Or, what kind of thing is the core of philosophy? Would that include: ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, phenomenology, logic, logical theory, aesthetics, or other things?   

       Oh, and proof: firmly based in logic, which i would see as the home ground of philosophy.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       //[Zen_tom], postmodernism is them, not us. Also, though this is never going to happen, if philosophy is over, why are they still getting paid?//   

       I wasn't suggesting that it was over, rather, that it is something that people have, and will always continue to, do. The post-modernism bit was, in effect, debunking itself (what else can it do anyway apart from get in its own, and everything else's way - much like the clever, but often meaningless Rhetoric of the Sophists) since we can always return to the Classics for something meaningful (even when discussing post-modernism!!!) even if we don't necessarily know what that meaning actually is.   

       As for getting paid, as with those Classical sophists, and there are plenty of professions in which the modern Sophist can find employment - we've mentioned Computer Programming, but Law, Language, Education, Finance, Politics - it's a pretty big list. The Philo-sophists are kind of meta-sophists, who think about thinking, finding connections and generalities that apply higher-up - and rigorously defining them and using them to infer other things, exactly like a mathematician does.   

       I'm still clueless on the significance of the Octagon in this instance, other than it being a geometric figure, and geometry being one of the ancient arts practiced by entoga'd Greeks.
zen_tom, Jan 05 2011

       My image was of a sort of "Weakest Link" circle of competing philosophers, or maybe something like a boxing ring.   

       The irony for me is that postmodernism means that people who get paid for academic philosophy are themselves saying that it has ceased to exist permanently, but since this also means ethics is in their view debunked, they won't even accept that such behaviour is unethical. You can't even say it's cynical because that would be a philosophy. Then again, justice may be served, at least in England, by the absence of funding which will shortly ensue. This means that philosophy will be conducted by other means.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       //Can you give me examples of what you see as philosophy?//   

       We may be homing in on the root of my non-appreciation of philosophy. In my mind, philosophy is characterised by the sort of examples of which you listed six, some time ago - with the exception of Russell's paradox which, as noted, I would consider firmly in mathematics.   

       More generally, I would consider philosophy to deal with questions whose answer has no physical solidity (so to speak). Like "what's the meaning of life?", "why are we here?", "what is the essence of being a brick?" and so on.   

       I guess this is kind of unfair on philosophy, because when anything becomes more tangible and less abstract, I would ascribe it to a different discipline, as with Russell's paradox. For instance, the question "what is happiness" might be a philosophical one to begin with; but if someone discovers a neurological mechanism which is heavily involved in "happiness", then I would claim that one for neurology.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       Yes, it does seem that we're getting to the bottom of it.   

       None of the questions you mention are philosophical in the academic sense, at least for the analytical tradition, although "what is the essence of being a brick?" sounds more philosophical than the others to me. Two things about that though. Firstly, academic philosophy frustrates many people precisely because it regards such questions as non-philosophical, and secondly, the question arises of whether philosophy is the preserve of academia. In England, i think a key figure here would be William Blake. Is he a philosopher or not? He is the kind of person to whom one might go if one wanted answers, but literature is entirely outside my conceptual world, so at that point i have to "pass over in silence", as Wittgenstein would say.   

       // when anything becomes more tangible and less abstract, I would ascribe it to a different discipline //   

       I would, without any animosity, agree with you there and that's even a recognised fallacy: "death by a thousand qualifications" or "no true Scotsman". I do the same with geography as an academic discipline as it happens. However, i wouldn't say i completely disagree with you, for this reason: many disciplines start in philosophy and become independent, for instance natural philosophy became science, moral philosophy (as opposed to ethics or metaethics) became sociology, logic helped spawn computer science and became mathematical and phenomenology has more recently (and to its detriment i think) become independent.   

       Considering that, how about this? These are branches from a stem. If you remove the stem, there will be no more branches from that stem. Is it not possible that those branches would be worthwhile?   

       Concerning your example of happiness as a neurological phenomenon, a rather unsatisfactory definition of happiness i once wrote was "happiness is that mental state to which an organism is biologically driven to return and in which it is driven to remain". This fails partly because of the existence of depression and masochism. However, it also fails for another reason: it's extensional. It fails to capture the sense of happiness, i.e. its intension (not "intention"), and merely refers to happiness. It's like the difference between "three" and "three apples". Does that make sense? I've had to use the technical terms "intention", "intension", "sense", "reference" and "extension". For that reason, this paragraph would be read differently by an English-speaking philosophy graduate and by someone else. Other gotchas are "just in case" and "very idea", both of which have technical meanings in academic philosophy.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       This is fun - thanks for your patience. OK...so...   

       W.r.t your first para, I'm deeply ignorant of Blake and of Wittgenstein, so I may be missing some references. But, if the "why are we here" type of question is not considered analytical philosophy, and if the "brickiness" question is closer to analytical philosophy, can you give me an example of a question that is definitely within analytical philosophy? And (this is important) is there an answer?   

       W.r.t. the next paras, your argument is that philosophy spawns more "concrete" subjects? Again, though, I'm not convinced that this is the case, even though it can seem so in retrospect. Did Babbage, or Turing or von Neumann come to their findings in computing by way of philosophy? Or did they come to them from the angle I would - which is a problem-solving/ mathematical/ technological angle?   

       You may argue that their approaches stemmed from fundamental - perhaps philosophical - questions. But if philosophy wants to claim some credit, you need to be able to show that there was a legacy of philosophical thinking which was passed on to Babbage or Turing; if they themselves devised the "philosophical" question and then went on to solve specific problems as a result, then there's no legacy or transmission of the prior "philosophy".   

       Coming to your last para (on the meaning of happiness), I think the problem lies in trying to define it in the first place - in other words, you ask a philosophical question (what is happiness?) which then lets you seek a philosophical answer (which does not seem to have been found). But, even if you find the philosophical answer to the philosophical question, it seems to me like a closed loop - there's no output.   

       I guess my concern is that, although many useful lines can be traced back to questions which philosophers may have asked, there never seems to be any cumulative result of philosophy in the way that there are cumulative results of mathematics or engineering, or even sculpture (where each piece of sculpture is new; pieces accumulate over the centuries; and new techniques are developed).   

       On the other hand, it's quite likely that my prejudices are preventing me from seeing something that's obvious to you, for which my apologies.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       I see the Lions have won four games straight, the last one being in a game that Brett Favre didn't start in. That's as boggling as anything Heraclitus ever said.
RayfordSteele, Jan 05 2011

       First of all, i'm glad we're enjoying this.   

       One answer to this would probably for you to manage somehow to chance upon a particular text on a philosophical subject to which you can relate. I have a hunch that something or other would strike a chord. Unfortunately i'm not sure what. I'm going to take a wild stab at something by Daniel Dennett appealing to you.   

       Blake isn't what i'd call a philosopher but i have academic prejudices. He is, however, definitely what a lot of "normal" people would say was someone who writes philosophically. He's closed off to me because i think my mind simply doesn't work that way. Too poetic for my liking. Wittgenstein's another matter, though he's wrong, and you might get somewhere with him. He sees philosophy as a mass of pseudo-problems arising from the vagueness of everyday language.   

       Definitely within analytical philosophy? Hmm...a bit of pressure there! I'm a little afraid i might blow it now. How about "are there strict laws which describe both the relationship between successive states of mind and successive brain states?" That's not about a "soul", by the way. Trying to think of an "external" one too. OK. How about "Is scepticism a series of claims about the world or the absence of such a series of claims?" Right now, that seems to be about as central as a philosophical issue can be to me.   

       Similar models can be "discovered" (another philosophical question: are they discovered or invented?) by people in different disciplines, so they might be claimed by several of them, just as the filament bulb was invented by Swan and Edison (unless there was some industrial espionage i know nothing about). I honestly can't see how Turing in particular could have got anywhere without Gottlob Frege's ideas, though whether the ideas were actually Frege's i don't know. Similarly, two people might invent a light bulb. It's very hard indeed to decide what's an invention and what's a discovery, i think, partly because of the way Frege thinks. He claims that concepts are outside the mind. I tend not to think in terms of separate subject areas but i see a lot of what i do as philosophical. If i had degrees in maths, i might well think of what i do as mathematical.   

       One example of how philosophy, in the form of formal logic, applies to computing: all logic circuits built from the standard logic gates can also be built entirely from NAND gates and entirely from NOR gates. To me, that is an absolutely philosophical point. The philosopher Henry Sheffer proved that in the early twentieth century. He was in Harvard's philosophy department. It's a major reason why digital computers exist. Without it, i suppose people could have come up with higher-order logic gates and integrated them, but i think one of two things would have happened. Either someone would have had that insight and integration would have been able to move to a larger scale, or they wouldn't, and digital electronics would have developed a lot more slowly because everything would have to be bigger to do the same job. If that insight had been had by an engineer or a mathematician, it would still have been the same insight. I would call it philosophical, they might call it mathematical.   

       I think progress might take place in an interdisciplinary manner. The electron microscope is not an invention based on biology.   

       It might be up to the poets to talk about happiness, or maybe the psychotherapists. Philosophers have tried to address it though, for instance Schopenhauer and Epicurus. I would say it was productive because if people think of happiness in a particular way, some of them will find it helpful. That would be a therapeutic point. Of course the question which arises there is whether having a particular concept of happiness is anything more than a comforting myth: is it a sort of placebo?   

       Actually i can think of an example of progress. Nobody nowadays would make a distinction between primary and secondary qualities, i.e. between colour and shape. There are others, for instance psychophysical dualism is very unpopular, nobody believes in logical positivism or behaviourism any more and, interestingly, when people from the "outside" ask philosophical questions they make the same kinds of mistakes as earlier philosophers made and which philosophers no longer make. I would say that constitutes a cumulative difference.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       Hmm. We're getting somewhere, but I'd best get back to my day-job for now. More anon and thanks.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       No problem and i ought to be busy too! Thanks!
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       The above [19thly]/MB exchange illustrates another definition of "philosopher" which is one who, through talent and training *argues well* Not "well" in [19thly]'s sense of winning arguments -- that's forensics, at which the sophists excelled. Rather, philosophy is arguments from which both parties (and the bystander) emerge enlightened. (Typically, the parties refine, rather than abandon their positions, which may be the basis for the "no progress" criticism of philosophy.)   

       Some people enjoy this sort of discussion; the philosophers are the *professionals* at it. In that respect, they're like athletes, or musicians.   

       Contrast a philosophical argument with the sort of heat >> light argument so common when amateurs discuss, e.g. the relative merits of political or economic systems. The result is too often as shown in the Wittgenstein video.   

       (W, famously, thought that, as long as he had only language to work with, he could only demonstrate, but not prove, his point that language was the problem, not the solution. As I understand that scene, his frustration at not being understood (or, as Keynes put it, agreed with), was a part of that didactic method. The frustration was sincere, of course: that whole movie is about a (speculative) connection between W's philosophy and his personality.)
mouseposture, Jan 05 2011

       I'm baaack. The day-job wasn't as difficult as I had expected.   

       So, where were we? Ah yes:   

       // How about "are there strict laws which describe both the relationship between successive states of mind and successive brain states?" That's not about a "soul", by the way. //   

       Well, the question of the relationship between mind and brain, and between one moment and the next within the mind/brain is, I think, one for neuroscientists. That's not to say that there isn't a philosophical interest too, but rather that I don't think useful answers can come from philosophy. Philosophy (I think) may run around in philosophical circles on this matter, but in the end you need to know the physicality of brain and how it works, as a mechanism, before you can say or do anything new. Of course, there's no guarantee that science will ever answer the questions, but I don't think philosophy can. Or has it already done so? To put it another way - yes, of course philosophy can _ask_ the questions, but has it got anywhere in answering them?   

       //Trying to think of an "external" one too. OK. How about "Is scepticism a series of claims about the world or the absence of such a series of claims?" Right now, that seems to be about as central as a philosophical issue can be to me.//   

       Again, that's a question which philosophy doesn't seem to have answered. Moreover, I would argue that it's a purely "internal" question within philosophy. It takes a pretty keen mind, I guess, to frame a question in its own terms within its own field and yet also fail to answer it!   

       Then, moving on to your final para - your examples of progress. Two two comments/questions:   

       1) Nobody nowadays would think of wearing floral ties, but that doesn't mean there's been net progress in tie design over the last 40 years. Are you sure that your examples are part of a net progress rather than just a cyclical fashion? and   

       2) Even if they do represent true cumulative (and cumulable) progress, they again seem like questions which are purely "internal" to philosophy. Does the fact that a philosopher wouldn't distinguish fundamentally between colour and shape mean anything to anyone other than the philosopher? Isn't it like me asking myself what type of crisps my imaginary friend prefers?   

       I sense we are getting somewhere, which is exciting, but I don't think I've arrived yet.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       Re the idea - there was a show on in the US (possibly a BBC show shown on PBS) in which actors depicted various historical characters and fielded questions. I remember it because Cleopatra offered a blithe defense of slavery and the actress was roundly and somewhat frighteningly booed by the audience.   

       Re philosophy I think there is lots and lots of philosophy going on, but in almost every circumstance it is applied philosophy. Sort of like the difference between hearing some chef try to explain to you about making food and eating at his restaurant several times. Think tanks, for instance, are all about applied philosophy. Deming is another example that occurs to me - his great advances are philosophic - ways of thinking about the world and events in the world - but even though he is credited with a "System of Profound Knowledge " he is not usually listed among philosophers because his philosophy has such practical relevance.   

       The parallel would be poetry - people despair of the state of poetry because they have a fixed idea of poet as goateed dude with beret and bongos. Poetry as song lyrics, however, does just fine financially.
bungston, Jan 05 2011

       "Hey dad, I'm confused about life the universe and everything. What do you suggest?"   

       "Well son, how about taking lots of philosophy courses in college? That should clear things up for you."   

       (flash forward)   

       "How did those courses work out son?"   

       "Well, before I at least knew I was confused, now I'm not even sure about that."
doctorremulac3, Jan 05 2011

       Sorry everyone, i'm just going to plough on with [MB].   

       Back again from the "real" world.   

       The supposed coup de grace of a physicalist and many other approaches to the mind-body problem is the issue of "salva veritate". Whereas there may be a one-to-one correspondence between a brain state and a mind state, it doesn't mean the same thing to describe the events within the brain as it does to describe what you are experiencing. Dennett's explanation for this is the "intentional stance": just as we might say of a spellchecker which underlines too many words that it "thinks" a text is in French rather than English, and that that's all there is to it. But what if it isn't? Also, it's clumsy to go about describing things neurologically when there are more experiential ways of doing it, which leads to the question of what's the more useful way of describing it. The issue is not just physicalism. It's a philosophical thought to realise that there's a question there at all. Also, and this might be off-putting, philosophy can be more about questions than answers, and i suppose i prefer to think in a way which doesn't provide me with answers a lot, maybe because the ideas interest me more than their applications.   

       Concerning scepticism, it is an important and practical question. When i describe myself as a sceptic, i'm referring to the philosophical usage of the word, i.e. the impossibility of knowledge in many cases. However, the reason it's important is that people who describe themselves as sceptics, for example those who think a naturalistic approach to life should be reflected in government policy (e.g. no faith schools, no bishops in the house of Lords, pro-stem cell research, pro-choice in reproductive issues etc) might see themselves as refraining from making untestable claims. Others would see them as not testing their assumptions. So it has political implications, for example. The discussion we had a while ago regarding homoeopathy - you believe it doesn't work because it doesn't fit in with contemporary chemistry and physics. I very much doubt that it works and i don't practice it, unlike some other herbalists, but unless i come across reliable evidence arrived at either by myself or through a process where the protocol has been agreed upon by both homoeopaths and mainstream scientists, your and my shared belief that it doesn't work is a claim with foundations but not rock hard ones. There are bound to be other examples of that kind of philosophical claim having practical implications.   

       Your claim regarding fashion is 100% valid. Also, its application isn't confined to philosophy. Kant came up with the nebular hypothesis for the formation of the solar system in the eighteenth century. It was replaced with another theory but later came back into vogue and is now popular again. Similarly with atoms - accepted by Greek philosophers, then rejected in favour of hylomorphism, then accepted again by Dalton, but nowadays atoms are divisible, so to what extent do we still accept it? Nevertheless, most people would say science progresses. Similarly, there are cycles of ideas in philosophy and there is a rational element in accepting and rejecting them both in science and philosophy, thought that's not all there is in either.   

       Primary and secondary qualities might be important because, for example, if they don't exist, something like a square is just as contingent as something being spicy. Spiciness can mean either the stimulation of pain receptors or local circulation. If we had different physiology, something wouldn't be spicy. So it could be considered a secondary quality. However, squares seem to be somehow more fundamentally true. If they are as haphazardly true as a spicy flavour (note - i didn't choose sour for a reason), it seems to make mathematics, and through that science, less objective. Again, that would be important because it could mean there could be totally different sets of sciences.   

       Unlike most other mammals, we have very good colour vision but a poor sense of smell. It would at least have taken a lot longer for animals without colour vision to discover quantum theory, because of the secondary quality of colour. So, what are we missing because our sense of smell is poor, and is it not possible that there is a whole set of other scientific systems out there waiting to be discovered because we have good vision and poor smell? How about looking for them? The primary-secondary distinction could give a hint that there's something like that out there, just as physics suggests that dark matter exists.   

       So it has practical implications, but in any case it's good mental exercise.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       Incidentally, [bungston], that may just be where philosophy is going anyway because what with the cuts, i wonder if university philosophy departments are going to exist for much longer. That could be an opening for others, e.g. me.
nineteenthly, Jan 05 2011

       OK - here goes.   

       First para: there is indeed a difference in kind between neurological activity and actually "being there", no argument. But I don't think that philosophy can shed any real light on it - philosophy is part of the "being there". We keep coming back to the question of whether philosophy has ever answered any of the fascinating questions it asks, and in this realm I don't see that it has. And as to the matter of philosophy being more about asking questions than answering them - that, to me, is the fundamental problem. I like answers (even if they are only working hypotheses), and I don't see how a discipline contributes if it only asks but never answers.   

       Second para: re. skepticism: the only bit I really follow is your statement of the impossibility of knowledge of some things. From a pragmatic point of view, though, I disagree: it's possible to know many things, at least to the extent of a useful working hypothesis (like hypotheses concerning the mode of action of antibiotics). Other things (such as the non-existence of a god) are less easy, but again you can have a pragmatic approach whereby the existence of a god fails all reasonable tests. But I think I'm missing your point. And re. homeopathy: this is maybe too specific a point, but I think there are adequate reasons to believe that it would not work, and sufficient studies to believe that it does not work, certainly when set beside, say, trials of clot-busting drugs.   

       Third para: re the argument that science is also susceptible to cyclical fashions. I disagree with your examples (for example, atomism) because each cycle has been supported with progressively more evidence and detail: the atomism of Democritus wasn't the atomism of Dalton, and the modern divisibility of atoms does not overturn the existence of atoms except in a semantic sense. And the bottom line is that we actually do know more (about atoms, for instance) than we did a thousand years ago. The line beneath the bottom line is that we can do more things and predict more things now than we could a thousand years ago, and there has been a pretty continuous trend in that regard. Is the same true of philosophy?   

       Fourth para - re Primary and secondary qualities: again, I see this as an issue entirely internal to philosophy. Mathematicians know that a square is a geometric construct, and that spiciness is what they (but not their dog) taste in curry - they don't get confused by "primary/secondary" qualities, so the resolution of this issue by philosophy is the murder of a straw man, surely?   

       Fifth para - re sense of colour, smell etc. Again, I don't see this as a philosophical issue. For instance, if we had a better sense of smell, we might have been able to tell that social amoebae coordinate themselves using chemical signals such as cAMP, or that female moths attract male moths by means of pheromones. But, in fact, we have discovered both of these things by building detectors that can "smell" these molecules. If I go down one floor and talk to the guy who discoverd "social signalling" in amoebae, I'm pretty sure he won't have heard of "primary/secondary" qualities - he just gets on and does it. Likewise, we've built radio telescopes to see things that we have no direct perception of. I don't see this as philosophy - it's just a natural product of science (for example, of the scientific understanding of the continuity of the electromagnetic spectrum beyond our visual range), and I doubt that the people who made these discoveries and inventions came at it from a philosophical background.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       I think that's a secondary attribute.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 05 2011

       It may be true that science answers its questions while philosophy doesn't answer its questions. But science regularly changes its answers. This has more the *appearance* of progress than leaving questions unanswered, but is it really different? (I confess, I think it is, but I can't see how to justify that belief.)
mouseposture, Jan 06 2011

       //science regularly changes its answers. This has more the *appearance* of progress than leaving questions unanswered, but is it really different?//   

       Yes, it is really different for two reasons.   

       First, the answers change, generally, in response to greater information and greater detail. The old ideas are most often correct in so far as they go, but the newer ideas offer more detail. For example, objects still obey Newton's laws of motion almost exactly, but we now know that those laws are an approximation of Einstein's laws.   

       Second, if you want a more objective assessment of progress, there is the fact that we can do more things today, as a result of scientific knowledge, than we could last year, last century or last millenium. The list of things we can do grows steadily; there are no things that we could do a hundred years ago that we can't do today, in scientific terms.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 06 2011

       Pet a thylacine ?
FlyingToaster, Jan 06 2011

       // in scientific terms//
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 06 2011

       Buy a brand new car for under 300 bucks.   

       Be openly racist - scientifically. Insulate with asbestos, shave with benzene, believe in God, consume infinite resources...
rcarty, Jan 06 2011

       // //in scientific terms// // measure a Tasmanian Tiger's heartbeat then, weigh its stool, try to breed one that glows in the dark, whatever.
FlyingToaster, Jan 06 2011

       //For example ... Newton's laws of motion// Yes, that's the example I had in mind. But is "increasing amounts of technology" a better metric for "progress" than "decreasing amounts of conceptual error?" Well, any fool can see that an airplane flies, but it takes a philosopher to assess the claim that modern versions of Dualism are an improvement over Descartes', rather than an intellectual fashion (your "floral tie" argument).   

       Perhaps "progress," to be real, must, ultimately be recognizable to laymen.   

       Which works, except for the "ultimately." Many sub- fields in science make something which seems to be progress, without producing results comprehensible to a layman, but we trust that the progress is real because it's part of a larger endeavor which satisfies the criterion.
mouseposture, Jan 06 2011

       I would add "catch smallpox". I would also suggest, briefly, that these are references to technology rather than science. Other than that i'm not going to go on and on right this second due to busy-ness.
nineteenthly, Jan 06 2011

       //references to technology rather than science// Right. One would like to claim that science progresses by increasing knowlege, not by achieving practical ends -- otherwise, how does science differ from engineering?   

       Perhaps the success of the technology is evidence for the truth of the scientific knowlege on which it's based.
mouseposture, Jan 07 2011

       That's a reasonable statement. However, it short-changes science which (at least now) has no application. I think the measure of non-applied science is its ability to predict outcomes.
MaxwellBuchanan, Jan 07 2011

       That's a reasonable statement, and, in fact you needn't limit it to non-applied science. In applied science the prediction is, e.g. "that bridge will support the traffic passing over it."   

       But isn't striving to predict outcomes pretty much the defining characteristic of science? (Well, experimental science, anyway.) Almost tautological, then, that science has made more progress at it than philosophy.
mouseposture, Jan 07 2011

       Judging success involves evaluation. It doesn't seem to be a naturalistic process to me. There are unintended consequences, positive and negative. The evaluation seems to me to be philosophical.   

       Bridges are a good example generally, aren't they? I must have said this before on here. Humpback bridges can carry far more than their expected weight but scientifically designed bridges can break in other ways, for instance resonant frequencies in swaying have caused a suspension bridge to break.   

       I've used bridge design as an extended metaphor for the problem with philosophy, though it's a general engineering point. If engineering was only able to describe a bridge's shortcomings without suggesting new approaches to building one, it would have limited use. Philosophy has been too like that in the past. What it needs to do, and can do, is suggest remedial courses of action.
nineteenthly, Jan 07 2011

       [Ian Tindale] Lost languages is an example that's resonably well-studied. So: a small piece of what's forgotten that we actually *know* we've forgotten, suggesting how much else there is.
mouseposture, Jan 07 2011


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