‘Philosophy’ comes from the Greek for ‘love of wisdom’ and historically has included the study of four areas. Metaphysics, Epistemology, Value Theory. And Logic.
Philosophy is something that I’ve had a mild interest in for a long time however it was never something that I never looked into with great detail. From time to time I came across pieces of work by various authors from Aristotle, Plato and more recently Descartes. I’ve heard the names Bertrand Russel, Noam Chomsky and Cornel West in passing. However it was Stephen Fry who got me thinking more deeply about philosophy and what it actually entails.
What did he say?
It was a Big Think video where Fry was talking about philosophers that influenced him. He commented “…that’s a generous ascription of that rather dull precept to call it a philosophy.” This was in reference to the way the word philosophy is often used in everyday speech. A single comment made me realise that from time to time I had used the word in this casual way. As someone who values critical thinking this realisation made me start looking more deeply into what true philosophy actually is.
One of the most famous philosophers from history was Socrates who lived during the Golden Age of Greece. The method that has been named for him is a method of co-operative argument. This involves participants asking and answering questions that result in the stimulation of critical thinking. In turn it draws out ideas and forces underlying presumptions out into the open. This eventually eliminates false assumptions, contradictions and weak arguments. This is a an overly simplified explanation of something that I am far from an expert on however the more I learn, the more I know.
So What Is It?
‘Philosophy’ comes from the Greek for ‘love of wisdom’ and historically has included the study of four areas.
Metaphyiscs – This is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of reality.
Epistemology – Is the study that focuses on the nature and scope of knowledge.
Value Theory – Is broken down into ethics and aesthetics.
– Ethics: Focuses on the study of and evaluation of human conduct.
– Aesthetics: Is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of beauty.
Logic – This is the philosophers toolbox! It requires critical thought and the elimination of fallacies, requiring understanding and critical evaluation.
Only when you challenge your own understanding of something can you determine if someone else viewpoint is more valid.
So true philosophy comes from the critical examination of ours and other peoples viewpoints. We then determine what arguments remain valid and eliminate the rest.
Logic as I’ve already said is the philosophers toolbox and the Socratic Method involves participants engaging in co-operative argument. So what is an argument in the truest sense of the word. Arguments are used to persuade an audience of the truth of a conclusion using rationality and critical thought. There are different types of argument and all start with a premise.
A premise is a proposition that is used to justify a conclusion. They form the structure of an argument and offer evidence to support the conclusion.
Deductive arguments – If your premise is true then your conclusion must be.
- Premise 1: The average temperature of the earth in 2016 was 14.84 degrees celsius.
- Premise 2: The average temperature of the earth in 2015 was 14.80 degrees celsius.
- Conclusion: The worldwide average temperature in 2016 was hotter than it was in 2015.
Deductive arguments begin with the general and move down to the specific.
For the argument to be valid, the truth of the premises must lead to the truth of the conclusion.
- Premise 1: 97% of the worlds experts say that global temperatures are rising.
- Premise 2: United States Congressman Ted Cruz says that there has been no global warming since 1998.
- Conclusion: Global warming is a Chinese hoax.
This is not valid because neither of the premises in any way support the conclusion.
Neither would it be a logically valid argument to say that Ted Cruz is not a weather scientist, Ted Cruz is on record stating that there has been no global warming since 1998. Therefore Ted Cruz is to borrow the parlance of a well known White House Chief of Staff ‘a fucking moron’. The first two premises may be true however the conclusion although it may be the personal opinion and true to this writer is not supported by the premises. Therefore the conclusion is invalid.
Validity and truth are not the same thing and each can be independent of each other in a philosophical argument.
In a deductive argument a flawed premise will lead to a flawed conclusion.
Inductive arguments involve using past experiences to make future predictions. These take premises to determine the possibility of a true conclusion.
- Premise 1: A US President is on record telling thousands of lies.
- Premise 2: The same US President insists that his presidential election campaign did not have contact with a specific foreign country in order to win a Presidential Election.
- Premise 3: Dozens of connections both direct and indirect connect a US President to powerful political and business figures in a specific foreign country.
- Premise 4: These connections include multiple instances of criminal behaviour by individuals involved in the US Presidential campaign.
- Conclusion: The US President is lying about contact between his presidential campaign and a specific foreign country.
Using these premises the conclusion can not be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. However the likelihood is extremely high.
It should be noted that with inductive reasoning the future does not always equal the past however outliers do occur.
Abduction involves drawing a conclusion based on the solution that best explains a state of events. This is instead of from evidence provided by the premises. In the Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of the Four the legendary detective stated it this way. ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains however improbable, must be the truth.’
This is often also stated as Ockham’s Razor ‘The simplest answer is often the correct one.’ Named for William of Ockham, a 14th Century English Franciscan Friar and Scholastic Philosopher.
Abduction is inference to the best explanation. Eliminating all other explanations in favour of the one that best fits the premises, given the available evidence.
- Premise 1: Donald Trump tells countless easily disprovable lies about his lies that are recorded in video and audio footage.
- Premise 2: Donald Trump tells people to believe him when telling obvious lies.
- Conclusion: Nothing that Donald Trump says is the truth.
Abduction like induction does not provide absolute certainty as it only uses the information on hand. More information therefore leads to greater certainty.
Philosophers are held to an extremely high standard with their arguments requiring solid evidence to support those arguments. They are required to eliminate all fallacies and biases from their argument in order to achieve validity.