The Nature of Philosophy: the full shebang

Nature of PhilosophyWell, here we are. I started this experiment back on April 1st, and we are finishing it exactly two months later. What you have been reading during this time is a rare — but hopefully increasingly less so — attempt to bring professional philosophy to a wider public. The blog serialization of The Nature of Philosophy: How Philosophy Makes Progress and Why It Matters was designed to reach both whoever of my colleagues may wish to pay attention (they should, given the topic), but also people who have an interest in philosophy but are neither professionals nor are normally inclined to read technical books in the field. To put it another way: the future of philosophy is too precious, from a cultural perspective, to be left in the hands of philosophers alone, and this is my modest contribution to the wider debate on the nature and status of this ancient discipline.

It has been a bit of a tour de force, with a whopping 29 posts (out of 100 so far on this entire site!), at the rate of 2-5 per week. I wish to thank all readers and commenters who have stuck with it for so long and who have contributed valuable thoughts. There is much to mull over, and the entire series will be permanently available, with all comments sections open. (May I suggest that this would make for an excellent upper undergraduate or graduate course?)

I’m going to take off the rest of the week, leaving my readers and myself some breathing space before returning to “regular programming” next week. Meanwhile, the full book is available for download here, and will be housed among the permanent “collections” at Plato’s Footnote.

Thanks again to everyone, and happy cogitation!



51 thoughts on “The Nature of Philosophy: the full shebang

  1. Hi Coel,

    “… why philosophy of science is not that influential.”

    Sure. I mean when do you ever hear a scientist employ concepts like “supervenience” “physicalism” and “Quinean web”?


  2. It appears to me that Philosophy has demonstrably greater need for a Science of Philosophy than Science has for a Philosophy of Science. A scientific analysis of the methodological problems within Philosophy could yield possible courses of action for improvement.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “or are the fields themselves ontological? If the latter then they are *really* weird things to be ontological, being effectively only mathematical values or numbers at every point in space, where — owing to gauge symmetry — even that number has no definite value (as far as we can tell). But, if they are not ontological, then how can they have an excitation that *is* ontological?”

    In which case, we might have to refer to elemental science as “Holographics,” not “Physics.”

    Safe to say, no physicist is likely to go there, so we have string theory, trying to find the ontological basis for those excitations.

    Is reality “being,” or is it “doing?”

    The assumption seems to be that it must be, in order to do.

    Though if the being didn’t do, it wouldn’t be. (TBONTB)

    The scientists haven’t come up with a clear solution though.

    Philosophers don’t do answers though. They just ask questions.

    Stick with literature. At least you won’t get bored.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The only thing I can glean from Coel’s comments is that scientists can use philosophy to answer questions, but philosophers inexplicably can’t use philosophy to answer the same questions.


  5. Strongforce,

    # It appears to me that Philosophy has demonstrably greater need for a Science of Philosophy than Science has for a Philosophy of Science. #

    Just as a curiosity, how would that work, exactly?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Daniel Kaufman: “I know, Coel. Your dad is better than my dad.”

    Yes this sentiment does seem appropriate, and I doubt that even Coel would deny that he enjoys teasing philosophers. But we might also acknowledge the same teasing here in reverse ten times over. This is a pro philosophy site with an appropriately pro philosophy crowd. Furthermore Massimo has just scored one for the good side!

    Beyond me however, who will speak out against this war itself? I believe that science needs philosophy in order for it to function well, no less than philosophy needs science. Why? Because I believe that humanity remains horribly ignorant in associated ways. Would anyone like to challenge my deeply held belief in human idiocy?

    I don’t want to imply however, that I’m some kind of peace loving hippie. Instead I’m a selfish bastard — one who believes that the defensively minded simply will not grasp his radical ideas. Thus for the open minded among us, I seek our discussion. (Of course discussing things with the other side can also be fun…)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Robin,

    Sure. I mean when do you ever hear a scientist employ concepts like “supervenience” “physicalism” and “Quinean web”?

    Rarely, actually. Physicists use the term “reductionism” for what philosophers mean by “supervenience”; I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term “supervenience” used by a physicist in a science context (as opposed to when talking to philosophers). “Physicalism” would be rarely used by physicists, since (as far as we’re aware) there is nothing non-physical and thus the term isn’t all that useful. And few physicists would be that aware of Quine. The *concept* that philosophers refer to as “Quine-style web” is prevalent in physics, but the reference to Quine is not common.

    Hi Socratic,

    Didn’t we go down this road a week ago, with Coel claiming physics had never been inspired or influenced by philosophical issues, then quickly being shown wrong, on things like quantum theory?

    No we didn’t. You are simply wrong in the claim you attribute to me. Why do you feel the need to misrepresent what I said?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Robin,

    Most physicists I have come across reject the term “reductionist” as not having a specific enough meaning or else for its negative connotations.

    Really? I’ve not come across much of either of those, though I guess there will be some examples. I can certainly quote physicists defending reductionism (and doing so in a way that makes it clear they mean what philosophers call supervenience). Sean Carroll is an example.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Massimo, I’m about to leave for a week long canyoneering trip and will reply with my thoughts when I return.


  10. Early chapter 2 has this line:

    “Indeed, the above is essentially a summary of what I — naively — thought of philosophy before approaching the field professionally: it is about reason, logic, arguments and analysis, not empirical evidence per se, though of course it better be informed by the best of what we know of how the world works, particularly from science; …”

    What is the purpose of the word “naively” here? Are these actually not part/the whole of philosophy?


  11. Never mind. I take it that the word just indicates that there are different ways of doing philosophy, and the summary you sketched is still the one you use (shortly, DRA).

    Liked by 1 person

  12. There’s an interesting new article by Scott Aaronson on whether computers can be conscious: link here. His central idea is a bit weird, I’m just figuring out what I think of it.


  13. The questions about what is really real, true, knowledge, fact, confirmation, justifiable belief, etc. are asked by everyone who encounters physics or deep thought in general, be they physicists, lay people reading about science and philosophy, or professional philosophers of science. They all ask these questions. How could you not when confronted by physics?

    And here’s what the scoreboard looks like on definitive answers to those questions.

    Lay people: 0
    Physicists: 0
    Professional Philosophers: 0

    But I like what scientists have done for the world by proceeding as though they are revealing true facts about the world. Thank god they are not only burdening themselves with asking questions. I’m glad they boldly answer questions knowing that there is a chance they might be wrong. It’s the only way to truly make progress.


  14. I see a future market for professional philosophers who boldly answer questions. Can’t say the same for philosophers who only pose questions. If philosophy isn’t about providing operational answers to the important questions that science can not answer, it ought to be. That’s why people philosophize. To acquire operational answers to those questions. If professional/academic philosophy isn’t about that, it’s not surprising that funding is disappearing.


  15. I like Scott Aronson’s stuff as a rule, but that seems over long and complicated.

    I am a computer. For example 3+5=8.

    I am conscious, therefore a computer can be conscious.

    In the other hand I am pretty satisfied that something cannot be conscious purely by virtue of being a computer (using the standard mathematical definition), for reasons I have mentioned before (and, no, before anyone starts, it has nothing to do with intuition).


  16. Robin,
    It is interesting that with consciousness, doing is assumed to be the basis of being, but with physics, being is assumed to be the basis of doing.
    Philosophy might look into it, but I suppose that would conflict with too many assumptions.


  17. Hi Massimo,

    I know it’s a bit of an ask, but is there any chance of getting an epub version of your book? It makes the book far easier to read. It’s easy to go from Word to epub, less easy to go from PDF. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Niklas,

    Unfortunately I work now exclusively with my iPad, and Pages for iOS cannot generate a good table of contents unless I go back to a Mac. The resulting ePub looks like it has only one chapter, not a good formatting. I’ll work some more on it…


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