No names, no pack-drill

I’ve just been reading four or five assorted recent articles (as it happens, a bit away from my usual logical/phil. maths stamping ground: but sometimes I feel masochistic). They were tedious, unexciting, ephemeral stuff, on issues that is difficult to take very seriously, and all were about three times the necessary length. They were also all written by evidently very clever people, and were probably more or less right — or at the very least, the pieces made sane-seeming moves in the scholastic game — and they will give their respective authors brownie points for promotion. But I just couldn’t see the point. Maybe I’m not cut out for this philosophy malarky. But I’d rather say: they just illustrate how philosophy loses its way when it stops engaging with serious foundational issues in logic, mathematics and science. I’ve quoted Steve Stich here before, but it’s worth repeating what he wrote: “The idea that philosophy could be kept apart from the sciences would have been dismissed out of hand by most of the great philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries. But many contemporary philosophers believe they can practice their craft without knowing what is going on in the natural and social sciences. … The results of philosophy done in this way are typically sterile and often silly.” Indeed.

4 thoughts on “No names, no pack-drill”

  1. Yet, I believe that there are very many areas in philosophy which are not prone to mathematical treatment. And if it is true that “philosophy [often] loses its way when it stops engaging with serious foundational issues in logic, mathematics and science,” it is also true, in my opinion, that:

    1. philosophy often loses its way even when it does engage in serious foundational issues in logic, mathematics and science,

    2. an important, perhaps the most important, role of philosophical work is precisely to tackle those issues not amenable to mathematical treatment. Very many of these issues (the notion of experience, emotion, ethics, etc) do not absolutely require any specific scientific knowledge.

    There is a very nice article on this matter, to whom might not have read it, “On the pernicious influence of mathematics upon philosophy,” by Gian Carlo-Rota.

  2. Yes. The true business of philosophy is argument. Argument requires some attention to logic (by which I don’t mean mathematical logic, which is of course a branch of mathematics). Much modern philosophy, by contrast, is just armchair theorising and blather of the worst sort.

    This is why I read very little modern philosophy these days. I mostly read medieval philosophy, which is pure argument (often very bad argument, but entertaining for all that).

    But this is nothing new. You can find just as much blather in nineteenth century philosophy. Here’s a link to my website with a chapter from Joachim’s book on Truth, which contains acres of blather (plus some interesting insights). Actually it’s early 20th century, but might as well have been written in the high period of English Hegelianism.

    Speaking of truth, Peter, I have just reached the part of your book where you define ‘satisfaction’. This part is not at all clear. Satisfaction is what? Also, the book so far relies on a background knowledge of propositional and predicate logic that the average reader requires some mastery of in order to understand any of it.

    On the plus side, the stuff of enumerability and effective enumerability was pretty clear and reasonably straightforward.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top