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"There is nothing so absurd but some philosopher has said it" - Cicero.

Is it possible to express opinions about other opinions, without expressing oneself philosophically? For example, if I use words like "absurd," "epistemology" and "science," how can I avoid using them as expressions of my own subjective philosophical opinions? Is my "logic" any better than rationalization for my failure to understand the writings of philosophers (or the philosophical writings of non-philosophers)?

Am I subconsciously trying to make myself feel superior to those "philosophers" or is there really a way to have opinions about the nature of knowledge that aren't philosophical opinions? Do I even understand the science that I am "defending" in the first place, for that matter?

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    If so, why do you think that your opinion would be worth to be discusses on a site dedicated to philosophy? Jun 22, 2023 at 11:21
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    Not all opinions or arguments are equal. Argumentation of the sort engaged in by practiced critical thinkers often leads to a person holding opinions which demonstrably come closer to truth or knowledge (if one accepts logic and evidence as a useful means to do so); which are comparably more accurate than less well-considered claims. Philosophy trains people to engage in critical thinking, although as some of the comments on this site demonstrate, we can still fail to acknowledge when an interlocutor has made a good point and instead use our skills to stubbornly resist good argumentation. Jun 22, 2023 at 12:49
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    I suspect the question you're really asking but not well articulating is When science is now the established universal grand path to all knowledge, why does philosophy have to remain? While this may sound egregiously arrogant it is a very widely held view see. (a) Harvard scrapping philosophy (b) Stephen Hawking: Philosophy is dead (c) Neil degrasse Tyson rejects any contribution from philosophy
    – Rushi
    Jun 22, 2023 at 12:52
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    This question will likely be closed in a knee-jerk fashion, after all, you're implying philosophy is useless on a site of philosophers which is rather tart. However, your views, which are widely held, should be addressed, because they show a lack of knowledge about philosophy. The TLDR is that science and the philosophy of science are central to modern philosophy, and your views of philosophy are a caricature, and inaccurate. They should be addressed, rather than dismissed.
    – J D
    Jun 22, 2023 at 13:56
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    David Albert, who went from a physics phd to philosophy phd, says physicists relied on philosophy to make scientific progress in quantum mechanics. How could that possibly be, that modern bleeding edge physics makes progress with philosophy? Might be worth investigating for you…
    – J Kusin
    Jun 22, 2023 at 14:00

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Philosophers are involved in the liberation of opinion from dogma — they extract knowledge from opinion; the question confuses scientific propositions with concepts. When written out propositionally, a new philosophical concept will have subjective truth-value; but concepts aren’t reducible to propositions. Philosophy is not a friendly debate among equals over propositions but the emancipation of opinion and discovery or creation of concepts. See What is Philosophy? for more on the nature and Greek origins of philosophy.

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Welcome to SE. But I'm afraid you are going to find that you need to think about your questions before you ask them on this site. People will do their best, but there is a flaw in your approach.

Your main question presupposes (assumes) that "philosophising involves no more than just stating one's opinion" and that only a small number of people believe that.

In relation to a), you tell us clearly that it is your opinion that philosophizing involves no more than just stating your opinion. If we don't agree, what are we supposed to do? Just ignore you? You don't want that, or you wouldn't have asked the question. You want us to argue with you. So you want philosophizing to involve more than just stating your opinion and you already know what more it involves.

As to b), it is no more than an assumption - unless you have evidence. In this case, that means counting (or at least estimating) how many people believe that philosophizing involves more than stating one's opinion. Do you have any data or evidence for that? In addition, you need to define how many is a small number 12? 1200? 120,000? 12,000,000?

Each of your sub-questions involves an presupposition (assumption) about what people who disagree with you believe and why they are wrong. That makes them little more than an expression of your opinion. Nonetheless, you expect us to argue with you.

You would have done much better to have asked "In what ways does philosophizing involve more than stating one's opinion?". That would get you much better answers.

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Philosophy, particularly philosophy in the analytical tradition, is capable of being a rigorous discipline that is concerned with scientific knowledge, reasoned arguments and even wisdom. It is not an alternative to studying science. Some scientists have also been philosophers. I used to be a scientist in my younger days, so I definitely 'get' science. When I took to studying philosophy I found it to be complementing my understanding of science, not competing with it.

By contrast, I find many scientists in the public media to be philosophically very naive. Sometimes they make comments such as "philosophy is dead" and then a few sentences later attempt to philosophise themselves and do it badly. There is no such thing as not having philosophical ideas or presuppositions; there is only a difference between philosophical ideas and presuppositions that are made explicit and those that remain implicit. Philosophers are people who make the effort to drag their ideas out into the open, expose them to criticism and do their best to understand and refine them. Scientists who think they do not have philosophical presuppositions are in practice just people who have absorbed philosophical ideas that were current among philosophers about 50-80 years ago and have never attempted to expose them to criticism. When listening to scientists I often remind myself that I am listening to someone who is a first rate scientist and a third rate philosopher.

Philosophers in the analytical tradition value arguments, because they lie at the heart of critical thinking. Arguments are not just rationalisations. If you are attempting to claim that all arguments are rationalisations, then your own are too. If you allow that some arguments are valid and some are not, then you are saying what we already know. We engage in arguments in order to understand which are valid and which are not: something that is much harder than it appears.

There is plenty of speculative nonsense in some philosophical writings, but there is plenty of good stuff too. And there is progress: philosophical knowledge is in a far better state today than it was 150 years ago, for example.

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  • regarding that progress, is it in the form of settled questions which are no longer open and being actively speculated about? If so, can you list for me the major ones? Jun 22, 2023 at 15:41
  • @nielsnielsen No, I wouldn't say it involves settled questions. Philosophical questions by their nature tend to be open and to invite novel solutions, and some questions are just too open or imponderable. But there has been a lot of progress in philosophical method, in logic, in philosophy of language and philosophy of science, for example. It would probably make a good subject for a question. What progress has been made in philosophy in the last 100 years?
    – Bumble
    Jun 23, 2023 at 2:39
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What examples do you have in mind?

I would describe philosophy as about assembling a 'toolbox' of ideas, discussed here: (Why) is this negative outlook on the concept of philosophy misguided? In philosophy we aim to distinguish between our cognitive and cultural biases, and accurate assessments of things.

It doesn't sound like you've thought very hard about the meaning of 'subjective'. We were discussing recently how attractiveness seems to have a subjective aspect unique to a given person, but that also we often mostly agree, and sometimes almost everyone agrees: Is physical attractiveness subjective? We know genes and culture are involved, so this shouldn't be surprising. Trying to seperate everything into 'totally objective' and 'entirely subjective' is a false dichotomy. A useful term is 'intersubjective' as a third option, like money is not objective because it's an invention made by agreement, but neither is it purely subjective, if you write your own banknotes they won't suddenly become valuable.

Philosophy emerged to try and go beyond just winning over an audience with points, towards 'Socratic dialogue' or mutual commitment to find the best answer. For instance, by identifying formal and informal fallacies, quickly identifying bad types of argument. Logic, good reasoning, well structured argument, aren't purely subjective or we couldn't have science. When we try to avoid assumptions, biases, & so on, we aim to work less from our own personal view, and more from the view anyone else in our position would share with us, regardless of experiences, mood etc. That is, we use tools to pick out or develop what is intersubjective, from our subjective experiences.

An example of a good piece of philosophy is Hume's Is-Ought distinction. Another is the Private Language Argument. These are tools for the toolbox, to help 'shew the fly out of the bottle', and avoid talking at crosspurposes. Both of these also reflect in different ways on what subjective and objective mean. Examining definitions, checking we agree on them, and that we are using them coherently, is another big task of philosophy. The necessity of this aspect of philosophy to science when the experimental programme fails, discussed here: How much philosophy should a physicist know?

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What an excellent question. I am not sure that all philosophers are guilty of the trait, and it is not one unique to philosophy. In all branches of human thought there are ideas which, however much they might be dressed in obscure, inaccessible language, are little more than opinions. The tendency to argue passionately in favour of what is little more than opinion even infects physics, where the n competing interpretations of quantum theory all have devoted adherents notwithstanding the fact that logic tells us that at least n-1 of them must be wrong. I suspect philosophers are inherently more prone to that kind of thinking because the nature of their subject matter often poses questions that are impossible to decide in what you might consider a scientific way.

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While the term "philosophers" is a broad term, philosophers tend to be experts in reason and ideas. For instance, a philosopher would simply argue that there is no hard division between philosophy and science. My philosophical disposition even within the analytical tradition, for instance, is to maximize and promote the naturalization of philosophy (SEP) which essentially means that science is a primary tool in reasoning. Interested in the mind? The philosophy of mind should borrow heavily from psychology. Interested in philosophy of language? Appeal to the findings of linguistics. In fact, one of the primary means to reinforce traditional epistemology is philosophy of science! Why?

Because traditional epistemology and philosophy broadly do have some benefits. Starting with Descartes, it began emphasizing rational methods like introspection and reason. Hume and others advocated looking to the body and the world for truth. In fact, the methods of science come from natural philosophy, and the logic that is used in science is informed by philosophical logical practice. In fact, today there are novel ways of doing philosophy like experimental philosophy (SEP) and computational philosophy (SEP).

In this approach to philosophy outlined above, one might consider philosophy more scientific, and less speculative, so there really isn't really much of a distinction between philosophy and science at all. Philosophy is the best way to hypothesize, and the sciences offer the theories and methods to determine what should be considered quality knowledge. What you believe philosophy is, the traditional "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin", is one approach to philosophy, but is just a caricature of what contemporary analytical and Continental philosophy is. Western philosophy (I'm not knowledgeable enough to defend other traditions in the East) is very much integrated with science, and to believe otherwise is more an ignorance of philosophy, than a fact. In fact, Bill Nye, who is famous in the US as an educator, made the same claim you did, only to reverse himself when learning about what philosophy actually does these days. You should read his article. It's a good point to begin exploring contemporary philosophy.

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  • As an aside, I think Cicero's quote is fantastic and certainly have a bucket in my taxonomy for people whose approach to philosophy is pointless metaphysical speculation. Don't take closure personally. Philosophers are just as sensitive to criticism and petty as anyone else. ; )
    – J D
    Jun 22, 2023 at 14:15

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