There are some scientists who claim that philosophy is useless: Lawrence Krauss, Lewis Wolpert, Stephen Hawking and so on. Science is a better method for our quest for knowledge, they said. Some answer that science cannot justify itself, because it would using circular reasoning. Then this moment philosophy comes.

However, what justify philosophy? Saying that philosophy justify itself is not a circular reasoning too?

Clarifying a little bit. By "justify" I mean philosophy having a status on our quest for knowledge, as science have. And, to give another example, astrology doesn't have any status on our inquiry for knowledge, because it doesn't have any justification to be so.

  • I clarified at I think you meant -- you may roll back the edit if it isn't. But perhaps you could clarify: you say that "philosophy cannot justify philosophy without using circular reasoning", and your question is "how can philosophy justify itself without using circular reasoning?". So, you're asking how something impossible may be done?
    – user2953
    Jan 3, 2016 at 17:27
  • Yes. You got the idea, despite it's a little bit different. I was not saying that philosophy cannot justify philosophy, I heard some people saying that philosophy can justify philosophy, but I don't understand how can it be possible once, for instance, science cannot justify science. Thanks for editing, one of my main reason for being here is improve my english - besides understand what philosophy is. Jan 3, 2016 at 17:45
  • Philosophy is justified by logic, is it not? And logic needs no justification. Jan 3, 2016 at 17:54
  • I guess you'd have to define "justify" (let alone "philosophy"). But maybe a place to start is to ask "What justifies asking questions?" in the first place. Something about the nature of human thought perhaps (curiosity)? (Or for a less philosophical analogy, "Why do people cry?")
    – Jeff Y
    Jan 3, 2016 at 17:54
  • @JeffY To answer what means "justifiy something" I have to appeal, at least, to stanford encyclopedia's entry on "justification". However, to give a better understanding of my question, by "justify" I mean philosophy having a status on our quest for knowledge, as science have. And, to give an example, astrology doesn't have any status on our inquiry for knowledge, because it's doesn't have any justification to be so. Jan 3, 2016 at 19:00

2 Answers 2


Philosophy is typically "justified" by observing the world. "Justifying" tends to be a term used when you are forcing other alternatives out. However, many of the softer sides of philosophy do not force out other options, so they need less justification.

The approach of needing justification comes from science's ability to cause both harm and good. A scalpel, used properly, can save lives, or it can take them. But, no matter what it does, the effect is decisive. Thus, we need justifications to use this decisive tool, or else we might do too much harm.

The alternative approach is well described by the phrase "do no harm." Acupuncture needles are generally recognized as very safe. Science doesn't find acupuncture does any harm (it just doesn't find any good in it). Acupuncturists feel less need to "justify," in the Western sense, because whether their techniques are true or false, they aren't doing any harm. They permit time to sort out the true and false techniques. As best as I can tell (disclaimer: I am not an acupuncturist) the idea is that as long as you're not doing bad, and patients are walking away happy, and sometimes even fixed (a good thing), then you're at least doing good, and you can afford to wait to know the truthood or the falsehood of your approach.

(It is worth noting that western medicine absolutely abhors the placebo effect, while eastern medicine is more than happy to allow your mind to fix the problem for you. Much of this difference can stem from the differences in approaches.)

This is, of course, a gradient, not an easy grouping of two categories. And TCM is not even perfectly "do no harm," unless you were already comfortable spending your time and money at it. Modern Western medicine is also not entirely justified. There's plenty of cases where we pay doctors to have good instincts part way through an operation. They're not just trained robots.

However, as you start to get down towards the "do no harm" end, where justification becomes less and less essential, you find justification in more places. Sometimes, you may not even be able to put the justification into words. For many westerners, the inability to put the justification into words immediately gets treated as "having no justification." If you accept this policy, then it is entirely reasonable for philosophy to have no justification simply by justifying itself using a billion tiny details absorbed through a lifetime.

Now I am talking about philosophy in general. Western philosophy loves to justify itself all over the place, but even in those cases, you find the circular reasonings you mention. The best of these become softer, until they can be justified through living. Some of those that cannot be justified that way? Well, wars have been fought to defend a belief.


First, logic need not justify itself, and can not -- we use logic because it is of a better quality than the alternatives. Philosophy hinges on logic, and logic justifies philosophy.

  • So, we only have a pragmatic reason to use logic: this is the best we can. Instead of having an ontological or epistemological reason for use logic. Jan 3, 2016 at 18:47
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    i don't think this makes sense. by way of analogy is a scientific theory self justifying just because mathematical expressions or entities appear in it
    – user6917
    Jan 3, 2016 at 20:52
  • or justified by mathematics, even
    – user6917
    Jan 3, 2016 at 21:39
  • I don't know if I'd dare say "philosophy hinges on logic." They strike me as more of a strange loop than a simple hierarchy.
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 4, 2016 at 5:28
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    @CortAmmon That still requires logic. Once you reject logic, the statement, "We should use X" is no different than the statement, "We should not use X"
    – user18800
    Jan 4, 2016 at 5:43

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