This is maybe kind of an odd question, and it's related to my metaphysics controversies question.

In philosophy (to be honest mostly in metaphysics, but also in philosophy as a whole), it seems like many philosophers can make entire philosophical works and develop ideas without a certain set of rules that restricts them (like there is, for some obvious comparison, in natural science). Even logic, which intuitively seems to be the thing that'll take the restriction part, isn't necessarily restricting. Philosophers can stretch its boundaries, rewrite them and create their own logic system, and even claim their philosophy isn't in the boundaries of logic. This pretty much means a philosopher can do whatever he wants to build his own philosophical system; he doesn't even have to claim for the system's objectiveness.

  1. My question would be, is such criticism (not necessarily bad one) against philosophy true? (maybe that's a different question)

  2. Is the only thing that makes a philosophical system acceptable/"true" (I don't want to get into the argument of "true" systems, so "acceptable" is the preferred term here) the social acceptance of the system?

  3. Can a philosophy "aspire" (not necessarily positive) to reach science's "objectiveness" (a debatable objectiveness, but at least more than can be said about social acceptance)?

  4. And on a side note (tell me if I should delete this as it invites personal opinions), should philosophy "aspire" for such "objectiveness"?

  • 3
    You are already choosing a "path" in the philosophical forest... There is a well-known tradition of analytic philosophy according to which the goal of philosophical activity is not to build a "system". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 28 '18 at 14:22
  • +1 Whether philosopher, scientist or whatever, say, poet, the individual can do what they want. It is the social acceptance that is critical. That is one reason why we rationalize our gut decisions. We want others to agree. See Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" on rationalizing. For a quick overview of the philosophy of science watch Jack Sander's Philosophy of Science lectures on YouTube. Pay especial attention to how Kuhn and Feyerabend fit into the overall picture. They describe how the social acceptance of science works. – Frank Hubeny Feb 28 '18 at 15:58
  • @Mauro ALLEGRANZA Is to built such a[n objectively valid] system? Gödel's Incompleteness & the Private Language Argument dealt this goal surely fatal blows – CriglCragl Feb 28 '18 at 16:02
  • Can philosophy aspire to reach science's objectiveness? As an engineer, I can aspire to reach the elegance of a poet's words, or the persuasiveness of a public speaker. Whether I should aspire as such is really a philosophical question =) – Cort Ammon Feb 28 '18 at 20:12
  • I will note that Alan Watts, one of my favorite philosophers, once stated in one of his lectures that a philosopher is a sort of intellectual yokel. He gawks at things that everyone else simply takes for granted. I think the mere fact that he could say such things publicly points to how vast the answers to these questions must surely be. – Cort Ammon Feb 28 '18 at 20:14

I can't offer a full answer but perhaps part of a relevant answer.


Even if analytical philosophy is averse from system-building, it is impossible to do analytical philosophy of any kind with a background of assumptions and presuppositions, and without one's work having a range of implications. The totality may not be a system but it is system-like.

System-building remains a possibility and does still go on. YW's question is therefore proper and pertinent.


I found this quote useful :

Philosophers make claims about the nature of things, the nature of knowledge, the nature of human existence, and so forth. These claims must be tested by argument. In argument, philosopher aim at validity. The principles of validity are determined in logic. Philosophy is about controversy; it is a critical activity. When there is disagreement in philosophy, formally valid arguments can be produced by both sides. How are philosophical disputes to be resolved? In disputes occurring in fields of empirical and scientific knowledge there are open avenues for their resolution. Such fields contain methods of experimentation and investigation that allow for the production of evidence and facts that can settle such disputes. But, in philosophical reasoning, what can count as evidence or as a fact is itself in dispute. A fact is a fact only in accord with a specific theory. In philosophical controversy it is the theory that is in dispute. (D.P. Verene, 'Philosophical Rhetoric', Philosophy & Rhetoric, Vol. 40, No. 1 (2007), 28.

The upshot is that, faut de mieux, much philosophy is a form of persuasion, with arguments, examples, topical references, appeals to emotion, invocation of parallels, all wrapped up in an attempt to bring the reader or listener around to a point of view or to loosen the hold on them of a different point of view. This is rhetorical in the same way that an attempt to persuade us that a particular interpretation of 'King Lear' or James Joyce's 'Ulysses' is the correct, or a powerfully illuminating, one. There can be no demonstration or proof, but nor need there be any reliance on fallacy, sloppy expression, deliberate irrelevance, unclear thought, falsity, or any of use of the darker side of rhetoric.


Take the examples of Hegel and Heidegger. These are on any account 'difficult' philosophers. There are sentences in Hegel which, try as I might, I cannot understand. The same experience occurs when I read Heidegger. The work of these thinkers can seem a stream of incoherence with sentences that are unintelligible or when intelligible, disconnected. Seem. Yet if one persists, both these philosophers can be seen to have views which broadly cohere within their own frameworks and often penetrate far beyond what one imagined at first look.

There is readily an appearance of their 'saying what they like' but that appearance fades as one goes deeper into their work.


But philosophy is not all rhetoric and the appearance of intellectual arbitrariness. A lot turns, I think, on whether philosophy is done in a free-standing way or continuously with other activities and inquiries. By 'in a free-standing way' I mean without tight connection to any other discipline - maths, physics, history, art or whatever.

For instance, Quine is famous (or notorious) for his view of philosophy as continuous with science. Working outwards from science, or rather maths in his case, he was constrained to work from mathematical problems and assumptions to a logical theory that was plausibly adequate to them, and to an epistemology that not only 'nested' maths in the right place among the sciences but also related the sciences to other disciplines. What's more, and vital, is that he was not the judge of his own success. He may have been a robustly independent thinker but he had to produce ideas and arguments that fellow mathematicians and scientists could accept or find useful to argue against. And an epistemology, finally embodied in his idea of the 'web of belief', in which historians, geographers, 'ordinary believers' and others, could recognise their place. This couldn't be done by simply saying whatever he wanted to.

In other fields, too, there are constraints if one starts off from a particular field of inquiry. The Italian philosopher, Benedetto Croce, began his intellectual career as a historian. As he reflected on his activities as a historian, questions pressed themselves on him about the nature of historical study. In answering these questions he had to work out responses that, whether they accepted them or not, and were interested in them or not, other historians could understand as coherent and relevant to their discipline.


There is a 'marketplace of ideas', a wider cultural discussion where people take up different ideas and try to show they are more effective, meaningful, or coherent, or in some other way worth consideration.

People have tried to justify slavery and fascism and genocide, in cultures where it was socially acceptable. To say they can't be considered wrong or even problematic because they were socially acceptable, puts you in a hole.

It's interesting to look at Marx & Nietzsche as examples of philosophers who have been more and less socially acceptable, and popular, at different times. Their ideas in some sense have to be addressed now, even by their opponents. That seems a more important marker than social acceptability.


Broadly speaking this is correct. Philosophy is a rule-making or rule-finding art, not a rule-following one. There is, however, a branch of philosophy which does aspires to objectivity --it is called "analytic philosophy" and is the current dominant philosophical approach in the English-speaking world. It is arguably responsible for the creation of both modern symbolic logic and computer science. It has been criticized however, for abandoning much of the traditional domain of philosophy, particularly metaphysics.

Philosophers often set the standards for other disciplines, but there's no universally endorsed, uncontroversial set of standards for philosophy (despite what some people may try to make you think). Therefore the de facto legitimacy of a philosophy really comes down to whether it has a viable community of adherents and/or is impactful on the larger world. This may be unsatisfying, but it is unavoidable.

As a side note, philosophies can and do gain or lose legitimacy, sometime repeatedly, and sometimes over the course of hundreds or even thousands of years. This is why philosophy cannot be considered to progress in a linear fashion the way science (theoretically) does.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.