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I have a question about why philosophers seem to disagree on virtually everything.

I have been reading up on philosophy since I was 16 (now 19) with the goal of finding an end solution to the questions of what I should do with my life and subsequently metaphysical questions but how can I be sure that a certain philosophy is right. I really don't know where the problem lies; is it even possible for philosophy to get to an end? I really don't know what I should do and I would greatly appreciate help.

Please excuse language errors, English is not my mother tongue.

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  • People disagree on almost everything. Not that it's required to breath in order to live, of course. Philosophy, in fact, simply examines various ideas and interactions between them.
    – rus9384
    Feb 11 '19 at 7:24
  • @rus9384, Might there be both descriptive and prescriptive philosophers? Surely some philosophers don't think they're merely cataloging, but rather finding out how to live.
    – user4894
    Feb 11 '19 at 7:57
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    The point of philosophy is not to provide "right" answers or "end" solutions for what you should do with your life. Not even science, where we can have something approaching the right answers, has no end solutions to offer. And that is because it restricts itself to questions that are ethically neutral, factual, universally applicable. What you should be looking for is your own end solution, your own ethics. Philosophy can help with realizing what is at stake, exploring the options, assessing their costs and benefits, intended and unintended consequences. But the end is up to you.
    – Conifold
    Feb 11 '19 at 8:08
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    Part of the problem is that some philosophical questions don't have one distinct answer. Some questions can be viewed from different perspectives. The goal of philosophy thus isn't necessarily finding answers so much as learning how to think rationally. Even if you never find one perfect answer, you can hopefully weed out some of the bad answers, allowing you to make better choices. Feb 11 '19 at 8:37
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    Most modern philosophy is not meant to provide a program for life. But in works like the Stoics or Aristotle's Ethics you may find something of that sort. You might enjoy Aldous Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy" and a good, readable overview of the impasses of contemporary philosophy is Richard Rorty's "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature." You might also like essays by the existentialists, such as Sartre and Camus, which address the problems of determining how to live in a "godless" universe. Oct 26 '20 at 21:29
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Welcome, Mr Yve

There are two questions here :

  1. Why is there so much disagreement in philosophy ?

  2. Why can you not find a philosophy that correctly prescribes the ends or goals of life.

Disagreement

It is a common complaint that philosophical disagreements are widespread and intractable. But there are many areas of agreement in philosophy, especially as to what the most plausible options are. Nearly all philosophical positions have or are capable of a degree of rational defence; and their examination involves rational argument. Philosophy is very much like the law in that there is rarely indefeasible proof of a position and yet rationally justifiable if provisional judgements can be made through the use of evidence, analogy, inference, qualification, claims and rebuttals. The big difference from the law is that there are no authorities in philosophy; no judge presides in any philosophical court. In most areas of inquiry rationally justifiable if provisional judgements are all we have. This appears not to be your current impression of philosophy. These points may prompt you to revise or at least re-examine that impression.

Philosophy and the goals of life

Historically philosophy has often seen itself as telling us how we ought to live : what is obligatory, permissible or forbidden, or what kind of life constitutes human flourishing or well-being. Plato and Aristotle among the Ancient Greeks certainly took this view of the subject. I haven't any clinching argument against this view. I cannot refute it, perhaps others can. The main point against it, so at least it appears to me, is that no philosopher has been able to support a view of the (proper) goals of life with sufficient rational justification.

But like everything else in philosophy this view of the limitations of philosophical inquiry is itself defeasible, vulnerable to evidence, analogy, inference, qualification, claims and rebuttals.

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  • Thank you very much for the answer. I haven't looked at philosophy rom that perspective.
    – Mr Yve
    Feb 11 '19 at 11:45
  • @Mr Yve- my advice if you wish to become informed and advised from what philosophers have gathered over time, is to begin your studies with a 'scan' of the 'ancients', Greek, Chinese, Indian, etc. Then work your way up, continuing to 'scan' the best known authors. But one caveat, stop before you enter the 20th century, that's where all the confusion and never-ending disagreement begins. Then calmly return to where you started and select those 'thoughts' which best respond to your questions and concerns. Take your time, there is no need to rush in gathering wisdom from the History of Philosophy
    – user37981
    Oct 26 '20 at 18:12
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I think you're looking at this from the wrong point of view. It's not that philosophy is a discipline that requires disagreement. It's that people who disagree are called philosophers. That may seem glib, but here's what I mean by it. The majority of people don't question the deep, fundamental assumptions of their society, or their ethics, their religion or their science. They simply agree with what they are taught, often without realizing that those assumptions even can be questioned. The people who are resistant to that kind of unquestioning agreement are what we call philosophers.

Once any given point of view becomes widely accepted, to the point that people don't question it or disagree with any more, it passes out of the realm of philosophy. Philosophy is composed of open questions. So the second reason why philosophy is filled with disagreements is that only disagreements are "live" philosophy.

There are philosophies that do claim to have found an "end solution" and people who live by their precepts, but if you are a philosopher by nature, you will be constitutionally disinclined to accept any of them.

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I sympathise with your predicament. I can assure you that it is possible to escape from it.

You are asking why philosophers cannot all agree. It is because they cannot decide any philosophical problems. If you know why they cannot decide any philosophical problems then you're in a position to overcome these problems and escape from all the arguing.

The reason is simple. All positive or extreme metaphysical theories don't work. This renders all metaphysical problems (as usually formulated) undecidable. As a consequence philosophers in Russell's 'Western' tradition have no method for making progress and must argue forever in Kant's 'arena for mock fights', frantically endorsing or attacking theories that have never worked and never will.

Once we see that there is just one problem to solve, which is the logical absurdity of all positive theories, then an easy solution becomes possible. The solution would be to abandon all the theories that don't work. Doh! This leaves one with a neutral metaphysical position. Problem solved.

The problem is only that this position is the one endorsed by the Perennial philosophy so is off-limits for most academic and determinedly scholastic philosophers. Thus they must argue aimlessly for centuries about which theory is the least wrong and wonder why they can't find one that is plausible. We do not have to do this!

This is such an easy and obvious solution for philosophy that your question should not really need to be asked. Any philosophy student will know that metaphysical problems are undecidable. Kant states it clearly. All selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable and this is because all positive, partial or extreme metaphysical theories fail in logic. There need be no argument about this, it is simply what is the case.

Were they not so badly misled by their professors most students would no doubt see immediately what this result implies. It implies that the correct theory is the only one that is not extreme or partial. But this theory is rejected by Russell's tradition so here it is not taught or studied and often not even known.

Russell, the stereotypical Western thinker, very carefully dismisses mysticism as nonsense. He then has to to conclude that there is no knowledge to be acquired in metaphysics such that philosophers must argue aimlessly forever. This view is more or less ubiquitous in the philosophy department. He fails to notice that he has rejected the only theory that works because he does not know of its existence and never examines it. Fortunately, these days we have the internet so are able to study the whole of philosophy and escape the consequences of his decision not to do so.

It is very strange that scholastic philosophers pay so little attention to metaphysics. They already know the facts but pay no attention to them. Fortunately, as individuals we are able to walk away from their confusion just as long as we don't share their prejudices and ingrained thinking habits.

If you are nineteen and thoughtful you should easily be able to escape from this endless merry-go-round of opinion. It is not an opinion that all the theories endorsed and studied by the modern philosophy department are logically indefensible and this is well understood by philosophers post-Kant. If you explore why this is so then you will naturally be led away from the mock fights towards the only world-view that rejects all these failed theories. Then all the arguments in our academic philosophy become a side-show, a long list of unnecessary category-errors.

It's not possible to justify and explain all these issues in an answer on SE, (and I would expect some objections to this one), but if you want to pursue the topic and escape from the free-for-all of opinion and conjecture that you ask about then I'd be happy to assist. I would welcome a guinea-pig to my inaugural philosophical de-programming course. Philosophy becomes a lot easier when we reject all the theories that have been shown not to work rather than argue for them, but as you have noticed few philosophers are prepared to do this.

I would not criticize the other answers here since they all shed light on the issues but you should note that they are pessimistic. They offer no way forward but simply accept that philosophy is forever a matter of opinion. This view is optional. It arises from a disinclination on the part of professional philosophers to study the whole of philosophy and a preference for what is familiar and safe.

For the Perennial philosophy there is no similar sea of argument and opinion. In the mainstream it is accepted that all positive metaphysical theories are wrong and don't work. There is still plenty to argue about but the disagreements are of a different kind.

I'm aware this answer may seem a little inflammatory but making omelettes requires breaking eggs. Philosophy is all about arguing, even if it's with ourselves, in order that we can sort the wheat from ther chaff. Russell and his peers have failed to do this so we must do it for ourselves.

The very short answer to your question would be that the endless arguments are caused by the failure of all partial metaphysical theories. If you look you'll see that this is the only kind of theory allowed, studied or understood in the modern Western philosophy department.

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  • Could you perhaps explain what you inaugural philosophical de-programming course is? I would be more than happy to have somebody guiding me.
    – Mr Yve
    Feb 13 '19 at 5:20
  • @MrYve - Well, it was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion really, but alse half-serious. If you wished I would be happy to discuss philosophy with you privately. I would help you answer your question about knowing which philosophy is correct,and so 'get to the end' of the subject. Of course, you have no idea at this time whether I can do this or am talking hot air but you'll soon find out. It would mean one of us posting an email address so we can get started. if you're interested I'm up for it - just let me know. Your question is a good one and an excellent place to start. .
    – user20253
    Feb 13 '19 at 11:37
  • @MrYve - This is a turn-up. I'll be in touch. I'd suggest now deleting your address.
    – user20253
    Feb 13 '19 at 18:47
  • @user20253- Please refer to my comment above for a reverse mirror image argument against your curt dismissal of everything. Philosophical! Regards,
    – user37981
    Oct 26 '20 at 18:18
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From your words I understand you are trying to apply philosophy. It is because you have deep faith in philosophy. Don't worry. Though philosophy is good, it can't find solutions to all the problems we face in our life. Like almost all subjects philosophy will also stop at some point/place. Since the problem exists then also, we try to resolve it any way. But it won't be possible with philosophy alone. If philosophy is not Darshan it can never 'show' you the Truth. What we understood stays only until a new ideology/philosophy is emerged. That means, what we understood/realized is not the Truth.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/darshan

What transcends philosophy? This question might help you to know about it:

Is Philosophy the source of all other fields of study?

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I think there is truth in most philosophies, since most of them are based on human experience (nihilism, for example). You can probably think of philosophy like a spectrum of human perspective, but some perspectives are more compatible with human flourishing than others, which I consider the measure of truth.

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I have a question about why philosophers seem to disagree on virtually everything.

Because most of them don't believe answers are even possible and of the rest, most are not willing/able to take their ideas to a logical extreme to check for discrepancies. Most ideas that are wrong, philosophical or otherwise, are wrong because they left something out. Most philosophical ideas are wrong because they fail to account for some point that shows their outcome to be impossible or useless.

I have been reading up on philosophy since I was 16 (now 19) with the goal of finding an end solution to the questions of what I should do with my life and subsequently metaphysical questions but how can I be sure that a certain philosophy is right. I really don't know where the problem lies; is it even possible for philosophy to get to an end? I really don't know what I should do and I would greatly appreciate help.

The meaning of life is that every person must choose (not find) the answer to that question for themselves. You have to write your own story. In particular, what you want and how to get it are dependent on at least three contingencies, salience, perspective, and priority. When you have those accounted for, your answer will become clear.

Metaphysics and epistemology are inseperable foundations of all philosophy but don't go very far toward telling you how to behave in the world. There is an end and it's at http://tiny.cc/TheWholeStory/ (still being formatted), which also includes further information about the difference between an answer and a solution and other points raised above. The "answer" to any intractable problem is a framework of understanding that best leads to actionable certainty. The answer to philosophy in general is done. The answer to how it applies to your particular life is just beginning.

This might also help you work through various philosophical problems: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1P5l1iWNS8wtXEmoKWlia_jzAyIEhVLJ3iAgq2BmR8qs/

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  • Just read what I could of your Whole Story. It's indeed very Fulsome, but hardly Whole. The one indispensable item missing, only comes with age. Certainly you can guesstimate what that is! Cheers,
    – user37981
    Oct 26 '20 at 18:30
  • I know it's a bit sloggy ATM because i'm trying to fit in years worth of variations on the same points and it's badly formatted, for which i apologize, but you seem to be indicating that wisdom is missing, notwithstanding that i explicitly distinguish two types of wisdom in order to separate what i do (truth) from what's commonly accepted as wisdom, and that i indicate a formula for defining wisdom relative to knowledge and understanding and that i answer practical wisdom as well by showing how it's always contingent and upon what. If you mean something else, i'd be happy to respond in kind. Oct 27 '20 at 14:40
  • Just re-read your work. As an author myself, I appreciate the extent of the time and thought that has been put into it. But you are only approaching the bulk of what you say from one perspective, the scientific, materialist, behavioral, paradigm while claiming that you are capturing the 'whole story'. For me, the soul of philosophy far exceeds the many limitations of the 'truncated empirical' point of view. EG, knowledge involves certainty, not for predictabilty.There are no filters keeping truth out of bounds unless you limit yourself to a 'duality model'. To get my gist read Spinoza
    – user37981
    Oct 28 '20 at 3:02
  • Visit wikisource and read his 43 page treatise, 'On the Improvement of the Understanding'. He touches all of the bases you do, but from an entirely different perspective. I enjoy your style and ambition.
    – user37981
    Oct 28 '20 at 3:06
  • As an author, i'd love your help in editing generally, but as for content, it is one point of view because an "answer" is a framework of understanding, as opposed to a solution which accounts for particular contingencies. I account for all other points of view by accounting for the difference - by showing why they're wrong, if there is actually an incompatibility. Being such a draft version, it may not be clear where a particular point of contention is addressed but.. Oct 30 '20 at 1:44

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