I'm beginning to realize that I might have misconseptions about philosophy in general.

Is it to question and contend indefinitely or is there a goal?

I thought the goal was truth.

While I'm at it, also what is the "philosophical toolkit"?

I thought the tool was logic.

It's confusing. We teach logic as if philosophy is a formal science like discrete math or computer science but then we appear to leave it behind.

Can the community basically explain what we're up to and why? Thank you.

  • 3
    While the goal is truth, and the toolkit is logic for some philosophers (a subset of analytic philosophers), generally "the love of wisdom" is something much more broad and vague. There is no universal goal or toolkit, and many philosophers explicitly reject truth and logic as such. Philosophy is that point where all aspects of human experience and culture, science, art, religion, life, etc., come from and come back to, to be reflected upon.
    – Conifold
    Jul 16, 2019 at 7:05
  • you could think of it a certain kind of creativity?
    – user38026
    Jul 16, 2019 at 12:40
  • If I may quote Alan Watts, "A philosopher is a sort of intellectual yokel. He goes around gawking at all the things other people take for granted."
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 16, 2019 at 23:24

7 Answers 7


Nice question.

I feel you're right about this, that we teach logic and then tend to leave it behind.

The toolkit contains more than just logic but it is the main tool. The goal is truth but metaphysics is a theoretical discipline and as in physics the interim goal is the 'best' theory, not the 'true' one.

We might have a theory that the marmalade is in the cupboard, but for the 'truth' we'd have to go and look. The value of theory-building is that it narrows down our search for truth. (At least logic will tell us the marmalade is not on Mars, which saves us some traveling). We can eliminate theories that fail in logic and so zero-in on those that do not. This produces only the 'best' theory, not truth, but it may reveal where the truth lies and where it should be sought.

As for the reason why logic is so often ignored in philosophy this is a complicated topic. My own view is that philosophers rarely have a sound grasp of the rules for the dialectic and are led to an improper view of philosophical problems, leading them to abandon logic or to assume the world is 'illogical'. The classic example would be 'dialethism'. But this is a can of worms best left for another discussion.


The aim of any subject, more or less, is to help in seeking truth. Just for instance...let me consider a subject that deals its opposite--'lie':

If there had been a subject--'Theft', we could interpret that its aim also is related to seeking truth. Doesn't a thief want to know truth while stealing or learning 'Theft'...at least until his work is accomplished? Doesn't he want the help of another truth for hiding his deed? Similarly, philosophy also has a goal and that goal is 'truth'; but it is comparatively more than other subjects have. I am saying so because, it is supposed that it is often through philosophy we are able to rectify minute issues regarding subjects.

Certainly, there may be philosophies that counter attack other philosophies. We should not forget that also. The aim of such philosophies may be 'truth' (or something else if they are created for some special purposes).

If you have strong desire for wisdom/liberation (from bondages), the philosopher in you will wake up; I believe. But for wisdom, love (for all), logic and keen powers of observation are necessary.


The first thing to keep in mind is that philosophy is primarily concerned with meanings, and that meanings are (to use the old analogy) the water we swim in, and largely invisible to the casual eye. For instance, if we look at your phrase "The goal is truth," a philosopher is likely to say "What do we mean by 'truth'." Of course, we all have intuitions about what 'truth' means, and the concept has a strong valence — we largely prefer what we see as true to what we see as false — but intuitions and feelings do not add up to a definition or an understanding of the concept.

Philosophy in its descriptive mode tries to understand the meanings we impart to the world around us; philosophy in its proscriptive mode tries to rationalize those meanings.

Philosophy uses reasoning, and reasoning is something more complex and subtle than logic. Logic is procedural; it tells us how to get from A to B to C, and what syntactic or structural errors we might make in that process, but it has little to say about whether A, B and C are meaningful. If I believe that elephants can fly, and I know that some object is an elephant, then I must believe that object can fly. That's logic, but it's hardly reason. Reason wants to investigate why we might make that initial claim; to find out what meaning the phrase "elephants can fly" has for us.

Philosophy is confusing, yes, because philosophy frequently pushes up against our unspoken preconceptions and brings them out into the light. That can be disorienting, to say the least. But that's its value; disorientation is a necessary step before reorientation.

  • @ That last paragraph helped change my preconceptions.
    – QWERTY_dw
    Jul 18, 2019 at 12:44
  • And the metaphilosopher asks, "what do we mean by "mean by"?"
    – user46309
    Apr 21, 2020 at 6:18
  • @Galen: ...and the mystic smiles with contentment, and says nothing at all... Apr 21, 2020 at 6:24
  • @TedWrigley That's my point. Asking "What do we mean by truth?" can be given the same response... "well, I guess you might put those words into a grammatically correct statement, but... shrug"
    – user46309
    Apr 21, 2020 at 6:29

The objective of philosophy is understanding, and the toolset is inquisitiveness. The most important property one must embrace to have a philosophical mindset is an interest in exploring the wall of the "boxes" that we think within.

One might find what one thinks are the answers as a result of these investigations, and this is a common thing among philosophers. And the justifications of these answers are often presented "rationally".

BUT -- logic and reasoning are NOT the sole method that philosophers use. Empiricism, or pragmatism, is another major tool. A third is direct knowledge -- be it intuitions, or perceptions. There are other lesser used tools -- the scope of the toolkit is itself subject to questioning and debate!

As for logic, apply reasoning to logic -- "what is the justification for logic?", and one will find that logic, like all claims, is subject to Munchausen's Trilemma. It CANNOT be justified! Pragmatically, logic seems to be a very useful tool at times, BUT -- those justifications, "pragmatic", "useful", and in particular the caveat "at times" -- are CONTRARY to logic criteria, and demonstrate that logic itself is insufficient/self-contradictory.

  • I like this answer. I was thinking about logic as the foundation. Is it right to say that it goes "deeper" (even though I don't like this term) than that? Because we want to be able to question even logic.
    – QWERTY_dw
    Jul 18, 2019 at 12:37
  • @user40358 Logic IS subject to questioning! Here is a thread I started on that point on a discussion forum, that elaborates on this point: disqus.com/home/discussion/channel-biopoliticsandbionews/… Multitudes of alternate logics have been constructed, and work just fine as arbitrary formalisms. Therefore -- there is no "logic", there are just formalisms that one can accept or not, based on how useful they seem to be.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 18, 2019 at 15:26
  • That does make sense. I always thought of using logic as using a tool that exists in some sort of platonic third realm that our minds have access to and somehow we're able to use it to "interface" with reality underneath what we perceive, basically. But your idea is much simpler.
    – QWERTY_dw
    Jul 18, 2019 at 16:38
  • I use Popper's 3 worlds model as the most useful metaphysics reference I have found, and it accepts that all of these logics exist, and can be interactively causal.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 18, 2019 at 16:55

Philosophy is what philosophers do, and what philosophers do is often esoteric and highly specialized. It may have no obvious application beyond the scope of a handful of other philosophers working in the same area, and maybe some interested amateurs.

I'm not sure how I personally feel about that, but I only wanted to post this to temper some of the "grander" claims about the goal of philosophy. In a 2001 interview, Saul Kripke, one of the biggest names in contemporary analytic philosophy, seems to think that being a philosopher isn't really that different from any other job.

On Philosophy

Kripke does not care much about providing a justification for doing philosophy. When I asked him why he investigates the philosophy of language, he said he works on this topic simply because he finds it interesting. Pure intellectual curiosity drives him.

“The idea that philosophy should be relevant to life is a modern idea. A lot of philosophy does not have relevance to life,” said Kripke. He is clearly somewhat different from American philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum or Cornel West, who both argue that philosophy is more than a career, it’s wisdom, an art of living, and may have a very practical purpose.

Kripke claims both Plato and Aristotle did philosophy because of its intrinsic value. But he adds: “Ethics and political philosophy are relevant to life. The intention of philosophy was never to be relevant to life. But ethics and political philosophy can be relevant. Philosophy is a career like other things, but must not necessarily be related to that outside philosophy.”

Later on in the interview:

Q: Is it negative that philosophy now is connected to a professional career and not the unconditional search for truth it once was?

A: Perhaps it never was an unconditional search for truth. The great philosophers did it as a professional career. The Medieval philosophers were monks, but also professors. Descartes was not a professor, but he did a lot of teaching.

Q: Michael Dummett claims that academics don’t have any special duty to be engaged in social questions, but he claims that academics can make their own schedules and may use this privilege. Do you agree with Dummett?

A: I don’t think there is anything special academics can do.

I don't have any data to support this, but I have a hunch that many philosophy professors in the analytic tradition share Kripke's sentiment that they do philosophy mainly out of intellectual curiosity. The tools they use depend on the area of philosophy they are working in. They typically do use logic in a broad sense, though not just formal logic. And they also use informal reasoning, intuition, thought experiments, scientific theories and data, and make inferences to the best explanation.


Philosophy was the original study of anything and everything which we encountered. Over the years it spawned many branches and sub-branches. The most important of these, such as medicine, science (still called natural philosophy), mathematics and so on split off to become independent disciplines in their own right.

It is perhaps slightly cynical, though not wholly untrue, to say that modern philosophy is basically the bits left over; those areas of human knowledge and understanding which we have yet to organize into a cogent discipline and and set free. But one of those bits is the foundational understanding which necessarily underlies all of human thought, and this will probably always remain the domain of the philosopher.

What about the toolset? In my first year at college I was taught that the philosopher's primary tool is their brain. Like any medieval apprentice I spent two years learning how my toolset worked and how to maintain and use it. Perception, logic, theory of mind and so on were the agenda. The neurophysiology course was still in preparation, but even so it was the most productive two years I have ever spent.


The goal is truth. Logic is a tool. Formal logic is not mandatory. Philosophy is not science, but underpins science. Physics was formerly know as natural philosophy.

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