It seems to me like a lot of arguments in philosophy are aided by insights of science, math, etc. For example, the relation between evolution and morals or Kant and geometry (and later non-Euclidian geometry was shown to be more relevant via Einstein). This seems to indicate that the enterprise of philosophy is one that cannot be solved through pure logic alone.

While I appreciate that perhaps we are doing the best we can have, philosophers called this out? Has there been any attempt to draw a line between philosophy which problems are solvable by "pure thought" and which aren't? And what criteria are used for this?

  • Maybe just check the structure at en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outline_of_philosophy
    – tkruse
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 4:10
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    @MoreAnonymous "pure logic alone" No conclusion can be decided only using pure logic. You cannot reason logically without assuming some premises, premises which can only be motivated by what the thinker believes about the world. So there is no such a thing as "pure thought". Commented May 24, 2022 at 6:28
  • @Speakpigeon, your claim is false. Are you saying some things can't be reasoned alone? Sciences & Mathematics seems to indicate there must be some sort of assumption. Deductive reasoning does not require assumptions. If we are given a definition per se we can reason from the definition alone to resolve a specific problem. That is we face a problem & we are given a definition we can come to an absolute conclusion. Show me why we can't. You must define TRUTH if you are going to use the how do you know x is true line on me here. There are different kinds of truth. You must state the context.
    – Logikal
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 18:06
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    The movement you need to look up is called RATIONALISM. You also have to be aware that now days philosophy is not like the good old days of Plato or Aristotle. Now a days a lot of philosophy is mixed with other subject areas so the philosophers can make a living. Philosophy of Mind is an example of that. You ought to notice the differences between philosophy in the past & now. Now we include many emotional topics & considerations that Aristotle wouldn't do. Perhaps the world doesn't like objective truths. Socrates died as well as others for objective knowledge. Masses don't like it.
    – Logikal
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 18:19
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    @speakpigeon, we don't know what truth is the way you are defining it. Are you referring to contingent truths or necessary truths? You are not clear. To prove a implies b doesn't require an assumption necessarily. There happen to be neccessary truths. If I start with a neccessary truth no assumptions are needed. Triangles must have exactly 3 sides is necessary. Object K has three sides. Therefore object k is a triangle. Math requires an assumption not philosophy. You have not shown why we can't reason from zero assumptions. There are no false instances for neccessary truths.
    – Logikal
    Commented May 25, 2022 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


Short Answer

Well, if you take for "pure thought" the heavily a priori notions of rationalism, then, many professional philosophers believe that empiricism and a posteriori thinking play an important role in a sensible philosophical worldview. As such, they openly embrace science, and do not see a crisp line of division between philosophy and scientific fact. In fact, many famous 20th century philosophers have some relationship with what is termed a natural epistemology, and some very sophisticated philosophers have argued there is no line between the two at all.

Long Answer

It should be noted that "thought" is a word with some ambiguity in philosophy, and is a term that is somewhat explored in the philosophy of mind. But, I suspect what you're angling for is the notion that metaphysics without regard for real life experience and a bit of experimentation might be an exercise more in vocabulary and hubris than in genuine model building of reality, whatever that might be. A phrase like "grand and sweeping metaphysical framework" describes certain philosophical products of thinkers like Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant, and others to describe with completeness everything known. Such efforts find themselves championed by some and decried by others. A good example of the latter is the logical positivists who almost 90 years ago made a concerted effort to eliminate metaphysics by declaring it meaningless. Surprise, they failed.

Philosophies and philosophers whose methods lie heavily on introspection might be characterized as Cartesian, named after the somewhat infamous Rene Descartes. His views on mind-body duality still animate a lot of discussion about philosophy and thought, and Daniel Dennett coined the term Cartesian theater to push back against certain views. One view that is generally met with skepticism today is the idea that just because you think, and think you are, you can be certain of everything else. "Cogito ergo sum" is probably as contested as it is famous.1 Another conception of thought termed the analytic-synthetic distinction has also met with criticism by philosophical giants such as Quine, who attacked the idea in his Two Dogmas.

Is there a line between philosophy which problems are solvable by "pure thought" and which aren't?

Modern philosophers who have examined the question about distinctions in knowledge and problems that are either a priori or a posteriori, either rational or empirical, either synthetic or analytical have generally converged on a simple idea. There is no clear division between one and the other, a notion related to the sorites paradox, which suggests that nice, convenient, crisp categories are artificial linguistic artifacts, and that definitions and reasoning might be fuzzy or prototypical instead of being swept into tidy sets defined by simple intensions. So it's fair to say that a somewhat popular view of philosophy, that its a bunch of people "navel gazing" engaged in "pure thought" is a misconception. Daniel Dennett certainly knows more about science than Bill Nye knows about philosophy.2

1 - My intent here is to caricature Descartes obviously historical brilliance. Certainly he is one of the most influential Western philosophers by consensus. That his views on the pineal gland, the consciousness of animals, and his overestimation of the strengths of logic have not aged well do not undermine his obvious genius. He certainly didn't have access to empirical methods of epistemology that have laid bare the defeasibility of reason.

2 - My intent here is to goad shallow thinkers who think that science has somehow replaced or made irrelevant philosophy. The advancement of the methodologies of sciences is indebted to philosophy of science, even long before such a term was used. Bill Nye has since conceded his original views on philosophy were superficial (Quartz).

  • @J D, can you explain in what sense Bill Nye needs philosophy in order to further his program/accomplish his goals? Or is your point that Nye has himself accused philosophers of being navel-gazers? I am confused by the reference. -NN Commented May 24, 2022 at 5:52
  • @JD "Philosophies and philosophers whose methods lie heavily on introspection (...) "Cogito ergo sum" is probably as contested as it is famous." Descartes never argued as you suggest here that "just because you think, and think you are, you can be certain of everything else". In fact, he is famous for arguing very nearly the opposite. Commented May 24, 2022 at 6:20
  • @Speakpigeon I thought "I think therefore I am" was a worst case scenario where one argues if I cannot trust my 5 senses what can I know. The answer Descartes reached was "I think therefore I am." Is this the correct interpretation? (if not where can I read his version) Commented May 24, 2022 at 9:12
  • @nielsnielsen That's simple. Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer by trade, relies on 500 years of philosophy to lay claim to the irrefutable victories of science. I reject the supernatural and am a defender of scientism. But ignoring the lineage of science in natural philosophy and the continuation of the philosophy of science to clarify issues like the demarcation problem would set back science to the Ancient Greeks; and that would be a dark age. Logical positivists demonstrated with zeal the indispensability of philosophy, and through their own philosophy, offered DN as a model of explanation.
    – J D
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 14:03
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    @Speakerpigeon That's just wrong. Logic is subject to fallacy. But further, logics are constructed linguistic artifacts that are approximative. ie propositional logic is a simple model. Today, non-monotonic logics and IBE fill in the gaps for the impoverished logics of Descartes day. Furthermore, these developments in logic are conducted on automated systems which allow experimention. Hence, Descartes was unaware of how the defeasibilty of logic undergirds fallibilistic epistemology. His logic like his math were innovations, but are outdated views of both. Time marches on.
    – J D
    Commented May 24, 2022 at 17:23

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