Sunday, June 29, 2008

Philosophy, the Definition

Direct from La Wik.
"The definition of philosophy is a difficult matter"
No it isn't.

Philosophy is the study of meaning.
"and many definitions of philosophy begin by stating its difficulty."
Technically I suppose I did, but only to show how it is wrong.
"The Oxford Companion to Philosophy says that most interesting definitions of philosophy are controversial."
Certainly I expect controversy. I do not, however, expect to see actual falsification. This definition does in fact work in basically all cases. Further, it matches the naive expectation of nearly everyone. It generally validates the work of most paid philosophers, and points to the things students of philosophy find important.

No, the only real attack to this definition is the proposal of an alternative that fits even more closely. (This is the kind of statement that makes people think I'm not open minded, which means that I have to do things like list some of my mistakes, because in my opinion these statements are in fact grounds for such conclusions. Note that I'm not actually close-minded, however; they are not reliable indicators. There are subtle differences if you care to find them. Luckily for free will, you don't have to! You can go right ahead and discount my ideas for no reason at all, if you want. I suggest you don't lie about it to yourself, however.)

Also notable is the purpose of the definition. The purpose is to illustrate what is and what is not philosophy, for the sub-purpose of discovering what the traits of philosophy are. In other words, the purpose of the definition is to allow philosophers to discover what philosophy means.

And I think my recursion of awesome just blew a fuse. (It works! Worrrks! *Megalomaniac cackle*)

Further, once we know the purpose of philosophy, we can tell if we're succeeding. We can tell if what philosophy does is what we want to do: we can tell if philosophy is the right tool for the job. In parallel, we can tell if philosophy it itself succeeding, if it is advancing or stagnating.

By meaning I specifically mean two sub-definitions. They are both logical consequences, but the first is the last logical consequence, as I'll illustrate below with theft. This type is emotional in nature; it has no physical consequences, but only modifies how you feel about the world. The second is a more practical consequence, which I'll illustrate below with the consequences of 'the second step.' This type of meaning is instead used to inform procedural decisions, and technically speaking it is very close to physics as it describes what happens, rather than what it means.

The fact that both of these fall under philosophy means that philosophy is both a hard science, akin to math and physics, and the very softest science, softer even than psychology. Ironically, the hard part is the part not empirical. The soft part is the part under which the definition itself falls.

Technically speaking representation, encoding, and symbology in general fall under this definition of philosophy. However, their consequences are generally not very meaningful, though perhaps Wittgenstein said something interesting that hasn't trickled down to me yet.


So, to business. Let's check this against a few test cases.

First, ontology and epistemology are both considered part of philosophy. Why? Is this a valid inclusion?

Yes, it is valid, because epistemology is the study of the philosopher's main tool - logic. Epistemology is to philosophy basically what math is to physics. Physics is impossible without math, but the only way we can discover math in the first place is by studying physical things, like learning to count cattle.

Ontology is the study of existence. We can conceive of many things, but which things actually exist? How can we tell the difference? What does existence mean? What are its consequences?

Attempting to do philosophy without knowing what exists is extremely difficult. I haven't studied ontology in depth, but it may even be impossible. Since the only real tool philosophers have is logic, it is very easy to prove things that do not matter, to discover something that does not exist, by logical or empirical mistake. Without knowing beforehand that you've discovered something inherently invalid, an enormous amount of effort can be wasted finding the consequences and meaning of flawed concepts before the inevitable contradiction is found. The logic can even be solid, if the flaw is empirical. As empirical mistakes are inevitable, ontology is probably essential.

If you know a philosopher of ontology, could you ask them about it for me?

I suspect that the problem with almost every philosophy is a flawed ontology. Marx and Nietzche were very smart and, judging by how well their disciples can argue, logically skilled. Nevertheless most of their conclusions were wrong. Why? Ontology. We can see a priori that most of their conclusions cannot be true, but they were either ignorant of this method, or less likely, straight-up fraudulent. Freud was essentially fraudulent. It was well within his ability to falsify his theories, but he chose to ignore this fact.

Similarly, the definition of philosophy is downright trivial. How on earth did we miss that one? My ontology suggests it rather directly.

By contrast, physics needs no such assurance. The ontology of physics is simply experiment. It exists if you can measure it. There is no need to a priori know what can or cannot exist.

Right. Next.


The meaning of life is considered the ultimate question. Check.


Another common question: "But what does it all mean?" Check.


Now let's compare it to physics.

Because meaning cannot be objectively verified, a philosopher must be extremely skilled with logic.

For example, "Hey Mr. Philosopher sir, I steal stuff. Does that make me a bad person?"

"Yes, Jimmy, it does."

Are there any practical consequences to Jimmy's badness? Is there any test we can run? No, there is not. Instead, the next step - it is very important to realize this is a separate step - is simply for Jimmy to decide how he feels about being a bad person, and what, if anything, he wants to do about it. (This is fragment of the meaning of life.) Factual, emotional, and normative statements are always separate, and have separate chains of proof. They may sometimes coincide by chance, but never forget that it is just a coincidence.

Ignoring this second step or absolving yourself of responsibility will mean that other people can control you, by exploiting the automatic. Further, it means that your actual emotions and desires will get ignored. Not everyone has to automatically hate being a bad person, or indeed automatically feel anything, as that's the meaning of subjectivity.


So, if we have a good philosopher, one that can purvey useful meanings, we know without checking that their logical skill is downright insane.

Unfortunately for the pride of other professions, this makes philosophers the ultimate dilettantes and dabblers - logic, especially advanced logic, can be applied to everything, not just meaning. There is literally no section of life that cannot be improved with the insight of a skilled logician. Now, I can totally see how this looks. "I'm a plumber, and plumbing is the best metaphor for life. Let me tell you about it..." "I'm a construction worker. Our society would fall without us." "As a priest, I know that everyone could use a touch of spiritual life." "As a doctor, I know that most people are neglecting their health." Most professionals claim that their profession is the most important or the most noble.

Nevertheless, objecting to my conclusion is not respectable. Objecting to logic has two grounds; either a thing isn't logical, or that it's too complicated to logic out properly. The first is flat impossible. You can't even suggest it without using logic. The second can be conquered with skill, which is why I always use the adjective.

And second, I'm not actually claiming that philosophy is the most important. It is simply the one that can dilettante, in ways that almost all others can't. Philosophers have the most broadly applicable skillset. The conclusion that this fact means philosophy is most important is indefensible. Whether it is noble or not is a matter of opinion using my understanding of 'noble.'

The first reason it gets conflated with importance is first the non-recognition of the distinction I outlined above - it is up to you to figure out what this trait means for you. The second is that a good philosopher can take a quick overview of a many longstanding problems and suggest a new and valid solution, which will humble the professional, a feeling they tend to rebel against. Thus, they react by saying, "Your profession isn't the most important, you know; your skill doesn't trump my expertise." or words to that effect. Yeah, it isn't the most important. A philosopher is a philosopher to the extent they are good at logic, which the professional isn't, or they would have found the solution first.

This is, once again, a highly testable hypothesis. Have a competition between a doctor and a philosopher at solving management problems, for instance.

I would like to explicitly point out that even if a philosopher can improve a system of management, it does not mean that the philosopher is a better manager than the professional management, because the professionals will know a great deal more data than the philosopher. Without experience, while the philosopher can fix things, they cannot run things. Philosophers improve, they do not supersede.

Of course philosophers have an even worse parallel habit; pointing out serious problem that professions like government teaching sweep under the rug or have missed. This criticism tends to be unkindly received to the extent that it is true, because to the extent it is false, it is less believable.


So, compared to physics, the methods of philosophy are no less rigorous but require different tools, which is one reason it seems soft; the tools are unwieldy and require great skill.


Now I can consider the word 'philosophy' as one synonym for 'way of life.' This means that normative value sets, the object that informs the actions of the 'way,' are considered philosophy. Check. The only way to form any kind of objective normative statement is through logic, by examining the meaning of various concepts.

To see this, first realize that valid concepts are objective. There are a finite number of valid elementary definitions that do not self-contradict. (This is a product of existing in a finite universe. At most there is one valid concept per quanta. {I realize this hardcore begs the question.}) The relationships between these concepts is pre-determined by logic. Thus, aliens can discover all the self-consistent concepts that we have.

Through this, we can discover if some of the relationships, which are a priori true, correspond to normative statements. For instance, it is a priori true that every being will believe in their own property rights, which means that theft is not just considered wrong by others, but actually by the thief as well. Theft means hypocrisy.

So, a way of life is a set of normative statements, and philosophy is the only science that can produce normative statements. Check.


So. What does this definition mean? It means that philosophy is, in fact, not only a science but a respectable science; it means that philosophy does in fact have work to do; it means we can tell if a topic falls under this discipline; it means that nearly everyone calling themselves a philosopher is either right, or can quickly switch over to their real discipline without loss of continuity; finally, using the definition, these philosophers can refine their search parameters to focus on what they're actually trying to do.

And that's what I call a successful definition process. Champagne anyone? Do you know what's cool about champagne? They carbonate it not artificially by dissolving carbon dioxide under pressure into the liquid, which first requires some tech to produce pure carbon dioxide, but by sealing the bottle and letting it ferment a bit. Clever!


Two things, meta things, of interest. First, my assertion that I'm a very highly skilled philosopher is not without grounds.

Hey there! Another one of those prideful statements that make people think I'm close-minded. Eventually I'll probably find out that they're just jealous of my confidence, but hey. Note that I've laid out how to defeat my definition, which will naturally defeat the grounds as well. I'll put it all here for convenience: falsify, by taking a meaning of my definition and showing it contradicts another meaning, or, propose an alternative that matches the facts better. Note that it is empirical; it does not have to match every fact, it simply has to be better than the alternatives. We're allowed to say, "Well it doesn't quite match the definition, so we'll make an exception for it." This is not arbitrary, but rather a judgment call. (This is one of the reason this half of philosophy is soft.) The definition should rule out at least one thing that used to be considered philosophy.

I think I should clarify that what I mean is that the definition should validate most things intuitively philosophical, but not all of them. In other words, I'm competing against intuition, not logic. What this means is that my definition almost automatically wins, because if intuition could trump logic, we wouldn't need a definition of anything.

There are, however, some cases where a definition can clearly fail without a competing definition existing, because of the nature of forming a definition. For instance, if a definition of life or ruled out human beings, even if there's no competition, it fails. Similarly, if a definition of consciousness rules in some humans but not others, especially if the line does not independently track a second factor, it is definitely invalid.

The mechanism is that when we want a definition of something, we already have an intuitive idea of what it is. We are trying to formalize the intuition. If the intuition is strongly or repeatedly violated, then clearly the definition is of something other than what we wanted defined, and we shouldn't give it the preexisting name.

Second, this definition really is trivial. While I'm especially skilled at finding concise definitions,* I should not have come up with it first, by any stretch of the imagination. This means that my assertion, that almost all previous philosophy was fatally flawed, has evidence.

*(I can also do life, art, once had one for intelligence which I've forgotten, a one-line statement of ethics, and even, if I'm right, consciousness.)

If this were true, it would mean that the reason most people have no respect for philosophy* is that, up until now, philosophy really hasn't been able to raise the signal-to-noise ratio above something like 1/10. Such a situation is almost optimally inimical; it works just enough that you get burned trying all the things that don't work. In other words people in general have strong grounds for thinking that philosophy is kind of worthless, and for thinking that there are no true experts.

*(You can write a physics book for laypeople, and they'll take what you say on trust. If they don't understand they conclude that physics is hard. You can write a philosophy book for laypeople and they'll object at every turn. If it's hard they conclude that you're an idiot. In reality philosophy has earned its reputation of massive intelligence, because it is as hard as physics, and you have to be a genius to make up for the lack of experiment. I'm not exactly sure how I do it, because I'm only at 130 or so. Imagine what a logically rigorous 160 IQ should be able to do!)

Also, we know for a fact that some philosophy is fraudulent. This philosophy is often even more successful than crazy philosophy, because it is explicitly designed to spread instead of designed to be true. History has had several waves of self-serving (most likely fraudulent) philosophy, now widely ridiculed, but these have effectively erased any trust capital built up in and since the time of Aristotle. (If my definition works, it should invalidate huge chunks of these so-called 'philosophies.' I haven't actually checked it myself.)

As a for instance...on Reddit there was a post talking about how philosophers argue a lot. As you can see in the first comment, which is mine, I've again successfully pointed out the obvious. If we can't agree, the first thing to do is to fix that problem, to work out how to agree.* Naturally no one agreed with me. I'm not sure how exactly they're supposed to convince me that they shouldn't be able to convince me, but that's public education for you. If you get mind-fucked continually as a kid your brain just eventually stops working.

*(Unless it's arbitrary, but then we have no need to agree, and it is not science.)


So, does that all fit? Have I proved myself wrong anywhere? I don't think so, obviously. But the whole point of posting things like this is to make sure. Does it all fit?

Also of interest is tight wording and good style. I don't want to repeat myself and I'm trying to learn to word things properly. If you catch those mistakes, do please let me know.

2 comments:

O.o said...

Long post, haven't read all of it. The bit about ontology is interesting, however.

It's also the study of... uh... "what really happens, what really exists, we see this phenomenon X, but what is X, on the inside?". It can also describe some metaphysical theories.

The ontology of solid matter is that it is molecules and electric fields. As a kid I was perplexed by fire: it didn't seem to be a solid, liquid, gas, or any kind of matter. I jumped to the old Greek conclusion that fire was it's own kind of thing. As it turned out, the ontology of it, was that fire doesn't really exist. We use the word to describe the heat and light, and the process of combustion itself. It's just a chemical reaction - and reactions don't exist, they're something that happens.

That was a little tangent, but it's a memorable sequence from my early attempts at ontology.

Anyways, I think you've answered your own question:

[Is attempting to do philosophy without ontology impossible?]

"Without knowing beforehand that you've discovered something inherently invalid, an enormous amount of effort can be wasted finding the consequences and meaning of flawed concepts before the inevitable contradiction is found. The logic can even be solid, if the flaw is empirical."

It can be done, but it's probably meaningless. If the philosopher's logic contradicts empirical evidence, then their a priori logic contradicts ontology (before they revise their logic, as the good philosopher should). We want our logic to add up to ontology (we want our theories to actually describe what they purport to). So ontology is necessary to philosophy, because it keeps a check on it - in a sort of modus tollens way:

If [good philosophy], then [theoretical ontology = ontological ontology].

If the theoretical != the ontological, then it's bad philosophy. It's good fiction, perhaps... might make a good religion or something. But it's not philosophy.

Yes I DID just say ontological ontology. Booyah. (the existing ontology, as opposed to the theoretical)

Alrenous said...

I have to add is that fire is spiffy.

Booyah, indeed. So thanks! That is what I was asking.