Thursday, 4 August 2005

Philosophy in the real world

If you've ever wanted to see why dumb-arse philosophers are deservedly ignored by most people in the real world, go and have a look at Richard arguing with himself about whether or not he should open his parachute when he goes sky-diving.

No wonder most philosophy students and the people who 'teach' them aren't taken seriously by anybody in the real world.

As they say in philosophy departments, "logic has nothing to do with reality." Only in the arid reality occupied by university philosophy departments, that is.

Philosophy, Who Needs It? Well, as Ayn Rand argued, you do. But not this sort of nonsense.


  1. LOL! I was a Philosophy major. :)

  2. [snorts] I was trying to think up an intelligent comment, but then I reasoned that I could write anything and if it was meant to be intelligent it would be. Whahey! I think I'll begin driving with my eyes shut.

  3. Its a tough life being a philosophy student, spending so much time contemplating suicide.

    One of my workmates studied logic for a while; logic should be considered required reading for stand-up comedians... so much material.

  4. Peter, you display remarkable ignorance at times. My post is discussing a logic puzzle, as I make quite clear if you bother to read it. I'm not trying to make any practical claims about business, economics, politics, or the like. (I appeal to the concrete example of skydiving simply to illustrate the underlying logic.) Your complaint is about as irrelevant as pointing to a mathematical proof that there are infinitely many prime numbers and exclaiming: "Oh, look at how irrelevant those mathematicians are! No wonder nobody listens to them!" Obviously if we're talking about non-practical issues, then we're not going to care about your objection that the issue isn't of great practical importance. That's simply besides the point. And of course just because philosophical logic is of primarily theoretical interest, it does not follow that all philosophy lacks practical import. Political philosophy and ethics are two more obviously practical subfields. And indeed, it often happens that even deeply theoretical subjects turn out to have hidden practical implications that only later come to light.

    So I really don't get what you're on about here. Your post amounts to pointing out: "Look! It's a philosopher discussing logic rather than ethics!". Um, yeah, that's right. So what?

    Did you merely want to express your own anti-intellectualism, or was there some other point to your post that I have missed?

  5. tincanman - the point of my post was actually to argue against such fatalism. So I think it is still possible for you to affect how intelligent you come off sounding. Taking care to understand what someone is arguing before mocking it would probably be a good start.

  6. "So I really don't get what you're on about here."

    He never understands *me* either~sob~ but I worship the Deity. We are unworthy of this glorious blog. I feel like it is the voice of God talking to me when I visit this page.

  7. RICHARD, what I'm going on about here is laughing at the mess philosophers make when they divorce logic from reality, and reality from causality.

    Your post was such a superb demonstration of what happens when you do both that it just begged to be mocked, so mock it I did. To so mock is hardly anti-intellectual; quite the reverse I would have thought. Now, tell me again why the world is shaped like a banana. :-)

    RUTH, I'm pleased to see you've finally come to your senses. ;^)

  8. Would you mock a boxer for hitting a punching bag? That has no bearing on the reality of boxing -- he's never going to encounter an opponent who's stuffed with sand and hanging from the ceiling. Nevertheless, he's exercising the skills he will use in other real life situations. Logic puzzles perform the same function for philosophers.

    Also, I find it odd that libertarians, who decry pragmatism when it comes to politics, insist on grounding everything in the real world in other areas.

  9. Oddly enough Josh, pragmatism denies that there is a 'real world' at all. So much for pragmatism being practical.

    Objectivist libertarians do insist on grounding everything in the real world -- where else would you ground anything? -- including the principles that are derived therefrom, and the reason and logic used to derive them.

    Objectivism itself is styled as a philosophy for living on earth; you can find the basic framework of it here.

  10. PC, my logic puzzles bear no relation to the false empirical claim that "the world is shaped like a banana". You appear not to have the faintest understanding of what I am doing. (But then, seeing you parade your ignorance is getting to be a rather common occurrence in our exchanges, isn't it!)

    For example: how, exactly, did I "make a mess"? If you managed to follow my discussion, you should have found exactly the opposite. What I did was start with a problem (or "mess") - namely, the fatalist's argument - and exposed what was wrong with it by clarifying the underlying logic. [Tidying up conceptual confusions is the analytic philosopher's favourite pastime, you see ;).] I challenge you to identify any falsehoods or incoherency in my argument. Once you fail to do so, perhaps you should retract your slurs.

    You are mocking a technical discussion that you clearly do not understand. I'm still not sure on what basis you are mocking it. Is it because the discussion is theoretical rather than practical? If so, that's clearly anti-intellectual. (I'd also highlight Josh's excellent punching-bag analogy, in addition to my previous comments.) Or do you mock it precisely because you don't understand it? Perhaps you take the limits of your comprehension to be the limits of acceptable inquiry -- but one doesn't get much more anti-intellectual than that. Alternatively, perhaps your mockery has no real basis at all. Perhaps you're miffed that our previous exchanges haven't gone in your favour, so you merely wanted a chance to lash out at "dumb-arse philosophers". But if I've overlooked some more charitable interpretation of your behaviour here, do let me know.

  11. Pragmatism "denies that there is a 'real world' at all"? My dictionary calls it "Dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences; practical". Can I assume you're using a different defintion?

  12. (I'd guess he's talking about the philosophical school of American pragmatism -- James, Dewey, Peirce, etc. But I don't know why he'd bring that up when it's clearly irrelevant to what you were talking about.)

  13. Yes, richard, talking about the foundations of pragmatism is irrelevant when talking about pragamatism. Well done.

    Josh, pragmatism's assumed practicality comes from its denial of a fundamental reality, and essentially holds that one should go with what works and not try and work out ~why~ it works, or dosn't work. Plans will work one day and not the next, but pragmatism would enjoin you not to draw any significant conclusions from that, but to repair instead to 'the instrument of thought' and just devise a new plan without reference to the real world.

    As I said, so much for the alleged practicality of pragmatism.

  14. Richard, you need to realise that you are not the final word on philosophy you think you are. I am not being 'anti-intellectual' in criticising your argument, I am being anti-bullshit-philosophy.

    The field is too important to be monopolised by bullshit.

    You ask "For example: how, exactly, did I "make a mess"? If you managed to follow my discussion, you should have found exactly the opposite."

    I did not find the opposite, I found a mess. That mess, as I suggested above, is what happens when you divorce logic from reality, and you ignore causality altogether.

    To discuss fatalism without recourse to causality is going to cause you to make a mess, as I said you did. To utilise logic without grounding your premises in reality is to invite the ground to come up and hit you fast, as indeed it would if you didn't pull your rip cord.

    "Perhaps you take the limits of your comprehension to be the limits of acceptable inquiry..."

    Um, I guess this is irony again?

  15. I believe Richard was saying that you are using "pragmatism" in a technical sense, where I was using it in the more colloquial sense (where it's pretty much a synonym for "practical"). In which case, my initial comment doesn't hold. Fair enough.

    Turnabout being fair play, I should point out that the "logic has nothing to do with reality" quote is only controversial due to a similar misunderstanding: If we understand "logic" in the colloquial sense (basically a synonym for reason in general), then yes, that's a bloody stupid thing to say. However, Bob Nola was using it in the technical sense, i.e. formal logic (if A, then B), which, being completely abstract, *is* entirely separate from reality. Reason comes from a combination of abstract logic (which determines an argument's validity) and real world observations (which determine its truth).

  16. Excellent points Josh. Let me respond to them both.

    The colloquial sense of pragmatism is exactly as you describe and its sense comes from the technical definition; pragmatism explicitly eschews principles for example because pragmatism specifically eschews the power of principle to have any effect on the shifting, unknowable, malleable 'stuff' on which principled action seeks to act.

    Prgamatism is not practical. As Victor Hugo might say, to eschew principle in the name of principle, what could be more impractical! ;^)

    Your comment on logic is equally relevant, although again I would suggest there is no misunderstanding -- what you point out is precisely the point at issue here. You say correctly "Reason comes from a combination of abstract logic (which determines an argument's validity) and real world observations (which determine its truth)"; the problem comes in my view when that implicit point is lost or forgotten, and untrue premises are used to form idiotic conclusions.

  17. PC, if you wish to be "anti-bullshit-philosophy" rather than just plain anti-intellectual, then you need to establish that the philosophy I was engaging in is somehow "bullshit". You have not done so. You have not done anything at all to show that my reasoning was a "mess", other than asserting "I found a mess." Given our relative degrees of training in technical philosophy, it seems that a far more likely explanation for your "finding" is that you were simply unable to follow my argument. That's nothing to be ashamed of, of course, as one wouldn't expect a layman to be able to follow a mathematical proof either. But if said layman started mocking the mathematical proof, then that would show him to be an ignorant fool. (As they say, "the less they know, the less they know it.") It seems the same is true of you in this situation.

    Anyway, there is a simple way to resolve this disagreement, more productive than further exchange of insults would be. Like I said before: "I challenge you to identify any falsehoods or incoherency in my argument."

    You wrote: "To discuss fatalism without recourse to causality is going to cause you to make a mess, as I said you did." But again, "saying" it is all you did. I'm not interested in your ungrounded assertions. You have yet to show that my discussion of fatalism involved any "mess". Until you do so, you are simply talking out your arse.

  18. As it happens, Richard, you have no idea of my "training in technical philosophy," but might I suggest that you open your eyes, ears and brain beyond that arid ivory tower and consider ideas outside those with which you've been spoon-fed. A world of philosophy exists, of which it appears you have reified what you've been taught into all there is. Not so.

    You could begin here for example by responding to what I've already pointed out, that you can't successfully discuss fatalism without recourse to causality. (Discussing skydiving by addressing the causal effect of pulling the rip cord will prove beneficial in your ruminations I suspect. Recognising causality will ground you argument.)

    You could consider too that logical analysis without recourse to factual premises (or ignoring relevant factual premises) will result in absurdity, however accurate the analysis itself.

    I have indeed said it, and once again provided links for you above, so perhaps you could respond to something without dismissing that with which you are simply unfamiliar.

    It's too late to expect you to respond to the substance of my responses or linked articles in our previous exchange, but perhaps you could make an attempt this time?

  19. PC, your rhetoric is disconnected from the facts of the matter. You imply that I think logic puzzles are "all there is" to philosophy, when I explicited affirmed the very opposite in my earlier comments! You ask me to open my eyes, and yet I am not denying the legitimacy of any other field of inquiry. You are the one wanting shrink the sphere of legitimate inquiry so as to exclude my logic puzzles. As such, you are the one being close minded. It makes no sense for you to accuse me of the same when I (unlike you) am not suggesting that we close off a field of inquiry.

    An analogy: suppose you like chocolate. For this I mock you, suggesting that cheese is a more appropriate culinary taste. You respond that cheese is well and good, but chocolate is tasty too. I then suggest that "you open your eyes beyond that arid Cadbury factory and consider tastes outside those with which you've been spoon-fed." This suggestion makes no sense. You never denied the tastiness of other foods. You merely thought that chocolate was good too.

    "You could consider too that logical analysis without recourse to factual premises (or ignoring relevant factual premises) will result in absurdity, however accurate the analysis itself."

    You've given no reason to believe this assertion. You are making groundless general claims without any reference to the details of my actual argument. If you want me to listen to you, then show where my argument "results in absurdity". I'm still waiting for you to engage with the specifics of my argument.

    It would also help if you clarify what you mean by "factual premises". The fatalist's argument that I was critically examining had three premises, all of which appeared to be true (and thus, one would expect, "factual"). For example, take the first premise: "Either I will survive the fall, or I will not." Do you think this premise is false? Or do you think the other premises are false? Or does the conclusion not logically follow from the premises? You must demonstrate one of these in order to avoid the conclusion. And that's exactly what I did in my post. But you fail to understand it, and so, in your ignorance, call it a "mess".

    "I've already pointed out, that you can't successfully discuss fatalism without recourse to causality."

    Well, my successful discussion suggests otherwise ;)

    Of course, it's very generous of you to make suggestions which you think "will prove beneficial in [my] ruminations". But as I managed to refute the fatalist just fine without them, it doesn't appear that they were necessary after all.

    Actually, even though I never used the word "causation", the concept was of course implicit in much of the discussion. For example, I mentioned a scenario where if I had (contrary to fact) pulled the cord, then I would have survived. The idea behind this is obviously that pulling the cord would cause the parachute to open, slow my fall, and thus save my life. So you're simply mistaken in claiming that I "ignore causality altogether."

    Again: if you think my anti-fatalist argument fails somehow, I'm still waiting for you to show how. If you're not capable of actually engaging with the specifics of my discussion, perhaps you should stick to issues that you understand.

  20. Not to state the obvious. But anyone who claims pragmatism "denies that there is a 'real world' at all" clearly has no idea what they are speaking of and needs to go back and read a little C. S. Peirce.

    "Reality is that mode of being by virtue of which the real thing is as it is, irrespectively of what any mind or any definite collection of minds may represent it to be. " (C. S. Peirce, "Truth and Falsity and Error", CP 5.565)

    Exactly how someone could conceivably conflating sollipsism with pragmatism escapes me. Maybe your are confusing instrumentalism with pragmatism in general though? (I'll assume the later rather than the former as it's hard to really believe anyone claiming philosophical experience could make that error)

  21. Peter you are contemptible. Pulling the sheets off pragmatism - which is really a reformed relativism - should not be allowed.

    A real intellectual would know that logic does not have anything to do with the real world :)

  22. Don't confuse Richard Rorty's so called neo-pragmatism with pragmatism. (Actually I seem to recall that Rorty's fessed up a few years ago and acknowledged that his views aren't even pragmatism.) Certainly the classic pragmatist, Peirce, as someone mentioned above is a realist about most things. (Indeed some might criticize him for being a realist about too much) To say that he denies a real world is quite incorrect. One might make the claim with James, but I think most would also say that he has strong realist tendencies, despite the way he is frequently read. (i.e. he is far closer in view to Peirce than is commonly acknowledged) Dewey I'm not as familiar with. But I believe that despite his instrumentalism he would never say there is a real world at all. At worse he suggests that many realist questions aren't worth asking. But Dewey definitely isn't a neo-pragmatist like Rorty or perhaps Putnam in some of his stages. (How long does Putnam hold to any view?) Indeed people I know who are quite familiar with Dewey argue that he already heavily critiqued the positions of neo-Pragmatism that Rorty took.


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