What is Wrong with Professional Philosophy?

It is clear that philosophy as practiced in our universities is not a method for discovering the answers to any important questions. Professional philosophers are invariably clever in many ways and so the problem cannot be pure incompetence or mere error. It must have a deeper and more obscure cause.

The usual response to this general criticism is to blame it all on the universe. The idea would be that Reality must always be incomprehensible to human beings and in this case nobody need be blamed for a failure to comprehend it. The problem for this view would be that many people claim that Reality is comprehensible and that they do comprehend it, at least well enough to deal with formal metaphysical problems. It is just that only very rarely are they a professional philosopher and this means that they do not need to be read.

After fifteen years of wondering why academics seem to miss what is right under their noses I have no clear answers but do have some ideas.  There is a lot of overlap, but on my list would be:

Pessimism and Lack of Self-Belief

If all of our past heroes failed to comprehend philosophy then it would be natural for us to assume that we cannot hope to do so either, and perhaps even that it would be arrogant and hubristic for us to assume otherwise. Once we fall into his trap we are doomed.

Poor Scholarship

In my experience philosophy professors rarely have a good knowledge of the literature but only an excellent knowledge of the official reading-list. This official list, however, may well be the locus of the problem.

Self-Perpetuating Group-Think

Every new generation of students is taught by someone who does not understand philosophy and who may even believe that nobody ever could.

A Variety of Goals

On average the goals of professional philosophers do not appear to have much to do with understanding philosophy.

Trivialisation of Outsiders

It may be useful to be well-acquainted with a thousand philosophers who did not solve any problems, and perhaps it would be indispensable for an understanding of why ‘western’ philosophical thinking fails, but it would surely be much more useful to be well-acquainted with just one who did. It is still a common view in the profession that nobody has ever achieved this, as if the work of ten thousand philosophers over thirty centuries can be waived away because they are not in the club.

Naïve Views of Eastern Philosophy

Professional philosophers who closely identify themselves with the ‘Western’ tradition of thought, usually reckoned to begin with Plato and to proceed onwards from there in a myriad different directions as mapped out in the university reading list, do not understand the ‘Eastern’ tradition of thought, which tends to normalise on just one doctrine. If they did then they would see that it is ridiculous to reject a philosophy that solves problems for one that only causes them. They may dismiss this alternative view, trivialise it, mock it, despair at it and rant against it but they do not understand it. Nor do they understand why they cannot refute or falsify it. Nor do they understand why they cannot find an alternative solution for philosophical problems that works. This is not because they are unintelligent but because nobody studies ideas that they strongly believe to be nonsense. The role of a philosopher is to refute views wherever possible but Eastern ideas seem to escape this treatment. To refute a view one has to get to know it.

Not-invented here’ Syndrome

This is a problem for everyone. If someone has already solved philosophy then this would seem to make the rest of us followers and not, after all, intrepid explorers into uncharted territory.  We could speculate that this is one reason for the widespread rejection of Nagarjuna’s carefully-crafted and well-explained ‘Eastern’ solution for philosophy, (viz. a neutral metaphysical position), that it would take all the fun out the game if this solution is correct. Yet reaching an understanding of an existing philosophy that is not our own may be a far more dangerous and exciting adventure than simply fishing around for new ideas, and it may require a great deal more courage, imagination and conceptual re-engineering. For Socrates philosophy was all about remembering, not inventing. Thus he is usually considered to pre-date the ‘Western’ way of doing philosophy and to be merely wise.

Poor Thinking

The average layman would be gobsmacked by the prevalence of poor thinking in professional philosophy. This is possible because this kind of philosophy is so mind-bendingly complicated that it becomes difficult to know what anybody is actually saying. This can be true even for our own thoughts, which as a result can quite easily become an unsystematic muddle of opinion and conjecture hidden under a veil of fancy words. In the case of the recent Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics this reader could not understand two-thirds of the contents while the preface clearly states that nobody can or ever will understand metaphysics. This is not a coincidence. This Guide stands as a metaphor for the entire discipline.

Being too Clever by Half

See above.

Extrapolating from our Failure to the Failure of Everyone

It is commonly assumed that all the people who claim to have solved philosophy are, without exception, deluded. This does away with any need to demonstrate what is wrong with their solution. It also does away with the need to solve any problems.

Holding Temperamental Views of Religion

Professional philosophers seem as prone to this problem as the average layman.

Holding Poorly-Informed Views of Religion

This follows from holding temperamental opinions, or perhaps it can be either way around. Even where there is some sympathy for religion there is rarely much attempt to reach an informed view. Astonishingly, it is not a condition of employment that philosophers should have one. Philosophy of Mind is awash with books and articles written by people who clearly have little clue about religion and who seem to want little to with it other than to put forward theories that entirely depend on it being nonsense. Progress is just as one would anticipate.

Being Frightened of Physicists

The failure of philosophy leaves it open to endless criticism from physics, some of whose practitioners would abolish it. Every time there is new attack the philosophers get all up in arms and print a million defensive words in reply attempting to explain why their work is important while succeeding only in making it clear that they are not quite sure themselves. It is physicists who should fear philosophers given the naivety of the philosophical views that currently prevail in physics, but why would they worry while according to all the philosophers that these physicists tend to consult philosophy is hopeless and we might as well believe what we like.

Externalising the World

Professional philosophy pays lip-service to our internal world but seems to be largely about denying it. ‘Cogito’ is treated as a valid kind of axiom but to claim any more than this as evidence from direct experience would be to dabble in ‘mystical’ knowledge and to leave behind ‘rationality’. Meanwhile there is no indication that our external world is any more real than our internal world, and Descartes’ choice of axiom implies it may well be less so.

Not Beginning at the Beginning

Few of the previous errors could arise were it not for a dreadful habit that philosophers have of starting half-way through the story, as if they are not a beginner but already know a lot.

A Dislike of Simplicity

Philosophy is a simple subject in essence and most of its important questions could be asked by a child. The problem is its profundity and the challenging and iconoclastic character of its results. This problem can be avoided by making the topics so complicated that no result need ever be reached. Complexity is also useful for disguising failure.

Complacency

The world is falling apart for the sake of a metaphysical theory which would bring us all together and ground our world-view on a sound logical basis. Academic philosophy has proved itself utterly useless in this project and the whole world suffers as a consequence. Do we see any attempt to pursue progress? Or do we see the same old arguments being rehearsed over and over again to no purpose? Meanwhile students are trained to continue the tradition. It is almost as if philosophy does not matter.  Performance targets for professionals do not include solving any problems.

Misuse of Logic

While all of the above problems cannot be entirely excused even for an amateur investigation of philosophy  this one is rather more technical and it would be unfair to actually expect non-specialists to avoid it. A specialist, by contrast, must be expected to avoid it.  As it is, however, few academic philosophers seem to grasp the rules for Aristotle’s dialectic. As a consequence they see no legitimate solution for metaphysical dilemmas.  Yet according to Aristotle’s rules they are not dilemmas.  I doubt any layman would believe that this mistake is so widespread and will doubt my sanity, but it is almost universal and easy to identify. (For more discussion see:  https://theworldknot.wordpress.com/do-we-regularly-make-a-mistake-in-metaphysics/)

___

The net result of these tendencies is to render ‘Western’ academic philosophy useless as a path to truth and understanding. We could, in response, imagine that philosophy as a whole is useless, that the universe is incomprehensible, or find some other pessimistic explanation. We could equally well assume that the world is just as the Buddha says it is and that philosophy can be solved just as his philosophical commentator and explicator Nagarjuna proposes. Unfortunately this option is not usually available to professors who want their salary to go on being paid, nor is it offered by them to their students. The word ‘Mysticism’ might as well be pronounced ‘Voldemort’ in academia. Everybody knows it is nonsense due the above list of errors.

It would all be a fun game were it not for the effect on society. I believe that the failure of professional philosophers is the greatest part of the cause of the mess we are in. Some people call for a new mythology to unite us, but what do we want with a speculative mythology when we have all the tools required to determine what is actually the case? It was only ever ‘Western’ or ‘scholastic’ thinkers who denied this possibility. Socrates would not have done so but something went terribly wrong after his time.

Thanks to the internet and the easy availability of a vast literature explaining why the Western philosophical approach, grounded as it is in dualism, must forever fail, we might hope that a revolution is on the way. It may already be underway but it seems as yet a very fragile thing. What is required is some soul-searching in the Academy but it is not known for its powers of self-criticism. I suspect it may take another five hundred years of lobbying to persuade its members that philosophy is not useless, so well-entrenched are those who find it so.

[If the reader has more ideas for the list please mention them in the comments. If any seem unjustified please argue back. I’ve given up pulling punches but don’t want to land any unfairly.]

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27 Responses to What is Wrong with Professional Philosophy?

  1. My take on the situation… A great deal of philosophy was bad. It didn’t just fail to provide answers, it created pseudo-problems that it then wasted time trying to “solve”. Hence was born analytic philosophy.

    In the meanwhile, science did what philosophy failed to do — provide useful answers that stood the test of time. Granted, science arose from philosophy, so this duality isn’t quite fair, but at a certain point they became differentiated.

    So between analytic philosophy revealing that many philosophical arguments were nonsense, and science showing that it could deliver the goods, we ended up with the state of philosophy today and the simple fact that people turn to scientists — and not philosophers — for answers.

    Turning to the East won’t work. While Eastern philosophy is great for addressing the human condition, it is even worse at providing the kinds of knowledge that Western philosophy and science have sought. Eastern Philosophy has no shortage of silliness, dead-ends, superstitions and pointless hair-splitting.

    I generally like the status quo, but think it could be improved. Science gives us useful models (the closest to truth that we’ll get), Western Philosophy gives us critical thinking skills (and should be augmented to include the love of contemplation of deep topics) and Eastern Philosophy gives us ways to address the human condition.

    And as imperialistic as it sounds, both Western and Eastern Philosophy should be prepared to cede ground to science the moment it has anything concrete to say about their domains. For instance, when neurology speaks, meditators should listen :).

    Just my two cents.

    • PeterJ says:

      Hi Bloggin – Appreciate the comment but now you’re really going to get me going.

      The idea that science can answer a philosophical question is wrong. This is a matter of definitions. I’m not sure how you arrive at the idea that it ever might.

      Philosophy cannot cede any ground to science since science doesn’t study philosophical issues. If it did it would open itself up to all your (and my) criticisms.

      I’m not sure why you say a great deal of philosophy ‘was’ bad. It’s as bad as it ever was. To be honest I think that the Academy was in better shape two millennia ago.

      The ideas that eastern philosophy is in the same mess as the western kind is a non-starter and can be disposed of by a literature review. It is just a matter of evidence and facts. If it was not I wouldn’t have written this post. That it is not in a mess is at least slightly indicated by the upcoming Science and Nonduality conference in California. It is my conclusion that nonduality IS the solution for philosophy, just as the sages have always claimed. I think a decent objection to this idea would have to be a refutation, not an opinion.

      “…analytic philosophy revealing that many philosophical arguments were nonsense, and science showing that it could deliver the goods..”

      It is the entire task of philosophy to reveal arguments that are nonsense, so it cannot be criticised for it. My criticism is that the same nonsense arguments continue to be made ad infinitum, as if one day they will by magic become good arguments. Meanwhile we go nowhere. In what way has science delivered the goods? Examples? Is there even one?

      You’re happy with the status quo? The status quo is nothing but muddle and confusion. Surely that is for anyone to see. It’s not good enough for me and I don’t believe it should be good enough for anyone, as the post states. If you really are happy with the status quo then we are never going to agree about anything,.

      The idea that ‘when neurology speaks meditators should listen’ leaves me nonplussed. I don’t really know what to say in response. Do you really believe this? It suggests that our planets are too far apart for sub-light-speed communication. 🙂

      I feel, rightly or wrongly, that you may as well have just said ‘Rubbish’ and left it at that. It’s not a problem but I am left wondering what exactly your objections are. It seems to me that none of these here stand up to mild scrutiny.

      I’m happy to argue the case all day but I don’t want to simply be argumentative. I’ll face up to tricky questions if you have any lined up.

      • You take my responses WAY too personally. This isn’t a personal attack, and I’d like to think I can express disagreements without you feeling offended. So breathe…

        Science has answered philosophical questions. Much of science’s domain was once philosophical, and the fact that philosophy is nowhere to be found there is a testament to science’s success and philosophy’s failure. Biology, astronomy, psychology were all once philosophical topics. What did philosophy get us? Nothing. What did science get us? Medicine, space travel, neural networks, the internet…

        The knowledge the West seeks is the kind of knowledge that is useful for controlling phenomena and this is knowledge of how one part relates to another. By definition this is dualistic knowledge, so Non-duality is irrelevant here. Yes, things may very well be a unified whole, but we try to control it in terms of its parts, so we have to approach that dualistically.

        For a classic example of a pseudo-problem, take Plato’s forms. Plato confused epistemology with ontology, and created a non-problem that philosophers squabbled over for millenia. A promising solution to the problem of universals came from science — specifically neurology. Neural networks are how the brain works and they’ve built models that have succeeded at classification of a variety of tasks (unity in plurality). Functional models hint that we’re on the right track. Work remains to be done, but we’ve gotten far more than the philosophers ever gave us; no wonder, considering philosophers couldn’t even get the question right.

        If you want to know how things work, gather data and build models. This is what science does and why science works. Armchair theorizing and meditation can get you some limited information on your inner states, and the latter can transform these states in powerful ways, but they can’t get you information about what’s out there.

  2. PeterJ says:

    I see you are in my target group and are offended. If so that’s fine, the post was meant to be challenging. Your objections reflect your lack of interest in what I’m saying, which is also fine, but I see no purpose in arguing.

  3. Actually, I was not the least bit offended, as is obvious by my response. Rather, you’re offended. You are so attached to your views that you treat disagreement as a personal attack. It’s unfortunate; had you responded rationally (engaged in my responses rather than projecting your own views onto me), we could have had an interesting discussion. Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve been subjected to your passive-aggressive attacks.

    Anyway, if you’d care to argue rationally for a change, I’d love to see what you have to say. Maybe you can challenge me if you actually make the effort to engage in the material rather than attacking me or making assumptions about my emotional state.

    in the meanwhile, I’m unsubscribing to your blog. If you haven’t unsubscribed to mine, I recommend you do, as I no longer feel you have anything meaningful to contribute.

    But maybe you can prove me wrong?

  4. PeterJ says:

    Sadly, that seems like the best idea. I considered it after our previous discussion.

    I will engage in an argument if you care to make an objection worth arguing about. Instead you display a lack of interest in the topics. You even go so far as to say that meditation can tell us nothing about anything except mental states. How I am to respond to this except to suggest reading a book? Or my blog. It seems very obvious you do not care to look into these things and see no point in doing so. .

    Which one of the list of problems do you object to? Which one is unfair? If you make an argument I’ll hold up my side but I can’t argue with someone who won’t engage with the issues and just repeats their existing views. I claim here (yet again) that a neutral metaphysical position is the solution for philosophy. I would have thought that this claim deserved an argument if you’re so sure it is wrong. Yet you leave it to stand and tell me that science will one day solve philosophy in some other way. Why would I bother having an argument at this level of comprehension? . .

    I’m not sure why you think I was personally offended. I’m just amazed that someone who cannot make sense of philosophy should argue against the idea that we can and we should. If you have one strong objection then make it and I’ll argue.my side. I’m a ludicrously argumentative person. But I’m not responding to the same knee-jerk stuff that I’m complaining about in the post. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and a survey of professional philosophy will verify that the list is a good one. I have spent more than decade on my survey, regularly talk with professional philosophers and feel secure in my conclusions.

    I feel that if I were a professor you would have taken more trouble with your objections, and that you had you not done so you would have received a much more terse reply.

    But as the post implies I have become bored with this sort of discussion. The facts seem to play no part in them and so they become all about received opinions and temperamental views. Make a decent objection and I’ll respond. .

    Sorry to fall out but as you can see I’ve fallen out with everybody who takes your approach to philosophy so it isn’t personal.

  5. Actually I made points, but you never answered any of them. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you missed them and that you didn’t mean to engage in a personal attack. So let’s bring this back to a professional footing. Here are the points I made:

    1. I listed science’s successes and stated that philosophy hasn’t had a single one. List some philosophical successes if you wish to counter this.

    2. I explained why non-duality won’t satisfy the knowledge requirements of the West. Explain how it can if you wish to counter this.

    3. I stated that many philosophical problems (like the “problem of universals”) were category mistakes, thus questioning much of the subject matter of philosophy. This is nothing new, and you can read Wittgenstein for a sustained treatment (although even Berkeley hinted at this). The entire field of Analytic Philosophy exists as a recognition of this problem.

    4. I stated that science made much better headway on philosophical “problems”. I used the universals as an example. By showing them to be epistemological issues (rather than ontological ones, as claimed by Plato), then studying our cognitive apparatus and then building models that solved (admittedly simplified versions of) the problem, science did more to resolve this and back up its resolution than philosophers ever did.

    5. I claimed that meditation only revealed our inner states (and poorly at that). I took this to be so self-evident (how could looking within reveal something without? Has anyone discovered a new species by meditation?) that I simply took it as a given. As for the poorly part, I offer neurological studies on perception that put into question the very foundation of introspection (The Cartesian Theater). In fact, one could profitably ask how meditation can reveal something outside ourselves when it can’t reveal much of what goes on inside?

    How’s that? 😀

  6. And for the record, I love philosophy (Eastern and Western) and meditation. However, I have a very specific view of what they can offer, and feel their benefits are subjective. This is fine, as the most important things to individuals are subjective (happiness is subjective). So subjectively, philosophy and meditation are the most important things one can study. Objectively, they may be the least important.

    I just think it’s important to understand this distinction. Right now, I’m arguing about the objective benefits of philosophy and meditation, not the subjective ones, and objectively, this is where science comes in as a competitor.

    I hope this clarifies things.

  7. PeterJ says:

    I do not believe that you love philosophy or are even inclined to do any. For example, you say you have a very specific view of what meditation can offer. What an extraordinary thing to say. Do you not see the self satisfied ignorance that this sentence reveals? Why would I respond seriously to this sort of statement. No really, why would I? Why bother to comment at all? It is this sort of approach which is the target of the post so I can only repeat my criticisms to you. You deny utterly what the mystics claim about the universe on the basis of guesswork and call it doing philosophy. .

    I don’t think you listen to word of what I say, Bloggin, or take the trouble to follow the reasoning, so let’s go back to plan A and leave it. You’ll never agree with anything I have to say and I regret saying so much here. You are happy with the status quo, which is utter confusion, so there’s no need for you to think about this stuff. Why not just walk away?

    I’ll be posting a ‘Part II’ soon,which might help.

    • Again with the personal attacks. I thought meditation and Eastern philosophy is supposed to make you more open-minded, more compassionate, more equanimous? From the hatred, anger and personal attacks in your response, it seems it had the opposite effect. Just out of interest, do you actually practice any of this, or do you just read it and treat it as dogma?

      First, I love philosophy and have done it when responding to you. Analyzing claims, putting forth arguments, etc… is part of philosophy.

      Second, the belief that meditation (or mysticism) can reveal the secrets of the universe is nothing more than an anthropocentric bias — a belief that the universe operates according to human concerns. Yet science has shown us time and again that the universe does not operate by those rules, so to claim otherwise is to turn one’s back on science.

      Yes, I give science and logic priority. If we can’t even agree on this much, then we don’t have a basis for discourse.

  8. PeterJ says:

    I suppose I ought to respond to your list.

    -“Actually I made points, but you never answered any of them. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you missed them and that you didn’t mean to engage in a personal attack. So let’s bring this back to a professional footing. Here are the points I made:”

    I’d love to put it on a professional footing but I see no hope of it.

    “1. I listed science’s successes and stated that philosophy hasn’t had a single one. List some philosophical successes if you wish to counter this.”

    You listed some scientific successes but I don’t know why. My point was that science cannot solve philosophical problems. Of course it can solve scientific problems. As for philosophical successes, I would naturally cite Nagarjuna, who solves it once and for all.

    “2. I explained why non-duality won’t satisfy the knowledge requirements of the West. Explain how it can if you wish to counter this.”

    You explained nothing of the sort. You stated your opinion and it seemed rather irrelevant to the issues. Okay, you think mysticism is nonsense. So what?

    “3. I stated that many philosophical problems (like the “problem of universals”) were category mistakes, thus questioning much of the subject matter of philosophy. This is nothing new, and you can read Wittgenstein for a sustained treatment (although even Berkeley hinted at this). The entire field of Analytic Philosophy exists as a recognition of this problem.”

    On man. Do you take Wittgenstein seriously? Have you read the Philosophical Investigations? You think that is good philosophy? This is precisely the sort of philosophy that is so completely useless.

    -“4. I stated that science made much better headway on philosophical “problems”. I used the universals as an example. By showing them to be epistemological issues (rather than ontological ones, as claimed by Plato), then studying our cognitive apparatus and then building models that solved (admittedly simplified versions of) the problem, science did more to resolve this and back up its resolution than philosophers ever did.”

    Sorry. Can’t make any sense of this para. Science has never made headway on any philosophical problems, which is why they are called philosophical problems. If a scientist works on the problem of universals and particulars they are doing philosophy.

    “5. I claimed that meditation only revealed our inner states (and poorly at that). I took this to be so self-evident (how could looking within reveal something without? Has anyone discovered a new species by meditation?) that I simply took it as a given. As for the poorly part, I offer neurological studies on perception that put into question the very foundation of introspection (The Cartesian Theater). In fact, one could profitably ask how meditation can reveal something outside ourselves when it can’t reveal much of what goes on inside?”

    You have not reached first base on this topic and it is absurd that hold a strong opinion. Also just a little sad. Your use of ‘self-evident’ here is astonishing. It seems to mean ‘agrees with my pre-formed opinion’. Your approach is bang-on the approach that my post is complaining about so I’ll get on with Part II and call it a day for this comment section.

    Let us not waste any more time on this waffle.

  9. To cling to a concrete reality is to be as foolish as cattle.
    But clinging to emptiness is even more foolish.
    — Saraha

    You’ve clung so much to your dogmas that you cannot even understand my claims. As a result, you’ve responded to straw men and engaged in ad hominem attacks. I won’t argue further, but I will correct your misrepresentation of my claims by listing my actual claims (and not your distortions thereof). You needn’t respond to these; I just want my reasoning out there to show I’m not being emotional or making wild assertions. Further, in my arguments I use words like “many” and “doubt” because I understand I could be wrong. I’m just showing there are good grounds for taking the positions I took and showing how what I wrote (including statements about the success of science) fit into the bigger arguments.

    First, on “philosophical problems”:
    1. Many “philosophical problems” were shown to be category mistakes, later solved by science.
    2. Many “philosophical problems” were shown to be linguistic artifacts.
    3. Therefore, it’s questionable if “Philosophical Problems” exist.
    4. Further, philosophy has not solved any “philosophical problems”.
    5. Therefore, it’s doubtful that philosophy can solve “philosophical problems”.
    Notice how this does not claim philosophy is useless, it just questions its ability to solve “philosophical problems”, especially since said problems may not even exist to begin with.

    Second, on non-duality not working for traditional Western knowledge requirements:
    1. The West seeks knowledge to control phenomena.
    2. Controlling phenomena involves understanding phenomena in terms of its parts.
    3. By definition, understanding something in terms of its parts is dualism.
    4. By definition, non-duality is the opposite of dualism.
    5. Therefore, non-duality cannot satisfy the traditional knowledge requirements of the West.
    Notice how this does not claim non-duality is useless, it just states that non-duality does not supply the kind of knowledge the West has traditionally sought.

    I am very sad that the situation has so degenerated between us that any hope of productive discourse has vanished. However, part of it is my fault. I saw early on that you could not handle disagreement. I could have cut things off months ago or taken a hard line, but I felt it was good to be gentle. However, you’ve gotten worse and worse, to the point that it’s impossible to reason with you.

    I wish you well.

    • PeterJ says:

      Productive discourse? It is very hard to know what to say at this point.

      I’ve never spoken to anyone so full of opinionated nonsense, so unwilling to address the facts and so incapable of understanding what I am saying. I spend my days speaking to philosophers and have never come across anything like this discussion before. I wonder why you bother commenting here. What could possibly be the result other than a pantomime argument? It is the nearest to trolling I have ever experienced. What sort of response did you expect?

      Do you honestly believe that you understand Nagarjuna while you disagree with his doctrine? It would mean that he would not agree that you understand him. Do you not see the absurdity of the situation? Your argument seems to be that the Buddha was expressing an opinion and that your opinion is more reliable. You state that Nagarjuna did not solve philosophy even though he is famous for putting in place the philosophical foundation of Middle Way Buddhism, and more generally ‘mysticism’ or ‘nondualism’. You state that you know this, for which I must take your word, which implies that you are not able to distinguish fiction from facts. You ignore my own counter-proof entirely. You do not take the trouble to study my other posts, most of which serve to support what I say in this one and which deal perfectly well with all your objections. You do not exhibit an understanding even of the distinction between science and philosophy. Yet you argue rather than study. .

      This will my last response to you and I would appreciate it if you went away and left me in peace.

  10. Marian Kozak says:

    Hi, Peter,
    The topic seems to me extremely interesting , but before commenting I would need to know that you still follow your older articles. I think I have something substantial to contrbute.

    • PeterJ says:

      Hi Marian. Yes, I’m still around following up. I’d welcome your contribution. It’s a difficult topic and highly divisive but someone’s got to wade in. .

      • Marian Kozak says:

        That’s great.
        My own questions arose few years ago in social context: why people, after being exposed to some propaganda and brought to believe in it, decline to examine their beliefs after the lies come under dispute, or even get debunked?
        I am an engineer and not more than an amateur philosopher, but the matter sort of pulled me in and so I started to think and read more and more about philosophy and about mind; only then I have noticed the deplorable state of affairs in the academia that you describe in the article. And not just in present-day academia, in my opinion. It turned out that what is true for people at large is true also for professors, philosophy or otherwise: they largely refuse to correct their fallacies, if only ingrown enough.
        Now, I think that your description is accurate, but I would go a little deeper, to more basic causes. My own thinking about western philosophy brought me to following conclusions:
        a. We fundamentally believe in soundness of our mind, which means that in the main we take it as a reliable tool to investigate the world
        b. Further, that this world is in the main intelligible, that is amenable to our investigations.

        (I said ‘my own thinking’ – but in fact it is a result of my 3-years philosophical investigation, of which maybe later.)
        Anyway, I found that point a. is totally unfounded, and in fact false. Yet, even if this is repeatedly pointed out, our fundamental trust is not affected in the least. (I won’t comment on point b. at this time)
        The case in point? Logic. Belief in the powers of logic is our most potent enemy, in my opinion. In your papers, for example you insists on judging metaphysical theories by their logical coherence; but why, indeed? Is logic (Aristotelian, say) more fundamental than metaphysics? Certainly not. In fact, I would argue that logic is a very poor tool in any investigation except maybe in the universe of inanimate objects. Regarding operation of our mind, it is worthless — and I can prove it.

  11. PeterJ says:

    Thanks for your interesting post, Marian. We seem to agree on the state of academia but have different ideas of the cause of the problems.

    I believe we can trust our minds and logic but that neither is used properly by those we are both criticising. There are two or three essays here explaining the widespread misuse of logic, which means a widespread misuse of minds, and we aren’t going to disagree about unwillingness of professors of philosophy to face the facts.

    Aristotle’s logic is just fine if it is used correctly, as specified by the great man, but rarely do professors of philosophy use it as specified. If we use it properly then philosophy becomes manageable and the truth can be found. (Check out the essay ‘Do We Make a Mistake in Metaphysics’) .

    You ask whether logic is more basic than metaphysics but I feel that this is not quite the right question since logic is necessary to metaphysics. Logic can bring us to the correct metaphysical conclusions and it can be trusted, I have shown this in various essays. But this is only true if we stick rigidly to the rules, and it must be conceded that in the end logic shows that the universe outruns the categories on which logic depends.

    So for me logic works just fine but cannot go all the way (cf. The Tower of Babel). meaning that I half-agree with your view. We can trust our minds and our logic but only if we use them properly, and commonly people do not use them properly.

    If you have an example of logic leading us to a false conclusion it might be interesting to discuss it. .

  12. Marian Kozak says:

    Oh certainly, the situation in academia is terrible even more than in your description, I only think that my own situation is not much better (or at least, was so until say 3 years ago). Regarding logic, it is not the matter of falsity, rather its worthlessness regarding metaphysics and life in general. The problem with logic is that it can work reliably only within a system, but any system of sufficient power is incomplete – there is no escape from it, logic system cannot transcend itself – yet the mind can, easily, again and again. Now, if metaphysics is to describe operation of my mind, how can it be judged by logic? If my mind cannot be logical in that sense, so how can metaphysics?
    I would add at this point that based on such and other ideas I was able to falsify the ‘causal closure of the physical domain’ and show that physicalism is contrary to facts.

    • PeterJ says:

      Yes. Interestingly Hawking used to have an article online called ‘The End of Physics’. which argued that physics cannot be completed, but it was withdrawn.

      I feel that logic is trustworthy if it used correctly and is not pushed beyond its limits. Logic is used in Mysticism to prove what is (relatively) true and false just as it is in mathematics and it causes no problems. For instance, logic can prove that the universe is a unity just as the Buddha and Lao Tsu claim, so it would be odd to reject it as useless.

      I’d agree that logic is a mental process that must be reduced or transcended for a full explanation of mind, but this is not a problem for logic. You argument against logic is logical so it is a very difficult argument to make. Bradley argues that any claim that universe is unreasonable (not amenable to analysis) must be self-defeating, and I’d agree.

      I feel that there is no problem with logic but plenty with those who use it. Logic allows us to solve metaphysics and work out what its true… if we do it right. .

      You didn’t give an example of where logic misleads us. I think we’d need one to explore our differences further. I can’t provide one because I truly don’t know of any.

      The issue of whether logic can be complete is very difficult, but I would argue that this is not the case. Not all systems qualify for Godel’s incompleteness. But this is a big one.

      • Marian Kozak says:

        You are absolutely right that logic is trustworthy if used correctly, I have no issue with that. I only claim that it is not powerful enough to handle real problems of metaphysics – which is the mind. Regarding Godel incompleteness, no formal systems (of sufficient power, which Aristotelian system admittedly lacks) can escape this fate; that is not very big (not as far as I am aware; maybe you point me to your sources) — you might know that at least two people tried to employ this fact to prove that mind is immaterial yet real: John R. Lucas of Oxford and Godel himself; both with no success. And in any case, big or not, you can’t construct a metaphysics worth considering without accounting for Godel’s incompleteness.

        Please notice that my argument against logic is not logical but rather practical, as I only claim that logic is nor worth very much, and I show it thusly: Is it possible to prove logically (that is, formally) Godel’s 1st theorem? No, that what it says — as proven outside of logic. Regarding Bradley’s assertion, I must ask your pardon, I know how much you like him, yet I won’t take as evidence anything just because some authority – be it Bradley’s or even Ramana Maharshi’s (although I am absolutely certain that every Ramana’s word is true.) As I said, I am an engineer and not a philosopher, and I treat this work as a construction. For example, I assure you that I went over Godel’s proof myself and didn’t just take his – or anyone else’s – word for its correctness. If I want to convince physicists that the world is not as they think it is, or computer scientists that Human Brain Project and AI in general is nonsense and waste of time, I need to talk in their language and present solid evidence, not authority.

        Yet, because Bradley belongs to your regular sources, I would like you to clarify a statement about him in your post. The case in point, regarding time and space (Ch. XVIII of AaR) Bradley asserts that they are just appearances with no reality, yet it is impossible to show how their appearances arise in us. Impossible. Which seems quite different from what you state, since ‘impossible to show’ implies ‘not amenable to analysis’, no? Yet, I would remark, those very appearances seem so well understood by physicists that we successfully fly to the Moon and are able to account for curvature of space near the Sun. If Bradley has nothing to say about this circumstance, I cannot take him seriously. And in a wider context, do you agree with Bradley at this point? Because, if the metaphysics you seek after isn’t going to account for appearances of time and space arising in our mind, and at the same time explain how they seem real enough to account for flights to the Moon, then it is not worth the effort, in my opinion.

        Coming back to logic: I didn’t promise example of logic which is misleading (as I don’t think logic is) and certainly can’t provide one; yet I would like to know what do you make of various paradoxes, like Liar’s, Russell’s etc? How such paradoxes are possible at all? (assuming logic is as dependable as you claim)

  13. PeterJ says:

    There are a number of different issues here. I’ll try to cover the ground.

    Bradley uses logic to prove (informally) that the universe is a unity, and this is as far a logic can go. So, while I agree that logic cannot go all the way, (in that it cannot reveal to us what ‘unity’ truly means), it can at least solve all metaphysical problems.at the level of principles.

    The structure of the metaphysical system I endorse entails that each theorem is neither strictly true nor false, since this is a system of contradictory complementarity. (True words seem paradoxical – Lao Tsu). I believe this system is not subject to incompleteness, albeit that like all logical system an undefined term is required.

    The Liar paradox is for me a muddle of words and not significant. Russell’s paradox, by contrast, would be critical and perhaps the most important in metaphysics. It is solved in the philosophy I endorse, or rather,does not arise. This paradox arises when we reify the ‘MIndscape’ (the set of all possible ideas). If we do not do this then life becomes easier.

    For time and space logic allows us to work out that if they are truly real then they are paradoxical. Ergo, logic denies their reality, just as Nagarjuna. Kant and Bradley argue. Score one for logic.

    If you’re saying that logic is not enough for a Knowledge of Reality then I’d agree completely. But it shows us where to go for such knowledge, and what it will look like, and it allows us to solve metaphysics and prove the Buddha’s cosmological teachings, so it is a long way from useless. Not for nothing is the dialectic taught in the Buddhist universities.

    I’ve probably missed a few points.but maybe this moves things on a bit. Logical analysis led me directly to Buddhist doctrine, it being the only one to survive analysis, so I would not agree that it is worthless, only that it has limits. After all, it changed my life. It cannot go beyond the point where distinctions break down and so gets stuck on problems such as Russell’s, but it can show us that this is what we would need to do for a solution for metaphysics and this is as much as it needs to do. Regrettably, not many academic philosophers use logic properly so they do not find the solution, but this is not the fault of logic.

    A question to keep the pot bubbling – If Nagarjuna and others use logic to prove the truth about Reality then how can logic be useless?

  14. Marian Kozak says:

    Peter, you haven’t properly addressed even one of my objections! This is really perplexing; if the metaphysics you endorse doesn’t provide answers to real practical problems, it cannot be of much worth. True, logic can provide true answers to selected questions, so what? Materialism too relies on logic, and is false nonetheless. Unity of the world was discovered already by Abraham (from the Hebrew Bible), without logic, simply because he was a visionary, like Buddha or Lao Tsu. But we are not, and to convince my fellow men — and even myself, for that matter — I need more than New Age slogans.

    And Bradley’s arguments are not much more than that. Consider again his approach to time in the book. In the meantime I have read the rest of Bradley’s Ch. XVIII, and I think it illustrates very well my assertion about our exaggerated belief in powers of our reason. Bradley rejects there the reality of time, following considerations in the first part of his book. A New Age practitioner is satisfied that time is no more than appearance; very well. But then he comes home, and suppose his child is sick or had an accident – does he fear for child’s life? or rather reminds himself that time is not real and the future is only illusory, so there is nothing to fear? If he is not an idiot, he will bring the child to a hospital, fast — and maybe he will realize that it is his belief in logic that is unfounded rather than reality of time.

    You know, I consider Lao Tsu, Buddha or Shankara as true prophets, and their wisdom indeed is able to change lives; but can I bring their authority to a discussion about Darwinism? And that is what proper metaphysics should do — at least metaphysics which I endorse.

  15. Marian Kozak says:

    My last sentence is funny. Of course, I mean that a proper metaphysics must defeat Darwinism on its own ground, by employing scientific language, and not by denying reality of time or asserting unity of the world.

  16. PeterJ says:

    Okay Marian. I think that you’re not so much criticising logic as failing to use it. What is wrong with Bradley’s analysis, or Nagarjuna’s, or come to that mine? You give no examples,of what is wrong with it. Do their arguments fail? You would have to show this to make your point. Why do you feel metaphysics is not important? Why do you reject the unreality of time? Why reject the unity of he world? It all seems to be just a collection of opinions with no argument or rationale. Iow, where’s the logic? .

    It appears that you are a naive realist beholden to the physical sciences. That’s fine, but there’s no need to argue with me. I have made sufficient arguments against realism and if they fail then you’d need to show me where, not just state that they fail. I’m not sure how you can criticise academia when you adopt the same approach,

    Why does metaphysics have to defeat Darwinism? This is a a category error, since evolutionary theory makes no metaphysical predictions. At any rate, it is obviously largely a correct theory, albeit well short of comprehensive or complete as yet. .

    I’m away for a few days but will be happy to carry on after the weekend. I like this sort of discussion but I don;t really know where to start with someone who does not respect logic or metaphysics since my arguments are bound to be logical and metaphysical. If a person believes that logic doesn’t work then any logical argument put to them is useless. But feel free to find fault if you can. I’ll be back.in a few days……

    • Marian Kozak says:

      “It is clear that philosophy as practiced in our universities is not a method for discovering the answers to any important questions. ”

      Above is a quote from your original post. I think we can safely extend this statement to your blog as well. Have a pleasant weekend.

      • PeterJ says:

        Ha. It’s a funny old world.

        I would have been happy to address any objections if you’d made some. I really do think you are missing something important here, something that will affect your life. It is important to be sure that you can defeat a philosophical idea and that it is not just your opinion that it is wrong. Otherwise philosophical analysis will not lead you to the truth. You will conclude that you are entitled to your opinion, while in philosophy nobody is entitled to their opinion.

        If you can make a decent objection please make it, or perhaps you have a question. I enjoy chatting. But if it is your opinion that my blog is nonsense and you cannot prove it then you cannot seriously expect me me be bothered.

        If it has not helped you to understand philosophy then this is a more serious charge and I must apologise for it. It would be interesting to see what happened if you persevered despite your scepticism, but you may feel that you’ve burnt your bridges.

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