The Nature and Future of Philosophy

The Nature and Future of Philosophy

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Nature and Future of Philosophy
    Book Description:

    Philosophy is a discipline that makes no observations, conducts no experiments, and needs no input from experience. It is an armchair subject, requiring only thought. Yet that thought can advance knowledge in unexpected directions, not only through the discovery of new facts but also through the enhancement of what we already know. Philosophy can clarify our vision of the world and provide exciting ways to interpret it.

    Of course, philosophy's unified purpose hasn't kept the discipline from splintering into warring camps. Departments all over the world are divided among analytical and continental schools, Heidegger, Hegel, and other major thinkers, challenging the growth of the discipline and obscuring its relevance and intent. Having spent decades teaching in American, Asian, African, and European universities, Michael Dummett has felt firsthand the fractured state of contemporary practice and the urgent need for reconciliation. Setting forth a proposal for renewal and reengagement, Dummett begins with the nature of philosophical inquiry as it has developed for centuries, especially its exceptional openness and perspective-which has, ironically, led to our present crisis. He discusses philosophy in relation to science, religion, morality, language, and meaning and recommends avenues for healing around a renewed investigation of mind, language, and thought. Employing his trademark frankness and accessibility, Dummett asks philosophers to resolve theoretical difference and reclaim the vital work of their practice.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52218-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. 1-6)

    Practically every university throughout the world deems it as essential to have a philosophy department as to have a history department or a chemistry department. This is certainly a very lucky thing for philosophers. Historians can teach in schools and advise on television programs and films; the minority gifted with the ability to write popular books can subsist on their incomes as authors. Chemists can work for industry; if they are lucky, they may even be paid by their companies to do research. By contrast, only in a few countries is philosophy taught as a subject in the schools; philosophy...

    (pp. 7-12)

    What, then, is philosophy about? For Quine and some other contemporary American philosophers, philosophy is simply the most abstract part of science. It does not, indeed, make any observations or conduct any experiments of its own; but it may, and should, incorporate the discoveries of the sciences to build a naturalized theory of knowledge and of the mind. Properly speaking, therefore, it ought to be classified with the natural sciences. Wittgenstein held the very opposite opinion. For him, philosophy stands in complete contrast with science: its methods wholly diverge from those of science, and its objective differs to an equal...

    (pp. 13-20)

    That the task of philosophy is to clarify our concepts does not entail that there are no philosophical truths, no statements that embody the results of philosophical clarification. Wittgenstein’s own work belies his denial that philosophical endeavor can be encapsulated in propositions. Many arguments of his drive toward conclusions expressible as philosophical theses. A clear example is his celebrated reflections on the notion of a private language—a language private in the sense that only one person could understand it—which lead to the conclusion that there could not be a private language: a clear example of a philosophical thesis...

  6. 4 SCIENCE
    (pp. 21-30)

    On the view of philosophy argued for in the preceding chapters, philosophy does not advance knowledge: it clarifies what we already know. This clarification will affect our understanding of reality; it will dispel the misunderstandings and confusions that distort our thinking about it. To arrive at the goal at which philosophy aims is to follow a tortuous path. There are so many problems to which we do not know the solution: the relation of mind and body, the sense in which our actions are free, the ground of morality, the nature of time. What is consciousness, and could we behave...

    (pp. 31-38)

    The astounding advances made during the past half-millennium by physics, astronomy, and cosmology have radically altered our picture of the universe, but they have had very little effect upon our understanding of ourselves and of our dealings with one another. Even the success of biology in establishing the evolution of species, including our own, and explaining its mechanism in natural selection has done comparatively little to alter our view of human beings and the relations between them. The technology born of science has indeed utterly transformed our lives: it has given us swift means of travel, rapid communication across great...

    (pp. 39-46)

    Although conflicts can occur, science is not intrinsically a rival to philosophy. Is religion?

    Among one circle of opinion, it has become fashionable to deny that religious faith requires us to subscribe to any propositions; the word “proposition” is usually pronounced by those who hold this view in a sneering tone. Propositions are not in themselves to be sneered at: they form the contents of our beliefs, as, for example, that some injured person will die if he is not taken at once to the hospital. The thesis is, therefore, the paradoxical one that faith does not require any beliefs....

    (pp. 47-56)

    An identification of the way things are in reality with the way they are apprehended by God naturally demands that we attribute knowledge to God. An identification of the principles of morality with the way God wants us to behave similarly demands that we attribute a will to God concerning human actions, though not necessarily one concerning his own actions, which would allow questions such as why God created the world or any of the objects in it. Not all human religions have imposed moral precepts upon their adherents, but all those known as “world religions” have made such a...

    (pp. 57-64)

    Bernard Bolzano (1781–1848) was a great philosopher, and certainly the greatest Czech philosopher—perhaps the only great Czech philosopher. Bolzano was also a great mathematician, as well as a moral and political philosopher and theologian. On a brief visit to Prague, however, I was unable to find a statue or plaque to him, or a street or square named after him. It might be surmised that this was because Bolzano wrote in German, not in Czech; yet Franz Kafka is everywhere celebrated in Prague, and Kafka wrote in German. Possibly Czechs of the present day do not greatly value...

    (pp. 65-74)

    What were the leading ideas that made Frege the first proponent of a plausible theory of meaning?

    The governing principle of Frege’s philosophical logic, highlighted in his Grundlagen, was that “only in the context of a sentence do the words mean anything.” At first sight this so-called context principle contradicts the obvious fact that we understand sentences by understanding the words compounding them; this, as Frege himself insisted, is how we can understand sentences that have never before occurred to us. But to say that it is only in the context of a sentence that a word has meaning is...

    (pp. 75-86)

    The ideas expounded in the preceding chapter are all to be found in Frege’s work from before 1890, and most of them in the Begriffsschrift. They remained intact during his mature period, from 1891 to 1906. But the ideas of that later period have had the great influence within analytic philosophy. And first among these is his distinction between sense and reference.

    Frege’s initial explanation of his notion of Bedeutung always treated of the Bedeutungen of singular terms, including proper names: the Bedeutung of a name was its bearer, the Bedeutung of a complex term such as a definite description...

    (pp. 87-100)

    The rapid acceptance of the new logic, modern mathematical logic, came about with little direct influence from its founder, Frege. A major influence was the massive three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–1913) of Bertrand Russell and Alfred Whitehead, the equivalent of Frege’s Grundgesetze; it attempted to derive the whole of mathematics from logical first principles, in a formal system based on the ramified thoery of types. Russell had learned from Frege and from Giuseppe Peano, but others studied the Principia rather than the authors’ forebears. An equally powerful influence in propagating the new logic was the work of the school of...

    (pp. 101-114)

    G. E. Moore maintained that philosophers had erred in thinking it the task of philosophy either to refute certain propositions to which common sense would ordinarily assent, or to defend them against purported refutation. Such propositions were not, in his view, to be called in question. What was uncertain was the correct analysis of those propositions, and that was the proper task of philosophy. We could not sensibly doubt the truth of common-sense propositions, but without the help of philosophers, we could not say exactly what they mean.

    Philosophy should thus consist in the analysis of concepts or of meanings....

    (pp. 115-124)

    Frege was earlier described as the first to make the linguistic turn, when, in the Grundlagen, he answered the question “How are numbers given to us?” by an investigation of the senses of sentences containing terms for numbers. But was it really language that he was interested in? The sentences he discussed were German sentences. Yet, when the Grundlagen is translated into English or Italian, the sentences he was inquiring into are also translated into English or Italian. Surely it was not the German sentences Frege was concerned with, but the thoughts they and their English and Italian counterparts express....

  16. 14 REALISM
    (pp. 125-136)

    There is some historical evidence that there really was a noble called Roland who served under Charlemagne; but suppose that it is misleading, and that there was no such person as Roland. On this supposition, if someone says, “It was the Basques, not the Muslims, who attacked Roland,” meaning to make a serious historical statement, what does the name “Roland” refer to as he uses it? Does it refer to a possible, though not actual, person? Are there possible but not actual people and objects? If there are not, then presumably “Roland,” in that speaker’s mouth, does not refer to...

    (pp. 137-144)

    In Through the Looking-Glass Lewis Carroll (C. L. Dodgson) narrated the following conversation, the first remark being made by Humpty Dumpty:

    “... that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents—”

    “Certainly,” said Alice.

    “And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!”

    “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’” Alice said.

    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knockdown argument,’” Alice objected.

    “When I use a word,”...

    (pp. 145-154)

    In his article “The Four Phases of Philosophy” (The Monist83 [2000]: 68–88), Peter Simons gives an elegant classification of various models of the history of philosophy:

    The most obvious and simplistic is the cumulative progress model: Philosophy progresses like science by cumulative achievement. . . . The cumulative progress model is, as Brentano pointed out . . . , too obviously falsi-fied by the various setbacks, dark ages and regressive phase in philosophy to command assent. Philosophy is, says Brentano, more like the fine arts than the sciences in having degenerative periods. . . .

    More subtle is dialectical...