Monday, November 06, 2006

Where's the Boundary?

I recall two distinct conversations with fellow philosophy friends on the subject of philosophy and logic, where both have rather interesting implications for philosophers, and what we do:

(1) S mentioned to me that if logic is a part of philosophy, then arguments (as part of logic) fall under philosophy. That said, do we want to consider folks that argue their points (whether or not they do well according to the lights of logic) as doing philosophy? For example, should we call scientists/politicians/scholars, etc., who argue for their views philosophers?

(2) N mentioned to me, where I found a non-philosopher's argument lacking according to the lights of logic (though it isn't relevant here exactly how), that I shouldn't hold non-philosopher's arguments to the same logical standard as that of philosopher's arguments. That is, I should overlook the logical deficiencies, wherever they might be, and remember that the author of the argument wasn't a philosopher, so that this feature takes them off the radar of logical scrutiny, as far as the argument in question goes. But, if N is right, then doesn't this leave logic to the assessment of only philosopher's arguments?

Now for the interesting implications:

In (1) S's argument makes the category of philosopher too broad, for certainly we don't want to admit any person who happens to use the logical rigor of argumentation into the philosophical fold, for there is something more to being a philosopher than simply making (good or bad) arguments. But what might function as a plausible premise for this assertion?

In (2) N's point seems to limit logic to the point of almost trivializing it. Logic should be more than simply the assessment of philosopher's arguments, but all arguments, both good and bad, made by all folks everywhere, which includes the category non-philosopher, whatever that might be. But can an argument be made in support of this without (methodologically or otherwise) begging the question?

It seems to me that we might want to consider defining what philosophers are and what such folks do. I seem to recall calls for papers on such subjects a few years back. Naturally, if we define philosopher broad enough, we can deal with (1) and (2) in one fell swoop, for if we are all philosophers, then logic pertains to all our arguments. But we might want to avoid this conclusion, and opt for some other way, since it would be hard to consider all folks as philosophers. At the same time, though, we need to keep the application of logic on the broadest level possible, so as to pertain to all arguments, not just those belonging to philosophers. So, what should be done about all this?


At 8:53 AM, November 07, 2006, Blogger Sarah said...

*delighted with an opportunity to reference Plato*

There are multiple forms of "good argumentation", but of course philosophers should insist that our argumentation should adhere to the rules of logic. This is what separates us from the rest. Although I believe that all disciplines would be benefitted by a little logic, that seems to be our corner of the market. Perhaps as philosophers we should be able (and willing) to take the non-logical argument and bring it to logical form. This is what we do best- and it occasionally can be done. Take politics for example- if a candidate presented a truly logically valid argument, it could easily be lost on the masses. Does this mean that the same conclusions and similar evidence cannot be formulated in a logically valid way that would bring us to the same conclusions? Absolutely not. It just means that the sort of argumentation that would be compelling to the audience is not necessarily logical argumentation.

And now to Plato: Contrary to what we've been taught, Sophistry (read: Rhetoric) isn't all bad. Plato admitted such later on (see the last couple chapters of the Phaedrus) and actually began to outline how it was that Rhetoric/Sophistry should be best practiced. Plato realized that the art of rhetoric was necessary if the philosopher was going to be able to bring his ideas to the masses. It seems to me that this is exactly how we should differentiate the philosopher vs. the person using argumentation in a compelling way. It does not mean that we should entirely reject the arguments of "the Sophist", it merely means that they have a slightly different goal in mind than we as philosophers do. Someone in a discipline such as women's studies is generally not going to be trained in formulating (formally) logically valid arguments. Does it then mean that their arguments should not even be considered? Of course they should be. Their arguments may raise compelling points. What we should then be able to do is to take those points and attempt to put them into a formally valid form. Maybe their Sophistical argument will fail. But we also know that this only means that further premises are required to bring one to that conclusion. Or perhaps the conclusion needs to be altered. But it absolutely does not mean that there is no VALUE to the argument itself.

As a slight aside, I think that this is part of the reason why philosophers are dreaded by other disciplines. They do an immense amount of work justifying their conclusions and we walk in and say "No you are wrong because you commit X fallacy." While they may commit a fallacy (or two), it does not mean that their entire point is null and void and not worth consideration. It just means they don't really know how to formulate that which they are arguing. Maybe their argument DOES indeed fail miserably when one attempts to apply logic- but surely we can admit that their point is at least worth pondering- even if they have gone about it in the wrong way.

Rejecting the "Sophist" because they aren't using the same method we are seems a bit unnecessary. As long as the Sophist is concerned with arriving at the truth (and not just being Gorgias and showing how he can argue for anything by running you in circles) that desire for truth should be respected. Plato seemed to want to admit of levels of truth. The Sophist/Rhetorician best functions when interested in truth, but perhaps not the deep metaphysical truth that Plato was after.

I can post more on this someday if anyone so desires. It is Plato's arguments in the Phaedrus (as well as in a couple other works) that may have led to Aristotle's rules of Rhetoric as well as his rules of logic.

At 3:29 PM, November 08, 2006, Blogger Marcus Adams said...

Ah, I appreciate the reference to Plato (as one one person somewhere once said, "Plato is the simple man's Aristotle"). On that note, I think it would be interesting to discuss at least one point from Aristotle's Rhetoric.

Responding to this comment in Sarah's post: "Take politics for example- if a candidate presented a truly logically valid argument, it could easily be lost on the masses."

Yes, this is certainly the case. It might be better to say, though, that a valid argument would be lost on the masses if it were laid out in standard form. This would be really uneffective, rhetorically speaking.

Hence, Aristotle's encouragement to employ enthymemes in one's speeches. Take a valid argument, strip it down and then toss it to the masses (of course, adding some emotional appeals such as fear [maybe even imminent danger!]) and then you've got a great speech.

Here, it seems to me, is where the ethicists should be interested, or maybe concerned. Valid arguments are certainly to be preferred, but how does the philosopher (who is wanting to persuade people rationally, but still have a good chance of persuading the masses) determine what should be concealed in the enthymeme? Enthymematic discourse can be tricky, e.g., what are really his assumptions?

If the rhetorician is interested in the truth, we can assume that he will use his "rhetorical power" to aim toward a noble end. But, what if this is not the case? Then, it seems, we have sophistry... are we using the same tools?


At 11:28 PM, November 08, 2006, Blogger Trin said...

I appreciate someone with the tenacity to insult Plato in a crowd (I am guessing, of course, that there was a crowd) of philosophers with various interests.
But back to topic…
I had a student come up to me after the philosophy of science class I TA for and ask me “What exactly is philosophy?” and it completely floored me! For so long I have only thought about confirmation theory, internalist coherent foundationalism, evidentialist externalism, Bayesian epistemology, etc., that I have not had the sense to step back, as Einstein said, and remove my nose from the grindstone and look around at the big picture. Thus I realized that I had been committing, to my mind, the most egregious of intellectual errors, that which is punishable by the sentence of short-sightedness and an abdication of creative inspiration: tunnel vision. For so long I had simply accepted philosophy, not for what it was, but for what I took it to be, and for many months I have allowed that dogma to solidify into a presupposition that was rarely (if ever) questioned. So I appreciate your question, Dan (and the inquisitive undergrad who had no idea what he sparked with that terrible intractable question), because it forces me to reevaluate the role of philosophy in my life, in particular, and in society in general.
My first exposure to philosophy was Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic, so to a large degree, I blame the positivists for my warped sense of the explanation of philosophy. Be that as it may, however, I do think that I learned two great lessons from the positivists: (1) there is always hope for me because each member of the Circle was brilliant and TOTALLY wrong (as Popper smiles at me), and; (2) philosophy is not and can never be a ‘what’ but always and only a ‘how’.
Philosophy is a method, a way of looking at the world, a way of answering questions, and, probably most important for me, a way of asking questions to which those answers can later be subsumed.
With that said, it may seem as though I have done exactly that which Dan is guarding against—a definition that forces us to give up the patent, as it were—but I think that seeing philosophy as a method will have the opposite effect. First, if philosophy is a method, as opposed to a given subject and/or sub-field, then every topic/problem/question is open to philosophical examination and is, therefore, subject to rational acceptance/repudiation. Second, this allows other fields to adopt a philosophical methodology in the critical analysis of their most general investigations. Logic is a wonderful tool for the explication and defense of ideas and, as such, should not be utilized and appreciated only by the philosopher. Rhetoric succeeds exactly where logic fails because the power of logical argumentation is under-appreciated and severely under-represented outside of the philosophy departments. Do not take me to be denying that there is no logic behind rhetoric—a methodology of rhetoric, if you will—but my point is that the persuasive qualities of rhetorical argument are only such because logic has been seen as the domain of the (a certain type of) philosopher. But imagine the consequences of logic inundating all facts of intellectual political, social scientific, etc., interactions. What need would there be for rhetoric and sophistric persuasion if logic and rational thought ruled the day?
So now the question looms as to what constitutes the paradigmatic philosophical methodology? Of course, I am in no position to provide anything close to an answer, but I will say that, at the very least, what is required is some mechanism for the production and application of the rational criticism of ideas. Granted that this is blatantly oversimplified, but think about just what rational criticism entails.

At 12:04 AM, November 10, 2006, Blogger cheryl said...

I will just treat briefly the original post, as I don't quite have time to sort through and give them some attention.

(1) Logic is a part of all proper argumentation, whether philosophical or not. I would point out that saying that logic is a part of philosophy does not automatically imply the biconditional, logic iff philosophy, but rather that what might be the claim is that logic is a necessary condition of philosophy. But necessary conditions are not always sufficient, and thus, something can be logical without being philosophical. One could claim that logic is a requirement for learning how to do philosophy, but that it is also a requirement for doing other things as well. To be honest, the statement that "logic is a part of philosophy" is rather vague and leaves open quite bit to interpretation, too much in fact to really draw definite conclusions. I would certainly claim that logic is a necessary but not sufficient condition of philosophy, for logic is also required for the sciences, for example.

(2) What standards we hold one's arguments to depends on the purpose we have in mind in evaluating the argument. If my purpose is to evaluate how good of a philosophical argument it is in general, without any narrowing of scope, then certainly I am going to hold it to the highest of logical standards. However, if my purpose is rather to evaluate how creative and original of a philosophical thinker the person is, then I may decide that holding it to such logical rigor is not important, because, for example, perhaps the person has made some logical errors, but that his ideas are still creative, original, and deep enough philosophically that they are still good and worth considering, and that I might simply perhaps coach him on increasing his logical rigor so that his argument will be even better according to a more general philosophical standard.

The worry that I have about holding non-philosophers to a standard that we would normally hold philosophers to is that we are treating them as philosophers, but by definition, they lack the proper training to be a philosopher. Now, again, the standards I hold him to will depend on the circumstances of my evaluation, and what purposes I have in mind in evaluating him. But if I am always to hold non-philosophers to the standards of philosophers, then perhaps I ought to hold every person who cooks a meal to the standards of professional chefs, which clearly seems a bit ridiculous. But this does not trivialize the standards of what it takes to be a good chef, it rather demonstrates that there are circumstances in which those standards ought to be applied, and circumstances in which they shouldn't. Should I treat an undergraduate paper with the same standards that I would for someone who has successfully completed a PhD in philosophy? Of course not, because the conditions are not the same.

Now, you say, "this feature takes them off the radar of logical scrutiny". I would disagree. It is not to say that the argument cannot be criticized according to the same logical rigor that we would criticize a philosopher's, for we certainly can; it is rather to say that in recognizing that he is not a philosopher, and therefore lacks the proper training, that we ought not treat him as a philosopher, lest we be unjustifiably harsh. But again, it depends on the purpose of my evaluation. Should I hold a high school student football player to the same standards I would a player in the NFL? Probably not, it would seem cruel and unfair, but mainly for the reason that he is not competing on that level, nor could he.

Okay, so, you ask, what should be done? Logic is a tool, with broad uses, but specifically, a tool that has the ability to be applied to almost anything--certainly not everything. Philosophy, on the other hand, is a kind of approach and perspective to questioning things outside of their own boundaries, that is, it deals with issues that cannot be dealt with specifically by anything else. Perhaps I can draw a better picture. Logic would be one specific tool, an all-purpose tool with many uses; but philosophy is a entire toolkit, still applicable to many different things, but not limited to merely one tool alone, and yet still defined as a whole by the tools in the toolkit. Any one of those tools might be applicable to something that is outside the scope of the things that all the tools as a whole can be applied to.

So, I hope all that made sense; I can't promise that my mental state is currently entirely coherent.

At 1:00 AM, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trin, what do you mean to imply with, “(2) philosophy is not and can never be a ‘what’ but always and only a ‘how’”?

In what sense are you applying methodology to philosophy--knowledge only as informed by data derived from empirical methods? I think your explanation of philosophy as “a way of asking questions to which those answers can later be subsumed,” is opaque also. Do you mean something like philosophy is the category of all collected questions coupled with their corresponding answers? This possibility seems to me to lend philosophy the status of something other than methodology, if, of course, your definition of methodology abides with my (insufficient?) interpretation.

Or do you mean something like “Philosophy is the method by which questions are asked then answered, and once solved, the new information derived becomes a (potential) source for answering the inevitable ‘raising’ of new questions”? Peirce held a similar view, though tighter and smarter, in a famous piece that has relevance to this discussion as a whole.

OR, do you mean something closer to Carnap’s Lingustic Frameworks approach? That is, questions are only relative to an ordained way of talking about them and all other talk is mere discussion over whether to adopt a given framework within which all other questions will make sense. (A rough interpretation I know) Also, I have not yet read much of Ayer.

I think your post is great, and has me pondering my personal account of philosophy. But how, still, should we respond to those who ask, “What is philosophy?” Should we correct them and say something like, “You meant how is Philosophy performed”? I am drawn to this insofar as philosophy becomes an activity wherein the methods used are not limited to the empirical, but include rational arguments as well. I am not satisfied with Philosophy is the how and what, even if that sometimes leads to abortive attempts at answering ultimate-questions-asking-why. The whole reason I got mixed up in this crazy business to begin with.


At 1:05 AM, November 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

penultimate sentence should read, "I am (only-mildly) satisfied with Philosophy as the how and what, even if that sometimes leads to abortive attempts at answering ultimate-questions-asking-why.

At 11:41 AM, November 10, 2006, Blogger Trin said...

In trying to begin answering your first question, let me first say that I do not wish to deify any particular method—empiricist, rationalist, or other—over and beyond, at least initially, what is necessary to formulate cogent criticisms of proposed ideas (hypotheses, theories, beliefs, etc). In that vein, the method is nothing more than an honest attempt to push back ignorance and error where pushing back ignorance requires that one actually formulate tentative beliefs and pushing back error requires that one actually attempt to understand the nature of these beliefs as fallible and to refrain, inasmuch as possible, the acceptance of erroneous beliefs. So in that regard I do not wish to define philosophy in any set-theoretic fashion by claiming some particular collection of “collected questions with their corresponding answers”. I wanted to point out nothing more particular than philosophy is a way of attempting to grapple with the world and the method—the ‘how’—is that which I tried to describe with the notions of pushing back ignorance and error.

I could see the similarities with Peirce, but I would not wish to hamper with the logic of discovery in any way and it seems as if by delineating the realm of possible answers by what has previously been answered would obstruct the range with which we are justifiably allowed to search for potential answers to future questions. So in that regard, as in the previous paragraph, I would not prefer any set-theoretic definition of philosophy as I fear that it may place limits on the creative component of problem-solving.

Now when you talk about Carnap, there was a time when I would have said something very similar (though there is still a big softspot in my heart for Carnap and Ayer), but I no longer think see linguistic frameworks as possessing a primordial importance in conceptualizing experience. Granted that there is a deep relationship between the constitution of a ‘significant question’ and the ways in which experience/reality is understood, but I am not wholly sure that the latter determines the former, vice versa, or whether they are coextensive articulations of some more fundamental doctrine. So, to answer your question, I do not wish to limit philosophy to any particular linguistic framework, conceptual schematization, socio-historical doctrine, etc., essentially to guard against the same fear spoken of in the previous paragraphs. Philosophical questions do seem to make sense outside of particular historical settings and, if that is correct, it would again be an unjustified limitation on the logic of discovery.

All I wanted to stress, and I appreciate the response to my post because it makes me flesh out what I had in mind, is that philosophy is the method of articulating, expounding, and defending rational criticisms of various sorts of ideas/hypotheses/beliefs. However one goes about doing this and whether one particular method is better suited to the task is a sub-discipline that can only take place under the rubric of the methodology of philosophy in general. I did not wish to come across as advocating any particular method, I only wanted to argue that if philosophy is any unique enterprise, then it is the method of rational criticism described above. Seen in this light, philosophy has no set of uniquely philosophical areas of discourse, but that it is the means by which all areas of discourse may be explicated, where basic assumptions of all fields of thought may be (more) fully articulated, and where the rational dialogue about any topic has its foundations.

Does that make more sense?

At 10:17 PM, November 10, 2006, Blogger cheryl said...

Of course, the question, "What is philosophy?" is itself a philosophical question. And the attempt to answer it is, again, an engagement in philosophical activity.

heehee, see how that works? ;)

I would also agree with the neat little phrase that philosophy is not a what but a how. The way I like to think about the difference between philosophy and other areas of study is that technically, philosophy is not a body of information, it is not informative in any way. One could study the history of philosophical ideas, but that is history, not doing philosophy, since one can easily study what other philosophers have said, and do well with that, but do very poorly at being a philosopher. Additionally, one can learn to be a philosopher without ever studying a word said by any other philosophers. But compare the discipline of philosophy to, say, biology: when one learns biology, one learns, first and foremost, a body of facts, information. Philosophy doesn't have this sort of thing--there are no real philosophical facts. (oops, is that a fact? lol. Sorry, I can't help myself.) Philosophy itself has no content, which is why everything is a "philosophy of ___", because philosophy must take something as a content, and do something with it, i.e., the application of method of analysis.

What is interesting is that if you ask the question to an epistemologist and then to a metaphysician, you will probably receive an answer from the epistemologist that sounds essentially like what doing epistemology is mostly about--critical analysis of what we believe, the "pushing back ignorance and error" that Trin stated--while the metaphysician will probably give an answer that sounds something like what metaphysics is all about--coming to know and understand the nature of the world and reality, and all of the things in it.

So, if philosophy is a method, what sort of method is it? That will depend on what one decides the purpose of philosophy is--hence the difference between the epistemologist and the metaphysician and what they would probably say philosophy is. But, again, deciding what the purpose of philosophy is, is a philosophical engagement itself.

I am sure that I was not any help in answering the question. But, that wasn't my purpose. ;)


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