PRACTICAL VS. ACADEMIC PHILOSOPHY

“In philosophy there is generally no accepted definitive knowledge” – Karl Jaspers, Way to Wisdom.

Now that we have at least an initial definition and justification for philosophy, it is time to decide on our approach. Academic philosophy typically looks for rigorous, arguments for or against a particular point of view that can be subject to critical debate. Professional philosophers often rely on rules of logic such as those presented by Aristotle in his Organon. A classic example is the syllogism, tying two premises to a conclusion: For instance: “All men are mortal and Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal.”

In the late 19th century a modern form of logic developed first by Gottlob Frege was taken up by some important 20th century analytic philosophers such as Bertrand Russell, and Alfred North Whitehead who attempted to derive a completely logical basis for mathematics. But logic ran into limits demonstrated by annoying linguistic paradoxes such as “This sentence is false.” or “What set does the barber belong to in a town where everyone who doesn’t shave himself is shaved by the barber?”. Kurt Godel proved in the 1930s that any set of rules would either be unsound or incomplete, thereby undermining the potential of logic to perfect human understanding.1,2

Speculative philosophy is more intuitive or derived from personal experience of the world. Examples includes the teachings of the Buddha or the thoughts of the existentialists. It is based on careful reasoning and reflection which seeks to be internally consistent, but rigorous arguments are generally not applicable to its development.

After this brief introduction, I believe it is best to candidly admit that I have limited proficiency in sophisticated logic. On this site I will use some of the basic logic developed by Aristotle and deployed in most undergraduate college philosophy classes (watch for example YaleCourses: Philosophy of Death by Shelly Kagan on YouTube for excellent rigorous, but understandable logical arguments).

However most of my constructions will be more subjective and thus less amenable to formal verification. My method will be to start with some historical positions on an issue and then argue the reasonableness rather than the certainty of those positions. Support for a position may include a logical argument, but other defense may be based on intuition, experience, history, science, philosophers’ texts, common sense, and even general consensus. As we will discuss later, truth is at last subjective especially in speculative philosophy. My goal is not logical proof of hypotheses, rather the development of internally consistent practical positions on those matters which cannot wait for certainty or ever be known for certain. Formal logic may be vital in mathematical modeling, but is only one tool of many in thinking through life’s meanings. However as in all things on this site, I am open to any arguments that follow strict rules of logic that contribute to clarification of our discussion.

1 The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida, Lawrence Cahoone. The Teaching Company, 2010.
2 Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science, Steven Gimbel, The Teaching Company, 2015

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