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<PHILOSOPHY IN A WEEK> Part 1

October 10, 2017

 

I wish I had studied philosophy long time ago back to the time when I had a "nerd" desk mate couldn't stop talking about Plato, sex and love, quantum mechanics in the middle school...He was too "weird" to have any friends, always being seen alone but not lonely obviously. We never contact each other after graduation. I heard that he has been working as a scientist/researcher at one of the top scientific institutions of China.

 

While it is said that "Never too late to learn", as long as you have a curious mind and a will to learn.

 

The below is my reading notes and summary from the book <PHILOSOPHY IN A WEEK> by Mel Thompson

Part 1: Sunday to Tuesday

 

SUNDAY

THE THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE - EPISTEMOLOGY

  • empiricism - all knowledge starts with the senses / experience ( Aristotle )

  • rationalism - all knowledge starts with the mind ( Plato )

Theory of knowledge examines what we know and how we know it. It asks whether knowledge starts with the mind or with the experience of our senses. Descartes famously claimed that the only thing we can know for certain is the fact of our own thinking (“I think, therefore I am”), whereas Hume argued that we should proportion our belief to our evidence, and Kant showed that our minds shape the way in which we experience the world.

We shall also look at the different views of Plato and Aristotle on whether general or ideal entities ( e.g. justice, goodness ) actually exist in themselves, or whether they are only summaries of the qualities we see in individual things.

In the end we need to consider whether we should be skeptical about our knowledge, or take a pragmatic view that we should assess our knowledge on the basis of what works.

 

What and how do we know anything about the world?

Rationalists from Plato onward have argued that knowledge is in some sense embedded with our minds and can be pursued by “pure” thought or reason. 

Empiricists, such as Aristotle, have insisted that we gain knowledge through our senses, that is, through our integration with the world.

 

MONDAY

THE PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE 

The philosophy of science examines the method used by science, the ways in which hypotheses and laws are formulated from evidence, and the grounds on which scientific claims about the world may be justified.

We take a brief look at the historical development of the relationship between philosophy and science from ancient Greek thought, through the Newtonian world, to the impact of relativity and quantum mechanics in the twentieth century. We shall see that individual sciences have moved away from being “natural philosophy” and philosophy has taken on a positive but critical role with respect to the way in which science presents its findings.

 

We then examine the “inductive” method by which science moves from evidence to theory, the way in which theories may be falsified, the problems associated with holding apparently incompatible but equally valid theories, and the way in which authority is exercised within the scientific community.

 

THE INDUCTIVE METHOD by Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes

 

This method is based on two things:

  1. The trust that knowledge can be gained by gathering evidence and conducting experiments.

  2. The willingness to set aside preconceived views about the likely outcome of an experiment, or the validity of evidence presented, i.e. the person using this method does not have a fixed idea about its conclusion, but is prepared to examine both results and methods used with an open mind.

In practice, the method works this way:

  • Observe and gather data, seeking eliminate, as far as possible, all irrelevant factors.

  • Analyze data, and draw conclusion from them in the form of hypotheses.

  • Devise experiments to test out those hypotheses, i.e. if this hypothesis is correct, then certain experiment results should be anticipated.

  • Modify your hypothesis, if necessary, in the light of the results of your experiments.

  • From the experiments, the data and the hypotheses, argue for a theory.

  • Once you have a  theory, you can predict other things on the basis of it, by which the theory can later be verified and falsified.

WHAT COUNTS AS SCIENCE?

At one time, an activity could be called “scientific” if it followed the inductive method. On these grounds, the work of Marx could be called scientific, in that he based his theories accounts of political changes in the societies he studied. Similarly behavioral psychology can claim to be scientific on the basis of the method used: observing and recording the responses of people and animals to particular stimuli, for example. So science is generally defined by method rather than by subject.

Karl Popper - “pseudo-science”

Popper criticized both Marx and Freud, not because he considered they failed to observe and gather evidence, but because of what he saw as their willingness to interpret new evidence in the light of their theories, rather than allow that evidence to challenge or modify those theories. 

Distinguishing features of science include the consistent attempt at the disinterested gathering of information and the willingness to accept revisions of one’s theories.

 

Summary:

  • Philosophy cannot determine what information is available to science: It cannot provide data.

  • Philosophy examines the use of scientific data, and the logical process by which this information can become the basis of scientific theories.

  • Philosophy can remind scientists that facts always contain an element of interpretation. Facts are the product of a thinking mind encountering external evidence, and therefore contain both that evidence and the mental framework by means of which it has been apprehended, and through which it is articulated.

 

TUESDAY

LANGUAGE AND LOGIC

 

Philosophy depends on language, so understanding the nature and function of language is key to unpicking philosophical problems. Early in the twentieth century some philosophers argued that statements could be meaningful only if they could be backed up by empirical evidence, leading to the radical conclusion that metaphysics, technology, ethics and aesthetics were all factually meaningless and merely reflected personal wishes and opinions.

 

Later, particularly as a result of the work of Wittgenstein, Language was seen as performing a variety of different functions. Rather than attempting to understand the truth of a statement in interns of factual evidence, its meaning became known through the function it performed and “language game” within which it was played.

 

Linguistic philosophy, an approach which argues that philosophical problems can be solved by clarifying the ordinary language that people use, and also at formal logic, which analyses arguments using shorthand notation.

 

FORMAL LOGIC

Logic is the branch of philosophy that examines the process of reasoning. When you start with a set of premises and reach a conclusion from them, the process of doing so is called deductive logic. An argument is valid if it is impossible for the conclusion to be false if the premises are false if the premises are false; just because you are mistaken, it does not mean that your reasoning is not logical. An argument where the premises are true the logic is valid is sound.

The main influence on logic for two thousand years was Aristotle. He set down the basic features of deceptive logic, in particular the syllogism, in which major and minor premises lead to a conclusion.

The most quoted piece of logic ever has to be the syllogism: 

All As are B

C is an A

Therefore C is B

 

People think before they speak. They may also perceive before they think.

Therefore, what they say reflects the nature of thought and of perception. Language is therefore only as simple and straightforward as the thought and perception that produced it.

Add intuition, emotion, existential angst and the general confusions of human life, and the resulting language is very complex indeed. It may perform many different functions. It may play many different games.

We may not even be aware of the implications of what we are saying, which is to return to Plato, who in his dialogues portrays Socrates as a man who is constantly asking people what they mean, and thereby exposing their confusions and opening up the way to greater clarity.

 

To be continued...

 

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