What is Philosophy?

  • Engage, think about and understand.
  • One definition: “The activity of working out the best way to think about things”
    • Don’t all subjects try and think about things the right way?
    • Detachment, stepping back and thinking about the right way to think about things.
    • Physics example: data, measurements, experiments, theories
      • What does it mean to understand reality?
      • Question the process. Physics vs the Philosophy of Physics
    • Medicine example:
      • Medieval time: explain and treat diseases in terms of the four ‘humours’
      • How did that change of thinking come about? What does it mean for a disease to be an imbalance between the humours? Do we really understand what it means? Look at the other things that seem to be important, expand explanations. Does theory work?
    • Revision from just thinking about the subject, to thinking about what it ‘means.’ Challenge your ways of thinking without being ‘confronted by the world.’
    • Alternatively, from the outside. Perhaps we just notice that one way of thinking about something or doing something just isn’t very effective. Test our ideas in the world.
    • Quantum physics, results of experiments showed that we needed to change how we think about the world. Breaking basic or existing intuitions.

Bertrand thinks: Philosophical conceptions of life & the world: inhereted religious and ethical conceptions and ‘scientific’ investigations. intermediate between theology and science. speculations without definite knowledge, but appealing to human reason rather than authority. all definite knowledge belongs to science, all dogma as to what surpasses definite knowledge belongs to theology. but between there is philosophy. “is there such a thing as wisdom, or is what seems such merely the ultimate refinement of folly?”

Earliest attempts split philosophy into logic, physics and ethics (plato and friends really put this forth) and they have since really had a lot of ‘feature creep.’ So logic, for example began in the narrow formal sense and became wider to include argumentative dialectics etc. Kant proposed that the job of philosophers were tied to the actual sciences, they would think about and define what exactly these were etc, an innovation which transpired largely because discussions like e.g. ethics were seen as being ‘replaced’ by psychological scientific inquiry. I personally prefer Bertrand’s idea of philosophy as a sort of pre-science, but indeed each scientific subject has its own philosophy or can be approached philosophically, or rather it is defined by its philosophy. Indeed, the scientific method itself is a philosophy.

Hegel’s encyclopaedias set out a new sort of framework for philosophy as a ‘critical’ profession, carrying out Kant’s grand vision, and from this we have the grand tradition of critical or analytical philosophy which has been highly prevalent throughout the 20th century.



Some misc / yet to be formatted things

Little Roman philosophy because rome sucked

After the reformation and protestants there was taught to be no earthly intermediary between the soul and god. truth no longer to be ascertaiuned by consulting authority.

tendency towards anarchism and mysticism, which led to many sects of protestantism

continually deepening subjectivism, operating as a liberation from spiritual slavery but advancing towards a personal isolation inimical to social sanity

philosophers who wanted to tighten social bonds and those who wanted to relax them.

“every community is exposed to two opposite dangers, ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, o or dissolution, subjection to foreign conquest through the growqth of an individualism and personal independence that makes cooperation impossible.” liberalism is an attempt to escape this: to secure a social order not based on irrational dogma, and insuring stability without involving more restraints than are necessary for the preservation of the community.

Greece: - Thales (dated because he predicted an eclipse in the year 585BC) - Empodocles

william gibson's neuromancer
    - democratic politician, also claimed to be a god
    - jumped into a volcano
    - discovered air as a seperate substance
    - thought there was probably evolution and survival of the fittest
    - love and strife were combiners and seperators respectively of the elements fire water etc; their balance goes in a cycle
    - sometimes he tohught he was an outcast god sent down to mortal world for some cycles because he was naughty
    - precursed plato's cave, with orrigin in Ophics
    - chance and necessity rather than purpose governed the elements
- Athens in relation to culture
    - greatness began 490bc
- Anaxagoras
    - Philosophy to Athens, first to suggest mind as primary cause of physical changes
    - Mind has power over all things, all things have a little of everything but only some things have mind
    - snow is black; in part
    - mind is the source of all motion
    - all seeming differences in intelligence between people and animals are actually bodily differences
    - cosmology
  - Birth of national socialism
  - lived in messes and had to be available for military service all the time. concessions for people who had 4 kids etc.
  - plato didn't really enjoy it.
      - Dialogues (from Coursera):
    - Euthyphro
      - someone did something really ethically wrong, do you defend them?
      - if wrong is right everything is wrong. "wrong is wrong" is an emotive call question. "family is family"
      - How do you think about an ethical situation?
        - p and not p
           - note that psychologically there are contradictions.
           - people usually mean it in a way that's not contradictory
            - people don't disappear if you point out a contradiction!
            - read it as logic vs psycho-logic
      - Argument definition (logic): a set of two or more propositions, at least one of which is a permise and at least one of which is a conclusion
        - why do we use the same word for argument in a bar fight and a logical argument?
        - socrates brings a geometry proof to street fight
        - the aristocracy liked socrates for talking well
        - they liked him for entertainment value and to pick up trix
  - citing plato: stephanus notation!
  -  - alcibiades   - gives a speech saying socrates is great, but it's hard to say what makes him great. You can't compare him to anyone! he breaks the mould.   - his arguments are crude and coarse, and superficial. but you reach a point where no other argument makes any sense! he says he's like silenus, who hangs out with halfgoats, compared to marsyas, who lost a music contest with god, lost and got flayed. dionysus the gr8 god   - i.e. superficially crude but golden inside



  • debate with two sides, written down. halfway between a play and a problem set


sign is what can be perceived of a proposition

epimenides paradox - all cretans are liars, more modern ‘this statement is false’

goedel incompleteness, put “this statement has no proof” in the principia mathematica. prove that provability is a weaker notion than truth; cannot represent complexity of the whole numbvers

russell paradox: sets generally aren’t members of themselves. set of all walri is not a walrus. make set R, all sets which aren’t members of themselves. is R a member of itself? BOOM PARADOX

Can’t make necessity from experience. kant, categorical imperative: the form of willing is necessarily universal we are free to turn from our appetites, which means there’s something outside our inclination which allows us to choose what we do; determined, so we’re an object of experience, yet we see ourselves as free. so we must be free in the numinal realm, the land beyond experience - we have to act as if that is the case. kant: sensibility (immediately understand, desire and fears etc), understanding (puts these together, form causality), reason (reaches into the numinal realm, mathematical truths etc). the thought of our autonomy is necessary for reason. numinal, the world apart from experience.

categorical imperative: action which is necessary of itself (not a conditional imperative e.g. follows your will). universal law follows the act of will as principle (maxim being the principle)

strip out instance and desire etc, in terms of why you did something normative stuff can’t come from experience. circumstances may be that people can lie, but if you wouldn’t will that everyone would always do it, it is not ‘right’.

physics - natural experience moral philosophy - human experience maxims moral laws abstractions like physics laws?

cynics - possibly names after dogs, tried to style their lives after good old socrates. pleasure from throwing away pleasure, voluntary poverty, and shouting at people in the street. antitheses and diogenes were parts of this school. alexander the great once asked him what gift or favour he could bestow on him, and he was asked to get out of the way of the sun. lots of connexion with nature etc. threw away his drinking cup after seeing a child drink out of the river with his hands, since he didn’t want to be out done.

sensual hedonists were the cyrenaics

epicureans: epicurus, atomist, skeptic of religion, liked gardening, devoted to pleasure (for some definition). relatively well documented as a bloke. diogenes laertius preserved several of his letters. yet another diogenes preserves some of this other letters… succeeded much more than cyrenaics because of teaching and memorisation methods. your senses are never wrong! rose coloured glasses are what they should look like when you’re wearing them.

preconception - a pre existing belief (built up from sense experience), halfway between full knowledge and complete ignorance. common conception - preconceptions almost everyone shares

we can question this soundness of an argument either by questioning the truth of its premises or by questioning its validity.