So, besides possibly being a great intellectual adventure, what is philosophy good for? Maybe the answer is that it is not worth much, if you’re the type of person anxious to act in resolving our many social and political problems, or if you’re the type who wants to go about earning a fortune and acquiring power. (For such types philosophy is likely a waste of time.) But if you’re the type of person who is not satisfied with society’s standard answers to difficult question and if you’re the type of person who has advanced from childhood (where parents prop up you in your walking and the experts do your thinking,) and you desire to walk on your own and think on your own, then maybe study, reflection, and interaction in philosophy is the thing for you. Maybe philosophy is good for something after all.
Trying to specify “the biggest problem in philosophy” can be an interesting exercise for undergraduate students of philosophy; but I’m inclined to classify it with such questionable, idle exercises as trying to say who the greatest philosopher is; or whether Shakespeare or Cervantes was the greater writer.
What exactly did Alfred N.Whitehead mean by his statement that we can characterize European philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato? To me this surely suggests that the old metaphysician, Whitehead, was asserting that we can look at European philosophy as a continuation of Plato’s philosophy.
This talk of “transcendental reality” distinct from “empirical reality” (the reality investigated by science and experienced by humans) is suspect, to say the least, unless you happen to be a Kantian or believer in transcendence of some kind.
I have great trouble accepting the claim by some people that they can “climb out of their minds” to the realm of the transcendent (whether this is a philosophical, metaphysical, or mystical claim); hence, I stand with the thinking of Richard Rorty, John Dewey, William James, Hilary Putnam and Donald Davidson on this issue.
Many people assume that when scientific cosmologists and theoretical physicists investigate the primordial conditions of the universe and advance theories purporting to explain how the universe may have originated, they are dealing with the philosophers’ Deep Question: Why is there something instead of nothing? But they are not. They are not investigating the why of the universe (as if they could find reasons, motives, or purposes behind the primordial conditions leading to the Big Bang).
“Philosophy as a preparation for death?” “Philosophy as the study of death?” Why should we accept such characterizations of philosophy? Maybe I’m being disrespectful to Plato, and his version of the great Socrates, when I say “thanks, but no thanks!”
Its very doubtful that Uebersax’s analysis of the poor thinking and policy decision in terms of Plato’s “Divided Line Analogy” does anything to illuminate how people go wrong in their beliefs and actions. Intellectual integrity and honesty about what we do know and what we do not know can be gotten on the basis of a common-sense philosophy emphasizing critical reason, a respect for scientific methods, and judicious use of the evidence available to us.
The case for Platonism, expressed in Plato’s Divided Line Analogy, as a model for what philosophy should be (or should aspire to) is a weak case, given the problems with its metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions. A large number of philosophers rightfully dissent.
Recently I have had come contact with students of philosophy who embrace strange forms of “pop philosophy” in which subjective relativism and irrationalism are presented as solutions to an alleged narrow, limited perspective of the sciences and rational philosophy. Any casual glance at historical and current trends in philosophies shows us that this rush to the irrational is nothing new.
I contend that the rational, scientific approach —- the ideal of the Enlightenment —-is our best way of getting at whatever truth may be accessible to human minds and the best way for operating intelligently in the world; furthermore, I note that there are very few good reasons for exempting any area of our lives from a rational, empirical approach.