Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The real challenge of philosophical inquiry

I recently read on another blog:

“When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch, do not chiefly direct your attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch subconsciously presuppose. Such assumptions appear so obvious that people do not know what they are assuming because no other way of putting things has ever occurred to them. With these assumptions a certain limited number of types of philosophical systems are possible, and this group of systems constitutes the philosophy of an epoch”
Alfred North Whitehead in “Science and the Modern World” (1925).

German astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), after spending many year working on data provided by Tycho Brahe was essentially ridiculed in 1614 by Galileo, who held his writing to be, 'so obscure that apparently the author did not know what he was talking about.' It was only in 1618, when he published the first two of his three laws athat he was hailed as a hero. Let us be clear here that his hero status came, not as a result of his work exactly, but because there were others who wanted to do away with the old geocentric (Earth-centered) model of the universe passed down from Aristotle and Ptolemy.

Someone once noted that it is not our efforts in themselves that lift us up, but rather, we are lifted up by those around us. One of the most gifted mathematicians of the past century was Kurt Godel, yet when he first put out his famous Incompleteness Theorems, only the well respected von Neumann ('von Noyman') understood what his work implied. In many ways it was von Neumann's efforts that brought Godel's work to light and approbation.

The most brilliant scientist, mathematician, or philosopher may have the most brilliant ideas. Yet all comes to nothing unless others are willing to listen without judgement, either in the affirmative or the negative until the ideas being put are properly understood. For the modern Cartesian meditator, the time of judgement only occurs when an argument becomes indefeasible.

In this context, I find that the chief obstacle is not in developing the world of the modern Cartesian Rationalist, but rather, in the challenge of brushing away centuries (indeed millennia) of cloudy thought. For example, most philosophers these days are Naturalists. But this is just a belief system, and is not well-founded, exactly because the objects of the natural world are known to us only vaguely, as Descartes has already argued. Indeed we may be dreaming, and what we think is a real person out there in the street might be a mere fiction. Our minds cannot reach out and touch the presenting objects of the world. So Naturalism reduces to dogma and, these days, to sophistry.

Equally, if I challenge Hume, then, like Kepler my work is shut out. This occurred recently when I sent a paper to the Hume Review. The response was in many ways similar to the comments made by Galileo, and they would not even give it proper consideration. Hume held that all ideas come from impressions. He says that to refute him I need only point out a single counter-example; yet when I point and say 'Look, equivalence and difference are ideas and they are innate. Indeed without them there is no way to copy impressions into your head at all (Hume's Copy Principle) for the act of copying requires that one draw an equivalence relation between the impression and the model of it held in your head. By the response of the editor, it seems the Humean asks for more proof than Hume himself.

It's a funny world, this world of philosophers who have spent a lifetime building castles in the sky, and will protect such by all means, even at the expense of well-founded philosophy itself.

Here is a link to my first page. You need to begin with this, as a matter of foundationalism.

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