[ExI] Philosophy and philosophers

Dan danust2012 at gmail.com
Mon Oct 6 16:36:52 UTC 2014

>> On Friday, October 3, 2014 5:49 PM, John Clark <johnkclark at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 1:54 AM, Dan <danust2012 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> What about folks like John Searle, Saul Kripke, W. V. O. Quine,
> Bertrand Russell, and Frege?
> I can't say anything about Saul Kripke because I've never heard
> of him,

I'm mentioning people who have made contributions to philosophy as philosophers. That's why I listed these examples.

> unfortunately I have heard of John Searle and his dimwitted
> Chinese Room;

I'm not so sure Searle is dimwitted and his contributions have been to philosophy of language and to philosophy of mind. Aside from his views on AI, he's not a dualist and seems to be a naturalist/physicalist. But let's return to the Chinese Room, regardless of your view of it, don't you agree that it's been influential in the AI field -- even if only, for some, in coming up with rejections for it? It's definitely not, in my view, some idle speculation that's had no impact and no one need bother with examining or dealing with.

If you can admit this, of course, you still have the escape hatch of saying he came up with this thinking about AI -- not, say, pondering the views of Quine or some other philosopher. But that's kind of trivial escape hatch, no? It shows that it's not really about whether one is a professional this or that, but whether one is coming up with ideas and arguments that matter, which no field or person as such has a monopoly on.

> as for W. V. O. Quine and Bertrand Russell I've read
> books by them and like them, but like Frege they were all
> mathematicians/logicians.

Quine, Russell, and Frege all studied philosophy, and their major work was as philosophers. Yes, they all made contributions to logic (and to philosophy of mathematics), including Frege pretty much single-handedly developing modern symbolic logic, which alone should be seen as a major contribution to logic, math, and science. He did this in his work on foundations of thought and mathematics -- in other words, doing philosophy stuff.

We're back to Anders' comment too: when a philosopher makes a major contribution to something, it seems that gets repackaged later as non-philosophy. (Recall, what we call natural science today was once called natural philosophy and has its roots in Ancient Greek philosophy which was eventually systematized by Aristotle and his heirs.)

> And none of the people on your list
> came within a light year of the gigantic contribution to
> philosophy that Charles Darwin made, and he never had a
> philosophy course in his life.  As Daniel Dennett (well
> OK, I don't hate ALL philosophers) said:
> "If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has
> ever had, I'd give it to Darwin."

I'm not disagreeing with the value of Darwin's contributions, though it's likely he did have a philosophy course in divinity school. Also, he wasn't really a professional scientist -- not that there were many at that time.

You've turned this into a pissing contest instead of seeing if there's any value in the work or the field itself. If Darwin is going to be the standard, then let's say no one else has done much work in any field since 1859. Yah, there have been some big contributions, but they all pale by comparison, so let's say even the latest work in physics today is really small potatoes. After all, it's not as world-changing as Darwin.

In fact, using Darwin here is not helpful. It's almost like in the field of literature, bringing up Shakespeare as the greatest among Bardolators. Yah, Shakespeare is the tops, but that doesn't mean all other creators must be set aside and shat on.

>> There's a whole branch of philosophy of science devoted to
>> discussing quantum field theory (Michael Redhead), spacetime
>> theory (Lawrence Sklar, John Earman)
> And what important new ideas did they come up with that
> Einstein, Dirac or Feynman hadn't discovered a half century
> before?

The scientists you mention were steeped in philosophy, Einstein especially in the ideas of Ernst Mach. But you're looking at this in terms of philosophers coming up with scientific ideas. In the same fashion, scientists don't tend to come up with great new philosophic ideas. They usually elucidate a philosophical idea with their work.

But if you want to look at a philosophy who seems to have some direct impact on science, think Popper. (And think Mach. Think Aristotle, going back a ways, but he was the first to explicitly work out logic.)

>> In fact, a hobby horse of mine is attacks on Aristotle
> Me too, if people must ancestor worship a ancient Greek
> it should be Archimedes not Aristotle or Plato.

You've misread me here. My hobby horse is against those making uninformed attacks on Aristotle. I see that all too often coming from people who haven't actually studied Aristotle, but are merely rehashing attacks on Aristoteleanism and Scholasticism from centuries ago. (Not defending them in toto, but merely against caricature.) This is little different than Creationists who attack Darwin based on some attack on evolution they cribbed from his 19th and early 20th century doubters (many of whom were not Creationists, but it's a matter of any stick is a good stick if you're beating your enemy with it). Aristotle is the usual whipping boy and it's not ancestor worship to defend him against an unfair charge. (And defending him, just to cut any further abject stupidity, against unfair charges is not saying he was always right or above criticism. The same would apply to anyone or to any other philosophy.)

As for contributions, I don't think one must choose here. This is like looking for a "top ten" list in something. Archimedes was definitely influential in mathematics and engineering. Aristotle developed logic and was really the first to attempt to systematize all the sciences he was interested in (and he seemed to be interested in everything). Plato really brought philosophical speculation to a new level that set the stage for Aristotle and many later thinkers. Some say both these philosophers were key, from a methodological standpoint, in Euclid's development, directly impacting the latter's geometry, probably the most read text in the West for centuries after, of course, the Bible. (And geometrical thinking had a direct impact on Descartes who directly influenced Newton. So, there's a loose line of philosophical succession to ponder.)

If we could run the experiment, it'd be interesting to see how Western thought, including science, would've evolved if we excised Aristotle (or pick someone; see below). Granted, it's quite possible anything he discovered would've been discovered later, but my guess is developments would've been delayed. Of course, other events impinged and who can say?

>> Don't mention Adler again.
> OK, maybe that was a low blow, most philosophers aren't THAT bad.

It's cherry-picking at its worst: choosing one example of someone who's not really influential in his field, hasn't made any major contributions there (sung or unsung) as an example of the best. But this shouldn't be a pissing contest. I believe philosophy and the work of _some_ philosophers has value. Ditto for people in other fields. Does that mean every last person in any field must be a Darwin or the entire endeavor is worthless? If so, then I think most fields must be completely worthless because Darwins are kind of the once or twice a century geniuses (or incredibly lucky and hardworking so that he's fooled many of us:).


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