PHIL 1290 Study Guide - Fall 2019, Comprehensive Final Exam Notes - Philosopher, Isaac Newton, God

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PHIL 1290
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What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is not an unsystematic, disorganized, free association of ideas strung
together in an attempt to find some “hidden” truth, or an attempt to satisfy some need to
“let it all hang out.” Students who take a course in philosophy because they believe it to
be an opportunity to obtain a good grade for a minimal amount of work are inevitably
disappointed. They seem to feel that, because they have a good imagination and a
great deal to say, or perhaps because they are good at getting the last word in
arguments with their friends, they are already good philosophers. Typically, these
students do little work yet are surprised at how poorly they do on their assignments.
You should no more expect to be good at philosophy without studying and practicing it
than you should expect to be a good doctor without studying and practicing medicine.
Philosophy can be fun, but it is first and foremost an academic discipline with stringent
standards. Remember, you have to be able to defend your philosophical views. How
well they stand up to criticism is a mark of how well you do philosophy. In this course,
you are going to find that you have to present arguments for certain points of view and
that these arguments will be criticized as to how well-reasoned they are. This course is
not a presentation of facts to be memorized. You should grapple with the issues and
arrive at your own conclusions.
A characterization of philosophy
Philosophy is quite different from all other fields, but the differences are complex and
somewhat difficult to specify. Indeed, “What is philosophy?” is itself an important
philosophical question, one that divides philosophers at least as much as any other.
However, we can give a rough description of philosophy.
Let us briefly consider the history of philosophy. At one time what was called philosophy
encompassed all fields of theoretical inquiry (including physics, chemistry, and
psychology). As inquiry proceeded, one by one each field reached a point where there
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was one or perhaps two, dominant theories, and a more or less accepted empirical
decision procedure or methodology for answering questions within the field. An
empirical methodology is one that settles questions through the use of observation.
Once a field becomes empirical, it has moved away from philosophy and become a
discipline unto its own (a recent example in the field of psychology). Historically then,
the last philosopher to study a particular area is often better known as the founder of a
new field; for instance, Isaac Newton would have considered himself a philosopher, but
we know him today as a physicist.
Although the fields that have left philosophy still rely upon philosophical methodology
(debate) to some extent, there is clearly in each case an emphasis upon scientific or
empirical methodology. These fields, unlike philosophy, are said to depend upon
empirical data or testing for solving their problems. Philosophy itself depends upon
empirical data or tests for the solution of some of its questions (this should not be too
surprising for a field that has spawned so many empirical sciences), but by and large, it
does not. Rather, questions are debated (and solved or not solved) by the dialectical
process whereby arguments are advanced on each side of an issue. Perhaps that is the
one question that all philosophers will answer in the same way: the methodology of
philosophy is argument and counter-argument. To put it simply, philosophers debate
within a field until the field is dominated by one or two main theories and has developed
a scientific or empirical methodology for resolving questions. At that time, the field is
likely to leave the domain of philosophy (perhaps taking some philosophers with it and,
in a sense, making them scientists). In other words, as philosophy is successful, it loses
some of its areas of inquiry to science. Thus far, apart from the reference to the
centrality of debate, not much has been said about the proper methodology of
philosophy. Opinions on this have varied and still do. In some traditions, philosophy has
been considered the search for truths that are available to the human intellect
independently of the making of observations. In this century one philosophical
movement considered that the task of philosophy is not to come out with proposals
(truths) of its own, but rather to use special techniques to critically analyze the proposals
(truths) of science. Another modern movement views philosophical problems (such as
the problem of whether we have real free will) as unnecessary wasteful conundrums
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