Transcription

An Introduction to PhilosophyW. Russ PayneBellevue CollegeCopyright (cc by nc 4.0)2015 W. Russ PaynePermission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document with attribution under theterms of Creative Commons: Attribution Noncommercial 4.0 International or any later version ofthis license. A copy of the license is found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/1

ContentsIntroduction .3Chapter 1: What Philosophy Is .5Chapter 2: How to do Philosophy . .11Chapter 3: Ancient Philosophy . .23Chapter 4: Rationalism . . .38Chapter 5: Empiricism 50Chapter 6: Philosophy of Science . . 58Chapter 7: Philosophy of Mind . .72Chapter 8: Love and Happiness . .79Chapter 9: Meta Ethics 94Chapter 10: Right Action . .108Chapter 11: Social Justice . 1202

IntroductionThe goal of this text is to present philosophy to newcomers as a living discipline with historicalroots. While a few early chapters are historically organized, my goal in the historical chapters isto trace a developmental progression of thought that introduces basic philosophical methods andframes issues that remain relevant today. Later chapters are topically organized. These includephilosophy of science and philosophy of mind, areas where philosophy has shown dramaticrecent progress.This text concludes with four chapters on ethics, broadly construed. I cover traditional theories ofright action in the third of these. Students are first invited first to think about what is good forthemselves and their relationships in a chapter of love and happiness. Next a few meta-ethicalissues are considered; namely, whether they are moral truths and if so what makes them so. Theend of the ethics sequence addresses social justice, what it is for one’s community to be good.Our sphere of concern expands progressively through these chapters. Our inquiry recapitulatesthe course of development into moral maturity.Over the course of the text I’ve tried to outline the continuity of thought that leads from thehistorical roots of philosophy to a few of the diverse areas of inquiry that continue to makesignificant contributions to our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.As an undergraduate philosophy major, one of my favorite professors once told me thatphilosophers really do have an influence on how people think. I was pleased to hear that the kindof inquiry I found interesting and rewarding might also be relevant to people’s lives and make adifference in the world. Then he completed his thought, “it only takes about 300 years.” Over thecourse of my teaching career, it has struck me that the opinions many of my students come toclass with have just about caught up with David Hume. So perhaps things are not quite as bad asmy professor suggested. While Hume did publish young, he was still an infant 300 years ago.My mission as a philosophy teacher has been to remedy this situation to some small degree.Most of the philosophy I read in graduate school was written by living philosophers, people Icould meet and converse with at conferences. Every time I’ve done so I’ve come back with anew list of living philosophers I hoped to read. My experience with living philosophers hasconvinced me that philosophy has progressed as dramatically as the sciences over the lastcentury or so. It is a great misfortune that the educated public by and large fails to recognize this.Philosophers, no doubt, carry much of the blame for this. At the cutting edge of the professionwe have been better researchers that ambassadors. At no time in history have there been as manybright people doing philosophy as there are today. Clearly articulated fresh perspectives onimportant issues abound. But at the same time, philosophy’s “market share” in the universitycurriculum has fallen to historic lows. If the flourishing of philosophy over the past century or so3

is to continue, philosophy as a living discipline will have to gain a broader following among thegeneral educated public. The front line for this campaign is the Philosophy 101 classroom.This is an open source text. It is freely available in an editable, downloadable electronic format.Anyone is free to obtain, distribute, edit, or revise this document in accordance with the opensource license. No one is free to claim proprietary rights to any part of this text. Sadly, one of themain functions of academic publishing, both of research and textbooks, has become that ofrestricting access to information. This is quite against the spirit of free and open discourse that isthe lifeblood of philosophy.Introductory students should be exposed to as many philosophical voices as possible. To thatend, links to primary source readings and supplemental material are imbedded in the text. I’verestricted myself to primary source materials that are freely available on the Web. Studentsshould require nothing more than a reliable Internet connection to access all of the required andrecommended materials for this course. Limiting primary and supplemental sources in this wayhas presented some challenges. Classic sources are readily available on the Web, though notalways in the best translations. Many contemporary philosophers post papers on the Internet, butthese are usually not intended for undergraduate readers. Most good philosophical writing forundergraduates is, unfortunately, proprietary, under copyright and hence unavailable for an opensource course. The strength of an open source text is that it is continually open to revision byanyone who’d care to improve it. And so I’d like to issue an open invitation to members of thephilosophical community to recommend writing suitable for this course that is currentlyavailable on the Web and has so far escaped my notice. Or, better yet, to write for this course.4

1. What Philosophy IsWhat is philosophy?Many answers have been offered in reply to this question and most are angling at somethingsimilar. My favorite answer is that philosophy is all of rational inquiry except for science.Perhaps you think science exhausts inquiry. About a hundred years ago, many philosophers,especially the Logical Positivists, thought there was nothing we could intelligibly inquire intoexcept for scientific matters. But this view is probably not right. What branch of scienceaddresses the question of whether or not science covers all of rational inquiry? If the questionstrikes you as puzzling, this might be because you already recognize that whether or not sciencecan answer every question is not itself a scientific issue. Questions about the limits of humaninquiry and knowledge are philosophical questions.We can get a better understanding of philosophy by considering what sorts of things other thanscientific issues humans might inquire into. Philosophical issues are as diverse and far ranging asthose we find in the sciences, but a great many of them fall into one of three big topic areas,metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.MetaphysicsMetaphysical issues are concerned with the nature of reality. Traditional metaphysical issuesinclude the existence of God and the nature of human free will (assuming we have any). Here area few metaphysical questions of interest to contemporary philosophers: What is a thing? How arespace and time related? Does the past exist? How about the future? How many dimensions doesthe world have? Are there any entities beyond physical objects (like numbers, properties, andrelations)? If so, how are they related to physical objects? Historically, many philosophers haveproposed and defended specific metaphysical positions, often as part of systematic andcomprehensive metaphysical views. But attempts to establish systematic metaphysical worldviews have been notoriously unsuccessful.Since the 19th century many philosophers and scientists have been understandably suspicious ofmetaphysics, and it has frequently been dismissed as a waste of time, or worse, as meaningless.But in just the past few decades metaphysics has returned to vitality. As difficult as they are toresolve, metaphysical issues are also difficult to ignore for long. Contemporary analyticmetaphysics is typically taken to have more modest aims than definitively settling on the finaland complete truth about the underlying nature of reality. A better way to understandmetaphysics as it is currently practiced is as aiming at better understanding how various claimsabout the reality logically hang together or conflict. Metaphysicians analyze metaphysical5

puzzles and problems with the goal of better understanding how things could or could not be.Metaphysicians are in the business of exploring the realm of possibility and necessity. They areexplorers of logical space.EpistemologyEpistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge and justified belief. What isknowledge? Can we have any knowledge at all? Can we have knowledge about the laws ofnature, the laws or morality, or the existence of other minds? The view that we can’t haveknowledge is called skepticism. An extreme form of skepticism denies that we can have anyknowledge whatsoever. But we might grant that we can have knowledge about some things andremain skeptics concerning other issues. Many people, for instance, are not skeptics aboutscientific knowledge, but are skeptics when it comes to knowledge of morality. Later in thiscourse we will entertain some skeptical worries about science and we will consider whetherethics is really in a more precarious position. Some critical attention reveals that scientificknowledge and moral knowledge face many of the same skeptical challenges and share somesimilar resources in addressing those challenges. Many of the popular reasons for being moreskeptical about morality than science turn on philosophical confusions we will address andattempt to clear up.Even if we lack absolute and certain knowledge of many things, our beliefs about those thingsmight yet be more or less reasonable or more or less likely to be true given the limited evidencewe have. Epistemology is also concerned with what it is for a belief to be rationally justified.Even if we can’t have certain knowledge of anything (or much), questions about what we oughtto believe remain relevant.EthicsWhile epistemology is concerned with what we ought to believe and how we ought to reason,Ethics is concerned with what we ought to do, how we ought to live, and how we ought toorganize our communities. Sadly, it comes as a surprise to many new philosophy students thatyou can reason about such things. Religiously inspired views about morality often take right andwrong to be simply a matter of what is commanded by a divine being. Moral Relativism, perhapsthe most popular opinion among people who have rejected faith, simply substitutes thecommands of society for the commands of God. Commands are simply to be obeyed, they arenot to be inquired into, assessed for reasonableness, or tested against the evidence. Thinking ofmorality in terms of whose commands are authoritative leaves no room for rational inquiry intohow we ought to live, how we ought to treat others, or how we ought to structure ourcommunities. Philosophy, on the other hand, takes seriously the possibility of rational inquiryinto these matters. If philosophy has not succeeded in coming up with absolutely certain anddefinitive answer in ethics, this is in part because philosophers take the answers to moral6

questions to be things we need to discover, not simply matters of somebody’s say so. The longand difficult history of science should give us some humble recognition of how difficult andfrustrating careful inquiry and investigation can be. So we don’t know for certain what the lawsof morality are. We also don’t have a unified field theory in physics. Why expect morality to beany easier?So we might think of metaphysics as concerned with “What is it?” questions, epistemology asconcerned with “How do we know?” questions, and ethics as concerned with “What should wedo about it?” questions. Many interesting lines of inquiry cut across these three kinds ofquestions. The philosophy of science, for instance, is concerned with metaphysical issues aboutwhat science is, but also with epistemological questions about how we can know scientific truths.The philosophy of love is similarly concerned with metaphysical questions about what love is.But it also concerned with questions about the value of love that are more ethical in character.Assorted tangled vines of inquiry branch off from the three major trunks of philosophy,intermingle between them, and ultimately with scientific issues as well. The notion that somebranches of human inquiry can proceed entirely independent of others ultimately becomesdifficult to sustain. The scientist who neglects philosophy runs the same risk of ignorance as thephilosopher who neglects science.What is the value of philosophy?Philosophy is a branch of human inquiry and as such it aims at knowledge and understanding.We might expect that the value of philosophy lies in the value of the ends that it seeks, theknowledge and understanding it reveals. But philosophy is rather notorious for failing toestablish definitive knowledge on the matters it investigates. I’m not so sure this reputation iswell deserved. We do learn much from doing philosophy. Philosophy often clearly reveals whysome initially attractive answers to big philosophical questions are deeply problematic, forinstance. But granted, philosophy often frustrates our craving for straightforward convictions. Inour first reading, Bertrand Russell argues that there is great value in doing philosophy preciselybecause it frustrates our desire for quick easy answers. In denying us easy answers to bigquestions and undermining complacent convictions, philosophy liberates us from narrow mindedconventional thinking and opens our minds to new possibil