Saturday, December 11, 2010

The most accurate, least helpful, definition of philosophy there is

"The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term." - Wilfrid Sellars "Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man" (1960)


Hank said...

damn i have no idea what that means.

and i'm someone who actually reads philosophy.

t said...

Fair enough- my gloss on it would be something like the following:

We should reject the (foundationalist) idea of "First Philosophy", i.e. attempting to find first principles that underlie all subsequent inquiry by locating an indubitable starting point...

Instead we should accept a more holistic, coherentist view of what philosophy does: it tries to see what the inferential connections are between items which, on the face of it, might seem utterly unconnected (e.g. aesthetic experience, history, political theory and theories of reference in philosophy of language).

Instead of a tool for locating indubitable foundations or first principles... philosophy is "dialectical" on this view, itself situated within a totality of some kind.

Philosophy is about seeing how "things" (broadly construed to include different academic disciplines, practices, etc.) hang together in the dense network of beliefs and commitments in which we operate on a daily basis.

Philosophy, then, has no special subject matter per se. It is not the "queen of the sciences". It is, rather, a reflective practice in which we examine how various commitments we already have hang together, reinforce one another, contradict each other, etc. Rather than just DOING, say, sociology or political economy... philosophy goes meta and asks what the goals and methods of the discipline is, and how what they do hangs together with other things we do.

Like I say.... accurate but utterly unhelpful!

Anonymous said...

It is only one aspect of sellars definition. We could name it the 'topical' aspect. The other aspect one has to consider is its 'methodological' aspect. Only if one consider both aspects in connection it is a helpfull definition. To rip a single statement of a highly dialextical text is never helpfull....