On Philosophy

October 17, 2007

Truth, Knowledge, Reference, And Method

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Peter @ 12:00 am

There are those who have insisted that truth (or knowledge) is indefinable. Obviously that is literally false. Certainly nothing stops me from defining truth as, for example, the neighbor’s cat. Obviously that is an “incorrect” definition, in the sense that it isn’t conventional, but finding a correct definition is no harder than picking up a dictionary. Clearly then the claim that truth is “indefinable” must mean something else. Indeed the claim stems from the confusion of the philosophers who make this claim between definitions and theories. What they mean to say, I suspect, is that it is impossible to create a complete and justified theory about truth, something quite different from a definition.

But what is so hard about creating a theory about truth? I myself provided one only a few days ago, so it certainly doesn’t seem impossible, although whether the theory is properly justified or complete might be disputed. But I could only construct that theory because of the method I subscribe to and my theory about knowledge. And I would argue that while creating a complete and justified theory about truth isn’t impossible by itself doing the same simultaneously for truth, knowledge, reference, and method is a much harder task.

The problem lies not in simply creating these theories but in grounding them in some way. Certainly it is easy to simply proclaim something to be the case, but no proclamation, no matter how forcefully made, is worth putting any faith in. If we are rational about what we tentatively accept to be the truth then we will want the claims presented to us to be supported in some way, such that they are more likely to be the case than a claim produced by a random process. The problem is that the very things we are trying to theorize about are the same things that ground our decisions concerning which claims are justified. That is how I arrived at my list of truth, knowledge, reference, and method (assuming justification falls under knowledge). Claims concerning any one of these can be used to support claims, and so I assume that in our evaluations of claims we rely on a theory about at least one of them. (Reference may seem like the odd man out, and it is true that not every theory about reference can provide a foundation for other theories, but some theories about reference, such as those that claim we can intellectually “grasp” the subjects of reference when they are abstract objects, can be.)

If this is the case it would seem to make it impossible to rationally evaluate theories on these subjects. If we evaluate them by whatever process we are already unconsciously using to decide whether claims are justified or unjustified then it would seem that we are illegitimately prejudging the issue. Specifically we are assuming that the theory we are already judging claims by is a good one, and this may illegitimately rule out better theories which contradict it in certain ways. Of course on one hand the method by which we judge claims seems fairly reliable, at least when it comes to the claims we encounter most often in everyday life. The problem is that while our methods for judging claims may work well with claims about the everyday world they may fail miserably when confronted by more abstract claims, such as claims about the nature of justification itself. And it may very well be that the method that we use to evaluate claims may be open enough to other alternatives that they will indeed endorse better methods. But there is no way to be sure of that, because we would have to know what the better methods in fact are, and then see whether our existing methods of deciding would endorse them, and obviously that is impossible because it presumes that we have some way of determining infallibly what the better methods in fact are, which obviously we don’t since it would instantly resolve this entire problem.

To avoid that problem we might instead decide to judge these theories based only on their own standards (a kind of coherentist approach). Unfortunately this actually leaves us in a worse situation, because many of these theories will endorse themselves while rejecting their competitors (in fact they all should if they are constructed well). So instead of endorsing a single theory in a relatively questionable way we are now endorsing a large number of mutually exclusive theories, which is not an improvement (unless you like being confused). Alternatively we might hope to proceed from some unquestionable stripped down theory regarding justification, including only what we can be absolutely sure about from our intuitive thinking about justification, and from this theory arrive at a conclusion about which of our candidate theories concerning truth, knowledge, and so on is best. While this is an intriguing possibility there doesn’t seem to be any way to establish what belongs in this minimal theory without introducing the possibility that we are illegitimately presupposing something about the very subjects that we wish to objectively investigate.

This exhausts what I think of as the constructive ways to approach this problem. These approaches are constructive because they all attempt to determine in some way the correctness of these theories by deducing or establishing them from some pre-existing foundation. But obviously when it comes to questions about the foundation itself such constructions are hard to justify. A similar problem plagues epistemology in general, it seems obvious that most beliefs are justified by appeal to other beliefs, but when considering the beliefs on the bottom, the foundation, it seems as though they must be unjustified. (Some have proposed that they are self-justifying, but obviously that is unacceptable because it would mean endorsing a kind of circular logic.) The solution to the epistemological problem, as I see it, is to stop seeing the foundations as certain or unshakable, but rather to understand them as a kind of hypothesis, which may be later overturned. Of course that presupposes that what we take as foundational (evidence in my terminology) is overall more right than it is wrong in certain ways (such that is not perfectly and consistently wrong). And that is an assumption I can make only because of another principle I accept about knowledge, namely that what matters is only how well it explains that very evidence. Thus it doesn’t make sense to suppose that the evidence is consistently “wrong”, if they theories it leads us to construct are in perfect harmony with it then they are correct, at least as far as it matters to us.

Unfortunately this resolution of the epistemological problem cannot be easily carried over to the general problem of justification, because it presupposes something about our claims, namely that all that matters about them is how well they agree with experience. (And it may be hard to extend this account to cover all kinds of claims.) But if we are to solve the problem of justification in general I think it must be through a similar approach, perhaps by defining standards or some kind of framework and proceeding from there. A such an approach entails outlining what is acceptable, and, from there, deducing what is the case by determining what falls within those guidelines. (Of course the guidelines by themselves may not be sufficient to label just one theory as acceptable. However, we may be able to deduce from the standards certain features that any theory that can meet them must include. And since these are theories that define what justification is we can use those features as the kind of minimal set mentioned above in order to pin down more and more details about the correct theory, ideally.) Obviously I am concerned primarily with philosophy and philosophical justification, and when it comes to philosophy I think what we need to decide is what the correct method for philosophy is, and then, using that method, arrive at theories about truth, knowledge, and reference. In terms of the philosophical method this approach would be to decide what we want our philosophical method to yield (in terms that don’t appeal to any of the questionable concepts, such as truth). I’m not in a position to provide a complete list of standards, but I can list two big ones: we want it to produce understandable theories and objective assessments of theories (which is not to say that disagreement will not exist, just that in some ideal sense all disagreement can be resolved if all the parties involved are rational and actually follow the method). From the first requirement it follows that theories can’t contain contradictions (because the human mind seems incapable of understanding a contradiction except by putting it in such a way that it isn’t a contradiction). And from the second requirement it follows that we cannot be allowed to appeal to our intuitions, since the people differ in their intuitions. Naturally not everyone will accept such standards, and obviously we cannot defend them. However, we can point out that if they really disagree with us about these standards that they simply aren’t doing the same thing as us, they are pursing some different goal, even if we both describe ourselves as philosophers. And given such a fundamental disagreement we can safely ignore each other and go our separate ways.

October 14, 2007

Is Truth A Pure Formalism?

Filed under: Epistemology — Peter @ 12:00 am

Previously I discussed two kinds of claims, those that attempt to accurately reflect some kind of subject matter and those that are pure formalisms, which are not judged entirely according to some set of rules and not by how well they reflect some subject matter. Which of these categories do our statements about “truth” fall into? The answer isn’t immediately obvious. In a sense the pure formalisms are in a certain way conventional, there is nothing that forces us to structure a pure formalism in a certain way. And truth certainly doesn’t seem conventional. But, on the other hand, it certainly doesn’t seem like truth is itself an object, such that we can match our claims about truth up against it and thus test them, which is necessary if we are to consider statements about truth to have some subject matter.

Part of the problem with placing truth into one of these categories (or, alternatively, discovering that it needs some third category of its own to fit in) is that questions about truth often end up tangled with questions about reference. Reference can be defined as a set of transformation rules that put the statements in some language or representation into an equivalence with the subject matter itself (or possible arrangements of the subject matter). Obviously this is a “third person” account of reference, in the sense that this is an idealized (theoretical) conception of reference since no one can directly get at the subject matter itself to contemplate the theoretical equivalences themselves. Still, we suppose that the equivalences could be recognized as holding (or failing to hold, when the subject matter is not actually as the statements or representation portrays it as), it’s just that we don’t know whether they actually do or not. As such reference can be thought of as both a pure formalism and as describing a kind of subject matter, depending on the context. As a pure formalism the transformation rules for reference can be defined in an essentially arbitrary manner and no one can say that they are “wrong” because when employed in this way the rules of reference are being defined by stipulation in order to give the statements that they are to be subsequently applied to an unambiguous interpretation. Or rules of reference can be given that are supposed to reflect the actual rules that we use in context with some language (a mental construct), and in this context they can be compared to their subject matter, by seeing whether actual users of the language agree that they are referring to what the proposed rules say that they are when all the facts are revealed to them. (In this way rules of reference are much like the rules of arithmetic which by themselves are purely formal, but cease to be when they are given an interpretation in terms of counting and combining groups of objects.)

With that said we can now consider how we would investigate a sentence such as “X is true”. We might first consider testing this claim by investigating whether X is actually the case, reasoning that if X is not the case then our theory of truth has failed by labeling a false sentence true. But that surely can’t be how we investigate truth because that is how we investigate the claims made by the sentence X. For example, if X is “the moon revolves around the earth” checking the accuracy of that statement is to investigate whether our claims about the moon and the earth are right, not to check whether our claims about truth are right. So we might instead consider investigating whether “X is true” would be endorsed by most competent speakers of the language, if they knew all the facts about the subject matter that X makes claims about. The problem here though is that this is now an investigation concerning whether the rules of reference we are using are the ones that people actually use to interpret sentences. If the people we consult use the same rules of reference that we did to arrive at the claim X and they agree with us about the facts regarding the subject matter then they will agree with the claim that X is true. But if they use rules of reference that lead to a different interpretation of “X” then they will claim that we are wrong when we assert that X is true, and that X is instead false. But, if we stipulate both the facts about the subject matter and the rules of reference then there is nothing left to investigate, the facts about the subject matter and the rules of reference completely determine which statements are true and false.

Thus we come to a crossroads. I certainly don’t think that there is a “correct” definition of truth because I think that the idea that there are correct definitions is absurd. Certainly there are conventional definitions, but how a word is defined conventionally may not be very useful. Given the above investigations we have a number of options in front of us as to how we would like to define truth, and which definition we choose to adopt determines what category truth falls in. First we have the completely minimal definition of truth. Given that the rules of reference and the subject matter itself seem to completely determine what is and isn’t true we may be moved to discard truth as signifying anything. Truth may be considered simply a linguistic device, used to call attention to the fact that a claim holds (rather than the content, which is what we usually focus on). Such an interpretation of truth makes it neither a claims about some subject matter nor a pure formalism, because it isn’t a claim at all, and hence cannot be classified in this way.

Alternatively, given that the truth of a statement is completely determined only by a combination of both facts about the subject matter and facts about the rules of reference we may argue that it is a term for referring to both of these sets of facts at the same time. To assert that a statement is true then would be to assert both that the rules of reference being used are the correct ones (the ones used by most speakers) and that the subject matter is as claimed. If this is our understanding of truth then it is not a pure formalism because it has a subject matter, albeit a very unusual one, a combination of the rules of reference actually used and the subject matter under discussion (I described this as unusual because usually the subject matter of a claim is a clearly defined domain, not a complex).

Finally, we might identify truth with the subject matter itself, but in a completely general way. Consider one definition of what is true, namely that it is everything that is the case. Truth then designates a subject matter in essentially the same way that “biology” designates a subject matter, except that in the case of truth the subject matter is everything. To say that a statement is true under this interpretation is to say that its subject matter is something that is the case (and saying that it is false would be to say that its subject matter is that which is not the case, or that it has no proper reflection in the subject matter). Since truth under this definition designates a category it would be a pure formalism. Just as the statements of biology have a subject matter while “biology” itself is an abstract classification so the true statements have subject matter while there is no actually existing category that truth can be matched up to.

Personally I lean towards the first alternative, since I would rather deal with fewer terms than more, but none of the definitions given here is “ruled out”, nor can they be so long as they are internally consistent.

Final note: Obviously truth as we are considering it here is truth as is applied to statements which are themselves supposed to have some subject matter. Truth in the context of statements that are purely formal has a different meaning, and is much easier to analyze. To say that a purely formal statement is true is simply to say that it conforms to the rules that define the formalism. If you hold that logic is purely formal, and not properly about formalisms, then such statements are themselves pure formalisms. On the other hand if you hold that logic can legitimately have as its subject matter pure formalisms then such claims about truth also have pure formalisms as their subject matter.

August 21, 2007

Systems Of Truth

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Peter @ 12:00 am

Have you heard of Bob-ism? Bob-ism is the belief that Bob’s opinion is the ultimate standard for truth. Neither you nor I am Bob-ists, but how can we argue against Bob-ism? Well, since Bob is only human perhaps we can find some contradictions within his opinions (although it isn’t necessarily the case that Bob will contradict himself). But, unfortunately for us, Bob has decreed that contradictions are irrelevant, and that they don’t undermine the validity of the system. (Maybe Bob is a fan of paraconsistent logic, or, more probably, he might be crazy.) Given that what can we say to a Bob-ist?

Maybe we can accuse the Bob-ist of believing things that contradict experience. Bob is no expert on matters of science, so occasionally he makes proclamations that are factually inaccurate. But the Bob-ist doesn’t care about that, the Bob-ist thinks that Bob is the standard for truth, not experience, and so where the two conflict experience is in error. So those of us who think that true claims must not contradict experience are convinced that Bob-ism is not a good system, but those working under the assumption that Bob-ism is right have no reason to doubt it. Ah, but now the Bob-ists have revealed themselves as irrational and lacking in epistemic virtue, and that gives Bob-ists a reason to reject Bob-ism. Or not, because Bob has declared that the most rational and most epistemically virtuous way to form beliefs is to believe whatever Bob says. And so we are back to where we started, as we understand things Bob-ism is a bad way to form beliefs, but from within the confines of Bob-ism things are reversed, Bob-ism is the best way to form beliefs and it is we who are in error.

Obviously Bob-ism is a fictitious example. But it shows that there may be many of what I shall call systems of truth, systems that define truth, rationality, justification, and so on (or, in other words, systems that say how two sets of beliefs are to be compared to each other), and if these systems are constructed well there may be no way to get from one to the other rationally. There are, of course, irrational ways to get from one to the other. A Bob-ist might, for example, be unable to shake the intuition that experience matters, and thus consider Bob-ism from another point of view. And if that point of view seems better to them (a very subjective and irrational judgment), and paints Bob-ism in a bad light, then they might abandon it for this new system. Obviously things like Bob-ism tend not to survive very long. But there are plenty of systems of truth that allow experience to matter, and even Bob-ism can be made to take it into account (allow Bob’s claims to be true only when they are about non-physical matters), and are thus much more resilient.

And so everyone subscribes to a system of truth for fundamentally less than perfect reasons. I think it usually goes something like this: we develop a bunch of beliefs about the world that we would like to be true, usually including the belief that science/experience is right where we have it. Later, when we start to consider the nature of justification and truth, we tend to adopt the system the best aggress with these beliefs. Maybe not right away, but as we come across new systems of truth we often evaluate our old one from within the new one, and if the new one also happens to support some of the beliefs we would like to consider true then there is strong psychological pressure (possibly unconscious) to adopt it. Of course once we have adopted it then we can justify our choice by appeal to it. And often we do, we go around telling ourselves and others that we have good rational reason to adopt this system of truth over others, because it agrees with experience or is more coherent or whatever suits our fancy. Obviously there is a good deal of self-deception going on in this process; psychologically the way we do philosophy is very messy, and very dishonest, often in ways that we unconsciously hide from ourselves since we place great stock in rationality. I won’t pretend that I am better than this. For the very psychological reasons I have mentioned I cannot properly introspect and determine how I have come to subscribe to the system of truth that I have. But I can reflect on my history and make a good guess. Historically I have always liked science, I’m good at it and science can answer virtually all of our pressing questions about the world (or at least those that seem of most practical importance to me), if we can frame them in the right way. Thus when I considered various systems of truth I was drawn, I suppose, to a kind of naturalism (with several other stops along the way), one that says that all true claims must in some way be justified by experience. And I make room for philosophy by allowing it to be an abstract way of talking about the world of experience.

Although I realize that what caused me to adopt this system was fundamentally irrational no one is in a better position. There is no rational way to decide what counts as rational. But that does not diminish my confidence that it is the right system of truth. Naturally those who disagree with me feel equally confident, and I admit that if they construct their systems with enough care (a great deal of care, to cover all the corner cases) they can be internally consistent, and thus there is nothing that I can say to change their minds. But I take comfort in the fact that in the long run, regardless of who is right, that every theory accepted as true will be one that would be approved by the system of truth I subscribe to. This is because what matters most in the long run is the usefulness of the theory. Consider a naturalist theory about consciousness that identifies it with a certain process versus a dualist theory that says it just happens to co-vary with that process. Eventually someone is going to want to use such a theory to do something with consciousness, to interface with it, to move it around, or to preserve it. For these scientist/engineers the metaphysics of the matter is irrelevant. When they write the manuals and communicate the process they aren’t going to detail a complicated philosophical position about how consciousness merely co-varies with those patterns, they are just going to point out the relevant parts of the brain and say “to alter conscious experience from X to Y implement physical change Z”, which leads to a naturalistic theory about consciousness, because that it is an easier way to deal with the phenomena. This is not wild speculation, this is a simple observation about the progress of science. Non-physical systems and explanations are gradually replaced with physical ones. Eventually everything from Aristotelian physics to Freudian psychology is ground down and replaced with variants that are based solely on experience, leaving out any a priori reasoning, which thus postulate nothing non-physical. To say that some non-physical theory can survive this process is to say that science will be unable to study it (or won’t want to), which seems absurd since I can think of nothing, not even consciousness, which is not already being tackled with a purely physical approach in some branch of science (excepting things like mathematics, logic, and the study of philosophy itself, things that seem fundamentally abstract, and thus not of the right sort to be physical or non-physical).

The fact that other theories will be ground away doesn’t make them wrong necessarily, but it leaves proponents of them in a bit of a bind. Either they can just accept that in the long run they will be replaced by their competitors, whether they like it or not, or they can try to resist the millstone of science. Neither seems like a pleasant situation.

March 12, 2007

Truth Preservation In The World / In Language

Filed under: Language,Logic,Metaphilosophy — Peter @ 12:00 am

When we are discussing the physical facts themselves there is general agreement that truth behaves basically classically. For example if it is a fact that X implies Y, and X holds, then Y holds. Moreover, the physical facts are basically complete, in the sense that every physical fact could be checked in principle, by an observer with all the information, against what was really out there to determine if it was or was not true*.

But things are not so simple when we consider truth preservation in the context of language. For one thing language has the ability to talk about the truth of various linguistic statements, and about the rules of truth preservation, within itself. This means that language is “more powerful” than a restricted language which talks about the physical facts alone. A consequence of this is that language is either incomplete or inconsistent. If language was incomplete it would mean that even if you had access to all the basically true things that could be said in language (say every statement that truly reflected the basic physical facts, plus statements that capture the basic semantic/linguistic facts) then there would be some well-formed sentences in that language that could be neither proved nor disproved. On the other hand, if language were inconsistent, it would mean that there would be some well-formed sentences that could both be proved and disproved.

For various reasons, which I won’t elaborate on here, I lean towards the second possibility, that in language there are some statements that can be both proved and disproved. And this means that classical truth preservation rules won’t work as truth preservation rules for language, because under classical truth preservation if you can establish a contradiction, which is to both prove and disprove a statement, then every statement can be proven. Clearly that is unacceptable.

But if the truth preservation rules are non-classical then truth in language won’t match up with truth in the world, that is the truth regarding the basic physical facts mentioned earlier. This is because the physical facts are both complete and consistent, while language is not. A better question to ask is where these mismatches occur. It is possible that language is only incomplete or inconsistent when statements that involve truth or other semantic/linguistic notions are involved, and thus that truth in language when talking about the physical facts by themselves is unaffected.

But I find it more likely that truth in language and truth about the physical facts are generally mismatched, not just because truth is preserved differently in language, but because the concepts expressed in language simply don’t match up to the physical facts perfectly. For example, consider red. We might think that red signified a certain physical fact about which wavelengths of light were reflected off a surface. But that is an incomplete description, because the color perceived can vary depending on the surrounding colors. So really red is a complex physical fact involving an object and a perceiver and the kind of state that the perceiver will be put into when they view the object. But this still isn’t sufficient because we have to distinguish red from the other colors. This distinction does have a basis within the perceiver (there is some fact about the matter that will make them think of one color as red instead of some other color), but the line drawn between one color and other is basically arbitrary. The point of distinction itself does not have a physical basis, and may vary between perceivers and in the same perceiver over time. Thus “red” is only loosely connected to the physical facts. Although it would be wrong to say that red is independent from the physical facts it would also be an error to say that it simply is a short name for some complex collection of them (unless we accept that each person’s red expresses a different set of physical facts, but if this were the case then it would be impossible to communicate accurately about the physical facts using language, which is basically the same problem).

Another way in which truth in language comes apart from truth about physical facts is when dealing with properties and objects. In the physical world the basic components are simple, in the sense that while they have properties they do not have parts (electrons, quarks, ect). Although there are physical facts about larger scale items they are made up of collections of facts about their microscopic components. In contrast an object in the context of language may have parts, and facts about it are not really fact about its fundamental components, as the speaker may be in the dark about what those fundamental components are. For example, consider the property of being red. To say that something is red doesn’t mean that it is entirely red, but that it is at least partially red. But being red is to be not green. And thus something can be both green and not green. Obviously we really mean partially green and partially not green, but again this is the kind of “loose” talk that prevents language from exactly lining up with the physical world.

Now this doesn’t mean that we have no grasp of the truth, or that we can’t get at the truth, or that we can’t deduce truths, or any of those other “postmodern” claims. For starters just because language doesn’t correlate perfectly with truths about the physical facts doesn’t mean that it doesn’t roughly line up with them. In fact we should expect the truth in language to usually reflect physical truth, because if it didn’t then language wouldn’t be very useful. Secondly, we can purposefully restrict our discourse, so that it doesn’t talk about truth or semantic facts, to a language that does obey some kind of classical logic. If we ensure that our premises reflect physical facts in this restricted language then we can be confident that our conclusions will as well.

So if this doesn’t imply that physical truth is unknowable to us what does it imply? One significant conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that even if we have a consistent and coherent linguistic conception of some phenomena there is no guarantee that this phenomena, so characterized, is real (meaning that it may not reflect a “natural” kind of physical facts). And if that is the case then what it means many vary from person to person, and then we are reduced to a matter of convention instead of a matter of fact. Basically this is another way of looking at the conclusion about intuitions I derived a previously. A second consequence is that reasoning through language, and thus natural language philosophy, is simply a bad idea. Just because a chain of inferences can be made in language from a premise to a conclusion doesn’t automatically mean that the conclusion is sound. Of course almost all philosophy is done through such reasoning, even this very discussion, so I clearly don’t mean to throw out all such reasoning. I simply mean that such reasoning isn’t irrefutable, assuming that someone can provide a better analysis of the claims made, which reveals in turn that the original conclusion in fact rested on some ambiguity or equivocation.

* Admittedly indeterminacy adds some complications to this, but not serious ones. One can either accept a three state logic or drop the law of the excluded middle and replace it with one that says ∀φ(φ ∨ ~φ ∨ ∂φ), where ∂φ is understood to mean that φ is indeterminate.

December 23, 2006

Truth in Philosophy (or: Why I Am Not A Continental Philosopher)

Filed under: Metaphilosophy — Peter @ 6:00 pm

There are some who think of philosophy not as a search for truth in some unique range of topics (distinguishing it from various sciences and math, which have their own topics). Some of these people see philosophy as an art form, or as entertainment, or as guidance in life. It is hard to see how one could even begin to refute such a view (what would you say if someone said the same thing about math or science?), but I will do my best.

Let us consider the existence of absolute ethical facts. If we were working with a classical logical system we could say that the claim that there are absolute ethical facts or there are no absolute ethical facts must be true, but to satisfy certain alternate views on the subject I will instead say that the claim that that there are absolute ethical facts or there are no absolute ethical facts or to speak of absolute ethical facts is meaningless is always true. But if that claim is true then one of the following possibilities must be true: there are absolute ethical facts, or there are no absolute ethical facts, or to speak of absolute ethical facts is meaningless, or that the disjunction is somehow true without any of the individual claims being true (a very odd possibility), or it cannot be discovered which possibility is true. What then is the discipline that investigates which of these possibilities is true (and one of them surely must be)? Neither math nor science can, even though, as I have shown above, there is some fact of the matter. And certainly these topics fall under what is usually considered philosophy (ethics and epistemology). So it seems logical to conclude that philosophy is the discipline that searches for the truth in certain areas that are outside the scope of science and mathematics, since there exist truths in these areas to be discovered.

Of course it could be the case that philosophy is an attempt to discover certain truths as well as fulfill some other function (such as being art). However, we already have disciplines that cover that ground, namely art, entertainment, and religion. Thus to require that philosophy do those things would be redundant, not to mention interfere with its function of discovering certain truths. In contrast there is no other discipline that investigates quite the same topics as philosophy does, and certainly there are some truths to be found there (as demonstrated above), so it seems logical to conclude that philosophy should be the discipline that investigates them, and that this is the only thing philosophy should do. (If it isn’t sign me up for the discipline that does.)

But some would still object to this, arguing that philosophy can’t be concerned with discovering truths since it doesn’t have a specific area of investigation. I don’t see how not having a specially designated area affects the issue, but it is easy to delimit such an area if it makes you feel more comfortable. Simply take the set of all areas in which truths can be discovered. Then subtract out the areas covered by science and mathematics, and what you have left is the area of study for philosophy. Admittedly this region changes over time, as science expands there is less and less that is considered the domain of philosophy, but, as shown by the fact that it can expand, the area that is the domain of science isn’t fixed either.

It is because I view philosophy in this way (as a search for truth in a unique subject area) that I am not a continental philosopher. The difference between analytic and continental philosophy can be seen as primarily one of method. Analytic philosophers focus on making progress by argument about the issues. Continental philosophers make “progress” by reinterpreting philosophical texts. The method of continental philosophy is often “philosophy via oracle”, where a work of philosophy is considered good because it says things that seem plausible, and not because its theses are well supported by argument and evidence. This is unlikely to lead to the truth, because what seems plausible depends more on out intuition than what is really the case. And certainly one cannot expect to proceed by pronouncements and get closer to the truth. And thus I consider myself to be an analytic philosopher, and am continually amazed that anyone can consider the continental tradition, which produces people such as Heidegger, good philosophy.

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