Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The hard words of philosophy





Philosophy is a vast domain. If you consider that philosophy is essentially the art or science of thinking correctly, there's a lot on philosophy's plate.

Thinking correctly is not easy but if you know a few good tools like logic, you're more assured to reach valid conclusions.

One difficulty, though, remains and seems intimidating to me: words. When you listen to talks about philosophy, you encounter some words that you hardly ever meet anywhere else. I think it's useful to list a few of these words and their definitions in order to help people who have a curiosity about philosophy but might be intimidated.


Deconstruction: is a fancy word which means "analysis". As in "serious" analysis. It doesn't matter if you think of analyzing ideas through thought experiments or analyzing things through scientific/engineering means ; deconstruction is just a fancy word meaning analysis.

Dialectic: is the art of resolving an argument through discussion by considering consecutively the various conflicting opinions. To put it in simple terms, dialectic is the honest consideration of all points of view.

Empiricism: is the reliance on observation as a source of knowledge. Weak empiricism could consist in mere inductions/inferences from observations and is highly subject to cognitive biases. Strong empiricism, like that of Karl Popper, will insist on concise enunciation of refutable assertions which are then put to the test.

Epistemology: is the branch of philosophy concerned with finding out what's really true. It is sometimes called the "science of sciences" because it deals with finding out how we know what we know. Epistemology tasks itself with making the difference between knowledge and belief. So in a sense all sciences, because they care about making demonstrations, have an epistemological aspect.

Nihilism: is the negation of one or more meaningful aspects of life. In particular, nihilism can be opposed to epistemological or ontological arguments and nihilism can be applied to morality, positing that morality does not exist in itself but that it is merely a set of conventions. Though the term is often used pejoratively, nihilism is legitimate as a sort of anti-ontology or anti-epistemology with regards to things that actually do not exist.

Ontology: is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of being and existence. For subjects where epistemology is not applicable or not relevant, ontology takes over. It is often invoked in a fallacious way in discussions about the existence of gods (of which existence is pretended to be beyond scientific inquiry), but it is relevant in the exploration of the existence of ideas in language and in thought. Ontology also holds a role in the field of psychology since technological methods, even fMRI, do not yet allow an epistemological approach of a patient's psychology.

Skepticism: is the attitude of questioning the reality of things and ideas. It is easily associated to epistemology but when pushed to the extreme, skepticism may lead to questioning everything about everything and lead to extreme aspects of solipsism or nihilism.

Solipsism: is the notion that we can't be totally sure of the existence of anything outside our own mind. Our mind's existence has to be taken for granted because we think and because it is inseparable from the idea of self. But we can't be sure of the reality of anything outside of our mind. Solipsism can be considered at various degrees, but beyond its role as a thought experiment, it is not productive.

Teleology: is the examination of final consequences. It is the idea that things serve a purpose or that there is a purpose to everything. Which is arguable. It is a notion that will easily be found in religions (the meaning of life, God's plan, moksha...) but which will have opposition from epistemology and nihilism.


Conclusion

I hope this is of help to anyone who is curious about philosophy but would have been intimidated by the big words thrown around.




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