Russell’s three ways of dividing philosophy

In Russell’s chapter on Bergson in the History of Western Philosophy; Russell brings up a provoking tripartite distinction to understand philosophy and philosophies. I hate using the term ‘philosophy’ in the general sense unless I have some kind of defensible conception of the term, Russell has given a very insightful set of distinctions and I will address them now:

1. Philosophy as philosophies of; philosophy can be under stood by means of what desired outcome the philosopher may have. We have approaches that are overtly oriented to understanding the truth of things, which Russell calls theoretical philosophy; there are those approaches that attempt to put a framework to some practical end or outcome, which is called (unsurprisingly) practical philosophy; and those which appeal as an expression of the personal feelings and overarching worldview of an individual person, we may call this the philosophy of feeling. I think that when people who are not familiar with the technical sense of the word philosophy understand the term, they envisage it as a near poetic, noetic excercise where philosophers are obscure prophets of feeling or some kind of idealised political or individualistic social order. Nietzsche comes in mind here; the continentals also come into mind.

A historical comment. A lot should be said of this distinction. Theoretical philosophy is the enterprise that predominates universities and most often is the kind of philosophy that survives the best over history without fading into obscurity. The ‘great’ philosophers are often theoretical (or professional) philosophers. There are notable exceptions to this case; especially those cases where people may dispute the philosophical merit of their work; James I consider, as well as Nietzsche, perhaps even Montange and Newton; but those are for seperate issues and reasons unique to their case.

Practical philosophy is something that often has an overlap with theoretical philosophy, but often does not need an overlap. I’d say that practical philosophy is one of the ways in which philosophy (especially through ethics and social sciences) has a wide appeal or interdisciplinary tint to it. Philosophies of feeling, however; invite many derisory comments. They make for nice books, excellent sales, summer reading but are hard to be taken seriously in the university setting of rigour and proof. I have a suspicion that we should not mistake philosophies of feeling as theoretical philosophy, as one speaks a very different language to the other.

2. Philosophy by method

Philosophy by method is quite a simple issue compared to the one above. Philosophies can be understood in terms of ‘isms’ by the way that they approach an understanding of the world. The same can go for understanding natural and social science by its method; or even mathematics. It is in philosophy, however, that a difference in method can lead to violent and divisive dispute. In the sciences; we may have different methods but often there are neglegable issues of incompatibility; we have qualitative person centric approaches; mathematical computational methods; methods using certain mathematical tools; methods of experimentation; methods using explicit forms of reasoning. In philosophy, and perhaps similarly in theology; there is a significant divide on what we take to be the primal source of our philosophic insight into reality. Is experience the fundamental arbiter of matters of truth; or is there a world above/beneath experience that shapes it? This leads to our next distinction.

3. Philosophy by content

It seems related but not necessarily so, that our differences in method also lead to a significant different in the content of our theories. Theories of mind may be informed by a computational analogy, or propositional or syntactic analyses. The issue of rationalism and empiricism are matters of method; but often have a lot to bear on specific issues of ‘laws’ or ‘causation’. When we consider philosophy by content; we take to a very scholastic way of philosophising where we understand the mass of thought before us and how they have come to inform us on specific issues of our fundamental reality; from human nature to the nature of time. It is still astounding that after all that has been thought; there are still many battlegrounds to be fought and many advances to be made.

This seems like a neat distinction; and perhaps one that undercuts the social significance of how people philosophise, whether using propositions and language; or a hammer.


The Kantian Popper (or the Popperian Kant?)

I’ve mentioned in many posts that I have been leisurely reading Popper’s ‘Logic of Scientific Discovery’. The further I go into it, the more I come to see his Vienna roots.

I admit something. I don’t know too much about Popper. I’ve always heard of Popper from second hand admirers among my sociologist friends who see him as one of the great heroes of LSE’s philsophical heritage (also included in that list are Lakatos and Feyrabend). I think perhaps I have misapprehended popper as a mid-late 20thC philosopher of science, the not-so-distant ancestors to the philosophers of science I had come to know in Bristol.

My Kant scholar approach is informed by a very minor understanding of the Vienna philosophers; I see them as having a distinctly Kantian heritage, despite their apparent anti-Kantian character. This route also follows the scholarship of the likes of Ernst Cassirer; who was for one note contemporamous to the great Vienna men. A more contemporary historian pertinent to this issue is Michael Friedman (I should add a tag as to how many references to Friedman this blog has).

I believe that Reichenbach’s notion of the constitutive a priori directly relates to what is understood as Kant’s ‘regulative a priori’ in his body of philosophy of science. As I have also considered; I think that the ‘foundations’ approach is a step forward and the supreme example of this, Carnap’s Aufbau, is a superior attempt at the philosophical foundations of what I think Kant’s desiderata for any future scientific theory must amount to. Did Kant anticipate a Carnap? That’s a question for another post.

For various exegetical reasons, I have maintained that Kant has set a series of conditions for what he called ‘science proper’ which included:

1. Reductionism: all propositions of science must relate to another by means of a higher order system to explain the principles of the lower order. Applied physics requires theoretical physics, theoretical physics requires calculus and calculus in turn requires certain metaphysical/mathematical foundation assumptions to allow the conditions of such to susue.

2. Relata by laws, higher and lower. A revised way of stating the above is to note that Kant (may have) believed that the relata of this higher lower ordering system that justifies higher and lower discourses takes place by explicitly formal laws; these laws must be formal insofar as they actually apply.

3. Systematicity, or the unity of science. These principles must form a system that relates one kind of physical phenomenon with anohter. A general physics must account for all of its constituent parts; matter, heat, sound, energy, motion etc. If we had a theory of planetary motion (such as astrology) that made predictions and claims about a person’s wellbeing and future; it would only be a respectable theory (well, one reason at least) if it had something to say or relate to say, the notion of elements; heat; energy; conservation of mass, and they all in turn were candidates or subsets of a higher formal system; say, a mathematics of change (calculus) or general principles that took place over it as a genera, and yet formed the foundations of the given discourse astrology.

Popper’s vision of science seems distinctly Kantian as he says the following:

1. We must understand scientific principles as universal claims; and even thought there are doubts about the validation of every instance of F=ma (due to the limitations ofthe universe and our own meansĀ  of testability – namely, we can’t live forever and there is a great dataset of cases that we can no longer verify because they belong in the past). It is better, to crudely state it; to be a universals advocate of the sentences of science and to underlay them as a formal substructure of sentences; than to take the empiricist vision of dealing only with particulars.

2. Particulars cannot take us far enough with induction. Induction has its own epistemological and psychological problems. Which is our motivation to take a more rationalist ‘foundations’ approach.

3. The formal structure of science seems to take great precedence in Popper’s theory. It does not matter that our formal laws cannot map to real observances, or even that real observances cannot map to their porpositional expression. An example of the latter is this: to say ‘I am hurt’ is of very detached relevance to the felt experience of pain. The very fact of your reading this shows that this message is coded in a propositional format. Perhaps the best way to communicate the fundamental inexpressability of those things that propositions relate to would be to make an example of a non-propositional utterance (‘ouch’), or to hit you.

4. The ‘alms ob’ premise. Kant takes to the notion that while we may always have doubts about whether the actual formalisation of science maintains true of the world; we must take to the transcendental assumption that the world as it appears to us is just that; we must take some things for face value, or understand things in the way that we are forced to understand it; because of the brute fact natureo f our understanding to make us think it so. The categories of the understanding such as causation or orientation are things we understand just because they are so; but it is always valid to question them.

Popper takes quite well to what some commentators (I think it’s Bennett and HW Cassirer) call the ‘as if’ premise. If we are to take to certain assumptions or theorisations of science as idealisations or things we may imagine are ‘as if they were true’.

5. The conditions of possibility. Popper holds that the systematisation of science requires what I’ll call a mother premise, namely; that there is one fundamental condition at the top of a scientific theory which acts as a decider of what the other norms are. In a sense, Popper provides the notion of what I sometimes call a metanorm; a norm that decides norms.

I’ve specifically interpreted systematicity to be a metanorm; although Popper does not seem to be directing systematicity; he does make one proviso that relates to it; that we have an ordering langauge that makes sense of instances of particulars by instituting language terms that denote them as type. If we are to pose ‘marsupial’ as a universal we will always have the problem that universals cannot be justified by every instance; but the admission of this objection seems to be treated by popper as some kind of merit of his theory; as it is the same problem that induction has, but induction does not pretend to aspire to universals, because it cant. Some form of idealisation, or a language of types that in turn are ordered by ranking principles; e.g. the Linnaean hierarchical taxonomy.

Popper makes a point of not confusing universal types with sets and classes; perhaps this is something a Kantian theory of science may benefit from. We may have entities that have one class description; but fit multiple classes and sets. Kangeroo is a marsupial >> mammal; but it is also under classses and sets such as ‘australasian’; creatures that keep their children in pouches; ‘cute and cuddly’ or ‘parodied in family guy’ and they can be classified as such without inconsistency.

The relationships with Kantian systematicity and Popper’s vision of science are very intricate and subtle. I’ve just written this post to acknowledge just some of the potential issues and exegetical similarities that they have.

I’m also pleasantly surprised of Popper’s outlook; perhaps I may take his scientific character to be more Viennese than I thought.

6. Demarcation as the condition of science. Like Kant, Popper talks about ‘proper science’ (but not in those words). The problem of science is not of induction (contra Humean thinkers); but demarcation; namely, the separation of science and non-science; science and metaphysics; epistemology qua knowledge and scientific method qua pseudo/philosophical psychology.

Demarcation acts as a methodological primary premise in a similar manner to how Kant’s notion of ‘conditions of possibility’ works.


Observation (a dislike of MS word)

While I have a nicely licenced copy of MS Office 2007; I have lately found it rather irksome, and have taken more toward using Google Docs. While both have their issues and positives, I’ve taken to working with the latter for the following specific reasons.

1. Loading time: its easier to open and faster to access GDocs than word, there are too many bells and whistles in word that take too much time to load up

2. Accessibility: I can open my GDocs anywhere that has a computer with internet and a browser. I dont need a license or software, or necessarily even fast RAM to open it (I do need those for word, and its still problematic)

3. Format friendliness: While their formatting features leave much to be desired by comparison to the LaTeX family or MS word; I do find it easy to write up a simple PDF, download and send it. It’s nice computer usage while on the go. The mobile office; if you will.

And those are just a few reasons I prefer open access initiatives.


Popper’s ‘two methods’

In the introduction to Popper’s Logic of scientific discovery; he elicits two important trends in his contemporamous philosophical age when it comes to approaching epistemology. In a sense these two trends more or less still resonate today; although both camps are significantly weaker in influence as they were say, 50-60 years ago. I found his apprasial quite refreshing in the sense that I would normally class both simply as ‘analytic’ approaches to philosophy; while they are still analytic, distinctions should be made. Popper addresses two styles of philosophical method: the linguistic and the ‘foundations’ approach. Both of which are flawed in their unique ways.

1. The linguistic approach seeks to account for phenomena by logical analysis and propositional calculus. This works well and has worked well in providing interesting philosophical analyses. To consider how we come to believe something, for instance, may be apprehended in generalised cases of belief forming schema; or the propositional calculus of what it means to know p. The linguistic approach tends to analyse tools rather than features of the world; and is apprehensive to appeals of the likes of say, psychology in its broadest sense. This, would be its downfall.

Popper likes some of the contributions of this linguistic approach; but to say that language and linguistic analysis fits every question of philosophy, from theoretical to practical; would simply be wrong. The linguistic approach to philosophy dominant in oxford in the 1950s boasted of a certain kind of arrogance; if it can’t be formalised, its worthless. Strawson opposed this tendency by turning the aforementioned maxim on its head: if it can be formalised: its worthless.

2. The ‘foundations’ approach: While the British were quite enjoying linguistic styles of philosophy, some of the great Vienna heroes were interested in a foundations approach. Epistemology was largely a matter of scientific knowledge; thus the approach toward epistemology genera had become a notion of understanding science, for (assumption) science was the greatest candidate for human knowledge.

I myself would possibly agree that science is the great insight and token case of knowledge genera; but the so-called ‘social’ or ‘feminist’ epistemologists would have us move away from a strict notion of knowledge, and further away from the ‘tripartite’ definition of knowledge. The foundations approach can be attributed to the likes of Carnap; who proposed that the language of science (itself an interesting enthymeme) required a metalanguage or superstructure from which the underlying mathematical postulates/axioms are based upon even higher linguistic norms. I have to say I’m quite sympathetic to this project, Popper has a more open minded approach to philosophy; if we provide tools to solve problems, and reach the heart of certain problems; we are doing philosophy. If we are to follow the likes of Carnap’s Aufbau; we are immediately nailing our colours to the mast with certain important regards to philosophical method.

In considering Carnap’s Aufbau project, I often observe with interest the growth of the movement of so-called Formal Philosophy which attempts to mathematise as many aspects of philosophy as possible; from approaches to probability and rationality to epistemology; many, such as Hendricks and Leitgeb, wave the flag for the ‘foundations’ approach. Perhaps their enemy, similar to those who received Kant and Spinoza; was that people weren’t capable of fully understanding them, present company included.