Friday, January 25, 2008

Why I'll never study philosophy

A philosophy student told me:
[I]if you want to interact with the philosophical community as a whole on this issue, you have to be able to consider the idea that there's a difference, even if there isn't, in order to interact with them fruitfully. [emphasis added]
I appreciate his candor, but this sounds way too much exactly like theology to me.


  1. This is reminiscent of what an Evangelical Christian ex-girlfreind said to me a couple of years ago.

    She was in a Ph. D. program in philosophy at the time, studying to become an "Apologetics Philosopher". She remarked that speaking with Heidegger-ian philosophy students about their chosen philosopher could be tricky, because the students often view every statement of Heidegger as sacrosanct- even the statements where he contradicted himself. She then went on a long description of how Wittgenstein had for many years a 'cult' of students who would try to emulate their hero in style of dress, vocal accent, and eating style. She concluded that for many, philosophy seemed to her to have become a kind of substitute religion, with the philosopher occupying the same kind of un-challenge-able place in people's minds that Jesus or Mohammed does for the religious.

    At the time, I thought she was exaggerating. She had said she was angry about the philosophy students there constantly challenging her on her Christian beliefs, and I thought that perhaps this was a form of gossipy revenge. But, maybe she was really on to something. Maybe students of philosophy really do have 'cults'.

    I have to say that I hope students of Nietzsche don't have this cultic veiw of their philosopher, and don't try to emulate his life. Because he seems to have had a rather sad life, in many ways.

  2. I don't think that all philosophers are cultists, but cultism doesn't seem completely unknown.

    I apparently piss off no small few professional academic philosophers when I challenge what appears to me to be philosophical dogma.

  3. I'm sure it's not all taken up with cultism. There's too many philosophers and too many competing schools, and students probably have to become familiar with many of them even if they specialize in only one. And then there is their emphasis on debate and open-mindedness.

    The thought of philosophy students trying to dress, eat and speak like Wittgenstein does kinda make me laugh, though.

  4. interesting as wel as the spot u have here. i will return, abeit I am a libertarian. LOL..(the midas touch) just another reason i feel sorry for who ever the next president is poor mr or mrs next president

  5. Once a discipline allows for self-contradiction, or even worse, allows for one to simply make it up as he/she goes along, it ceases to be a discipline and becomes nothing more than superstitious nonsense. That's the problem with theological mumbo-jumbo that saturates faith-based discourse, and yes, it seeps into philosophy in the form of an egotistical hand job.

    If the accepted premise is demonstratively false or ridiculously unfalsifiable, it needs to be disregarded, not elevated and subsequently immune from criticism.

  6. Wittgenstein did indeed have a rather sycophantic coterie tagging along, as have many other philosophers. I recommend reading "Wittgenstein's Poker" and "Rousseau's Dog," for some very interesting social histories of philosophers.

  7. Lemme weigh in here:

    I actually know, personally, the person who wrote this. He's by far one of the most intelligent people I've ever met of any age group. I live across the lawn from him, and I am particularly lucky to be his friend.

    This said, regarding the nature of the post you're talking about, it is rather disconcerting that this is coming from someone who I know is also a neuroscience major (he and I are both neuroscience majors) and seems to have little regard for the scientific method and the complex structure of peer review, which is the most objective system humanity has in place today (imperfect, but the best we know of). Discussion of hypothetical situations is moot when there is evidence to the contrary, and Russell's teapot states that the burden of proof is on those who make the positive assertion.

    Kelly, you make a good comment for the most part, although I'm picky about your choice of the word 'unfalsifiable' - falsifiability means 'testability'. I think you probably mean 'well proven to be true beyond a reasonable doubt'.


  8. Katherine:

    I read Kelly's statement as referring to unfalsifiable — in the sense of untestable — notions of God, i.e. definitions explicitly and overtly compatible with any logically possible observations.

  9. *sigh*

    Not all philosophy students are like that (though I'm sure that's not what you were saying). Sadly, however, there are a great many philosotards in the philososphere...

  10. Mobyseven:

    Indeed, I don't think all philosophy students or all philosophy professors are like that. And I don't even blame the student himself: I think he's accurately reporting a generality about philosophy, and if you want to work in any field, there's always some sort of bullshit you just have to swallow.

    But this comment is not the only time the idea has been expressed. It's been a recurring theme in my amateur investigations into philosophy.


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