Yes, Philosophy is still a young field, but there's at least 2000 years of material not covered in his essay.
Paul is obviously right in criticizing the gaseous generalizations, nonsensical pretentiousness and word games that much of the western (particularly, the german) philosophical tradition fell into after the reformation. But I also agree with the philosphical hacker that he is overstating the case that word-confusion is the primary cause of conflict in philosophical disagreement, and I think Godel showed why this is compatible with an apparently deterministic and logical universe.
As near as my uneducated mind can tell, Godel is the most important philosopher since Aristotle: he proved something practical, dramatic and unintuitive about the world, using only words.
In as much as I understand it, it makes me laugh hysterically.
Yep, as soon as I read that, I knew someone on HN would point to Godel somewhere in the comments. I'll agree with you as well on Godel and his importance. His theorem is easily one of the most important things to come out of the 20th century. I'd go: penicillin, atomic bomb, better farming tech and chemistry, Godel.
I've not got the chops for the actual proof, but the many 'for the layman's' books Ive read on it just point out how incredibly important it is. From AI research to Turing's tape to the nature of reality itself, the proof is just astounding. To put him up on Aristotle's level is obvious even to a math layman like me. Likely because of the difficulty of the proof, it is not very well known, and that is a shame. I'd love a torn-down proof easy enough for a high schooler to understand. The best I've found is: https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/453503/can-someone-...
It's not that Philosophy doesn't have areas worthy of criticism. I personally believe that the best reason to study metaphysics is to learn why metaphysics is useless. Ironically, understanding why it's useless is actually quite useful :o)
I haven't studied philosophy, so I may be naive here, but does this question NOT depend on the definition of "right"? In a practical discussion, maybe both parties would agree that "right" in this case means "fair, in accordance with my contributions to this startup".
But in a philosophical debate, "right" would be quite ambiguous. One party, for example, could posit that the ideas of "right" and "wrong" are completely subjective. That, in the absence of some stated goal or constraints, what's "right" or "wrong", "good" or "evil" is no more valid a topic of debate than whether chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. However, once you introduce said constraints, the discussion is no longer philosophically interesting.
So, what you're saying is that the problem of philosophy is that someone could derail a discussion concerning ethics by simply asserting meta-ethical subjectivism and that would be uninteresting or bad in some other way...
I don't quite understand this objection. Not to mention that this is exactly the opposite of what you would expect to find in a philosophical debate. The whole point of the discipline is that every position must be argued for and questioned and not just asserted. That of course includes subjectivism.
>> The whole point of the discipline is that every position must be argued for and questioned and not just asserted.
That's the problem. Nearly every word is packed with meaning, which must be unraveled and argued for with... more words. The cycle never ends.
On a theoretical level, this is true for every discussion in every discipline. On a practical level, how would you know that this is a special problem in philosophy if you admit that you haven't studied any?
>>That's the problem. Nearly every word is packed with meaning, which must be unraveled and argued for with... more words.
Just for the record. I did say that arguments are required and of course those arguments are composed of words (and symbols) but i never said that those arguments are about the meaning of words.
In other disciplines, this is not the case. The two participants in a discussion generally share the same goals, or at least agree on the measuring stick (e.g. uncovering evidence to prove a hypothesis, making an app load faster, improving a car's fuel efficiency, etc). Progress toward their goals can be measured in straightforward and objective ways. Thus, it's much less common for there to be disagreement about basic terminology.
Of course I could be wrong. Maybe there are many interesting philosophical debates that don't simply devolve into semantics. Perhaps you could humor me by providing examples?
I think it does; this is another example of what I pointed out in my post upthread, the author assuming that, because he knows what he means when he uses a word, everyone else must assign it the same meaning.
As far as a person isn't aware of the outcomes of the action, he or she can't really judge if the action was "right" or "wrong".
Also due to the butterfly effects,in most cases a person is theoretically unable to produce objective judgement, thus leaving the judgement of the action in the "undefined" state.
I'm perfectly happy with admitting that I don't know a lot about metaphysics and I'm perfectly happy for people to call me out on this point. (In fact, I call myself out on this point in a footnote in my post.) I just wanted to set the record straight: I am not merely a comp sci person who feels that he has the authority to "pontificate on any topic of their choosing."
Within a discussion I think it makes sense to interpret statements based on the speaker and their epistemology. But that doesn't mean you can't have a conversation.
The question can't be answered without that being clearly defined.
To put it in layman terms, the thing is, words with precise meaning are not that useful in discussing lots of things. Perhaps because lots of things are not inherently clear, but fuzzy in itself. What is "freedom"? What it "moral"? What is the best thing to do with my life? Etc. None of these are clear cut -- and the things that are clear cut, well, not all of those are worth discussing or really important. A lot of stuff is better described and argued about with imprecise words. Philosophy is also the body of such discussions.
In essense, this parallels Godel's incompleteness result (Note that I say "parallels" -- Godel only proved it within a very specific mathematical context). Mathematics thrive even if they are not concerned with purely axiomatic systems.
I am sorry for the following comment, but isn't that comment actually extremely arrogant as well? One should present ideas and arguments and not credentials, but I guess this is only the opinion of some one not as intelligent as a PhD holder.
Ethics - Are people really altruistic if they gain pleasure from it? What does altruism mean?
Epistemology - what does know mean? (Yes, he's completely wrong, a whole chunk of epistomolgy is about the meaning of what is a justified true belief)
I didn't read any more. No idea who he is, but he doesn't seem to have studied first year philosophy.
To me this is a matter of degree and not absolute.
So it's not "if gain pleasure (or benefit) then not altruistic" and black and white but rather that someone can be altruistic and gain pleasure at the same time depending on what they are gaining and losing specifically.
So a billionaire giving $100,000 for a good cause might seem to be less altruistic than a person with $200,000 net worth giving $100,000 of it for a good cause.
(Fwiw I've never taken a philosophy course so this is just my personal common sense opinion..)
Formation de K. Matthew Dupree
Master's degree, Philosophy
2012 – 2013
University of Central Florida
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Philosophy and Religious Studies
2007 – 2011
University of Central Florida
In the article, he could have simply acknowledged PG's essay for re-igniting his critique of Wittgenstein. And, as a bonus, a blog title of "Why Wittgenstein is sort of wrong about philosophy" might have attracted more hits.
'When I ask, "How do I know I’m not in the matrix?," I'm asking, "Why should I believe that I’m not in the matrix?"'
Ok, fine, but is that what everybody who uses the word "know" means by it? And shifting to the word "believe", as the author does here, doesn't help; there's just as much argument over what "believe" means, or should mean, as over what "know" means, or should mean.
In some cases he doesn't even explicitly give his preferred meaning, but just assumes that we all know what it is:
'Whether someone was "free to act" is something that we consider often in legal settings, and I think it’s right for us to ask this question before we lock someone up.'
Which may well be true, but it still leaves open the question of what, exactly, we are asking when we ask if someone was "free to act". What do we need to take into account in order to decide the legal case one way or the other? And is the legal question the same question as all the other questions that are pointed at when we use the term "free will"? The author seems to assume that we all agree on all these things, but the philosophical literature makes clear that we don't.
In fact, as this example illustrates, the author mis-states Graham's point about confusion over words. He says:
'To say that a question can be answered by saying, "Depends on what you mean by X" is far from proving that the question is motivated by a confusion over words.'
But Graham didn't claim that we could answer all philosophical questions by just defining what we mean by X (and he certainly didn't claim that we could answer them just by saying "Depends on what you mean by X"). He only claimed that the questions aren't well-defined unless we specify what we mean by X. What looks like one question could end up being three or four (or seven or eight) depending on which definition we choose for X; so unless and until we pin down the question more precisely, we end up talking past each other instead of actually accomplishing anything. I tend to agree with Graham that much of philosophy suffers from exactly this disease.
Finally, I would like to see some evidence for this claim of the author's:
'Graham seems to be saying that if a philosophy professor can’t distinguish a “real” philosophy paper from a fake, placebo paper that is purposely filled with nonsense, then the real paper is meaningless. If this is Graham’s proposal, I think that many philosophy professors could pass this test for many philosophical texts. There are definitely some charlatans posing as philosophers out there, but that doesn’t mean that all or most of philosophy is B.S.
The more notable philosopher Wittgenstein also expressed this idea: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_Investigations#Pr...
The TFA proposes that 2 other branches of philosophy 1) ethics and 2) epistemology have not been affected by "confusion over words".
I think Wittgenstein would say that must be false because those 2 subject areas also are discussed using the mechanism of words. You can't escape "words" because philosophy (any branch) can't be discussed any other way.
I believe the TFA is arguing incorrectly because he thinks PG's criticism of philosophy is about "word confusion" when the higher meta-issue is that the "words" themselves handicaps all of philosophy.
"Wittgenstein is popularly credited with the idea that most philosophical controversies are due to confusions over language. I'm not sure how much credit to give him. I suspect a lot of people realized this, but reacted simply by not studying philosophy, rather than becoming philosophy professors."
Since the author (K. Matthew Dupree) could see Wittgenstein was cited, I'm wondering why he didn't address what the notable philosopher already said.
He should just stick to essays about startups and lisp instead of pontificating on something he clearly has very little understanding of.
 Although, you are talking about PG (who is the founder of this forum), so you might get downvoted just for the hell of it ;)
I'd like to add that while this may be true, it's not a good thing. Any act of silencing someone in an act of fanboy revenge is an embarrassment to this forum. It's a shame the downvote threshold doesn't rid of this type of behavior, and I doubt raising it would help. I'm tired of seeing grayed out controversial opinions.
And with anyone who is admired such as PG you would typically try to be very careful (almost diplomatic) in how and what you said.
"He should just stick to essays about startups and lisp instead of pontificating on something he clearly has very little understanding of."
or, suggested re-write (for someone who feels this way):
"PG's essays about startups and lisp are great|good|wonderful however in my opinion, and based on my particular experience, I can't tell that he has any particular expertise in Philosophy".
While I agree that forks like this post sometimes make interesting discussions (and here I am discussing it) I'm not sure what the exact authority is of the OP (per the about page) "I’m a wannabe philosophy professor turned wannabe tech entrepreneur" is anyway, so that if I don't know much about philosophy to begin with why should I even pollute my brain by reading it. Not to mention that I don't know to what degree I can even trust the comments here about this subject at all.
Ironically, that said, separately, and since a theme of the post is "words"  interesting how it has been concluded that "seem to be relatively new to HN" when as evidence all you have is the fact that the account was created 22 days ago and a review of the previous comments.
 I just changed what I said from "you have concluded" to "how it has been concluded" so as not to appear to be attacking you. Once again, ironically.
Let's take a few points: "Let’s start with ethics. Suppose I’m wondering whether it is it right for me demand extra equity because I’m the guy who came up with the idea for our startup. This is not a question about the meaning of my words. If someone responded to my wonderings by saying, “It depends what you mean by the word, ‘right’,” we’d probably think they have missed something."
As another commenter has pointed out - of course it depends on what we mean by "right". Right as in "can I get away with it"? Right as in "what's best for people if everyone does what I do"? Right as in "what's best for society"?
This is exactly a case of being able to argue a lot without people defining what exactly they mean, and therefore their arguments are worthless.
Let's take another quote from the article: "Then there’s epistemology, the study of knowledge. How do we know that we’re not in the matrix? How can we know anything if all our beliefs rest on beliefs that are unsupported by evidence? (We’ve got to have some “foundational beliefs.”)
Again, if someone responded to these questions by saying that we are confused about the meaning of the word “know,” we’d feel that they have missed the point."
But once again, this shows the problem with philosophy - there are fields in which people discuss what it means to "know things". We've come a long way in certain respects, e.g. coming up with respected models like Bayesianism and others. If someone says "no, but how can I really know I'm not in the Matrix", the answers he should be getting should take into account modern thought backed by some kind of progress. If answers from 2000 years ago are just as valid, we haven't learned anything.
And once again, clarifiying that the actual argument isn't about the matrix at all, but rather about the nature of knowledge, is exactly the right approach - trying to clarify what it means to know is what will solve this issue.
Paul Graham's essay isn't the best or most complete criticism of philosophy, but it certainly makes a strong case in a clear way that's accessible to many people, and that obviously many people connect with.
That's not a problem with philosophy, it's a problem with the OP. Epistemology is the study of what we can know, and what is required to make a claim to knowledge. A side effect of that is that there are a lot of arguments and questions surrounding what it means to know. The difference between me a PG (er, one of many) is that I don't have a problem with that. If you're having an informal discussion on the internet, yes maybe you'll spend a lot of time talking in circles before you can say anything meaningful, but trained philosophers have 3000 years of philosophical arguments to draw on, and can be very specific about what they mean with a given argument or word.
Also, there are many forms of philosophy that people don't always think of when they write dismissively about philosophy. Any field of study has a surrounding philosophical discourse, including the hard sciences (Hello, philosophy of research, hello materialism). Dismissing philosophy because it includes arguments about the meaning of words misses the point. We argue about the meanings of words because they form the basis for how we conduct our work, how we transfer knowledge, and how we talk about what we do.
As for your thoughts on Philosophy, I'm not sure I agree - philosophers have actually wasted a lot of time arguing over what is in essence semantics, and even when they haven't, there has been plenty of (IMO) unimportant back-and-forth without any evidence or really anything to back it up. (Years of arguing over the mind-body problem without any shred of evidence supporting anyone's worldview).
I'm not sure if it's true, but I've heard it said that every field that ends up being practically useful or meaningful turns into a specific field, and Philosophy is all that's left. E.g. Mathematics, Physics, Economics, etc. Arguably, the fields you mention are also specialized branches that are not part of mainstream Philosophy (very arguably though).
- Study people who are leading a good life? Circular: how do you identify them?
- Ask people if they are leading a good life? Begs the question, since to decide they must have already answered it.
Do you believe the answer is unimportant? Self-evident? Relative to time and place? Naturally dictated and discoverable by reason? Primarily decided by social structure? Primarily determined by the individual?
All of those positions have been held by and forcefully defended, and all of them have also been forcefully attacked. By people studying philosophy, because that is at root what philosophy is.
It's a vital question because we can't measure the effectiveness of public policy or personal decisions without some notion of "good" to apply as a scale.
Just coming up with arguments without answers is nothing more than "structured pondering". It'd only seem useful to increasingly meta topics where data can't be found.
What if i point out that it commits a modal scope fallacy?
What data do you have to refute the statement: "A statement can be refuted without data"?
I tried to educate myself a bit to understand you. I've read: http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallaci...
First example claims that "(p => q, p) so q" is a fallacy by closely squinting at word "must".
Second example claims that p => q where ~q => ~p is assumed is also a fallacy because they claim that one word that q consists of spills out and covers whole statement.
From this brief brush I'd say "modal scope fallacy" is just about some fuzzily defined semantic nuance of English language. So, no, I'd say you can't refute anything except bad grammar with this.
If you can write it down and the thing you want to refute, with symbols and prove their conjunction to be tautologically false with formal logic then I'd say you've refuted the claim. But as I said that's math not philosophy.
> What data do you have to refute the statement: "A statement can be refuted without data"?
Are you asking because you think I claimed to have refuted or wanted to refute that statement?
What refutation can you offer of the statement that data is needed to refute the statement: "A statement can be refuted without data"?
That's exactly the chain of pointless self, and cross referential statements that arise when you are trying to refute something without data and/or precise definition (which would make it math).
No it doesn't. You've formalized it incorrectly.
Doesn't matter, i might as well have said that the argument is affirming the consequent and we'd still have a problem since there is a deeper issue here. What you're saying is that the simple acts of either formalizing your arguments or precisely defining your premises somehow turns it into math and precludes it from being philosophy. Yet philosophers do exactly that all the time.
Is that the point you want to argue? Cause i am neither convinced or interested in pursuing it. It would seem to me like a pointless argument about definitions.
I haven't formalized anything, I just used notational short-hands.
If Debbie and TJ have two sons and two daughters, then they must have at least one son.
Debbie and TJ have two sons and two daughters.
Therefore, Debbie and TJ must have at least one son.
If I substitute string "Debbie and TJ have two sons and two daughters" with "p" and string "they must have at least one son" with "q" and write relation If ... then ... as ... => ... and implied conjunction between two first lines as ( ... , ... ) and substitute string "Therefore" with "so" (for no reason, I just like short syntax) I get what I wrote: (p=>q, p) so q
It's not formalization, it's just string substitution. What I implied later (mainly that the author of the example claims that something tautologically true is fallacy) assumes that we can agree to assign either true or false to the strings denoted by p and q and we use conventional logic.
The only way this could be incorrect is if words in one line of the example are defined to mean something else than exact same words in other line they occur. It's possible but without explicit definition of such bizarre behavior I won't be guessing what author had in mind.
> Doesn't matter
Oh, yes it matters. It's an excellent example of what remained of philosophy when natural philosophers left. Thinking so fuzzy that it lacks not only application but even meaning. Despite that appreciated and cited as a marvelous tool for argumentation.
> affirming the consequent
Much better. But that piece of philosophy was swallowed by math long time ago. Any statement about logic that philosophy can currently make is math, false or semantically fuzzy. You won't be trying to refute many arguments using reasoning of Zeno of Elea nowadays.
> What you're saying is that the simple acts of either formalizing your arguments or precisely defining your premises somehow turns it into math and precludes it from being philosophy. Yet philosophers do exactly that all the time.
Really? Could you point me to works of some, perhaps fairly modern, philosopher that defines what he ponders with accuracy that could be appreciated by a mathematician? But no cargo cult please. Preciseness and some actual meaning is what I'm looking for.
As i said, i don't really want to argue weather that is math or philosophy, especially when i see statements to the effect that affirming the consequent was once philosophy but math "swallowed" it so now pointing out that fallacy means you're doing math and things like that. Talk about imprecise and meaningless right there.
Fortunately technology advanced to the level that allowed us to gather some actual data and instead of just thinking blankly about the world we experience natural philosophers started to construct models of predictive utility. The rest is history ... of science. Other philosophers are still waiting for their technology refusing to think about something else till it arrives.
There's nothing wrong in philosophy but it's just recreation for the times you feel like thinking a bit but are too lazy to find something useful to think about.
> How do you collect data about what constitutes a good life?
You tempt me to think pointlessly for a while. It's really untimely because at the moment I should be thinking about stuff people need from me.
How can a philosopher find out meaning of "good" to give a question "what constitutes a good life?" enough meaning to even dream of arriving at an answer? I encourage you to listen to what Sam Harris has to say.