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Part 1

What is the Nature of


Philosophy?

Mr. Thi Lam


Tips for Doing Well in this Class

 Engage in critical thinking—not


rationalization.
 Examine an argument’s presuppositions—
yours as well as others.
 Characterize your opponent’s position fairly
before criticizing it [Do not commit the Straw
Man fallacy, which consists in
mischaracterizing an opponent’s argument to
make it easier to knock down].
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Tips for Doing Well in this Class

 Don’t let your ego impede the critical


thinking process. Otherwise, we
assume an air of infallibility.
 Do not get defensive. Try to articulate
the reasons for why you hold a certain
position. That is, what arguments,
evidence, and reasons can you put forth
in support of your position?
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The American Philosophical Association
(APA) and the Philosophical Review.

 The American Philosophical Association (APA) is


the main professional organization for philosophers
in the English-speaking world. It is composed of
three divisions--Pacific, Central, and Eastern.
 Website: http://www.apaonline.org/

 The Philosophical Review is the most prestigious


philosophy journal (5% acceptance rate) in the U.S.

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Four Traditional Divisions of Philosophy
(Google the definitions of these four terms.)

•Epistemology
•Metaphysics
•Ethics
•Logic
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Other Branches of Philosophy

•Philosophy of Science •Philosophy of History


•Philosophy of Religion •Philosophy of Mind
•Philosophy of Law •Philosophy of Language
•Philosophy of Medicine •Philosophy of Art
•Philosophy of •Social/Political
Technology Philosophy

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Knowing Your Subject Matter
 To make meaningful contributions to these
secondary disciplines, the philosopher needs to
have a good working knowledge about or degree in
that other area. An author writing an article or
book in the philosophy of science, for example,
should have a science degree or substantial
knowledge about science. Otherwise….

 Lewis Wolpert (scientist) criticizing Philip Kitcher


(philosopher): “Once again, I have been
disappointed by a philosophical analysis of the
nature of science. And I am left wondering, do
philosophers really have anything useful to tell
scientists?”
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Knowing Your Subject Matter

 The following five slides give examples of


philosophers who have degrees in other academic
disciplines in which they are writing.

 This underscores the importance of knowing your


subject matter to increase your knowledge of the
discipline and increase your credibility among
readers who are specialists in that other discipline.
Brian Leiter
 Philosophy of Law

 PhD, Philosophy
 JD, Law

 University of Chicago
 http://leiterreports.com
(ranking of graduate
philosophy programs)
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H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.
 Philosophy of
Medicine

 PhD, Philosophy
 MD, Medicine

 Rice University
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Lindley Darden
 Philosophy of
Science

 PhD, Conceptual
Foundations of Science
 MS, Biology
 MA, Philosophy

 UM—College Park

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Massimo Pigliucci
 Philosophy of
Science

 PhD, Philosophy
 PhD, Botany
 PhD, Genetics

 SUNY—Stony Brook

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William Dembski
 Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Science

 PhD, Philosophy
 PhD, Mathematics
 M.Div., Theology
 M.A., Philosophy
 S.M., Mathematics
 M.S., Statistics
 B.A., Psychology
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Nobel Prize Laureates Who Were
Philosophers (awarded in literature)

 Henry Bergson (1927)


 Bertrand Russell (1950)
 Albert Camus (1957)
 Jean-Paul Sartre (1964, Prize Declined)

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Distinction: Virtually everyone has the capability to
philosophize or think about philosophical topics, but not
everyone would want to make philosophy their career choice.

 Popular philosophers

 Academic philosophers
 Work in academic institutions
 Conduct research
 Write and publish articles in journals
 Present papers at conferences
 Serve on editorial boards

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Characteristics of (the Great) Academic Philosophers

 Lost one or both parents before the age of


seven.
 Were ineffective in their social
relationships.
 Complained of social isolation and
loneliness.
 Were paranoid hypochondriacal.
 Suffered from prolonged periods of clinical
and even suicidal depression.
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Characteristics of (the Great) Philosophers

 Were unmarried.
 Were notoriously aggressive in contact with
others.
 Were quarrelsome and quick to take
offense.
 Were usually ineffective in practical and
financial matters.
 Were interested in the very things they
were not good at (such as politics and
ethics).
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So What Is Philosophy?
 The art of wonder.
 The word “philosophy” comes
from two Greek words meaning
“the love of wisdom.”
 “Hard thinking” -- Alvin Plantinga
 Analysis and critique of
fundamental beliefs and
concepts.
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“Having” a Philosophy versus
“Doing” Philosophy
 Everyone has a philosophy, a
collection of beliefs that guide
actions.
Belief  Action

 “Doing” philosophy is to actively


think critically about beliefs.
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Why Study Philosophy?
 Philosophy helps penetrate the
surface of life to confront deeper
questions.
 Philosophy helps students explore,
reflect, and think critically to enrich
their lives.
 Helps answer the question: “What
is it all about?”
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Why Study Philosophy?
 Critical thinking skills, writing
skills, speaking skills
 Liberation from prejudice and
provincialism
 Understanding society
 Not usually taught before
college
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 Guard against propaganda
 Intrinsically interesting

 Helps fulfill our “self-actualization” needs (Abraham Maslow)

 Expansion of one’s intellectual horizon (Google: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave)

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According to Maslow, self-actualized
people have the following characteristics:
 have thoughtfully developed moral
standards
 are open-minded
 use reasoned argument when
challenged
 use reflective analysis
 live their values
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Generally speaking,
philosophers do not
accept a statement
solely on the basis of
an individual’s
authority, no matter
how eminent.
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Example
 In 1921 a rabbi sent Albert Einstein
a telegram with the question: “Do
you believe in God?”

 Einstein replied: “I believe in


Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself
in the orderly harmony of what
exists.”
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Speaking Outside of One’s Area of
Expertise
 While Einstein (whose name is synonymous with
genius) is a recognized expert in physics, what
does he know more about religion, ethics, politics,
or gardening than any of us)?

 Be alert when people speak outside their domain of


expertise.
 A fully licensed, competent attorney who
specializes in criminal law, for example, may not be
a recognized expert in family law.
Fallacy of Inappropriate Authority

We base much of what we


believe on the evidence of
authority, and citing an
authority is a legitimate way
of justifying a belief.
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Fallacy of Inappropriate Authority
A fallacy, however, is committed when
the authority cited is not an authority in
the proper area. The expertise of the
authority is thus irrelevant to the claim
and provides no support for it.

Logical Fallacy: Appeal to Inappropriate


Authority (Ad Verecundiam)
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The Goal of Philosophy:
 Intellectual Autonomy
 “The freedom of being able to
decide for yourself what you will
believe in by using your own
reasoning abilities.” (Kant)
 In other words, learn to think for
yourself.
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Immanuel Kant
 Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his
self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the
inability to use one’s understanding without
guidance from another. This immaturity is
self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack
of understanding, but in lack of resolve and
courage to use it without guidance from
another. “Have courage to use your own
understanding!”—that is the motto of
enlightenment.
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Immanuel Kant
 Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why
so great a proportion of men . . . gladly
remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so
easy for others to establish themselves as
their guardians. It is so easy to be immature.
If I have a book to serve as my
understanding, a pastor to serve as my
conscience, a physician to determine my diet
for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at
all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others
will readily undertake the irksome work for
me.
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Bertrand Russell

 A pioneer in modern logic and


also wrote on politics, religion,
marriage, and ethics.

 Although philosophy does not


give certain answers, it does
show possibilities.
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Martha Nussbaum

 “Philosophy should be
responsive to human
experience and yet
critical of the defective
thinking it sometimes
encounters.”
Critical Thinking
as the Mean between Two Extremes

Gullible Critical Thinking Closed-Minded

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Daniel Robinson
 “It helps us develop a critical
perspective on our knowledge claims.
We all go through life bloated with
opinions and convictions. Philosophy
brings discipline to that. With it, we
can step back and treat our own
claims as if they were served up by
somebody else. They become proper
objects of skeptical concern.”
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Ludwig Wittgenstein
 "Philosophy aims at the logical
clarification of thoughts. Philosophy
is not a body of doctrine but an
activity. . . . Without philosophy
thoughts are, as it were, cloudy and
indistinct: its task is to make them
clear and to give them sharp
boundaries."
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Philosophy Emphasizes Rational
Arguments

 Philosophers search for


rationally compelling reasons for
belief.
 The goal is reasoned, rational,
and supportable views, rather
than off-the-cuff opinions.
Justifying (not Rationalizing) One’s Beliefs

 To what extent is the belief supported by


sound reasons and compelling evidence
derived from reliable sources?
 Have you subjected your beliefs to
criticisms?
 To what extent is the belief consistent with
other beliefs you have about the world?
 If I were a member of this racial group or
gender, would I still endorse those beliefs?
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Manuel Velasquez

Philosophy is the critical and


rational examination of the
most fundamental
assumptions that underlie our
lives, an activity of concern to
men and women of all
cultures and races.
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The Price of Philosophy

 Long painstaking study and careful


examination and re-examination of
ideas, outlooks, and assertions.
 This process is ongoing.
 The risk of unmasking cherished
personal and cultural assumptions.

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The Need For Critical Thinking
 Will Durant: “Man is an emotional
animal, occasionally rational; and
through his feelings he can be
deceived to his heart’s content.”

 Plato: We should
experience/express emotions, but
keep them in check.
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The Need For Critical Thinking

 Lord Lytton: “The easiest


person to deceive is one’s self.”

 Demosthenes: “Nothing is
easier than self-deceit. For what
each man wishes, that he also
believes to be true.”
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Becoming a Critical Thinker
 A critical thinker has a
knowledgeable understanding of
the world, a capacity for
penetrating insight and
intelligent judgment, and
sophisticated thinking and
language abilities.
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Becoming a Critical Thinker Involves . . .
 Carefully analyzing and evaluating beliefs.
 Viewing situations from different perspectives.
 Supporting viewpoints with reasons and
evidence.
 Critically evaluating the logic, relevance, and
validity of information.
 Asking penetrating questions at every cognitive
level of complexity.
 Communicating effectively through speaking
and writing.
 Engaging in Socratic analysis.
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Critical Thinkers Have These Qualities . . .

Open-minded Knowledgeable

Mentally Active Curious

Independent Skilled Discussants


Thinkers
Insightful Self-Aware

Creative Passionate
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Thinking Critically about Philosophical Issues
 What is my initial point of view?
 How can I define my point of view more clearly?
 What is an example of my point of view?
 What is the origin of my point of view?
 What are my assumptions?
 What are the reasons, evidence, and arguments
that support my point of view?
 What are other points of view on this issue?
 What is my conclusion, decision, solution, or
prediction?
 What are the consequences?
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Critical Thinking
 Education is no prophylactic
against sloppy, erroneous, or
misleading reasoning.

 In most academic subjects,


students are taught what to think,
rather than how to think.
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Critical Thinking

 Don’t let your ego prevent


you from changing an
opinion.

 Otherwise, we assume an
air of infallibility.
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In Search of Truth
 Michael Shermer: “Let reality take
precedent in your search for
truth.”

 Distinguish:
 Is it true?
 Do I want it to be true?

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Confirmation Bias
 We have a tendency to
seek evidence that
support our already-held
beliefs, and ignore
evidence that might
counter those beliefs.
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Confirmation Bias
 Smart people are prone to the
confirmation bias because they’re
skilled at rationalizing beliefs that
they arrived at for non-smart
reasons.
 Purported logical arguments
become rationalizations of one’s
prejudices.
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What Philosophy Is NOT

 It’s not mere speculation


Offer reasons
Peer review

 Not the same as theology


 Not psychology

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Stereotypical Questions

 Philosophy is not about asking


whether a tree will make a sound
if it falls in the forest, or whether
chickens or eggs came first--
unless this is part of more
serious philosophical project.
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So What Kind of Things Will
We Study in This Class?

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Preview of Things to Come
 The Philosopher’s Way: Socrates [History of
Philosophy]
 How do we gain reliable knowledge about
ourselves and the world around us? How do
we justify our knowledge claims?
[Epistemology]
 What is the ultimate nature of reality?
[Metaphysics]
 Why be moral? What is the right thing to do?
[Ethics]
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Preview of Things to Come
 What is consciousness and is it unique to our
species?
 What is political justice? [Political
Philosophy]
 What does science tell us about the world?
[Philosophy of Science]
 Is there a God? What is the relation (if any)
between ethics and religion? [Philosophy of
Religion]
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