[Previous] RSI | Home | [Next] Negotiating Sex, Gender Roles

Eugene Gendlin Philosophy Introduction

Introduction to Philosophy
Rather, he has a felt sense of the answer.
This, in bold, pretends to be an explanation or important conclusion, but doesn't really say anything useful.
Earlier Meno had asked Socrates about the following puzzle: If we don't know something how can we even ask about it? We wouldn't know what we are asking about. But if we already know it, why ask about it? So it seems we cannot inquire into anything, since we must either know it or not know it. Socrates had answered the puzzle by saying that the soul has lived before and knows all things. We need only "recollect" them.
Recollection is the wrong answer to knowledge creation. It's not quite as dumb as it sounds though. Where can new knowledge come from if you don't know about evolution? It could be created out of thin air magically. Recollection is perhaps a better answer than that – the knowledge already exists somewhere so it doesn't have to be created, you just kinda have to find it.

The main question here is kinda silly. One can have partial knowledge of a topic, and already know something about it, and ask questions and try to know more. There isn't really a mystery there. This also gets into the issue of reach, where an idea you know about one thing may help lead to a new issue.
The puzzle of either knowing or just not knowing is solved because we can think on the edge of what we know, and enter there.
Thinking on the edge of your knowledge is a kinda OK way to put it. I think it's OK as a rough indication of the concept here, but when it gets taken more seriously in detail, and the essay tries to build on it later, I think that's a mistake. It's just a loose metaphor.

That's the end of the first section. My main comment so far would be this claims to be an introduction to philosophy, but so far it isn't. It's just talking a little about some specific philosophy problems, it's not giving an introduction to the field. I think a philosophy introduction ought to say things like what the purpose of philosophy is, why one would be interested in it, what problem(s) it can help solve, some indication of how one can learn about it, maybe some very brief overview of the history of the field, and maybe try to teach some especially important and general (but also simple) philosophical idea. Like fallibility is a pretty good starting point because it's pretty easy to understand and then it leads into other philosophical problems like, now that you see error is possible, how do you deal with error? That question of how to deal with error is a lot harder and more involved, but once you understand fallibility then you can see why it's important and valuable to you.

The Plato section starts really emphasizing words which I think is bad.
For example, someone leaves a weapon with you for safe-keeping. Months later the person comes and asks you to return it. Is it fair and just to give it back? Yes. All right, but what if the person is obviously berserk and crazed with anger just now? If you return the weapon, you harm the person.
Umm they might harm themselves with it, or might harm someone else they shouldn't. Or not. And people's mental states are not obvious.

This part is really far removed from a good introduction to philosophy. A philosopher questions what everyone thinks they know. This, instead, takes for granted a bunch of vague common sense nonsense. A big part of philosophy is recognizing that some stuff people consider obvious is false, and trying to understand things better than the ordinary.

One thing the author is trying to do is show that life is complicated. Normally you would give someone their property back that you held for them. But then in some circumstances, maybe you shouldn't. So life is more complex than "always give back property" or "never give back property". Life takes more thought than that. And, the author says, Plato and other philosophers were good at asking questions to point out some issues in life. But the author doesn't really say this very well. You have to read between the lines a bit to get the point, which is especially bad for an introduction. And a fair amount of what the author writes, like the next paragraph, is rather confusing.

For the Aristotle section, you can now figure out the author is trying to show a progression of philosophy, something about how it was discovered and developed. He should have said something about this at the start, so you'd know what you were reading. In any case I think he's chosen poorly for a general introduction to philosophy that'd be useful and valuable to someone today.

Most of the Aristotle section is confusing. I think this kind of "introduction", which an expert can find confusing, turns people off philosophy. To a lot of people, philosophy is supposed to be confusing. You ponder and get kinda confused and call that a good day. But better philosophy explains itself better, and actually solves clear problems and is used in life. This author has vague answers to vague problems that largely aren't connected to his life or to my life.
Galileo began the great advance in Western science by the radical -- seemingly insane -- concept that everything in nature is ordered by numbers.
Introductions ought to be way more careful not to introduce very complex and controversial ideas – like what is "insane" – when it's unnecessary and they aren't going to discuss it. I think the author doesn't realize he said anything non-trivial. That's a really bad trait for a philosophy introducer to not know about what's messy or simple.
Of course sometimes the data just says "yes" or "no,"
He shouldn't be saying "of course" in front of his claims, or thinking his ideas are obviously true. That's so contrary to the spirit of philosophy.

And, as I've so often noticed after an "of course" or "obviously", this claim is false. Data doesn't say things. BTW the author should have been more suspicious because he was using a metaphor – he knows data doesn't speak literally. So what's the non-metaphorical version of his claim, and why didn't he say that? (He hasn't thought that through, and his position doesn't actually work.)
In philosophy a human being was long thought of chiefly as a rational process. Emotions and desires were discussed, of course, but the human being was chiefly the source of the kind of connections which move from 2+2 to 4.
Now he's decided to talk about whether humans are rational without talking about what "rational" is.

He is taking for granted the common misconception that rationality has to do with being right or intelligent or an authority. This position is vague and doesn't have a clear conception of what reason really is or how it works, and people who think this way don't use words like "rational" totally consistently.

There's also a vague premise here that all emotions and desires are irrational, and a fully rational person would be a kind of ivory tower monk with no personal preferences, and quite possibly no interest in material comforts. Ideas like this turn people away from reason. No argument is given here. And anyway if you want to call this "reason", my concept of "reason" would still be a separate concept and we could just name it something else and pursue it instead. That is, we could say something like, "reason2 means thinking using methods that are good at error correction – the better at error correction, the more rational2 the thinking". So having the dumb concept of reason, even if it was explained and argued about and fleshed out, still wouldn't be an argument that reason2 is a bad thing to pursue, or reason2 doesn't work how i think it does, etc
Kant pointed out that 2+2 is just 2, and at the next moment again 2, and then still only 2, unless there is a unifying continuity that keeps the first 2 and unites it with the next 2, and makes a new unity, the 4. The number series requires keeping and continuing.
This is basically incoherent nonsense plus some kinda vague claim that without causality and continuity over time stuff would break (which could have been said better without the arithmetic – and which isn't a good summary of current physics with, as David Deutsch talks about, no flow of time).

2+2 in general is dealing with abstracts, not physical objects that change over time. If you want to get into physical objects then the issue is computation. Saying something "unites" the first 2 with the second 2 and makes a "new unity" is a terrible vague nonsense description of how computers work with electrical currents, memory storage, NAND gates etc. When people do math, it's more complicated, but the stuff about uniting isn't helping anything.
This view of humans has some great advantages. For example, it implies the inherent equality of all human individuals. You can see it in the inherent "unalienable" and "self-evident" equality in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. After completing this historical sketch, I will take up the question how we can preserve logic and equality within the wider order of experiencing ......
This comes right after the Kant junk. It's a good example of how this whole essay keeps skipping around with very little attempt to explain what one thing has to do with the next. First it was geometry and squares, then metaphorical edges and words and changing concepts, and asking questions and noticing complexity in life, and then stuff about sounds with no one around to hear them for no apparent reason, and that's just the first 3 sections. It's really jumpy and doesn't even try to give an outline of the plot. It's in chronological order though, I think that was one of the main organizational tools.

The next section brings up some stuff from earlier. But also starts talking a bunch about rights. This essay tries to say way too many things and none are explained well.

It doesn't end with a summary or bring everything together. It's just talking about another specific topic and then there's no more text.

It still never tries to say what philosophy is, why to care, or other basic introductory stuff.

I think the concept is more like: philosophy is about stretching your mind with ideas you don't fully understand. So it shows you what that's like while going over some major historical examples (in the author's view, I'm not agreeing they are major). The author is satisfied with vague understandings of things, and expects his audience to be too. Not just satisfied but actually impressed. There is a common mistake, which Ayn Rand especially criticized, where people think if they don't understand an idea (and it's said by someone with some credentials or status, or appears to be. in this case even if you don't know who the author is, he writes with big enough words and names enough famous philosophers – like he's just repeating their ideas – to give enough sense of authority to the essay. and he actually does have a PhD) then it must be really important and above you. People sort of defer to what they don't understand and get impressed. Lots of philosophers write confusing on purpose. This is a good introduction to that, in the sense that it gives you a sample of it. If you didn't understand this essay but somehow liked it, then I guess you'd like a lot of other philosophy too. (But the good philosophers, like Ayn Rand and Karl Popper, are different. They write to be understood.)

[I wrote this post in one hour.]

Elliot Temple on May 13, 2015


Want to discuss this? Join my forum.

(Due to multi-year, sustained harassment from David Deutsch and his fans, commenting here requires an account. Accounts are not publicly available. Discussion info.)