jacassidy2

Historic Perspective on Philosophy

10 posts in this topic

Hey Folks, First post.

I studied physics and philosophy in college, and while they were an interesting avocation thru life, they were not how I made my living. They have been brought to the front burner in retirement. I am now re-reading Miss Rand's non-fiction while at the same time participating in free on-line philosophy courses. While re-reading Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology I found myself thinking, “Yes, makes sense,” while studying people like Descartes, Newton, Boyle, Berkeley, Locke, Hobbs, Hume, and Kant, I'm mostly thinking, “They don't see it,” or “hey, that was a good start, but then you went wrong.”

I'm seeing what I think is a common, underlying theme in the metaphysics and epistemology ("met-ep") of these historic philosophers – and, this leads to a conclusion about their ethics and politics (for the ones who moved into those areas). These are summary conclusions about a trend that seems to exist throughout this historic period, not an agreement or disagreement with specific claims or inquiries.

These guys were trying to figure out existence, identity, perception, and reason before they knew about atoms, electromagnetic waves, or neurons. They all seem confused - with a few, out-of-context, interesting ideas. It seems to me that these guys were trying to think about how to think and what stuff is at a time in which the science had not yet given them enough info to make real sense of the questions they where asking. I'm not feeling anger, I'm feeling pity.

Human evolution has honed sense, perception, and reason to increase reproductive success - our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin, and especially brain have been fine tuned over generations (mostly a long time ago, because cultural evolution has become more influential in modern times). But evolution cannot select for perception of things that are too large, too small, or too complex – that is, things beyond the sensory capacity of the involved organs.

Once reason was selected for, the game changed. We can now create machines and other technology to sense and even perceive (can they reason, that is not being brought up here) way beyond our sensory capability, then we use the data and our reason to make conclusions about additional identities of known entities and even about new existents.

So, now the reasons I posted this. If you are a student of Objectivism, you will understand why I had to preface so much. Pre-modern philosophers seem to have been trying to interpret pre-modern science to draw conclusions about met-ep and they didn't have enough knowledge about the universe. I believe they got it mostly wrong, as does Miss Rand.

Are not current philosophers doing the same thing - Can't know the position and speed of an electron, in fact, it has no mass, it's not an entity; a mechanical wave is intuitive, but don't expect to understand an electromagnetic wave the same way; why is light speed the specific quantity we calculate; what is the reality and nature behind constants used in physics equations?

I have no problem with the answer, “we don't know.” But the answer, “we can't know,” sounds like pre-modern philosophers talking about whether the identity of color is a real thing or something created in the mind, because they didn't know enough about light and waves.

You might say, “Interesting, but what's the big deal, we know some things and not others and we'll figure it out eventually?” Well, I'll tell you. In each generation, from Plato to Kant to whomever today, the erroneous met-ep conclusions made, then lead other philosophers to base ethical ideas on these mistaken met-ep ideas.

You should see the unintelligeble responses I receive when I start a thread like, “Arguments for Self-Agency,” in the most popular philosophy forums. The respondents have profiles and you expect they will be undergraduates; but, you see they are grad student or professors. “If you can't know where an electron is, how can you know what is right or wrong, dude.” And I think, “is this the year 1758?”

Sorry about the diatribe. But what about the question? Is the confusion of pre-modern philosophers attributable to lack of science, and if so, are philosophers today making the same error? Or, if you know quantum physics, have we discovered ideas that because of their nature, are not identifiable? If so, please explain.

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Metaphysics is not physics. It is about the nature of reality itself. Aristotle had a better grasp of it than many later philosophers with greater scientific knowledge. The metaphysics of St Augustin said there was no point in looking at the world, because it was only a symbol of God; that truth would only be found in the Bible. Aristotle looked to nature for his answers within the limits available to him. His greatest asset was his conceptual thinking. His logic was what set him apart. Logic based on non contradiction puts one in harmony with reality. Science deals with the more specific attributes of reality, and a specialist in one area can be ignorant in another. Sure they have a lot of data, but data is not information, and information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. Too many philosophers today are happy with contradictions in their thinking. They feel it frees them from a narrow minded "dogmatic" view of nature. Just because we don't know everything, doesn't mean we can't be certain of some things

More to the point, if you don't know where an electron is, you may need to question the assumptions contained in the question itself. For example the question: "When did the universe begin?" contains the assumptions 1) that it did indeed begin. 2)That in turn has the assumption that time existed before the universe; 3) that time was independent of existence. I believe these faulty assumptions lie behind many of the so called paradoxes of science. Why is it so hard to accept that nature obeys laws, whether we understand them or not.

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Enjoyed your post, but was it an answer to my questions?

"Sure they have a lot of data, but data is not information, and information is not knowledge and knowledge is not wisdom. Too many philosophers today are happy with contradictions in their thinking."

Let's have another beer, then a sleep, and then think, because I'm not happy yet.

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The answer I was trying to make, was that science doesn't determine philosophy, it determines facts. However, philosophy can determine whether to explore the world with science is productive. Facts need context within the whole framework of knowledge in order to draw conclusions from them. For example a scientist notes a frog jumps every time he claps his hands (Fact). He is curious about the effects of amputation on hearing, and removes the frogs legs. Observing the FACT that the frog no longer jumps at a clap, concludes the amputation has madre the frog deaf. So facts are not much good without knowing how to use them. They are not knowledge.

To underline my response, science can verify conclusions, but conclusions are guided by philosophy. A scientist who is a mystic will not do as well as one guided by reason, and reason is the product of a certain philosophy, not science.

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Pre-modern philosophers seem to have been trying to interpret pre-modern science to draw conclusions about met-ep and they didn't have enough knowledge about the universe. I believe they got it mostly wrong, as does Miss Rand.

Ayn Rand did not "get it mostly wrong" and "modern science" has nothing to do with it.

Ayn Rand explicitly stated that her philosophy is understandable and validated with general knowledge accessible to everyone, and that is what she practiced. It does not require the special sciences and she did not speculate about them. She did not engage in the philosophy of the special sciences at all. The special sciences presuppose the basic knowledge that preceded them.

If you want to understand the relation of her philosophy to the historical evolution of western philosophy listen to Leonard Peikoff's lecture series on the history of western philosophy. He explains for each stage in its development of the major branches of philosophy how each philosopher was reacting to, building on, and/or opposing his predecessors; what the major trends have been; and Ayn Rand's answer to the major positions and problems of philosophy.

Understanding quantum mechanical states of electrons has nothing to do with it. Pre-modern science philosophers were not trying to interpret science that did not exit, they were dealing with basic questions, with some diversions into speculations on what should have been science (like ancient Greek atomists) as they struggled to identify the basic nature of the world in terms of unifying principles.

Founders of Western Philosophy: Thales to Hume (MP3 download) $10.99

https://estore.aynrand.org/p/95/founders-of-western-philosophy-thales-to-hume-mp3-download

Modern Philosophy: Kant to the Present (MP3 download) $10.99

https://estore.aynrand.org/p/96/modern-philosophy-kant-to-the-present-mp3-download

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Hey EWV, Lighten up. Read my statement again, the one to which you said : "Ayn Rand did not "get it mostly wrong" and "modern science" has nothing to do with it." You are mis-interpreting the sentence.

"I believe they got it mostly wrong, as does Miss Rand." The word "does" in the independent clause, refers to the verb believe which means that I believe Miss Rand would agree with my assessment that pre-modern philosophers got it mostly wrong.

I hope someone will respond to the questions I raise. Although I mention Miss Rand in my post, the central issue in my questions has nothing to do with her.


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I should have said, " I believe they got it wrong, and Miss Rand would agree. Sorry.

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I did respond to the question you raised. Leaving aside the ambiguity in your sentence, Ayn Rand did not believe that pre-modern philosophers were wrong because they did not have modern science or understand what little science existed then, and she did not believe that only pre-modern philosophers were wrong or that more modern philosophers were wrong because of not understanding modern science. She rejected the idea that general philosophy depends on the special sciences.

To see how wrong post modern philosophers have been, and why, listen to the second and the last part of the first part of the Leonard Peikoff lecture series on the history of western philosophy referred to above. Descartes and Hume could not be saved by Newton -- and Kant, Hegel, the positivists, pragmatists, existentialists and analysts could not be saved by Newton or anything since in science.

Many modern philosophers, especially among positivists, analysts and pragmatists do understand modern physics, if not properly conceptually, in terms of its analysis and facts. The positivist movement in particular was promoted by both philosophers and physicists at the time (starting with Mach). Bohm became an Hegelian in the middle of his career as a physicist and ended his life as an eastern mystic, as did others in the "New Age" "Tao of Physics" movement. Their success in physics didn't help them.

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I hope someone will respond to the questions I raise.

In what way was your question not answered?

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Hey EWV, Thanks for sharing your knowledge with me. Your most recent post was exactly what I was looking for and you've given me several areas to focus my study. I'm in an odd position. I had little philosophy experience during my education, but discovered Rand in about 1979. Over the years, I have read and watched everything I was aware of from Rand and Peikoff. Until now (in retirement), this study has been extensive, but fairly casual. Studying a complex area on your own, without the external discipline of an academic environment, has not brought me to expertise. I am now going back to study philosophy with more intensity and thank you for your suggestion of the Peikoff series.

Until I have spent enough time studying, I must remember that the fact that I have read all Rand/Peikoff non-fiction more than once, doesn't mean I have internalized it. I'm learning that interest or curiosity is not the same as systematic study. I'm so glad you responded to my post. Thanks

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