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Grammarís Relationship to Philosophy


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#1 Jonathan Awesome

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 10:24 AM

How does grammar relate to philosophy? Is it encompasses by philosophy or is it a specialized science?

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#2 DavidOdden

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 12:39 PM

How does grammar relate to philosophy? Is it encompasses by philosophy or is it a specialized science?

The latter. Some people consider it an art, in the sense that they approach the topic intuitively rather than objectively. That is perfectly acceptable, in the same way that car repair is one form of the art of physics. Philosophy is not disjoint from science, so you could also say that it is a more specific philosophy, as physics is.

#3 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 04:05 PM

Philosophy is not disjoint from science, so you could also say that it is a more specific philosophy, as physics is.

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I am not sure of the above formulation. I would say that philosophy is the foundation of physics, but in what way do you mean that physics "is a more specific philosophy?"
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#4 Burgess Laughlin

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 04:29 PM

How does grammar relate to philosophy? Is it encompasse[d] by philosophy or is it a specialized science?

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[Changed a letter for clarity.]

That depends on what you mean by "encompassed." In one sense of the term "encompass," philosophy "encompasses" all other knowledge including the science of grammar -- in the sense that philosophy sets the context for (encompasses) all other knowledge, scientific or otherwise.

However, philosophy (as the universal science) is distinct from the science of grammar.

So, my answer to your question would be: Yes, both.

Grammar is a specialized science whose context is set by philosophy.
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#5 Burgess Laughlin

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 04:34 PM

The latter. Some people consider it an art, in the sense that they approach the topic intuitively rather than objectively.

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What do you mean by "intuition" ("intuitively") here -- especially as distinct from "objective" ("objectively")?
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#6 Jonathan Awesome

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 07:04 PM

Thanks. That clears up my confusion.

I knew grammar had a relation to epistemology. I just wasnít sure if grammar was considered part of epistemology or a specialized science that grew out of it.

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#7 DavidOdden

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 07:59 PM

I would say that philosophy is the foundation of physics, but in what way do you mean that physics "is a more specific philosophy?"

In the way that physics was known as "natural philosophy". The methods of science and philosophy do not need to be incompatible, though of course I'm not suggesting that man's rights be determined by running experiments on classes of undergraduate students. Smashing gold ions into osmium targets at a zillion miles an hour can contribute to metaphysics but probably not ethics, making it more specific (in applicability).

What do you mean by "intuition" ("intuitively") here -- especially as distinct from "objective" ("objectively")?

It's a slippery slope. The worst end of it is when you just get some idea in your head about grammar, for no reason; or, for a totally wrong reason (such as racial hatred). More commonly, people make reasonably correct generalizations without explicitly getting the causal basis. It's something that people "just know", kind of like driving a car. I am putting that in contrast to a scientific approach, where hypotheses are empirically tested using objective measures.

#8 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 10:58 PM

I would say that philosophy is the foundation of physics, but in what way do you mean that physics "is a more specific philosophy?"

In the way that physics was known as "natural philosophy". The methods of science and philosophy do not need to be incompatible, though of course I'm not suggesting that man's rights be determined by running experiments on classes of undergraduate students. Smashing gold ions into osmium targets at a zillion miles an hour can contribute to metaphysics but probably not ethics, making it more specific (in applicability).

I still don't get your point. Bringing in "natural philosophy" is just making an etymological distinction, not the functional distinction between philosophy and physics that we know today (or, at least, the distinction made clear by Ayn Rand). In what way do you think that physics "can contribute to metaphysics?" My understanding of the Objectivist relationship between philosophy and physics is that the "contribution" only goes one way.
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#9 DavidOdden

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Posted 02 November 2005 - 11:26 PM

In what way do you think that physics "can contribute to metaphysics?" My understanding of the Objectivist relationship between philosophy and physics is that the "contribution" only goes one way.

Well maybe I just don't understand what metaphysics is. I understand it to be the study of existence, and fundamental principles about the nature of existence (such as non-contradiction). Saying that a brick can't be both entirely white and entirely black isn't a primitive metaphysical law, it's a derived scientific result having to do with the physical nature of color, which wasn't understood 300 years ago. So a understanding of the scientific issues provides an understanding of some of metaphysics. However, since I don't know what the hot questions of metaphysics are, I'm not totally wedded to the idea that the scientific study of existence and its nature has anything to say about the philosophy of existence and its nature. What distinction between metaphysics and (scientific) physics do you mean that Rand made a clear distinction between? The penny is just not dropping.

#10 Free Capitalist

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 12:18 AM

Dave, it's not that there's a concrete metaphysical law that an object "can't be both colors at the same time". The law is of a much more general nature, that the object can't have two mutually exclusive characteristics at the same time, and in the same respect (Aristotle defined that). So regardless of your theory of the nature of color, whatever it is -- it covers the whole of an object. And there can't be two things that cover the whole of the same object at the same time, and in the same respect (i.e. they can still come layered on top of one another, but that's not what we're talking about).

So physics helps us understand what color is and how color works, but it wasn't the contribution of modern physics that two colors can't cover the same object at the same time and in the same respect. This was known even before Aristotle (though he formulated it explicitly).
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#11 DavidOdden

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 01:57 AM

So physics helps us understand what color is and how color works, but it wasn't the contribution of modern physics that two colors can't cover the same object at the same time and in the same respect.

No, clearly that's quite old news. Has this gotten bogged down over the fact that as an area of philosophy, metaphysics is entirely useless and invalid as an area of philosophy once you recognise non-contradiction, meaning that there is nothing at all to metaphysics beyond that fact? Since the law of non-contradiction is self-evident, I would be loathe to say that metaphysics is a branch of philosophy if there is nothing more to it than that (compare that to other productive areas such as epistemology, aesthetics and ethics, where results are not self-evident). Obviously, for an area of philosophy that is fully specified, resolved and closed to discussion, there is no possible contribution of science to that area of philosophy. For those areas that are still open to discussion, reference to the facts of reality could be useful. (Example: Peikoff's discussion of "certainty", which greatly refines the details of the concept "knowledge" in ways that Rand simply did not cover herself).

#12 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 02:56 AM

What distinction between metaphysics and (scientific) physics do you mean that Rand made a clear distinction between?

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The distinction I had in mind was between philosophy and science, with metaphysics and physics each being a branch, respectively.

Prof. B: Is the concept of "matter" a philosophical concept or a scientific one?

AR: In the way we are using it here, as a very broad abstraction, it is a philosophical concept. If by "matter" we mean "that of which all the things we perceive are made," that is a philosophical concept. But questions like: what are different things made of? what are the properties of matter? how can you break it down? etc.óthose are scientific problems.

Philosophy by its nature has to be based only on that which is available to the knowledge of any man with a normal mental equipment. Philosophy is not dependent on the discoveries of science; the reverse is true.

So whenever you are in doubt about what is or is not a philosophical subject, ask yourself whether you need a specialized knowledge, beyond the knowledge available to you as a normal adult, unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments. And if the answer is possible to you on that basis alone, you are dealing with a philosophical question. If to answer it you would need training in physics, or psychology, or special equipment, etc., then you are dealing with a derivative or scientific field of knowledge, not philosophy.


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#13 DavidOdden

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Posted 12 November 2005 - 10:22 PM

I wanted to raise this question a week ago but didn't have the time to devote to it then. The question isn't entirely about grammar vs. philosophy, but it's partially about that. This portion of Rand's statement in the quote caught my attention:

So whenever you are in doubt about what is or is not a philosophical subject, ask yourself whether you need a specialized knowledge, beyond the knowledge available to you as a normal adult, unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments.

My particular interest is the idea of "specialised knowledge". What is specialised knowledge, and what is it contrasted with? To take a concrete example, Rand's metaethics and Tara Smith's amplification of Rand's ethical ideas are expertly crafted, they do constitute knowledge, and they are not only not immediately obvious, but clearly required much careful thought to arrive at -- I certainly could not come up with such knowledge on my own, and if I do say so myself, I am dang good in my area of proficiency. So my question is, how do you define "specialised knowledge" so that Objectivist ethics remains general knowledge as contrasted to specialized knowledge. Is or was the theory of evolution (a the hands of Darwin) an instance of science or philosophy -- what facts makes it science?

The position which I am trying to avoid is the rationalist one where you decide certain matters a priori, without reference to facts of reality.

#14 Betsy Speicher

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 05:52 AM

To take a concrete example, Rand's metaethics and Tara Smith's amplification of Rand's ethical ideas are expertly crafted, they do constitute knowledge, and they are not only not immediately obvious, but clearly required much careful thought  to arrive at -- I certainly could not come up with such knowledge on my own

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While it is true that an average, or even talented, person is unlikely to be able to discover or formulate that knowledge, once it has been discovered and properly formulated, an average person should be able to grasp it "unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments."
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#15 DavidOdden

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 01:47 PM

While it is true that an average, or even talented, person is unlikely to be able to discover or formulate that knowledge, once it has been discovered and properly formulated, an average person should be able to grasp it "unaided by any special knowledge or special instruments."

Okay, but that still doesn't explain the difference between specialised knowledge and general knowledge. I can't grasp various truths of modern physics, because that knowledge is hierarchical and I don't know all of the foundation that it's constructed on. However, it happens that I do at least partially grasp conservation of charge. Now what about Objectivism? It certainly took me a long time to begin to understand Objectivism even in the slightest, again because of it's hierarchical relation of concepts and principles. How is that not specialised knowledge?

#16 Paul's Here

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 01:52 PM

I wanted to raise this question a week ago but didn't have the time to devote to it then. The question isn't entirely about grammar vs. philosophy, but it's partially about that. This portion of Rand's statement in the quote caught my attention:My particular interest is the idea of "specialised knowledge". What is specialised knowledge, and what is it contrasted with? To take a concrete example, Rand's metaethics and Tara Smith's amplification of Rand's ethical ideas are expertly crafted, they do constitute knowledge, and they are not only not immediately obvious, but clearly required much careful thought  to arrive at -- I certainly could not come up with such knowledge on my own, and if I do say so myself, I am dang good in my area of proficiency. So my question is, how do you define "specialised knowledge" so that Objectivist ethics remains general knowledge as contrasted to specialized knowledge. Is or was the theory of evolution (a the hands of Darwin) an instance of science or philosophy -- what facts makes it science?

The position which I am trying to avoid is the rationalist one where you decide certain matters a priori, without reference to facts of reality.

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Knowledge becomes specialized and a science when specific elements of reality are investigated and facts are discovered that pertain only to the specific area under investigation. Methods of investigation specific to that discipline are employed in the study, and a body of knowledge is developed. General knowledge pertains to those areas that anyone can grasp once the information is explained. Once specific knowledge becomes widely available to people, it can be classified as general knowledge to some extent. Everyone knows the earth is round and orbits the sun; that genetic material is passed from parents to child. However, the specific theory and evidence still are classified as scientific knowledge because that information is not readily available without years of study.

One does not have to go to an island or develop microscopes and telescopes to grasp certain philosophic principles. Even savages like Al-Qaida terrorists grasp that people can choose to act and think in certain ways. Any functioning adult grasps that the type of social organization that they live in affects their lives. Everyone over three years old grasps that the beneficiary of one's actions affects one's life. This is general philosophic knowledge. The specific answers to these issues require investigation, but can be readily grasped without detailed scientific investigation. This does not imply that philosophy is not a complicated discipline that does not require specialized study.
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#17 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 05:39 PM

Okay, but that still doesn't explain the difference between specialised knowledge and general knowledge. I can't grasp various truths of modern physics, because that knowledge is hierarchical and I don't know all of the foundation that it's constructed on. However, it happens that I do at least partially grasp conservation of charge. Now what about Objectivism? It certainly took me a long time to begin to understand Objectivism even in the slightest, again because of it's hierarchical relation of concepts and principles. How is that not specialised knowledge?

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There is an equivocation on "specialized" in this discussion. Objectivism is "specialized knowledge" within the context of philosophy, but physics is "specialized knowledge" in the context of science, and science is a distinct subject from philosophy. Philosophy, at least as characterized by Ayn Rand, "studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man's relationship to existence. As against the special sciences, which deal only with particular aspects, philosophy deals with those aspects of the universe which pertain to everything that exists." (The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. III, No. 7, December 31, 1973, "Philosophy: Who Needs It.")

If you develop a 105 degree temperature and your vision goes blurry, and you can no longer move your left arm or feel any sensation in your left leg, I presume you would not agonize over whether to see a doctor or a philosopher. Whatever discoveries are made in the realm of medicine have no effect on the body of knowledge called philosophy. Likewise with physics.
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#18 PhilO

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 12:38 AM

If you develop a 105 degree temperature and your vision goes blurry, and you can no longer move your left arm or feel any sensation in your left leg, I presume you would not agonize over whether to see a doctor or a philosopher.

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#19 Ed from OC

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 01:04 AM

Whatever discoveries are made in the realm of medicine have no effect on the body of knowledge called philosophy. Likewise with physics.

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Is that literally true? I can imagine making discoveries in the specialized sciences that have philosophical implications. For example, the ethics of wireless piggybacking (discussed on another forum) may present a new perspective on well-tread ethics theory. This wouldn't mean rewriting ethics, but maybe there's a technical point in philosophy that requires clarification that wasn't realized until this new technological or scientific discovery.

#20 Stephen Speicher

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 01:21 AM

Whatever discoveries are made in the realm of medicine have no effect on the body of knowledge called philosophy. Likewise with physics.

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Is that literally true? I can imagine making discoveries in the specialized sciences that have philosophical implications. For example, the ethics of wireless piggybacking (discussed on another forum) may present a new perspective on well-tread ethics theory. This wouldn't mean rewriting ethics, but maybe there's a technical point in philosophy that requires clarification that wasn't realized until this new technological or scientific discovery.

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That's applied philosophy, something we all do during the entire course of our lives. But, as you seem to note, the ethical principles of Objectivism remain. The virtues will not change due to some technical innovation in physics or engineering. An application of principles always has the potential to lend one a clarifying insight, but the source of those principles does not lie with any particular development in the sciences.
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