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[ontolog-forum] Was Wittgenstein Right?

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 08 Mar 2013 11:04:55 -0500
Message-id: <513A0C27.6020503@xxxxxxxxxxx>
The subject line is the title of an article on the NY Times web site.    (01)

That article and several others on the site address questions about
the ways that science, philosophy, and "common sense" are related
to ontology.  All of them are written by professional philosophers.    (02)

Following are the URLs of three articles and some excerpts.  The last
excerpt at the end is very close to my own opinion:    (03)

> Such distinctions arise from philosophical thinking, and philosophers
> know a great deal about how to understand and employ them.  In this
> important sense, there is body of philosophical knowledge on which
> non-philosophers can and should rely.    (04)

In short, learning how to fish in the knowledge pond is more important
than any particular fish that some philosopher may give you.    (05)

_______________________________________________________________________    (06)

Was Wittgenstein Right?    (07)

By PAUL HORWICH, New York University    (08)

We might boil [Wittgenstein's position] down to four related claims.    (09)

— The first is that traditional philosophy is scientistic: its primary 
goals, which are to arrive at simple, general principles, to uncover 
profound explanations, and to correct naïve opinions, are taken from the 
sciences. And this is undoubtedly the case.    (010)

—The second is that the non-empirical (“armchair”) character of 
philosophical investigation — its focus on conceptual truth — is in 
tension with those goals.  That’s because our concepts exhibit a highly 
theory-resistant complexity and variability. They evolved, not for the 
sake of science and its objectives, but rather in order to cater to the 
interacting contingencies of our nature, our culture, our environment, 
our communicative needs and our other purposes.    (011)

As a consequence the commitments defining individual concepts are rarely 
simple or determinate, and differ dramatically from one concept to 
another. Moreover, it is not possible (as it is within empirical 
domains) to accommodate superficial complexity by means of simple 
principles at a more basic (e.g. microscopic) level.    (012)

— The third main claim of Wittgenstein’s metaphilosophy — an immediate 
consequence of the first two — is that traditional philosophy is 
necessarily pervaded with oversimplification; analogies are unreasonably 
inflated; exceptions to simple regularities are wrongly dismissed.    (013)

— Therefore — the fourth claim — a decent approach to the subject must 
avoid theory-construction and instead be merely “therapeutic,” confined 
to exposing the irrational assumptions on which theory-oriented 
investigations are based and the irrational conclusions to which they lead."    (014)

Of Flies and Philosophers: Wittgenstein and Philosophy    (015)

By MICHAEL P. LYNCH, University of Connecticut    (016)

Philosophy is not science. Knowing how we ordinarily use our concepts of 
truth, or personhood or causation is important. Wittgenstein was 
certainly right that philosophers get into muddles by ignoring these facts.    (017)

Yet even when it comes to the abstract concerns of metaphysics, 
philosophy can and should aspire to be more than just a description of 
the ordinary. That is because sometimes the ordinary is mistaken. 
Sometimes it is the familiar from which we need liberating — in part 
because our ordinary concepts themselves have a history, a history that 
is shaped in part by certain metaphysical assumptions.    (018)

Philosophy — What’s the Use?    (019)

By GARY GUTTING, University of Notre Dame    (020)

The perennial objection to any appeal to philosophy is that philosophers 
themselves disagree among themselves about everything, so that there is 
no body of philosophical knowledge on which non-philosophers can rely. 
It’s true that philosophers do not agree on answers to the “big 
questions” like God’s existence, free will, the nature of moral 
obligation and so on.  But they do agree about many logical 
interconnections and conceptual distinctions that are essential for 
thinking clearly about the big questions.    (021)

Some examples: thinking about God and evil requires the key distinction 
between evil that is gratuitous (not necessary for some greater good) 
and evil that is not gratuitous; thinking about free will requires the 
distinction between a choice’s being caused and its being compelled; and 
thinking about morality requires the distinction between an action that 
is intrinsically wrong (regardless of its consequences) and one that is 
wrong simply because of its consequences.    (022)

Such distinctions arise from philosophical thinking, and philosophers 
know a great deal about how to understand and employ them.  In this 
important sense, there is body of philosophical knowledge on which 
non-philosophers can and should rely.    (023)

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