What Is Philosophy?

On the web at http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~rapaport/584/S07/whatisphil.html

Last Update: 18 January 2007, 8:40 p.m.

Note: NEW or UPDATED material is highlighted

  1. What is philosophy?

    1. My answer: "Philosophy is the search for truth, in any field, by rational means."

    2. Plato's answer:

      1. "The one who feels no distaste in sampling every study, and who attacks the task of learning gladly and cannot get enough of it, we shall justly pronounce the lover of wisdom, the philosopher."

        • Plato, Republic V,475c (trans. Paul Shorey, in Edith Hamilton & Huntington Cairns (eds.) (1961), The Collected Dialogues of Plato, including the Letters (Princeton: Princeton University Press): 575-844, quotation on p. 714.)

      2. Plato, Apology

        • Provides Plato's version of Socrates's answer.

    3. Audi, Robert (2001), "Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates" (American Philosophical Association).

    4. Eric Dietrich's answer:

        Thinking about the Big Questions is serious, difficult business. I tell my philosophy students: "If you like sweets and easy living and fun times and happiness, drop this course now. Philosophers are the hazmat handlers of the intellectual world. It is we who stare into the abyss, frequently going down into it to great depths. This isn't a job for people who scare easily or even have a tendency to get nervous." —(5 October 2006)

    5. Some useful websites on what philosophy is:

    6. My 2 favorite introductions to philosophy:

      1. Russell, Bertrand (1912, but there are many later editions, including one from 1997), The Problems of Philosophy (various publishers).

        • LOCKWOOD and UNDERGRADUATE Book Collections BD21 .R8
        • LOCKWOOD Book Collection BD21 .R8 1959
        • LOCKWOOD Book Collection BD21 .R8 1966

      2. Nagel, Thomas (1987), What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

        • Asks a lot of questions; answers are left to the reader :-)

    7. Two on-line philosophy encyclopedias:

      1. Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

      2. Fieser, James; & Dowden, Bradley (eds.), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    8. Two off-line philosophy encyclopedias:

      1. Craig, Edward (ed.) (1998), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (London: Routledge)

        • Parts may be online for free at: "REP Online"
        • LOCKWOOD and UNDERGRADUATE Reference B51 .R68 1998
        • LOCKWOOD Reference CD-ROM B51 .R68 1998

      2. Edwards, Paul (ed.) (1967), Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan)

        • LOCKWOOD Book Collection B41 .E5
        • 1972 reprint edition: LOCKWOOD Book Collection B41 .E5 1972
        • 1972 reprint edition: LOCKWOOD and UNDERGRADUATE Reference B41 .E5 1972

  2. Can there be progress in philosophy? Can philosophy ever solve any of its problems?

    1. Rapaport, William J. (1982), "Unsolvable Problems and Philosophical Progress", 1982 Prize Essay, American Philosophical Quarterly 19: 289-298.

        Abstract: Philosophy has been characterized (e.g., by Benson Mates) as a field whose problems are unsolvable. This has often been taken to mean that there can be no progress in philosophy as there is in mathematics or science. The nature of problems and solutions is considered, and it is argued that solutions are always parts of theories, hence that acceptance of a solution requires commitment to a theory (as suggested by William Perry's scheme of cognitive development). Progress can be had in philosophy in the same way as in mathematics and science by knowing what commitments are needed for solutions. Similar views of Rescher and Castañeda are discussed. (See also Rapaport 1984.)

    2. Rapaport, William J. (1984), "Can Philosophy Solve Its Own Problems?" The [SUNY] News 13 (May/June 1984) F2-F3.

    3. NEW Some quotes on philosophy as the search for truth, and on progress in philosophy:

      1. "It is not knowledge, but the act of learning, not possession but the act of getting there, which grants the greatest enjoyment." —K.F. Gauss (1808; mathematician)

      2. "The search for truth is more precious than its possession." —Einstein

      3. "In science and mathematics, we do not appeal to authority, but rather you are responsible for what you believe." —R.W. Hamming (1998; computer scientist)

      4. "We live on an island of knowledge surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance." —John A. Wheeler (physicist)

  3. Some articles on metaphysics:

    1. Quine, Willard van Orman (1948), "On What There Is" [PDF], Review of Metaphysics 2(5): 21-38.

      • Reprinted in:
        Quine, From a Logical Point of View: 9 Logico-Philosophical Essays, Second Edition, revised (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980): 1-19.

    2. A computational perspective on non-existents and other "intensional" items:

  4. On epistemology; what is knowledge?

    1. Gettier, Edmund L. (1963), "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", Analysis 23: 121-23.

  5. How to study philosophy:

    1. Suber, Peter, "Courses"

      • See especially the links at the bottom of the page under the heading "Files and links that pertain to more than one course"

    2. Wadsworth Press Philosophy Student Survival Guide

    3. Google search on "Writing Philosophy Papers"

  6. NEW
    For those of you who need a quick refresher course in evaluating prose arguments that purport to be logical, you might take a look at the following website, which seems to have everything you need to know on it:

  7. Miscellaneous:

    1. Dennett, Daniel (ed.), "The Philosophical Lexicon"

    2. McGinn, Colin (2003), "Finding Philosophy", Prospect, Issue 92 (November).

      • A brief autobiography of how a well-known contemporary philosopher got into the field.

Copyright © 2004-2007 by William J. Rapaport ( rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu)
file: 584/S07/whatisphil-20070118-2.html