Re: Philosophy: It doesn't suck so bad we can't ignore it

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Fri Jan 05 2001 - 02:42:34 MST

From: "Harvey Newstrom" <>
> Your "definition" does not offer a test by which to
> classify things into or out of this category called "philosophy".

I no longer believe in this ghost you call "philosophy." It sounds like a
kluge made to bridge the gap between religion and science. The first time
I heard the definition of philosophy as "the art of asking the wrong
questions" it seemed to me an accurate description. (In case you didn't
know it, my favorite definition of philosophy is a take-off on Abraham
Joshua Keschel's definition... "Philosophy may be defined as the art of
asking the right questions...")

> For a proper definition, you need to expand on what makes a question
> "wrong".

Yes, that would be philosophical... and a waste of time.
Everyone knows what wrong means, but philosophy attempts to prove the
incredible by an appeal to the unintelligible.

> You also need to decide if you are really claiming that
> only philosophy produces "wrong" questions.

You're getting extremely imaginative here. The statement that "philosophy
is the art of asking the wrong questions" does not imply that only
philosophy produces wrong questions.

> If not, then you cannot
> use this as the definition of philosophy.

It's not *the* definition of philosophy. It's my favorite definition. The
official definition (of course) comes from Ambrose Bierce: "Philosophy, n.
A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing."

> It would only be an
> attribute which is shared with other non-philosophical fields. A
> definition must describe what is unique only to philosophy that
> distinguishes it from fields that are not philosophy.

Right. The same is true of phlogiston. This kind of definition would only
be an attribute which is shared with other non-phlogiston fields. A
definition must describe what is unique only to phlogiston that
distinguishes it from fields that are not phlogiston.

> What is wrong with a basic dictionary definition of philosophy?

The dictionary has (so far) failed to include the information that
philosophy is a hypothesis that can be variously defined to fit the times
in which it finds its advocates.

> My
> on-line American Heritage Dictionary of Cultural Literacy gives the
> definition below. Is this the kind of philosophy that you claim asks
> the wrong questions? Or are you refuting a different kind of
> philosophy?

It seems to me you're asking the wrong questions. That's OK, you're an
accomplished philosopher. Before there was science, there was philosophy.
So, I don't see how philosophy can be the "study that attempts to discover
the fundamental principles of the sciences" since the sciences came later.
"Philosophy has the task and the opportunity of helping banish the concept
that human destiny here and now is of slight importance in comparison with
singularitarian destiny," to paraphrase John Dewey. As Beecher has
written, "The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next."
While quoting philosophers, I might as well throw in Bertie Russell:
"Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don't know."

Stay hungry,

--J. R.
3M TA3
Useless hypotheses: consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind,
free will

"It is good that a philosopher should remind himself, now and then, that
he is a particle pontificating on infinity." --Will Durant

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