Monday, May 5, 2008

A problem of philosophy

Last week, I came across a person who turned out to be much smarter than me, and asked him what he thought the biggest problem in the world was, as I've been asking many others. To my surprise, he didn't mention anything that would appear in a newspaper. He said that the biggest problem is philosophical rigor, and a failure to develop metaphilosophy.

A philosophy, he said, requires five things to be a complete philosophy. I will try to list them now, but I didn't take notes during our conversation, and I should have. He said he would read this blog, so I think if I'm wrong, he'll correct me. The five things are:

It first needs an epistemology, a system of verifying information. What is true, and what is false? How can you be sure of anything you know?

It next needs an ethics and morality. What is the right thing to do? What is the wrong thing to do? How can people behave in society in a moral fashion?

It needs an Ontology, describing the past and how the world got to be the way that it is.

It needs a Futurology, describing how the trends of the present will affect the future.

Finally, it needs an aesthetic. What is beautiful, and what is the best way to promote beauty?

Apparently, this much metaphilosophy was worked out in Ancient Greek times. After the ancient Greek society collapsed, the big power of the time, Rome, was rather uninterested in philosophy. As was the Christian society that rose up after Rome fell. Only in the Renascence, in the 1600s, was the interest in Philosophy renewed. The thinkers of the Renascence unfortunately made little progress in philosophy before being distracted by chemistry, engineering, and physics.

Since the 1600s, basically no progress has been made into metaphilosophy. And this, he argued, is a big cause of problems in society today, because some people adopt defective philosophies due to not having any indication that their philosophy is defective.

For example, vitalism. Vitalism was the very popular belief, common in the 1700s, that the chemistry of life was somehow different than the chemistry of non-life. Vitalists believed that traditional chemistry did not apply to the matter in living animals, and synthesis of chemicals found in living cells is manifestly impossible. Vitalism is wrong. It is factually untrue. It was proven untrue in 1828, when a German chemist synthesized urea. That this has happened has only reduced the popularity of vitalism, instead of the expected result of eliminating it.

Admittedly, very few people today believe in vitalism. There are probably more solipsists than vitalists. Solipsisms is the incredibly bizarre philosophy that there is only one mind in existance, namely yours.

To end the derail, philosophy is very powerful. The antagonism of the Cold War bound some nations together and others in buring hostility....over philosophy. A good philosophy is the reasons for being of many people, and could remake the world. or destroy it.

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