“Philosophical Thinking”: What does that mean?

For most of my philosophical studies, I have been told the following: “Philosophy allows you to think better.” (This, and other variants of it). I had never understood what this meant, I think, until today. Philosophers, for those reading who aren’t necessarily sure, work not merely on concepts, words and ideas, but arguments. Arguments are premises (statements) which, when used properly with logical rules, bring about a certain conclusion. I had never put the idea of ‘think better’ and ‘arguments’ together before—until today, as I was (and currently am) cleaning out my coffee maker—there is no causal link between the two (it is just when it happened).

Here is what I thought. Take a good or bad argument—the one I will present will be a good one:

  1. If the universe began to exist, then it has a transcendent cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a transcendent cause. [1]

There are many ways in which this can be dealt with, especially from a philosophical standpoint. Let me lay out the two basic ways. (1) Deny the soundness (the truth of one or more of the premises), or (2) deny the logical inference from premises to conclusion (this is denying validity). How would we deny premises or the logic used? The latter is very often not even attempted. For those of you do not know the logical structure, it is thus (where the variables represent statements or propositions):

  1. If P, Q.
  2. P.
  3. Q.

This inference—modus ponens—is very often not challenged (for we can provide a truth-table proving that it is a valid method of inference) [2]. What about the first method? How could we show one or more of the premises to be false? Let’s try premise 2.

  1. The universe began to exist.

Here are some ways we could deal with it—if we wanted to falsify it:

  • Provide contrary evidence for the claim.
  • Show how the scientific evidence is at best inconclusive.
  • Show that the philosophical arguments do not work i.e., accepting Hilbert’s Hotel as non-absurd.
  • Deny its logical possibility i.e., 4-D Ontology/B-Series of Time (this would make temporal becoming an illusion of human consciousness).
  • Show how we have equi-good reasons on both sides i.e., Kantian Antinomy—and so no reason to affirm one over the over on evidential grounds.
  • Combine it with some other principle/premise which would make it inconsistent i.e., naturalism (at least a consistent naturalism which says that space-time reality is all there is—if the naturalist wants to deny this, she must also accept coming into being out of nothing (which is a hopeless philosophical principle).
  • Show how its not possible for there to be evidence for or against the claim i.e., this is implausible, but for instance if there was a temporal stage in the universe that prevented any detection of evidence for/against the beginning i.e., if the Red-Shift or Expansion evidence was not accessible to our spatio-temporal location.

While I think these methods of dealing with (2) are hopeless (in terms of the truth of (2)), these are just some ways in which we could deal with (2) reasonably.

In this sense, philosophy just is, as Plantinga suggested, thinking hard about things.

[1] For more information on the argument, and for a defense of it, visit reasonablefaith.org.

[2] images.png

http://www.cogsci.rpi.edu/~heuveb/teaching/CriticalWisdom/Deduction.htm (Accessed January 2017).


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