Monday, January 18, 2010

David Lewis on Philosophy

I have always found philosopher's attempts at explaining what philosophy is to be rather illuminating. The contemporary philosopher David Lewis is no exception; the following quote should provide Aristotelian, Platonist, A-T and A-S theorists alike plenty of food or thought, or grist for the mill as the case may be. The quote is from an article he wrote called "Possible Worlds", anthologized by Loux in "metaphysics: Contemporary Readings" and can be found on p. 163. (NB: the 'm' is not capitalized on the cover).

"One comes to philosophy already endowed with a stock of opinions. It is not the business of philosophy either to undermine or justify these pre-existing opinions, to any great extent, but only to try to discover ways of expanding them into an orderly system. A metaphysician's analysis of mind is an attempt at systematizing our opinions about mind. It succeeds to the extent that (1) it is systematic, and (2) it respects those of our pre-philosophical opinions to which we are firmly attached. Insofar as it does both better than any alternative we have thought of, we give it credence. There is some give-and-take, but not too much: some of us sometimes change our minds on some points of common opinion, if they conflict irremediably with a doctrine that commands our belief by its systematic beauty and its agreement with more important common opinions."


AT said...

phi·los·o·phy (fĭ-lŏs'ə-fē) n.

The attempt to answer the question: What is philosophy?

There are several sub-fields and sub-questions:

metaphysics: the attempt to know (see epistemology)what is is.
epistemology: to know why it is impossible to know what it is to know.
logic: who's on first?
philosophy of nature: the attempt to know (see epistemology) what 'What' (see logic) is (see metaphysics). In modern times this is called Science, which as the poet Browning says, has given us many truths, all of them trivial.

So far (in only 3,000 years of trying) philosophers have answered the question 'What is philosophy?' with: whatever philosophy is it's not theology. This is the unanimous opinion of all philosophers except for those who have a contrary opinion.

Brunellus said...

The quote is from an article he wrote called "Possible Worlds"

I saw that recently too – it's actually from the section with that title in his book Counterfactuals (1973, §4.1).  It's a nice idea, but I don't think he took it seriously enough.  The reductio ad absurdum has lost its force because modern philosophers don't know absurdity when they see it.