What Is Philosophy?

What is philosophy? The podcast Philosophy Bites complied the responses of several philosophers to this difficult question that they placed into one podcast episode.

I’d also like to take a stab at a definition of philosophy.

Philosophy: The attempt to apply rigorous objective tools to subjectively submitted questions to return the framework of an objective answer to ground contingent subjective meaning.

This definition is based on, what I feel is, the most important, but too often ignored, distinction inherent to philosophizing; the subjective/objective distinction. We are subjective seekers wanting to objectively legitimize 1) our questions, 2) the methods of processing those questions, and 3) any subsequent answers.

The following are dependents of this definition.

  1. Legitimate answers to philosophical questions are not always possible due to the following.
    • Some questions have no objective legitimacy, and are therefore invalid. The question “What is true love?” falls into this category since there has not been any conventionally established standard for objectively identifying and measuring love.
    • Some questions are derived from hidden and unsubstantiated assumptions such as “What is my purpose in life?” It must first be established that humans receive purpose.
    • Some questions are ill-formed such as “Why do we have freewill?” The existence of a subjectively experienced freewill does not entail the existence of an objective freewill.

    Where there is no possible legitimate objective answer, the subjectively submitted question is also illegitimate and can be discarded as objectively meaningless.

  2. The seeker’s goal is to remove subjectivity from the foundational process of philosophizing. Only after an objectively derived framework is uncovered will the existential process of applying subjective personal meaning to that objective framework be warranted. Abandoning objectivity at any point in the processing of a question will invalidate the objective status any proposed answer, and the seeker is left with mere subjective value judgments.
  3. Subjective meaning does not generate objective truth, but rather the inverse is true. The beauty of music does not generate the physics of musical instruments, but rather the objective physics of the instruments generate the subjective beauty of the music. Any top-down subjective and prescriptive definition of “human”, for example, is fundamentally flawed. “Human” is defined by an objective examination of what humans currently are. Similarly, the subjective longing for an objective purpose does not constitute evidence for an objective purpose.
  4. The rigor of the objective tools of philosophy is determined by their success. To the degree that logic, induction and other rational tools succeed in providing predictive power, to this degree we can attribute them the status of superior rigor. Faith ought not be found in the toolbox of a genuine philosopher since there is no measure of the success (and therefore any possible rigor) of faith.

Comments are much encouraged.


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