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Thread: Does Philosophical Progress Exist?

  1. #1 Does Philosophical Progress Exist? 
    Moderator Moderator Cogito Ergo Sum's Avatar
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    I have never created a thread in the Philosophy section until now, thus I thought it was time to do so.

    In this thread, I wish to hear your answers on the question: Does progress in philosophy exist?

    For example, if we compare e.g. the philosophy of Plato with the philosophy of Hume or with the philosophy of Marx,
    do you think that philosophy has progressed over more than two millennia and if so, how do you determine that it progressed?

    Or do you think that there cannot be progress in philosophy?


    Last edited by Cogito Ergo Sum; June 16th, 2014 at 05:58 AM.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    I have never created a thread in the Philosophy section until now, thus I thought it was time to do so.

    In this thread, I wish to hear your answers on the question: Does progress in philosophy exist?

    For example, if we compare e.g. the philosophy of Plato with the philosophy of Hume or with the philosophy of Marx,
    do you think that philosophy has progressed over more than two millennia and how do you determine that it has progressed?

    Or do you think that there cannot be progress in philosophy?
    And here I thought I alone in having entertained this question. I've given this question some thought twice so far, and each time, it comes down to two keywords in the question - progress and philosophy.

    My first attempt was to to pin down what each of the two words mean. Progress is generally goal/objective orientated. If there isn't a goal, there can't be any progress. But of course, we can interpret/substitute the word progress to mean development without a specific goal/objective, and that would make more sense even in absence of a goal/objective. As for philosophy in the sense that you meant it, would be the study of problems that is specific to the subject through the use of disciplined critical thinking with reason and objectivity. I consider it to be an exercise of our intellectual powers to critique our own reasons and rationale in any subject matter. The approach to a detailed critique may be done so through various schools of thought, and each gives us different perspectives of the subject being analyzed; much like the many facades of a cut gemstone.

    So, in wanting to answer your question of "Does philosophical progress exist?", it depends firstly on the subject of study, secondly on whether there is an objective, and lastly how much reliable knowledge we possess on the subject of study.

    Just some of the results from my two attempts at the question in my lifetime so far.


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  4. #3  
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    Quote Originally Posted by scoobydoo1 View Post
    And here I thought I alone in having entertained this question. I've given this question some thought twice so far, and each time, it comes down to two keywords in the question - progress and philosophy.

    My first attempt was to to pin down what each of the two words mean. Progress is generally goal/objective orientated. If there isn't a goal, there can't be any progress. But of course, we can interpret/substitute the word progress to mean development without a specific goal/objective, and that would make more sense even in absence of a goal/objective. As for philosophy in the sense that you meant it, would be the study of problems that is specific to the subject through the use of disciplined critical thinking with reason and objectivity. I consider it to be an exercise of our intellectual powers to critique our own reasons and rationale in any subject matter. The approach to a detailed critique may be done so through various schools of thought, and each gives us different perspectives of the subject being analyzed; much like the many facades of a cut gemstone.

    So, in wanting to answer your question of "Does philosophical progress exist?", it depends firstly on the subject of study, secondly on whether there is an objective, and lastly how much reliable knowledge we possess on the subject of study.

    Thank you for your answer.

    You have raised some interesting points.
    When I formulated this question, I used "progress" as in objective orientated; I compared it with scientific progress.
    I have not provided the used definitions, because defining philosophy is not the intended subject of this thread; there is even a chance that this thread will result in a discussion about semantics.

    Next, I do not know if philosophy has an objective or a goal. If I were to accept your definition of philosophy, then its objective seems to be quite clear, namely studying problems of a philosophical nature via reason and critical thinking (whether or not this is an accurate definition, is beyond the purpose of this thread).

    However, it is the multitude of schools of thought that troubles answering the question. Can philosophy progress if schools of thought refute one another?
    Last edited by Cogito Ergo Sum; February 3rd, 2014 at 04:52 PM.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    You have raised some interesting points.
    When I formulated this question, I used "progress" as in objective orientated; I compared it with scientific progress.
    I have not provided the used definitions, because defining philosophy is not the intended subject of this thread; there is even a chance that this thread will result in simple semantics.

    Next, I do not know if philosophy has an objective or a goal. If I were to accept your definition of philosophy, then its objective seems to be quite clear, namely studying problems of a philosophical nature via reason and critical thinking (whether or not this is an accurate definition, is beyond the purpose of this thread).

    However, it is the multitude of schools of thought that troubles answering the question. Can philosophy progress if schools of thought refute one another?
    Well, that depends. If we take eastern and western philosophies as an example, both has their unique advantages, and for me; an asian who attended western education, my approach is to take a middle path; by owing mental allegiance to none. Aspects of both can be both conflicting and complimentary depending on how one uses the tools available in both.

    To answer your question of "Can philosophy progress if schools of thought refute one another?", I would say yes; in that any conflict in either or all schools will highlight the discrepancies they face when incorporating and entertaining the others point of view. If these discrepancies can be resolved by additional knowledge known (either empirically or theoretically) to us as time passes, progress is made. If the additional knowledge doesn't resolve the issues faced, but complicates matter further, I would consider it progress only if the additional bits of information fall into place in the greater equation, and hopefully aiding future participants in resolving them. If we aren't able to delve deeper into the issue and resolve the problem, we can at the very least help create a more accurate framework by filling in more details that may have been previously lacking.

    If philosophical endeavors are to achieve a greater understanding of a specific subject; progress can be measured and/or determined if a greater level of understanding is reached. The issues/problems related to the subject may not be resolved any time soon, or at all. But that isn't to my knowledge the purpose of philosophy(ies).
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    There's certainly been a lot of progress in formal logic. A topic which I find unbelievably dreary apart from being frustrating even to read because of the use of symbols and the near total lack of anything I might be interested in.
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    Formal logic is a useful and powerful tool, and continues to develop. Outside of that though...
    If all the philosophers in the history of the world were laid end to end... They still would not reach a conclusion.
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    There's certainly been a lot of progress in formal logic. A topic which I find unbelievably dreary apart from being frustrating even to read because of the use of symbols and the near total lack of anything I might be interested in.
    Oh I love formal logic, it's like learning a secret code.
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    Oh I love formal logic, it's like learning a secret code.


    Really? Have you ever looked at a philosophy journal? errrkk!

    I should say that I only ever looked at a couple of issues and decided this was not for me. For me, philosophy is one area where books by the more well-known practitioners are a lot better value than the professional literature.
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  10. #9  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daecon View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    There's certainly been a lot of progress in formal logic. A topic which I find unbelievably dreary apart from being frustrating even to read because of the use of symbols and the near total lack of anything I might be interested in.
    Oh I love formal logic, it's like learning a secret code.

    Is formal logic a necessity when one formulates a philosophical set of ideas?
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    It is my belief that Philosophy hangs on the coat tails of science, and while there is a fundamental core that does not progress, but each person much reach on their own... there is also the boundaries which watch science and then tag along behind. So, in that sense, yes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velexia View Post
    It is my belief that Philosophy hangs on the coat tails of science, and while there is a fundamental core that does not progress, but each person much reach on their own... there is also the boundaries which watch science and then tag along behind. So, in that sense, yes.

    Could you rephrase that? I am afraid I did not fully understand what you stated.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    If I had two candies and then I ate two of them (yum) so now I'm left with zero candies.

    Zero wasn't always a whole number until like 628? If philosophy is a progression of logic I don't see why it shouldn't evolve like other things. Well, not unless the Andromeda galaxy on a collision course with the Milky Way is actually made up entirely of antimatter.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Velexia View Post
    It is my belief that Philosophy hangs on the coat tails of science, and while there is a fundamental core that does not progress, but each person much reach on their own... there is also the boundaries which watch science and then tag along behind. So, in that sense, yes.

    Could you rephrase that? I am afraid I did not fully understand what you stated.
    I suppose what I am saying is I believe philosophy can only progress when the way is paved for it by science first. Given new things to ponder, philosophers can ponder away for a good while and possibly find things that may have been missed in the original trailblazing. This is all of course, conjecture.

    As for the first part, basically... anyone delving into philosophy must necessarily realize for themselves what previous philosophers realized. You can read something, but to truly understand it, you have to logically construct it for yourself.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Velexia View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    Could you rephrase that? I am afraid I did not fully understand what you stated.
    I suppose what I am saying is I believe philosophy can only progress when the way is paved for it by science first. Given new things to ponder, philosophers can ponder away for a good while and possibly find things that may have been missed in the original trailblazing. This is all of course, conjecture.

    As for the first part, basically... anyone delving into philosophy must necessarily realize for themselves what previous philosophers realized. You can read something, but to truly understand it, you have to logically construct it for yourself.


    I'd say that philosophy is basically just logic, or more precisely chains of logical deductions. Your last sentence hits the nail on the head.

    What comes to science, it can not exist without philosophy. It is the philosophy of science that forms the basis for natural science. Then again logic is derived from the Universe by observation/testing (the scientific method). An individual person after birth at first has no logic but can only observe and experience. Then the brain starts to form associations of the logic of Nature and the individual begins to understand the logic of the Universe. So from an individual's perspective there is always first the scientific method, via which logic begins to be understood and after that they go hand in hand
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    Depends on the branch.

    Ethics - duh, for as long as humans ever will exist...
    Politics - yes, and it hasn't advanced for 100 years. until liberal democracy is discarded and we debate what kind of supercomputer should govern society lol..
    Metaphysics - again, hell no..
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    Well, let's first agree on what we mean by progress, we simply mean the moving towards a specific goal, so in the case of physics the study of natural phenomena and in the case of philosophy the study of questions. Like physics, the instruments which philosophy uses in its inquiry are now much more complex and could be said to have 'progressed' as they allow us to make considerations which before were not available to us, just as the discovery of the telescope could be considered progress in astronomy, the invention (or discovery) of formal logic could be considered progress in philosophy - the difficulty however lies in the object of inquiry. While the physicists can use their instruments within a refined method and verify it on the grounds of empiricism or mathematical laws, and reject any previous notions on this basis; philosophy with its emphasis on the abstract and the ambiguities of logic (less so with formal logic) and the uncertain validity of the questions of which it inquires into (e.g the logical positvists argued that metaphysical and ethical questions were nonsensical and not valid) relies on unverifiable principles; this also results in 'progress' in philosophy being difficult to measure. Thus, while instruments in philosophy can be said to make progress, philosophy itself can not make progress as positions in philosophy can never be said to move towards anything.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    Thus, while instruments in philosophy can be said to make progress, philosophy itself can not make progress as positions in philosophy can never be said to move towards anything.

    Thank you for the answer.
    So, you agree with the notion that philosophy does not have goals?
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trivium View Post
    Well, let's first agree on what we mean by progress, we simply mean the moving towards a specific goal
    That's a rather limited definition.


    Don't you think philosophy achieves the second one?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    So, you agree with the notion that philosophy does not have goals?
    Could it be considered a general goal that any errors (logical contradictions etc.) in previous philosophical statements are found and via that new philosophies are generated?
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    Quote Originally Posted by van erst View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    So, you agree with the notion that philosophy does not have goals?
    Could it be considered a general goal that any errors (logical contradictions etc.) in previous philosophical statements are found and via that new philosophies are generated?

    After I have read the definitions provided by member Dywyddyr, I am inclined to say that that is indeed a goal.
    "The only safe rule is to dispute only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong."

    ~ Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument (1831), Stratagem XXXVIII.
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  22. #21  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cogito Ergo Sum View Post
    ... the notion that philosophy does not have goals?
    I think this requires some clarification. There is a some subtle line that blurs between philosophy(ies) and ideology(ies) in the minds of the general populace; that a distinction may be necessary to clear some of the confusion.

    As a general rule of thumb, philosophical endeavors strive to dissect context, questions, and problems in a highly structured manner for a particular subject. Ideally, it is an exercise of brutal analytical critique to both reveal all values + bias, and to ensure it adheres to a strict logical form and structure. If it does neither, it falls into the category of ideology. Just a little tidbit from the school of Freethought.
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