Philosophy Needs More Than Rebranding — It Needs A Reformation. (NYT Followup)


I suggested in my earlier essay that philosophy so conceived is best classified as a science, because of its rigor, technicality, universality, falsifiability, connection with other sciences, and concern with the nature of objective being (among other reasons). I did not claim, however, that it is an empirical science, like physics and chemistry; rather, it is an a priori science, like the “formal science” of mathematics.

As I understand it (and I am a practitioner, albiet a pragmatist, and I operate within the narrow field of political economy):

1) Philosophy is the process of creating, organizing, disassembling, and reorganizing categories according to their properties in order to expose causal relations which may be used by human beings for the purpose of improving their actions in the physical world — a world in which they possess fragmentary knowledge, experience pervasive material scarcity, limited time, are challenged by instincts and abilities unsuited to a complex society in an ever changing division of knowledge and labor, where those instincts must be sated and intentionally retrained by new ideas on a periodic basis in response to unanticipated change.

2) Philosophy as such is the study of norms: a) existing norms and theories of alternative norms (ethics) b) improvement of our process of reasoning itself by testing against the real world evidence of our norms (which must exist as a norm to function), c) improvement in public rhetoric, so that we may cooperate in large numbers toward shared ends whether by direct political or indirect market action. (which again must exist as an norm). So philosophy is the study of adapting and perpetuating norms, and the tools of constructing and deconstructing norms. Where norms are a tool of human cooperation.

3) Philosophy suffers from association with, and embracement of, mysticism, platonism and religion — in no small part because these allegorical systems are a means of establishing norms.. It suffers from a failure to incorporate empirical data as a means of testing expressions. It suffers from its distraction by the metaphysical program as practitioners attempted to legitimize their discipline as a hard science. It suffers from the desperate attempt of the entrenched institutional careerism by academics who are invested in these irrelevancies. And because of that, philosophy has lost its respect in society — a society that is suffering from the loss of its means of judging and propagating norms. A society that is suffering because of the failure of philosophy to fulfill its role at developing and justifying norms — in a vain attempt at becoming a science. A science is a process of discovery. Philosophy, as a vehicle for norms, is the process of invention. In effect, philosophy has sought to become a science by the process of introspection – which must naturally become recursive and meaningless — rather than the process of experimentation and analysis of the real world and our actions in it.

4) As a study of norms, economics is the means by which we can measure norms. (Albiet limited by our paucity of information collection, but evolving in response to our skill at information collection). Therefore philosophical concepts can be empirically tested. Behavioral psychology is the study of the human instinct and propensity for error. Politics is the means by which we define institutional mechanisms of cooperation.

5) Philosophers work too hard at either justifying existing norms, trying to find utopian norms, or trying to justify existing human instinctual preferences. Political scientists, Economists and behavioral psychologists, are in the process of replacing philosophy as a discipline. if they were to do nothing other than adopt the clarity of analytical philosophy’s language, or if philosophy would do nothing but export this skill to these disciplines, then they would succeed.

6) Philosophy has only one future, and that is to return itself to the study of norms, and a necessary feature of political action and to repudiate the metaphysical program as a series of catastrophic errors born out of the envy of the physical sciences, and the need of careerists and devotees to find relevance.

Branding is not the problem. Content is. And any decent marketer will tell you that the best brand is quality that is self evident to the observer. The discipline of philosophy is anything but materially relevant today. It is a profession lost. Gilding a lilly is unnecessary and gilding a dustbin doesn’t help.

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