Friday, 8 May 2015

is philosophy useless?

A lot of people ask me what the point of philosophy is, and whether it’s useless. So, let’s start with a short list of historical philosophers and natural philosophers (what people who generally pursued philosophy of nature used to be called; we now call them scientists). You might have heard of some of them, alongside their contributions to modern life: ...

Philosophers contributions numbers





Now, in terms of “what questions remain” for philosophers, consider these:

aesthetics: is a woman in a bikini OK? or beautiful? or misogynistically oppressed? how about a burqa? Why is rap music beautiful to some but hateful to others? Is it true that rock music is in fact good? If not, should we play it publicly, or does it create a political statement of what subcultures are acceptable, and hence what social groups are acceptable? What about classical? Is it eurocentric and colonialist? Is still-life beautiful or just eurocentric?
ethics : is abortion OK? when? is disclosing HIV status of a patient OK? When? does the right to property trump bodily integrity rights or vice versa? Is the criminal penal system justified? Antinatalism claims that all pregnancies should be aborted for ethical reasons (preventing future suffering). Is that true?
politics: what is racism? Where does it come from? What is good and what is bad about democracy? Is it the ideal system? What about oligarchy, plutocracy, noocracy, anarchism, monarchism, communism, etc.? People defend these positions with non-trivial arguments.
epistemology: when scientists claim that PV=nRT or F=ma, are they saying that it is true for all persons that PV=nRT and F=ma, or does it depend on culture? Some, for example, claim that race is not a biological feature, but merely socially constructed. What if it were just social? What if it were not? How do we know? Do we have to claim to know, as scientists, that some things are not culturally relative? How does that impact cultural colonialism? Does the western medical model only apply to westerners, and does traditional African medical knowledge have legitimacy?
metaphysics: Does the god particle exist? In what sense? Is it just a theoretical construct? Why do we observe quantum effects if they’re just theoretical constructs (Copenhagen interpretation)? What is time? Does it exist? In what sense?
philosophy of mind: Is the mind just the activities of the brain? If so, can we make a true AI, and are such AI robots ‘human' and deserving of human rights, e.g. to intimacy? If not, does this mean that the religious claim for souls has some merit? And hence theism? Do we have free-will? If not, why do law courts exist? If so, how do we escape determinism?
philosophy of religion: Does god exist? If not, why not? If so, how so? Should we take religious edicts seriously even if God exists? Does morality ultimately come from religion, etc? If God exists, how do we prove that one religion is true and another false? And hence its edicts, e.g. Jihad, meditation, prayer, etc?
you see, not that impractical. I think you may be aware that Marx and Nietzsche each contributed to the disaster of the 20th century; the pen is mightier indeed.
Anyway, I disagree with Lawrence Krauss that all of philosophy is useless:

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