GETTING TO KNOW THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PHILOSOPHY

Posted by The School of Life Taipei 

22nd Mar 2017

如果你剛開始接觸哲學、或對哲學有興趣但並不熟悉,那麼當你聽到哲學裡的各個學派 — 德國觀念論、邏輯實證主義、社會契約論者 — 很可能覺得頭暈目眩、似懂非懂。 The School of Life Taipei的種子導師、哲學知識豐富的億嘉,用生動而簡單的比喻,幫助我們理解這些學派的特色和之間的差異,希望讓初接觸哲學的大家,更容易找到自己喜歡的哲學家和哲學類型。 

對哲學有興趣的人,也許會關心像這樣的問題:「如何過更美善的生活?」 「如何對待他人?」 或是更抽象一點的問題:「如何知道一件事情是真實的?」「人是否有自由意志?」 

這些大哉問,哲學的各個學派以不同的途徑分析、論證、得出不同的結論,又或者有些學派對這些問題不以為然。 

億嘉將以三篇文章介紹不同的哲學學派,這篇首先討論的是分析哲學 — 它是「科學的兄弟」,用「手術刀」般精準的方式討論哲學問題。 

文章最後,會充滿英式幽默地告訴你,什麼特質的人會喜歡分析哲學! 

WHAT ARE ALL THESE SCHOOLS ABOUT?

If you just started reading philosophy, it is not unusual to become a bit confused by the different schools of thoughts. Who are the German Idealist, Logical Positivist, Contractarian Theorists? I would like to spend the next three articles presenting you with my own analogy to understand the different types of philosophy. Let us put aside (most of) the philosophical jargon. You will not need to know the Post-Kantian background of this school of thought, its contributions to epistemology, or the meta-ethical implications of its ideas. My categories compares types of philosophy to tools, ranging from small and sharp to big and blunt. Who knows - it may help you to find your favourite.

People interested in philosophy may be looking for guidance on ways of living, with questions such as: ‘how do we live a good life?’ and ‘how should one treat other people?’. Or they may come with abstract questions such as: ‘how does one know anything is real?’ and ‘do humans have free will?’.

These are big questions; and as you might expect, they garner a lot of different answers and approaches. You shall find over the course of the three articles, some approaches to philosophy focuses on one of these questions, while others will cut across a number of different questions. 

The first article shall explore one type of philosophy that is categorized by its precise approach. 

THE LESS FAMOUS BROTHER OF MODERN SCIENCE 

The school of Analytic philosophy began somewhere around the mid-19th – early 20th century, about the same time as the emergence of the scientific method. By which time, philosophers, working alongside scientists, had made a few significant developments in the expressions of logical statements. This was called formal logic, it used symbols and expressions borrowed from mathematics and physics. Through clear expressions, analytic philosophers are able to break-down an argument to finds its logical weakness; it also ensure that their arguments are logically watertight. Despite sharing a close bond with modern science, it never gained the prominence its brother did in society. Students are taught physics and mathematics in high-schools, not formal logic and argumentation. 

Overshadowed by its more famous brother, most people are not familiar with the numerous contributions made by analytic philosophy. In answering questions such as what goes on the human mind or what our languages means, the clarity of analytic philosophy becomes important. For example, the philosopher distinguishes the difference between the uses of the word ‘is’. ‘Is’ can be used to associate (i.e. he is a teacher); ‘is’ can also be used connote an action (i.e. the child is sleeping). Analytic philosophers might also ask whether there is a difference between ‘the appearance of objects’ and ‘the object itself’, these questions include: ‘when I see the colour blue, is the blue I see different to other people’s blue?’. These questions were further pressed by scientists and led to studies in cognition and visual recognition in psychology and cognitive science.

SURGICAL KNIFE

Analytic philosophers are very concise with language they use. Unlike philosophers of the past, they do not use analogies or stories to explain an idea. The language you will see on their works resembles mathematical formulas. 

This approach to philosophy is most similar to a surgical knife. Philosophers of this school focuses on a narrow question and emphasizes a strict method. Doing this type of philosophy also requires a degree of skill and some training to become good at clearly expressing logic and creating a watertight argument. 

Most of these philosophers are not particularly interested in the debates of broad questions without a definitive answer. They prefer to be perceived as professionals with a practical purpose. Sometimes referring to themselves as the ‘under labourers of society’, their work is to clear up logical misunderstanding in science and clarifying ambiguous words in language. Big questions such as ‘the meaning of life’ or ‘the purpose of existence’ are largely ignored, many of these philosophers remain doubtful on whether these big questions, without an definitive answer, are worth answering at all. 

Works of analytic philosophers had also aided scientists. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s works on cognition and language were important in setting up the frameworks for early cognitive psychologist and linguists. Despite being viewed as one of the most important thinkers in the 20th century, psychology and linguistics has gone on to garner much more public attention than Wittgenstein’s work. 

CONCLUSION

Overall, this is a type of philosophy that is great at telling us what language means, giving us answers on the nature of human consciousness; but it might leave you unsatisfied if you are looking for answers for the meaning of life. If you are a layman, you might also find it tough to de-cypher its logical symbols (¬A) ⊕ A is always true, A ⊕ A is always false.), without using Wikipedia. 

Representatives of the surgical type includes: 

-  Gottlob Frege

-  G. E. Moore

-  Willard Quine

-  Bertrand Russell

-  Ludwig Wittgenstein

You will enjoy this type of philosophy if: 

-  You want everything to make sense and fit together

-  You enjoy reading symbols more than words

-  You love clear logic

-  You hate ambiguity

-  You are a scientist

 

In the next article, we will look at Political Philosophy. Thinkers in this category look to questions that cuts across a wider spectrum of issues. As you shall find out, their philosophy requires a broader blade.

  文 / 黃億嘉 

 

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