Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Circular reference

David Brightly has a post I just noticed here, replying to a post by Maverick that I also discussed here. DB says “Is Man subordinate to Species? No If it were then some branch of the Porphyrean tree would be labelled 'Species', which isn’t the case.” Very true, and Ockham himself (the medieval one) would have relished it.

Maverick is productive today and has a further post about a throwaway remark in my post earlier today. (An obiter dictum is posh for ‘throwaway remark’, by the way). I am dismayed he calls me “cantankerous and contrary” and even suggests I am known for this. Only my wife knows that, or thinks she does.

But there is an little gem in his post: while nothing of any real substance has been ‘proved’ in philosophy, it is certainly true – as anyone who has taught philosophy to undergraduate students, or argued on the internet knows – that people unschooled in the basics of philosophy make all sorts of idiotic and silly claims which are refuted like lightning by their tutors. Bill mentions the ‘sophomoric relativist’. This reminds me of Adam Morton, who once told me of a student who said to him ‘that’s just your opinion’. Adam fixed her with his X-ray vision and replied ‘Well of course it is’.

This is what makes philosophy interesting. It has established absolutely nothing, no fact you could cite in Wikipedia. Yet it has refuted thousands, or tens of thousands of nonsensical claims. It’s as though it were sort of tailor-made for them.

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