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The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
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ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Thursday, September 17, 2015

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS


I was wondering this morning as I walked, Does anyone ever prove anything in Philosophy?  Oh. I know we prove things all the time in Logic -- All men are mortal, Socrates is a man, Therefore Socrates is mortal.  But what about Philosophy per se [as we like to say in the trade]?

Then it occurred to me that every so often a philosopher will disprove something.  My favorite examples, not surprisingly, are Hume and Kant who, between them, brought Rational Theology to a screeching halt by decisively refuting every one of the going proofs for the existence of God.

Indeed, I flatter myself that in my small way, I refuted the standard arguments for the moral legitimacy of the majoritarian democratic state.  Not quite God, to be sure, but not chopped chicken liver either.

I invite my readers to offer other examples of things philosophers have proved or disproved.

5 comments:

Derek said...

One example of the top of my head: Russel's paradox shooting down Frege's attempt to reduce mathematics to logic. Though you may want to throw that one under logic as distinguished from the rest of philosophy.

That aside, there are probably many similar cases. As one, Berkeley did a pretty good job of poking serious holes in the primary/secondary quality distinction, at least as it was understood then. The thing is, I can (unsurprisingly) think of philosophers who would dispute the examples you give, and probably most others. In cases like this, philosophers who want to defend their positions will always try to tweak just enough, and it gets hard to say if it's a new view, or just the old one in zombified form.

Chris said...

I also thought that Plato was the master as disproving things. Every class I took on Plato, and every time I taught Plato, people always complained "why can't he just tell us what justice/beauty/goodness is! he never gives us a proof." And that's not false, but he does a great job of showing us why we need not explore dozens of other dead ends!

chrismealy said...

This is why I've never sustained interest in philosophy, because so much of it is disproving things I never was inclined to believe in the first place. I'm game for a good argument but not if I have to understand a bunch of obscure Christian philosophy first. However, I am grateful philosophers are out there hauling away the trash.

Jim said...

For what it is worth, I have never really approached philosophy as a means with which to prove or disprove something. Rather, I view and use philosophy as a way (attitude?) to think about things in a more careful and thoroughgoing manner. In this sense, philosophy can indeed help us to both interpret and change the world.

David Auerbach said...

In addition to the examples mentioned I've always been a big fan of Euthyphro arguments, both the original (are actions good because God commanded them or did God command them because they're good) and later derivatives. (Why is Wheaties the breakfast of champions? Because champions eat it or because eating it makes champions? Do many people admire the Mona Lisa because it's great art or is it great art because many people admire it? etc.)