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The methods of Western Philosophy

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Woher_kommen_wir_Wer_sind_wir_Wohin_gehen_wir(Paul Gauguin, Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? (1897-1898).)

It is possible, in a first approach, ex negativo delineate a number of methods and heuristic principles that characterize at least in part philosophy.

Negative delimitations of the method

On the one hand philosophy does not resort to the experimental method. Philosophy, indeed, unlike physics, chemistry or biology, never really integrated the process of experimentation in its heuristic tools. This is evident in ancient and medieval philosophy who did not know the experiment. Even the great philosophers who have distinguished themselves as scientists (Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, to name a few) have always distinguished work in science and in the philosophical field. Some philosophers like Kant and Wittgenstein have even seen in the absence of experimental philosophy an essential feature of this epistemological discipline and refused any confusion with the experimental sciences.

On the other hand, the philosophy is not, in essence, a science based on empirical observation unlike sociology or political science, for example. This naturally does not believe that philosophy can ignore the most obvious empirical data. But traditionally philosophy is not limited to a mere catalog of facts and undertaking a real job for this theorizing or speculation. For example, although Aristotle collected the constitutions of the Greek cities of the time, he wanted in Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics to analyze the structures of the city from a theoretical point of view.

Finally, philosophy, unlike mathematics or formal logic, never decided to work only through formal symbols, although Leibniz could dream of solving philosophical problems by means of a universal logical calculus. And if contemporary analytic philosophy is unthinkable without mathematical logic, it still uses massively natural language.

Characteristics of the method of the philosophy

Despite the difficulties involved in this domain, it is possible to distinguish some major positive features of the philosophical method. The philosophy is understood as a critical work. This is one of its most common definitions. This review is however never outright negative. It aims to create new certainties and correct false evidence, illusions and errors of common sense or philosophy itself. Socrates, for example, questioned his contemporaries and the Sophists to show them their contradictions and their inability to justify what seemed obvious. Descartes is in the modern era the best representative of this concept of philosophy, because, he said, only a radical and general doubt could be the basis for a rigorous and unmistakable thought.

The philosophy is often characterized as work on concepts and notions, a working creative concepts for understanding reality, to distinguish the objects from each other and to analyze them, but also one analytical work of the concepts and its ambiguities. She has early recognized the problems of the ambiguities of language. Nowadays analytic philosophy gives, also, much room for this.

Moreover, unlike science, delineation methods and fields of philosophy is part of the philosophy itself. Every thinker must specify what problems he wishes enlighten, and what is the best method to solve these problems. It is indeed necessary to see that there is a profound unity of philosophical problems and philosophical method. So we do not have to see the instability of the methods and philosophical themes as a weakness of the discipline, but rather as a feature of its nature. Thus, philosophy is a kind of critical knowledge back on itself, or more precisely a rational critique of all knowledge (opinions, beliefs, art, scientific thinking, etc.), including philosophical – as reflecting on the role of philosophy is starting a philosophical reflection.

Finally, philosophy is a deductive and rational discipline. It is not simple intuition or subjective impression but remains inseparable from the desire to show by arguments and deductions what it beforehand: it is will of rationality. It is even the rupture of presocratic with religious thought (mythology) of their time, and their relationship to the Greek gods is traditionally considered the point marking the birth of philosophy. This desire to demonstrate and deliver an argument is found in the history of philosophy. Think of the discussions eristic in antiquity, in the interest of philosophers from Aristotle to logic, but also in the Middle Ages, in order to give the philosophy the demonstrative rigor of mathematics (as in Descartes or Spinoza), or the importance that analytical philosophy gives today to rigor and argumentative clarity. Despite this profound trend, contemporary philosophy saw developing a radical critique of reason, whether Nietzsche, Heidegger or Adorno: the same rationality is found by setting debate by philosophy.

The method is a set of requirements for the optimal course of an activity. The latter can be either a rather complex collective practice, as the management of the political community (“democratic method”), or the resolution of a specific theoretical problem (for ex., “Cantor diagonal method”, “semantic table method”). The concept of method is historically linked to the problem of the acquisition of certainty in the cognitive field. For Socrates, the activity aiming knowledge is, like any other art, obliged to comply with certain rules. In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates seems fully aware of the relationship between the validity of knowledge and the modality of acquisition: it is also the essence of any position that recognizes the predominant importance method. The Socratic method of Socrates and the dialectical method in the various presentations starting from the Platonic dialogues are procedures to avoid the error in the analysis of concepts, especially the form of error that resides in the tacit or unconscious acceptance of prejudices and presuppositions.

Translated from Wikipedia

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