The Importance of Philosophy

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 21, 2009 in Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.) Last time, I discussed Carrier’s personal story. Today, I discuss section II.1 Philosophy: What It Is and Why You Should Care.

Carrier says philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom and truth. Our first task, as philosophers, is to examine our ways of knowing. If we are going to answer the Big Questions of life, what counts as an answer? How do we arrive at good answers? How do we recognize bad answers?

After 2,500 years of trial and error, we’ve found that some methods get at the truth better than others. As the game of trial and error continues, our methods continue to be refined. This happens in science, too. For example, we found that when we use placebo controls in scientific tests, we get more accurate and useful results. There is no “law of the universe” that requires us to use placebo controls; we’ve merely discovered that this helps us get at answers that really work.

Likewise, the methods of good philosophy are simply techniques we’ve found to guide us toward good and reliable answers, and we continue to revise our methods as flaws or superior methods are discovered and tested.

Without a clear and well-tested method for getting at the truth, you will fumble around blindly, with no ability to distinguish bad answers from good ones, however good or bad you feel them to be. Without a good method for truth-finding, you will be easily misled and confused, unable to find good answers to the most important questions of life: What should I do? What is my purpose? What exists? How do I know things? Does God exist?

Carrier writes:

Philosophy is therefore no idle pastime, but a serious business, fundamental to our lives. It should be our first if not only religion: a religion wherein worship is replaced with curiosity, devotion with diligence, holiness with sincerity, ritual with study, and scripture with the whole world and the whole of human learning. The philosopher regards it as tantamount to a religious duty to question all things, and to ground her faith in what is well-investigated and well-proved, rather than what is merely well-asserted or well-liked… above all, she commits herself to the constant study and application of language, logic, and method, and seeks always to perfect, by testing and correcting, her total view of all things.

I couldn’t agree more.

Next time, I’ll discuss section II.2 Understanding the Meaning in What We Think and Say.

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Ben March 24, 2009 at 1:17 am

Hey, if you are going to continue this review, might I suggest reposting it on the Atheist Nexus, Richard Carrier fan group discussion board? Can't promise you'll get any more comments, but you might try it!



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