PHIL 336

8/15/22, 7:58 AM Reading 1.3: How to Do Philosophy Well – PHIL 336 6380 Ideas Shaping the 21st Century (2228) 1/3

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How to Do Philosophy Well

As a kind of inquiry, philosophy is aimed at establishing knowledge and understanding. Even where
certain knowledge about a particular issue can’t be had, there are often interesting things to learn
about why we can’t have certainty and what sorts of less-than-certain reasons there are for or against
holding a position on that issue. So, rational inquiry may be interesting and fruitful even when we are
denied straight-forward answers to our initial questions. Once we raise a philosophical issue, whether
about the nature of justice or about the nature of reality, we want to ask what can be said for or
against the various possible answers to our question. Here we are engaged in formulating arguments.
Some arguments give us better reasons or accepting their conclusions than others. Once we have
formulated an argument, we want to evaluate the reasoning it offers. If you want to know what
philosophers do, this is a pretty good answer: philosophers formulate and evaluate arguments.

Your introduction to philosophy should be as much a training in how to do philosophy as it is a chance
to get to acquainted with the views of various philosophers. To that end, we will be devoting our
second week’s module on Logic and Argumentation.

Once a philosophical position is considered, we want to ask what arguments can be advanced in
support of or against that issue. We then want to examine the quality of the arguments. Evaluating
flawed arguments often points the way towards other arguments and the process of formulating,
clarifying, and evaluating arguments continues. This method of question and answer in which we
recursively formulate, clarify, and evaluate arguments is known as dialectic. Dialectic looks a lot like
debate, but a big difference lies in the respective goals of the two activities. The goal of a debate is to
win by persuading an audience that your position is right and your opponent’s is wrong. Dialectic, on
the other hand, is aimed at inquiry. The goal is to learn something new about the issue under
discussion. Unlike debate, in dialectic your sharpest critic is your best friend. Critical evaluation of your
argument brings new evidence and reasoning to light. The person you disagree with on a
philosophical issue is often the person you stand to learn the most from (and this doesn’t necessarily
depend on which of you is closer to the truth of the matter).


As varieties of rational inquiry, it’s natural to think that science and philosophy are mainly concerned
with getting at the truth about things. There are some interesting and some confused challenges to the
idea that philosophy and science are truth oriented. But for now let’s assume that rational inquiry is
truth oriented and address a couple of questions about truth. Let’s focus on just these two:

What is it for a claim to be true?

How do we determine that a claim is true?

It’s important to keep these two questions separate. Questions about how we know whether
something is true are epistemic questions. But the question of what it is for something to be true is not
an epistemic issue. The truth of a claim is quite independent of how or whether we know it to be true.
If you are not sure about this, consider the claim that there is intelligent life on other planets and the
claim that there is no intelligent life on other planets. I assume we don’t know which of these two
claims is true, but surely one of them is. Whichever of these claims is true, its being true doesn’t
depend in any way on whether or how we know it to be true. There are many truths that will never be
known or believed by anyone and appreciating this is enough to see that the truth of a claim is not
relative to belief, knowledge, proof, or any other epistemic notion.

But then what is it for a claim to be true? The ordinary everyday notion of truth would have it that a
claim is true if the world is the way the claim says it is. And this is pretty much all we are after. When

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we make a claim, we represent some part of the world as being a certain way. If how my claim
represents the world fits with the way the world is, then my claim is true. Truth, then, is
correspondence, or good fit, between what we assert and the way things are.

Is Truth Relative to Meaning?

There is a further potential source of confusion about truth that might be worth addressing at this
point. Words and sentences can be used in lots of different ways. Even if we are not being inventive
with language, there is lots of vagueness and ambiguity built into natural language. A tempting pitfall
in thinking about truth is to think that truth is somehow relative to meaning or open to interpretation.

We’d all agree that it’s true that dogs are canines. But suppose we used the word “dog” to refer to
house cats instead. A word is just a sound or a string of letters. We can, in principle, attach any
meaning we like to the word “dog”. If we used the word “dog” to refer to house cats, then the sentence
“Dogs are canines” would be false. Doesn’t this make truth relative to meaning or interpretation? Well,
in a way yes, but not really.

The truth of sentences, bits of language, is relative to meaning. But the relativity at issue here is
entirely linguistic. It’s simply the result of the meaning of words and sentences being relative to
linguistic convention. But our everyday notion of truth is not about linguistic convention any more than
it is about knowledge or belief. Our notion of truth is fundamentally about the correspondence between
what is meant by a sentence and the way the world is. Philosophers often refer to what is meant or
expressed by a sentence as a proposition. While a sentence is a piece of language that has a
meaning, the proposition it expresses is not itself a piece of language. Consider “Schnei ist wies” and
“Snow is white”. The first sentence is German for snow is white. These are distinct sentences and this
is clear because they belong to different languages. But they say the same thing. They both express
the proposition that snow is white (we are stuck with using English to refer to the proposition. But that
doesn’t mean the proposition is linguistic. We use English to refer to lots of things that aren’t
themselves part of language; dogs and cats for instance).

So the proposition expressed by a sentence is not itself a linguistic thing. Being a non-linguistic thing,
the proposition does not have a meaning. Rather the proposition is what is meant. For a bit of
language to be open to interpretation is for us to be able to attach different meanings to it. But the
meanings themselves are not open to further interpretation. And it is the proposition, what is meant by
the sentence, that is the fundamental bearer of truth or falsity. A proposition is true when it represents
things the way they are. So when I speak of arguments consisting of claims you might bear in mind
that its propositions, not sentences I’m talking about. If we misinterpret the sentence, then we haven’t
yet gotten on to the claim being made and hence probably don’t fully understand the argument.
Getting clear on just what an argument says is critical to the dialectical process.

Even if you are exceptionally bright, you probably found the last couple paragraphs rather challenging.
That’s OK. You might work through them again more carefully and come back to it in a day or two if it’s
still a struggle. The path to becoming a better critical thinker is more like mountain climbing than a
walk in the park, but with this crucial difference: no bones get broken when you fall off an intellectual
cliff. So, you are always free to try to scale it again. We can sum up the key points of the last few
paragraphs as follows:

We use sentences, bits of language, to express propositions.

The proposition, what is meant by the sentence, represents the world as being some way.

The proposition is true when it represents the world in a way that corresponds to how the world

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Therefore, Truth, understood as correspondence between a claim (a proposition) and the way
the world is, is not relative to meaning, knowledge, belief, or opinion.

Hopefully we now have a better grip on what it is for a claim to be true. A claim is true just when it
represents things as they are. As is frequently the case in philosophy, the real work here was just
getting clear on the issue. Once we clearly appreciate the question at hand, the answer seems pretty
obvious. So now we can set aside the issue of what truth is and turn to the rather different issue of
how to determine what’s true.

The common sense everyday way to assess a claim for truth or falsity is to consider the reasons for
holding it or rejecting it. Sometimes good reasons take the form of simple observations. I have a good
reason for thinking my bicycle has a flat tire when I see the tire sagging on the rim or hear air hissing
out of the tube. But often the business of identifying and evaluating reasons is a bit more involved.
Since philosophy proceeds by formulating and evaluating the reasons for and against holding various
positions, we will want to take a close look at just how this goes. Logic and Argumentation is the
subject of our second week/module.


Source: Payne, Russ W. “How Philosophy Is Done.” Introduction to Philosophy (2015), Chapter 2. (CC
BY NC 4.0).

8/15/22, 7:58 AM Reading 1.2: The Value of Philosophy – PHIL 336 6380 Ideas Shaping the 21st Century (2228) 1/4

The Value of Philosophy

The Value of Philosophy (N.B. This chapter appears at the end of Russell’s influential
book Problems of Philosophy (1912))

Having now come to the end of our brief and very incomplete review of the problems of philosophy, it
will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It
is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence
of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than
innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which
knowledge is impossible.

This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong conception of the ends of life, partly
from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science,
through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of
it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or primarily, because of the
effect on the student, but rather because of the effect on mankind in general. Thus utility does not
belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of
philosophy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it. It is in
these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought.

But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the value of philosophy, we must first
free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called ‘practical’ men. The ‘practical’ man, as
this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have
food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well
off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still
remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the
mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind
that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can
be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time.

Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of
knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from
a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be
maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide
definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other
man of learning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will
last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he
is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been
achieved by other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as
definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called
philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to
astronomy, was once included in philosophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘the mathematical
principles of natural philosophy’. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of
philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology.
Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions
which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at
present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the residue which is called philosophy.

This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many
questions—and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life—which, so
far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a
different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a

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fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of
indefinite growth in wisdom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ultimately
become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions
are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that,
whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of
them demonstrably true. Yet, however slight may be the hope of discovering an answer, it is part of
the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of their
importance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that speculative interest in the
universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge.

Many philosophers, it is true, have held that philosophy could establish the truth of certain answers to
such fundamental questions. They have supposed that what is of most importance in religious beliefs
could be proved by strict demonstration to be true. In order to judge of such attempts, it is necessary
to take a survey of human knowledge, and to form an opinion as to its methods and its limitations. On
such a subject it would be unwise to pronounce dogmatically; but if the investigations of our previous
chapters have not led us astray, we shall be compelled to renounce the hope of finding philosophical
proofs of religious beliefs. We cannot, therefore, include as part of the value of philosophy any definite
set of answers to such questions. Hence, once more, the value of philosophy must not depend upon
any supposed body of definitely ascertainable knowledge to be acquired by those who study it.

The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. The man who has no
tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense,
from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his
mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to
become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are
contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in
our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very
incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true
answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts
and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what
things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat
arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps
alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.

Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy has a value—perhaps its chief
value—through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and
personal aims resulting from this contemplation. The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the
circle of his private interests: family and friends may be included, but the outer world is not regarded
except as it may help or hinder what comes within the circle of instinctive wishes. In such a life there is
something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free. The
private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which
must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to
include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleaguered fortress, knowing that the
enemy prevents escape and that ultimate surrender is inevitable. In such a life there is no peace, but a
constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will. In one way or another,
if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife.

One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation. Philosophic contemplation does not, in its widest
survey, divide the universe into two hostile camps—friends and foes, helpful and hostile, good and
bad—it views the whole impartially. Philosophic contemplation, when it is unalloyed, does not aim at
proving that the rest of the universe is akin to man. All acquisition of knowledge is an enlargement of
the Self, but this enlargement is best attained when it is not directly sought. It is obtained when the
desire for knowledge is alone operative, by a study which does not wish in advance that its objects
should have this or that character, but adapts the Self to the characters which it finds in its objects.

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This enlargement of Self is not obtained when, taking the Self as it is, we try to show that the world is
so similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admission of what seems alien. The
desire to prove this is a form of self-assertion and, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth
of Self which it desires, and of which the Self knows that it is capable. Self-assertion, in philosophic
speculation as elsewhere, views the world as a means to its own ends; thus it makes the world of less
account than Self, and the Self sets bounds to the greatness of its goods. In contemplation, on the
contrary, we start from the not-Self, and through its greatness the boundaries of Self are enlarged;
through the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity.

For this reason greatness of soul is not fostered by those philosophies which assimilate the universe
to Man. Knowledge is a form of union of Self and not-Self; like all union, it is impaired by dominion,
and therefore by any attempt to force the universe into conformity with what we find in ourselves.
There is a widespread philosophical tendency towards the view which tells us that Man is the measure
of all things, that truth is man-made, that space and time and the world of universals are properties of
the mind, and that, if there be anything not created by the mind, it is unknowable and of no account for
us. This view, if our previous discussions were correct, is untrue; but in addition to being untrue, it has
the effect of robbing philosophic contemplation of all that gives it value, since it fetters contemplation
to Self. What it calls knowledge is not a union with the not-Self, but a set of prejudices, habits, and
desires, making an impenetrable veil between us and the world beyond. The man who finds pleasure
in such a theory of knowledge is like the man who never leaves the domestic circle for fear his word
might not be law.

The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfaction in every enlargement of the
not-Self, in everything that magnifies the objects contemplated, and thereby the subject
contemplating. Everything, in contemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends upon
habit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs the union which the intellect seeks.
By thus making a barrier between subject and object, such personal and private things become a
prison to the intellect. The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now, without
hopes and fears, without the trammels of customary beliefs and traditional prejudices, calmly,
dispassionately, in the sole and exclusive desire of knowledge—knowledge as impersonal, as purely
contemplative, as it is possible for man to attain. Hence also the free intellect will value more the
abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of private history do not enter, than the
knowledge brought by the senses, and dependent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive
and personal point of view and a body whose sense-organs distort as much as they reveal.

The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation
will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will
view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from
seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one man’s
deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same
quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to
all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable. Thus contemplation enlarges not only
the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens
of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe
consists man’s true freedom, and his liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears.

Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the
sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be
true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our
conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic
assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of
the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable
of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.


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Source: Russell, Bertrand. “The Value of Philosophy.” The Problems of Philosophy (1912), Chapter
15. (Text is in the Public Domain)

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Introduction to Philosophy

What is philosophy?

Many answers have been offered in reply to this question and most are angling at something similar.
My favorite answer is that philosophy is all of rational inquiry except for science. Perhaps you think
science exhausts inquiry. About a hundred years ago, many philosophers, especially the Logical
Positivists, thought there was nothing we could intelligibly inquire into except for scientific matters. But
this view is probably not right. What branch of science addresses the question of whether or
not science covers all of rational inquiry? If the question strikes you as puzzling, this might be because
you already recognize that whether or not science can answer every question is not itself a scientific
issue. Questions about the limits of human inquiry and knowledge are philosophical questions.

We can get a better understanding of philosophy by considering what sorts of things other than
scientific issues humans might inquire into. Philosophical issues are as diverse and far ranging as
those we find in the sciences, but a great many of them fall into one of three big topic areas,
metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.


Metaphysical issues are concerned with the nature of reality. Traditional metaphysical issues include
the existence of God and the nature of human free will (assuming we have any). Here are a few
metaphysical questions of interest to contemporary philosophers: What is a thing? How are space and
time related? Does the past exist? How about the future? How many dimensions does the world
have? Are there any entities beyond physical objects (like numbers, properties, and relations)? If so,
how are they related to physical objects? Historically, many philosophers have proposed and
defended specific metaphysical positions, often as part of systematic and comprehensive
metaphysical views. But attempts to establish systematic metaphysical world views have been
notoriously unsuccessful.

Since the 19th century many philosophers and scientists have been understandably suspicious of
metaphysics, and it has frequently been dismissed as a waste of time, or worse, as meaningless. But
in just the past few decades metaphysics has returned to vitality. As difficult as they are to resolve,
metaphysical issues are also difficult to ignore for long. Contemporary analytic metaphysics is typically
taken to have more modest aims than definitively settling on the final and complete truth about the
underlying nature of reality. A better way to understand metaphysics as it is currently practiced is as
aiming at better understanding how various claims about the reality logically hang together or conflict.
Metaphysicians analyze metaphysical puzzles and problems with the goal of better understanding
how things could or could not be. Metaphysicians are in the business of exploring the realm of
possibility and necessity. They are explorers of logical space.


Epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge and justified belief. What is knowledge? Can
we have any knowledge at all? Can we have knowledge about the laws of nature, the laws or morality,
or the existence of other minds? The view that we can’t have knowledge is called skepticism. An
extreme form of skepticism denies that we can have any knowledge whatsoever. But we might grant
that we can have knowledge about some things and remain skeptics concerning other issues. Many
people, for instance, are not skeptics about scientific knowledge, but are skeptics when it comes to
knowledge of morality. Later in this course we will entertain some skeptical worries about science and
we will consider whether ethics is really in a more precarious position. Some critical attention reveals

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that scientific knowledge and moral knowledge face many of the same skeptical challenges and share
some similar resources in addressing those challenges. Many of the popular reasons for being more
skeptical about morality than science turn on philosophical confusions we will address and attempt to
clear up.

Even if we lack absolute and certain knowledge of many things, our beliefs about those things might
yet be more or less reasonable or more or less likely to be true given the limited evidence we have.
Epistemology is also concerned with what it is for a belief to be rationally justified. Even if we can’t
have certain knowledge of anything (or much), questions about what we ought to believe remain


While epistemology is concerned with what we ought to believe and how we ought to reason, Ethics is
concerned with what we ought to do, how we ought to live, and how we ought to organize our
communities. Sadly, it comes as a surprise to many new philosophy students that you can reason
about such things. Religiously inspired views about morality often take right and wrong to be simply a
matter of what is commanded by a divine being. Moral Relativism, perhaps the most popular opinion
among people who have rejected faith, simply substitutes the commands of society for the commands
of God. Commands are simply to be obeyed, they are not to be inquired into, assessed for
reasonableness, or tested against the evidence. Thinking of morality in terms of whose commands are
authoritative leaves no room for rational inquiry into how we ought to live, how we ought to treat
others, or how we ought to structure our communities. Philosophy, on the other hand, takes seriously
the possibility of rational inquiry into these matters. If philosophy has not succeeded in coming up
with absolutely certain and definitive answer in ethics, this is in part because philosophers take the
answers to moral questions to be things we need to discover, not simply matters of somebody’s say
so. The long and difficult history of science should give us some humble recognition of how difficult
and frustrating careful inquiry and investigation can be. So we don’t know for certain what the laws of
morality are. We also don’t have a unified field theory in physics. Why expect morality to be any

So we might think of metaphysics as concerned with “What is it?” questions, epistemology as
concerned with “How do we know?” questions, and ethics as concerned with “What should we do
about it?” questions. Many interesting lines of inquiry cut across these three kinds of questions. The
philosophy of science, for instance, is concerned with metaphysical issues about what science is, but
also with epistemological questions about how we can know scientific truths.

The philosophy of love is similarly concerned with metaphysical questions about what love is.

But it also concerned with questions about the value of love that are more ethical in character.

Assorted tangled vines of inquiry branch off from the three major trunks of philosophy, intermingle
between them, and ultimately with scientific issues as well. The notion that some branches of human
inquiry can proceed entirely independent of others ultimately becomes difficult to sustain. The scientist
who neglects philosophy runs the same risk of ignorance as the philosopher who neglects science.

What is the value of philosophy?

Philosophy is a branch of human inquiry and as such it aims at knowledge and understanding. We
might expect that the value of philosophy lies in the value of the ends that it seeks, the knowledge and
understanding it reveals. But philosophy is rather notorious for failing to establish definitive knowledge
on the matters it investigates. I’m not so sure this reputation is well deserved. We do learn much from
doing philosophy. Philosophy often clearly reveals why some initially attractive answers to big
philosophical questions are deeply problematic, for instance. But granted, philosophy often frustrates
our craving for straightforward convictions. In our first reading, Bertrand Russell argues that there is

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great value in doing philosophy precisely because it frustrates our desire for quick easy answers. In
denying us easy answers to big questions and undermining complacent convictions, philosophy
liberates us from narrow minded conventional thinking and opens our minds to new possibilities.
Philosophy often provides an antidote to prejudice not by settling big questions, but by revealing just
how hard it is to settle those questions. It can lead us to question our comfortably complacent
conventional opinions.

We humans are very prone to suffer from a psychological predicament we might call “the security
blanket paradox.” We know the world is full of hazards, and like passengers after a shipwreck, we
tend to latch on to something for a sense of safety. We might cling to a possession, another person,
our cherished beliefs, or any combination of these. The American pragmatist philosopher Charles
Sanders Peirce speaks of doubt and uncertainty as uncomfortable anxiety-producing states. This
would help explain why we tend to cling, even desperately, to beliefs we find comforting. This clinging
strategy, however, leads us into a predicament that becomes clear once we notice that having a
security blanket just gives us one more thing to worry about. In addition to worrying about our own
safety, we now are anxious about our security blanket getting lost or damaged. The asset becomes a
liability. The clinging strategy for dealing with uncertainty and fear becomes counterproductive.

While not calling it by this name, Russell describes the intellectual consequences of the security
blanket paradox vividly:

“The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived
from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which
have grown up in his mind without the cooperation or consent of his deliberate reason. . . The life
of the instinctive man is shut up within the circle of his private interests. . . In such a life there is
something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free.
The private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful
world which must, sooner or later, lay our private world in ruins.”

The primary value of philosophy according to Russell is that it loosens the grip of uncritically held
opinion and opens the mind to a liberating range of new possibilities to explore.

“The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncertainty. . . Philosophy,
though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able
to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of
custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases
our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those
who have never traveled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder
by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.”

Here we are faced with a stark choice between the feeling of safety we might derive from clinging to
opinions we are accustomed to and the liberation that comes with loosening our grip on these in order
to explore new ideas. The paradox of the security blanket should make it clear what choice we should
consider rational. Russell, of course, compellingly affirms choosing the liberty of free and open

Must we remain forever uncertain about philosophical matters? Russell does hold that some
philosophical questions appear to be unanswerable (at least by us). But he doesn’t say this about
every philosophical issue. In fact, he gives credit to philosophical successes for the birth of various
branches of the sciences. Many of the philosophical questions we care most deeply about, however –
like whether our lives are significant, whether there is objective value that transcends our subjective
interests – sometimes seem to be unsolvable and so remain perennial philosophical concerns. But we
shouldn’t be too certain about this either. Russell is hardly the final authority on what in philosophy is
or isn’t resolvable. Keep in mind that Russell was writing 100 years ago and a lot has happened in

8/15/22, 7:58 AM Reading 1.1: Introduction to Philosophy – PHIL 336 6380 Ideas Shaping the 21st Century (2228) 4/4

philosophy in the mean time (not in small part thanks to Russell’s own definitive contributions).
Problems that looked unsolvable to the best experts a hundred years ago often look quite solvable by
current experts. The sciences are no different in this regard. The structure of DNA would not have
been considered knowable fairly recently. That there was such a structure to discover could not even
have been conceivable prior to Mendel and Darwin (and here we are only talking 150 years ago).

Further, it is often possible to make real progress in understanding issues even when they can’t be
definitively settled. We can often rule out many potential answers to philosophical questions even
when we can’t narrow things down to a single correct answer. And we can learn a great deal about the
implications of and challenges for the possible answers that remain.

Even where philosophy can’t settle an issue, it’s not quite correct to conclude that there is no right
answer. When we can’t settle an issue this usually just tells us something about our own limitations.
There may still be a specific right answer; we just can’t tell conclusively what it is. It’s easy to
appreciate this point with a non-philosophical issue. Perhaps we can’t know whether or not there is
intelligent life on other planets. But surely there is or there isn’t intelligent life on other planets.
Similarly, we may never establish that humans do or don’t have free will, but it still seems that there
must be some fact of the matter. It would be intellectually arrogant of us to think that a question has no
right answer just because we aren’t able to figure out what that answer is.


Source: Payne, Russ W. “What Philosophy Is.” Introduction to Philosophy (2015), Chapter 1. (CC BY
NC 4.0).


One (1) “Original Post” addressing one of the three question choices. Minimum of 250 words.Your Original Post must answer the question fully in all its parts and address possible objections to your reasoning. You must also connect your Original Post to the course by having at least one full sentence quote and citation from one of the Required Readings of the week. The quote should be word for word and contained inside quotation marks and then followed by an inline citation. Once you quote something or even reword something you did not originally write then you need to have it in a reference section at the end of the post (again in MLA format). Please refer to the following resources for help on MLA citation. 

Do not cite or use internet sources other than those provided under the Readings and Learning Materials. In other words, use only the learning materials and links provided in this course. 

· DISCUSSION QUESTION CHOICE #1:  The Value of Analytical Philosophy? Consider the value of Analytical Philosophy in the 21st century. If science can answer the most pertinent questions about reality then what’s the purpose of Analytical Philosophy? Explore this question using your understanding of the readings, and with examples from your own experiences and knowledge. Record your thinking process.

· DISCUSSION QUESTION CHOICE #2: Why Can’t Truth Be Relative? Explain in your own words why truth cannot be relative to meaning, knowledge, belief or opinion. How does this understanding of truth affect your everyday life? Explore these questions using your understanding of the readings, and with examples from your own experience and knowledge. Record your thinking process.

· DISCUSSION QUESTION CHOICE #3:  Liberating Doubt? How can doubt be liberating in philosophy? Shouldn’t greater knowledge lead to greater certainty and less doubt? Explore the purpose and value of philosophy as a concept of doubt and freedom of thought. Explore these questions using your understanding of the readings, and with examples from your own experience and knowledge. Record your thinking process.



“Fact-value distinction.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2020).

A brief introduction to distinctions of fact and value and their philosophical criticisms.


Mudder, Dwayne H., “Objectivity.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2020).

A thorough introduction to conceptions of objectivity and subjectivity in philosophical discourse.


Alvarez, Maria, “Reasons for Action: Justification, Motivation, Explanation.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2016).

A thorough article on the basics of practical reasoning.

Supplemental Online Audio/Video

(1) “What is Philosophy?: Crash Course Philosophy #1. YouTube, uploaded by CrashCourse, Feb. 8, 2016. [10:34] 

Hank Green’s informative video summary of philosophy, including some of the subjects covered in the course.

(2) “What is Philosophy for?” YouTube, uploaded by The School of Life, Oct. 9, 2014. [4:40] 

A thought provoking video on five ways philosophy is important in the modern world.

(3) “Necessary and Contingent Distinction (90 Second Philosophy).” YouTube, uploaded by, Jul 31, 2013. [1:34] 

A quick and useful summary of the necessary and contingent distinction in philosophy.

(4) “The Is / Ought Problem.” YouTube, uploaded by BBC Radio 4, Nov. 18, 2014.[1:28] 

A quick and useful summary of the is/ought, facts vs value problem.

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