Is this Philosophy?

When I read something that claims to be philosophy, yet my gut tells me otherwise, I have to wonder why. I suppose the kinds of philosophers I care about (Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard, Plato) all share something that I can’t articulate. I believe it has to do with a certain attitude that they take on when they write philosophy. They have a relationship to their work that forces this way of doing philosophy. It is work that is more than work. There are other attributes of this kind of philosophy, and maybe I will try to articulate them another time. I want, right now, to talk to about the kind of philosophy that is unlike the previous kind.

I read the first chapter of Fodor’s book Language of Thought the other day. It is a work that exemplifies a kind of philosophical tradition that seems wholly at odds with traditional philosophy. Fodor tries to convince us that the brain is a kind of computer, that computation is key if we are to understand anything of the mind and its workings. He uses empirical data to back up his claims. He uses psychological studies to back up his claims. He says that a plausible theory is better than no theory at all. This is not the same kind of work Plato was doing. His work is permeated with an attitude juxtaposed to the other philosophers I mentioned. It reads more like a paper on automobiles than about thought processes. It strips the mind of its human element.

The presuppositions seem to be ripe throughout. The mind is an incredibly complicated and interesting machine according to Fodor. This is right because it’s the best theory we have. Is this philosophy? I’m tempted to say it’s not. What the work is, I’m not so sure. It is certainly interesting, and it is certainly difficult to do. I fear that because it is both those things, the work takes on philosophical clothing. The terms are familiar, the argumentation is there. So, why am I tempted this way? The words on the page are doing more than their content holds. They are all flowing from a particular way of looking at the world and our relationship to it. It’s a frustrating itch to have, to feel this way. I’m certain that if someone asked me for proof, if they didn’t see it, I would be at a loss. The only thing I could do is point to the book and say “look at the sentences! Don’t you see it?”.

I’m convinced there’s something here, but my thoughts are muddled. I will return to this soon.

~ by Barky on August 25, 2011.

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