2 thoughts on “Defining Philosophy

  1. Rahell

    Is this meant to be pejorative? Do you think that with the progression of time, and assuming we categorize those patterns into their proper field, philosophy would disappear? Or no, philosophy would never disappear because we will never reach the end point of categorizing the patterns and new patterns emerge as time progresses? Last question, what exactly do you mean by “pattern analysis”?

    1. Ikram Hawramani Post author

      Not at all. Philosophers started out as people who observed the world and tried to derive rules about the world from their observations. This is what I mean by pattern analysis, observing something, a phenomenon, a process or an object, to find patterns in it.

      As observations accumulated, philosophy branched out into what used to be known as “natural philosophy”, what is today known as science, moral philosophy, logic, geometry and other fields. Some branches of knowledge, such as astronomy, didn’t necessarily start out as philosophy, although astronomers did the same thing that philosophers did, observing, analyzing and deriving conclusions.

      What philosophers do regarding anything they observe is exactly the same process as what mathematicians do regarding numbers, shapes and topologies. Both of them observe, analyze patterns and derive rules.

      A philosopher is just a “mathematician of everything”. They observe things like governments, organizations, languages, or human behaviors, analyzing patterns and deriving rules for how things work.

      In the year 1500, someone who analyzed human behavior to derive the rules that govern its function would have been called a philosopher. But as this field of research progressed, such people were no longer philosophers, but psychologists, even though what they do is still the same.

      Once the practice of observation-analysis-derivation is formalized, it stops being philosophy and becomes something else, mathematics, physics, logic or another field of research.

      Therefore at any time, philosophy is whatever lies outside of a formalized field of research, i.e. anything that cannot be categorized under any other field of research. For example we have science, which analyzes patterns about the natural world, and then we have the philosophy of science, which analyzes patterns within the practice of science.

      Philosophy of science means “pattern analysis about science”, and science itself means “pattern analysis about the natural world”. They are both the same thing, the human practice of observation-analysis-derivation. A scientist is a philosopher of the natural world, and a philosopher of science is, well, a philosopher of science. We could also have a philosopher of the philosophy of science, someone who carries out observation-analysis-derivation at a higher level, analyzing the philosophy of science.

      Any field of philosophy that progresses sufficiently will leave philosophy and become a science. One of Plato’s works, for example, is entirely focused on analyizing patterns within the Greek language, finding out the origins of words. In his time, until recently, this was philosophy, because it wasn’t formalized. But today it is mere linguistics and philology.

      As human knowledge grows more complex, there are always new patterns created that can be analyzed, and if these patterns do not fall under any other field of research, this would be called philosophy. So it seems unlikely that one day there will be no need for philosophy. The question is this: Will humans one day run out of things to analyse that do not fall under any existing field of research? If one day they run out, then that would be the end of philosophy.

      Another way of defining philosophy is: All rules derived as a result of pattern analysis that cannot be scientifically tested at the moment.

      In the past a philosopher could have said the earth is flat and they could have come up with various philosophical justifications for their position. But now that we can actually test this claim, it is no longer under a philosopher’s jurisdication to tell us about whether the earth is round or flat, it is under a scientist’s jurisdiction.

      Gender philosophers can come up with philosophical reasonings for why they think women are oppressed. And since their claims at the moment cannot be scientifically tested (we do not have any formally agreed upon definition of oppression, and no way to test it), they can continue saying what they say. But as science progresses, it will continue invading the space of gender philosophers, coming up with small observations of testable facts that remove the support for some of the justifications that gender philosophers use for their thinking, and in this way their philosophy is weakened.

      Certain fields like morality cannot be formalized, because there is often no way to test whether something is more moral than another. For this reason morality is today a field of philosophy. Philosophers can argue about morality all day without reaching a conclusion, since their theories cannot be tested. Science, even in this case, provides observations that affect philosophy. Moral philosophers can argue about whether it is more just to give a woman preference over her man in the custody of their children during divorce, while scientists can gather data to find out which of the many possible options leads to the best results for the woman, man and children, and in this way certain philosophical arguments are weakened and others strengthened.

      It is the job of philosophers to carry out science about things that scientists cannot carry out science about. They act like scientists, performing observation-analysis-derivation, but they cannot call themselves scientists, because they cannot come up with any facts about the way the world works, only theories that rely on observations and chains of reasoning that are not at the moment widely known to be 100% valid. It is the job of scientists to do the work of finding out the facts that either strengthen or weaken the philosopher’s theory, and sometimes this is impossible, for example if the philosophical theory is about “the true essence of things”, an unscientific idea that cannot be tested but can be argued about.

      By now I think what I mean by pattern analysis should be clear. If you observe car engines and try to find out the rules of physics that drive these engines, you are doing pattern analysis. If you observe the humans around you and try to come up with general rules about human behavior (humans are this way and that way), then this is pattern analysis. If my mother commonly says something, and I see many women also say similar things, by analyzing this pattern of similar behaviors, I can derive a general rule about all women, saying that all women are the type of women to say such things, in this way claiming to know something about female psychology. This is philosophy. If I go on to do scientific testing on a randomized group of women to find out if they too fit this pattern, and come up with a scientific conclusion that supports my statement, then my statement is no longer philosophy, but science. But if another scientist carries out tests and finds out that the pattern I derived does not actually apply to most women, then that proves what I said was false, that at least in that particular case I was a bad philosopher.


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