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Philosophy – week one / Day two


In today’s video Dave Ward asked the question:-

Is Philosophy Fundamental?

Most of the time we get on with our daily life without philosophy. We think about things and question things without considering if we are asking the right questions. So in once sense it isn’t fundamental. But if we consider epistemology and scepticism then philosophy becomes a part of our everyday thinking.  An epistemolgist or sceptic doesn’t ask the question ‘does this table exist?’ but ‘how do we know that it exists?’  This is an example of what someone might consider an important question. Others might say that these re not the most important questions. So what are the important questions? As soon as we start to think about what the important questions are we are engaging in philosophy.

So what is epistemology and scepticism?

Back to google. For epistemology ‘About 4,330,000 results’ – top 2 again for me then.



The theory of knowledge, esp. with regard to its methods, validity, and scope.


Epistemology (Listeni/ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒləi/ from Greek ἐπιστήμη – epistēmē, meaning “knowledge, understanding”, and λόγος – logos, meaning “study of”) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope ofknowledge.[1][2] It questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired, and the possible extent a given subject or entity can be known.

Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truthbelief, and justification.

The term was introduced by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808–1864).[3] The field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.


– only a couple of million results for this search but I will stick to the top 2 again.

Web definitions
agnosticism: the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge.

Skepticism or scepticism is generally any questioning attitude towards knowledge, facts, or opinions/beliefs stated as facts,[1] or doubt regarding claims that are taken for granted elsewhere.[2]

Philosophical skepticism is an overall approach that requires all information to be well supported by evidence.[3] Classical philosophical skepticism derives from the ‘Skeptikoi’, a school who “asserted nothing”.[4] Adherents of Pyrrhonism, for instance, suspend judgment in investigations.[5] Skeptics may even doubt the reliability of their own senses.[6] Religious skepticism, on the other hand is “doubt concerning basic religious principles (such as immortality, providence, and revelation)”.[7] Most[who?] scientists are empirical skeptics, who admit the possibility of knowledge based on evidence, but hold that new evidence may always overturn these findings.

Quotes by other philosophers

Murdoch: It is sometimes said, either irritably or with a certain satisfaction, that philosophy makes no progress. It is certainly true, and I think this is an abiding and not a regrettable characteristic of the discipline, that philosophy has in a sense to keep trying to return to the beginning: a thing which it is not at all easy to do. There is a two-way movement in philosophy, a movement towards the building of elaborate theories, and a move back again towards the consideration of simple and obvious facts… Both these aspects of philosophy are necessary to it.’

Rorty: ‘The reason for thinking that there will be no ‘last’ philosophy is simply that no ‘answer’ can fail to be an answer to a question, and that no question can guarantee its own permanent relevance.’

Stephen Hawing and Philosophy

In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking opens with the idea that “philosophy has not kept up with modern discoveries in science, particularly physics.”

More specifically he asserts that science, in place of philosophy, has moved into position to be responsible for answering such questions as, “How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?”

Hawking contra Philosophy – Christopher Norris presents a case for the defence. (Philosophy Now)

Am I any wiser today?

I know more about the words sceptic and epistemology than I did before.

I am certainly getting a clearer idea of what philosophy is, or at least what Dave Ward thinks it is.  I also understand that not everyone has the same view of philosophy and that some intelligent people think that there is no need for it when we have the sciences. I hope to have made my own mind up by the end of the course.

If philosophy is considered to be something that we actively do when we consider how to approach a problem then I know that I do it. Sometimes the original question isn’t the one that needs to be answered. I have been in the position of formulating the right question. Even simplistic questions in my work. A lot of my French students want to  follow rules for the language. When trying to work out communication they ask for the rules. This isn’t really the question they want the answer to. The English language doesn’t always work this way. What they really want to know is how to use the language to be understood and to sound natural. From what I have understood of the course so far this then is a philosophical approach.

I hope I am on the right track here.

As for Steve Hawkins saying that philosophy is dead I don’t agree.  If we are looking for the right questions to ask then there are always questions. There might be more of those questions answered now by scientific means but until we have all the answers I think we always need to be searching for the right questions.  Science may well be able to answer those questions but questions are not always about science.


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