The Philosophy of Philosophy

Topics: Philosophy, Analytic philosophy, Metaphysics Pages: 7 (1998 words) Published: March 2, 2013
Metaphilosophy relies on the idea that it might be productive to distinguish some general pronouncements about philosophy from philosophy itself. Contrasting with many other cultural practices, for philosophy the distinction is rather questionable, but a similar case is presented by language: when speaking in English about the English language one might assume a split between English-as-object and English-as-metalanguage. Philosophers using the term metaphilosophy being still a minority, it might be surmised that the majority does not consider the idea worth exploring. As far as it is a reflexive practice philosophy always already incorporates its own considering e.g. by appealing to its own tradition, to its opponents or to its history; thus historicist philosophies, such as Hegel's, are metaphilosophies without mention of the term. A synchronic or systemic approach is a more obviously 'metaphilosophical' than a historic or a diachronic one.

Wittgenstein famously rejected the analogy between metalanguage and a metaphilosophy:

"One might think: if philosophy speaks of the use of the word "philosophy" there must be a second-order philosophy. But it is not so: it is, rather, like the case of orthography, which deals with the word "orthography" among others without then being second-order."[1]

Recently Timothy Williamson has refrained from using the word and expressed concern that it might be misleading:

"I also rejected the word “metaphilosophy.” The philosophy of philosophy is automatically part of philosophy, just as the philosophy of anything else is, whereas metaphilosophy sounds as though it might try to look down on philosophy from above, or beyond."[2]

Other philosophers such as Nicholas Rescher or Richard Double[3] have adopted the term, putting it to good use. Presenting research on general philosophical principles Rescher's book begins with his view on metaphilosophy:

"Metaphilosophy is the philosophical examination of the practice of philosophizing itself. Its definitive aim is to study the methods of the field in an endeavor to illuminate its promise and prospects."[4] The word philosophy is of Ancient Greek origin: φιλοσοφία (philosophía), meaning "love of wisdom."[5][6][7] However, few sources[8] give "love of wisdom" as a possible meaning of the term, and others[9] say the etymology is "not much help". The use and meaning of the word "philosophy" has changed throughout history: in Antiquity it encompassed almost any inquiry; for Descartes it was supposed to be the Queen of the Sciences, a sort of ultimate justification; in the time of David Hume "metaphysics" and "morals" could be roughly translated as the human sciences; and contemporary analytic philosophy likes to define itself roughly as inquiry into concepts.

Many definitions of philosophy begin by stating the difficulty of defining the subject, calling it "notoriously difficult",[9] saying that there is "no straightforward definition"[10] and that most interesting definitions of philosophy are controversial.[11]

"We may note one peculiar feature of philosophy. If someone asks the question what is mathematics, we can give him a dictionary definition, let us say the science of number, for the sake of argument. As far as it goes this is an uncontroversial statement... Definitions may be given in this way of any field where a body of definite knowledge exists. But philosophy cannot be so defined. Any definition is controversial and already embodies a philosophic attitude. The only way to find out what philosophy is, is to do philosophy." —Bertrand Russell, The Wisdom of the West, p.7

However, a review of standard reference works[8][12][13][14][15][16][17][18] suggests that there is a broad agreement among such sources that philosophy involves the study of fundamental or general topics; e.g. "the most fundamental and general concepts and principles involved in thought, action and reality",[19] "the most general questions about our...
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