bookmark_borderWhat is Philosophy – Part 2

Some people (who are sadly mistaken) think that the question “What is philosophy?” can be answered simply by picking up a dictionary and reading the definition (or definitions) of the word “philosophy”.  Although it is delusional to look to a dictionary to resolve this issue, it is not a bad idea to start out this investigation by taking a look at some dictionary definitions, on the assumption that this is only a first step of an inquiry, not the last step.
Some basic clarification and disambiguation can be accomplished by dictionary definitions, and by carefully examining and critiquing dictionary definitions, one can at least come up with some hints and criteria for development of a definition or analysis that is better than available dictionary definitions.
When you work on constructing your own definition or analysis of “philosophy” you want to produce something that is AT LEAST as good as a dictionary definition, and that, hopefully, is AN IMPROVEMENT over available dictionary definitions.  One way to determine whether a proposed definition or analysis of “philosophy” is better than a dictionary definition is by first establishing some specific problems or defects contained in some dictionary definitions of “philosophy”.  If the new proposed definition avoids those specific problems or defects, then that would be evidence that the new definition is an improvement over the dictionary definitions.
Before we begin looking at dictionary definitions, there are a couple of points concerning conceptual analysis that we can borrow from modern philosophy.  First, there might be no essence of philosophy.  There might be no specific characteristic that ALL instances or examples of philosophy have in common.  There might only be a “family resemblance” among a fairly diverse range of examples of things that count as “philosophy”.
If that is so, then a necessary-and-sufficient condition definition will not fully and accurately capture the meaning of the word “philosophy”.  Instead, we might need to construct a criterial definition, which specifies various relevant criteria or characteristics that tend to make something an instance of “philosophy”, where no particular criterion must be satisfied by ALL instances of philosophy, and where the more criteria are satisfied by a particular example, the more clearly and definitely the word “philosophy” would properly apply to that example.  With criterial definitions, there can be significant ‘gray areas” and “borderline cases” where a word is somewhat applicable, and somewhat not applicable.
Closely related to “family resemblance” and criterial definitions, is the idea of a paradigm case.  If there are borderline cases of a concept, then there can also be central or paradigm cases of a concept.  So, if “philosophy” is a family resemblance concept, or if it needs to be defined in terms of a criterial definition, then we will need to think about paradigm cases and clear-cut cases, and contrast those with borderline cases, where the word “philosophy” partially fits, but also partially does not fit.
So, keeping in mind these points about conceptual analysis, lets take a look at some dictionary definitions, and note both positive features of some definitions, as well as any apparent problems or defects with those definitions.  Based on identification of both positive and negative aspects of dictionary definitions of “philosophy”, we might be able to establish some hints and/or criteria that would be useful for evaluation of any new proposed definitions of “philosophy”.
Jesus H Christ.  There are twelve different definitions of “philosophy” in The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition).  
The first defintion is also divided into three different related senses of the word.  Since the three related senses in the first definition don’t look very similar to me, this dictionary in effect provides FOURTEEN different definitions for the word “philosophy”.  I will, however, stick with the numbering scheme provided by the dictionary.  Hopefully, we can eliminate several of these definitions as irrelevant to our inquiry:
1a. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
1b. The investigation of causes and laws underlying reality.
1c. A system of philosophical inquiry or demonstration.
2. Inquiry into the nature of things based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
3. The critique and analysis of fundamental beliefs as they come to be conceptualized and formulated.
4. The synthesis of all learning.
5. The investigation of natural phenomena and its systematization in theory and experiment, as in alchemy, astrology, or astronomy: hermetic philosophy, natural philosophy.
6. All learning except technical precepts and practical arts.
7. All the disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology:  Doctor of Philosophy.
8.  The science comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
9.  A system of motivating concepts or principles: the philosophy of a culture.
10. A basic theory; viewpoint: an original philosophy of advertising.
11. The system of values by which one lives: his philosophy of life.
12. The calmness, equanimity, and detachment thought to benefit a philosopher.
I put definitions 2, 3, and 8 in red font, because those three definitions seemed to be the best of the bunch. I definitiely want to take a closer look at these three definitions to see what insights they contain and what we might be able to borrow from them in constructing a new and better definition of “philosophy”.
Definitions 4, 6, and 7  are in gray font because they are obviously too broad and can be immediately set aside.  We are interested in the idea of philosophy as a particular academic discipline (or as a possible academic discipline), so uses of the word “philosophy” that encompass diverse acadmic disciplines are irrelevant to our current investigation.
Definitions 1b and 5 are in purple font because they seem to be definitions of “science” or attempts at definitions of “science”.  It might be useful to try to compare and contrast philosophy with science, and these two definitions might help one to make this comparison and contrast.
The remaining defintions in black font seem off target, but they touch on aspects of philosophy and so it would probably be useful to do some thinking about these definitions and how they relate to the idea of philosophy as an academic discipline.
We have already stumbled upon a couple of basic criteria for evaluation of a definition of “philosophy”:
C1.  The definition should be such that it excludes other established academic disciplines (e.g. history, psychology, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics).
C2. The definition should be such that it excludes scientific investigation, and sheds light on the difference between philosophy and scientific investigation.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderHow Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 7

My last post on this subject (How Many Ways to Analyze the Word ‘God’ – Part 6) was from way back in February of 2011.
In that post I claimed that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘divine person’ from a set of just four attributes:
1. power
2. knowledge
3. freedom
4. goodness 
Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, this means that one can generate over 233 million definitions of ‘God’.
Recently in looking over my previous analysis of how many definitions one can generate from a set of just four divine attributes, I noticed that my possible specifications concerning the degrees of strength of these attributes, were missing one possible specification, and that my possible specifications concerning degrees of  duration were also missing a few possible specifications. By recognizing these additional possible specifications of degrees of strength and duration, one can actually generate over 2 billion defintions of ‘divine person’ from just four attributes.

The word ‘God’ is a proper name, and, as Richard Swinburne suggests, the meaning of this name should be analyzed in terms of a definite description, a description which can be used to pick out a single individual person who is ‘God’, if theism is true. 
The definite description to be used for this purpose can in turn be based upon a definition of the phrase ‘divine person’. In Swinburne’s view, the definite description and the associated definition of ‘divine person’ are criterial in nature. That is to say, it is not required that each and every condition be satisfied in order for a being to count as a ‘divine person’ or as the divine person; the requirement, in terms of the ordinary use of the word ‘God’ is that “many” of the specified conditions be satisfied, and that no other being satisfy as many or more of the conditions as the candidate for being ‘God’.
Swinburne goes on to propose a tightening or narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ for purposes of philosophical investigation. His narrowing of the meaning of the word ‘God’ amounts to taking the conditions that define the phrase ‘divine person’ as being necessary conditions, as opposed to being criteria. In other words, each and every one of the conditions in the definition of ‘divine person’ must be satisfied in order for something to count as a ‘divine person’ and to be picked out as the individual who is ‘God’.
One of the necessary conditions specified by Swinburne is that the being be ‘eternally omnipotent’. It is important to notice that this necessary condition, although put in terms of two words, actually represents three different components. The word ‘eternally’ specifies a duration of time through which the omnipotence must be possessed by the being in question. In Swinburne’s view, one can be queen for a day, but not God for a day. In order to be a ‘divine person’ one must be omnipotent not just for a day or a year or a decade, but one must have always been omnipotent and must always continue to be omnipotent. If there was ever a period of time when a person was not omnipotent (or will not be omnipotent), then that person is not a ‘divine person’, and thus is not ‘God’, according to Swinburne.
The concept of being ‘omnipotent’ actually contains two different types of specification: a general attribute (in this case: power – represented by the root word ‘potent’), and a degree of strength of that attribute (in this case: unlimited – represented by the prefix ‘omni-‘). So, the necessary condition of being ‘eternally omnipotent’ means possessing (1) an unlimited degree of strength of (2) the attribute of power for (3) an unlimited degree of duration.

There are three degrees of strength for the four attributes:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
These three degrees of strength can be combined into seven different specifications of degrees of strength:
1. human
2. superhuman
3. unlimited
4. human or superhuman
5. human or unlimited
6. superhuman or unlimited
7. human or superhuman or unlimited
Swinburne’s view, for example, is that it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. More specifically, it is a necessary condition that a being possess an unlimited degree of power eternally in order to be considered a ‘divine person’. Possessing unlimited power for a day or a year does not satisfy this requirement. So, we need to take into consideration the additional specification of the duration that the attribute (of a specified strength) is possessed by the being in question.
In the context of attempts to define the concept of a ‘divine person’ we must include the possibility of infinite durations of time, not just finite durations. In addition to finite durations there are three different types of infinite duration, for a total of four degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past 
3. infinite future 
4. eternal 
Considering various possible combinations of degrees of duration, we can generate fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration:
1. finite
2. infinite past
3. infinite future
4. eternal
5. finite or infinite past
6. finite or infinite future
7. finite or eternal
8. infinite past or infinite future
9. infinite past or eternal
10. inifinite future or eternal
11. finite or infinite past or infinite future
12. finite or infinite past or eternal
13. finite or infinite future or eternal
14. infinite past or infinite future or eternal
15. finite or infinite past or infinite future or eternal
So, the basic components of a condition in a definition of ‘divine person’ are  (a) an attribute (4 possibilities), (b) a specification of degrees of strength (7 possibilities), and (c) a specification of degrees of duration (15 possibilities).
If we assume that power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness are relevant attributes for defining ‘divine person’ and that these are the only relevant attributes (a simplifying assumption), then definitions of ‘divine person’ will include four conditions containing a specification relating to each of the four attributes. For each attribute there are seven different specifications of degrees of strength and  fifteen different specifications of degrees of duration, which means there are 105 different possible specifications of strength and duration for each attribute (7 x 15 = 105).
So, if we focus in on just definitions composed of four necessary conditions (one condition for each of the four attributes), there will be 105 x 105 x 105 x 105 different such definitions that can be generated. That means, from just four divine attributes, we can generate 121,550,625 definitions composed of four necessary conditions.
If we start looking at criterial definitions and definitions involving a mixture of criteria and necessary conditions, then the numbers expand significantly:
A. Definitions composed of 4 necessary conditions: 121,550,625 (= 105 x 105 x 105 x 105).
B. Definitions composed of 4 criteria: 364,651,875  (= 3 x 121,550,625)
(3 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 2 conditions out of 4 satisfied, or 1 condition out of 4 satisfied)
C. Definitions composed of 3 criteria and 1 necessary condition: 972,405,000 (= 8 x 121,550,625).
(4 basic definitions, because 4 options for selection of the necessary condition, and 2 variations of each basic definition, because can either require 2 of 3 criteria to be satisfied or 1 of 3 criteria to be satisfied.  So, a total of 8 definitions can be generated from each of the 121,550,625 combinations of specifications)
D. Definitions composed of 2 criteria and 2 necessary conditions: 729,303,750  (= 6 x 121,550,625)
(6 basic definitions – because 6 options for selection of 2 necessary conditions, and no variations on those basic definitions – because with just 2 criteria you can only require satisfaction of 1 out of the 2 criterial conditions).
E. Definitions composed of 1 criterion and 3 necessary conditions0 (You cannot have just one criterion in a definition; otherwise the “criterion” simply becomes a necessary condition, since you cannot require a lower number than one condition, because requiring 0 criteria to be satisfied would make that one criterion irrelevant, and requiring one criterion to be satisfied would mean that the one-and-only criterion would HAVE TO BE satisfied, in which case it would be a necessary condition, not a criterion.
Total: 2,187,911,250 definitions of ‘divine person’ can be generated from just four basic attributes (power, knowledge, freedom, and goodness), specified in relation to three degrees of strength (human, superhuman, unlimited) in relation to four degrees of duration (finite, infinite past, infinite future, eternal), in the case where all four attributes are treated as being relevant, and where we consider four different types of definitions (purely necessary conditions, purely criteria, three criteria plus one necessary condition, two criteria plus two necessary conditions).
Hundreds of millions more definitions can be created by using only a subset of the four attributes to construct definitions (e.g. creating definitions using only three of the four attributes).  Since the word ‘God’ can be analyzed or defined in relation to the phrase ‘divine person’, we can see that over two billion definitions of ‘God’ can be constructed from just four basic attributes.