Philosophy is Stupid

There's a story my mother likes to tell about her experience with a philosopher. The philosopher gives her an example of what, to him, is an interesting philosophical question. He asks her, "is gasoline wet?"

"Well," responds my mother, "that depends on how you define 'wet'. If 'wet' means 'contains water', the no, gasoline is not wet. If wet means 'is liquid', then the answer is yes."

"All right," says the philosopher, "but is gasoline really wet?"

What my mother said in response, history does not relate.

My father told me the other day about a revelation he had had about the nature of philosophy. Philosophers of all stripes, he had realized, seem to be convinced that there is some sort of really real, objective Truth out there, that is unrelated to our human ideas about the universe and how it works. And they see their jobs as being to figure out what this capital-T Truth is.

And, I added, they seem to think that they way to do that is to sit on their asses and scratch their heads.*

Well, a couple months ago I had my own revelation about the field of philosophy. I realised that the entire field consisted of a group of people who were always talking at cross purposes because they refuse to define their terms. And they refuse to define their terms, I realised, because if they did their entire field would disappear. You can't have any kind of lengthy, balls-scratching discussion about how wet gasoline is really if you can agree on what 'wet' means. Once you do that, the question becomes empirical. That's not just true of entirely inane questions like the gasoline one, either. Once you define your terms, most questions become empirical.

When I told my dad about my revelation, he suggested that maybe philosophy could be a worthwhile endeavor if it limited itself to discussion of how to define terms. For example, it might lend itself well to the question of what 'truth' means. But no, I replied, that just takes it a step back, but doesn't change the situation. Because if you're asking how you should define 'truth' (for example), then what you're really asking is what is the best or optimal definition of the word. At which point all you have to do is define 'best' or 'optimal' and the question once more becomes empirical.

But, as I said above, if you define your terms, only most question become empirical. Some may not, depending on how you define your terms. If, for example, you insist on defining 'truth' as this unknown, objective "reality" that exists entirely external to our senses and reason, then the question of whether any statement is true is not empirical. But, since it is in that case a question that it is theoretically impossible to answer (since it is, by definition, impossible to know if the truth our senses and reason show us is the same as this hypothetical, objective Truth that it is supposed exists), I can't for the life of me understand why anyone would waste time thinking about it.

And that's why philosophy is stupid.

*I'm fairly certain that the word I said out loud was heads, but the word I was thinking of was balls