Ethical Realism

January 2, 2009

Introduction: History of Philosophy

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:42 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Many consider philosophy to be a strange mysterious category. Others consider it to be a waste of time, or playing language games, or arguing about semantics. There is a general disrespect and distaste towards philosophy, but this disrespect is reinforced by the academic community—including actual philosophy professors, who tend to see philosophy as somewhat inadequate or unreliable.

On the contrary, I believe that we are living in the most exciting time for philosophy in history. Philosophy might not be as reliable as natural science, but it does offer us personal development and improved opinions. It also tends to be about subjects of the greatest importance: Does anything really matter? What is reality made of? Does God exist? Do we know anything for certain? How do we know how to answer any of these questions?

In What is Ancient Philosophy? Pierre Hadot argues that western philosophy used to have a level of respect that it no longer has. The ancient Greeks established a philosophical tradition that was considered by philosophy professors to be the most essential knowledge and human activity. Hadot also introduces a metaphilosophical position: Philosophy was originally intended to be a “way of life.” It was not just about arguments. (This fact seems to reinforce the fact that it was considered important. It is important enough to guide our lives.)

Eventually Christianity came along and decided that philosophy was not so important because the Bible already gives us all the facts we need. Philosophy became the “handmaiden to theology.” Philosophy became a more academic (purely argumentative) activity and it lost the great importance that it was once accorded.

And then many intellectuals and academics rejected the primacy of religion and dogma in favor of natural science. At this point the importance of philosophy was up to debate, but it has often been considered to be either a “handmaiden to science” or a very limited academic activity (such as conceptual analysis). Empiricism grew out of the excitement towards natural science, but it generally denied that philosophy could do anything. (Hume argued that we can’t prove induction works. If he is right, we can’t really know anything!)

Logical positivism inspired many philosophy professors to reject almost all forms of philosophy. Ethics and metaphysics seemed particularly implausible, so philosophy in general would naturally be seen as a peculiar academic activity. It wouldn’t be seen as important or as a “way of life.” Instead, philosophy became conceptual analysis only.

Only very recently have philosophy professors started making some progress in making philosophy important once again. Philosophers, such as Saul Kripke, has helped establish some credibility for philosophy’s importance. (Kripke helped establish a new kind of metaphysical philosophy that was considered much more plausible than any past metaphysics).

Ethics has also started to be considered to be more plausible. John Rawls was one philosopher who helped make ethics more plausible recently.

Overall, we have hit a great period of skepticism towards philosophy (and philosophy’s importance). This period has lasted for thousands of years starting with the Christianizing of Europe, and it peaked with logical positivism.

This skepticism has required philosophy to become more and more convincing, and its importance has consequently become more transparent. Epistemology (theory of knowledge) has undergone significant progress to allow the new founded credibility of philosophy. This is why we are living in a golden age of philosophy. The west has never had so much philosophical progress and credibility. It might only be a matter of time before philosophy can build a strong enough case to become popularized. Perhaps one day everyone will find out how to use philosophy for their personal benefit and self-improvement.


  1. I am an apologist from India and this is my first opportunity to visit your website, which I enjoyed very much. Those in the field of apologetics need to do much to bring the doubting Thomases to faith and also to strengthen those who wish to get answers.

    I will keep visiting your site to read the articles that follow.

    Dr. Johnson C. Philip

    Comment by Dr. Johnson C. Philip — January 2, 2009 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  2. Interesting! This is exactly what I am trying to articulate in my own philosophies and writings. I am coming from a point of relative ignorance about the history and the particulars of philosophy in general… however, in my soul’s travels throughout this particular lifetime I have been exposed to what I perceived as “the ultimate potential,” which is the origin of what I call “Thought Structure™”.

    What shaped this Structure of Thought™ is a myriad of influences, mainly Godel Escher Bach by Douglas Hofstafler ( sp ) ?, among others, to where that the “eternal golden braid” he talks about does exist within the realm of all things… talk about modern society neglecting something not only important, but beautiful as well! And Humor in an unto itself… we cannot shape our reality without keeping in mind that it is absurd that we even exist at all.

    I think it took some time for the “Omniverse” to become self-aware of itself – we kneed to recognize that and know that yes, the “Creator” had to wise up at many points and figure out that being a total jerk as in “I am a jealous, angry ‘G’od” was not the way to win friends and influence people.

    And popularizing that is what I am trying to do. Basically, if you are a believer in the infinite as I am, it is safe to say that “everything exists at once forever.” But what path do WE choose in which to exist? Right now, not a very good one.

    Basically the gist of my “thesis” is this: All acts, thoughts, choices and deeds can be charted and graphed along the lines of dimensional thought, and examined in regards to the polarity of their value on a rotating axis, with the constant being good and evil, or the bipolarity of the “opposite”, making the judgment of the act itself easier to examine in regards to RIGHT AND WRONG (opposites), and also graphable in an xyz 3d graph.

    I have some visual representations of this that I have built that I can forward to you.

    I’m looking forward to reading and responding to your relatively new blog – as is mine. Keep up the great work!

    Matt Blake

    Comment by blameblakeart — February 11, 2009 @ 4:01 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for the encouragement. I look forward to your comments and ideas.

      Comment by James Gray — February 12, 2009 @ 8:56 am | Reply

  3. […] from God, but we do know something about morality. I believe that this argument reflects a sort of ethical skepticism that has historically plagued Christianity, and we have very little reason to agree with […]

    Pingback by A Moral Argument for the Existence of God « Ethical Realism — February 9, 2010 @ 7:38 am | Reply

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