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Comment author: JamesCole 08 February 2014 02:49:15PM 0 points [-]

Hi, I'm in Brisbane and potentially interested. Not a lot of free time at the moment though (finishing off PhD). I've been to Skeptics in the Pub, but haven't had time to go recently. I think I'm a member of UQ Skeptics on Facebook.

There's learned philosophers but not philosophical experts

3 JamesCole 29 January 2012 10:28AM

It seems to me that the notion of expertise can only apply to fields in which there is an established body of knowledge. By that I mean fields in which we have (empirical) grounds for believing our knowledge is at least an approximation or heading in the right direction. Physics or genetics or how to fix cars are examples of such fields. You can be an expert in physics.

Philosophy seems different. What makes philosophy interesting is that it's about things we don't understand well. In philosophy we're not even sure that existing approaches to problems are heading in the right direction.

Philosophy is pretty much by definition about things we don't understand well. Once a philosophical topic is understood it ceases to be part of philosophy, and becomes part of another field like physics, biology, economics, etc. (or alternatively, the problem may be dissolved and seen as a kind of misunderstanding.)

I would say the kind of knowledge that exists in the field of philosophy is more of ways of describing problems, or particular arguments for or against a view of problems. It's more like a discussion.

You can be an expert in the different positions about a philosophical problem, but I would distinguish this from the idea that someone can be an expert on a philosophical subject.

For example, someone can be an expert on the various problems and arguments associated with consciousness, but I don't think anyone can claim to be an expert on consciousness (at least the hard problem of consciousness) because we just don't understand it.

So rather than saying there are experts in philosophy I would say that there are people who are very learned in philosophy.

Why does this distinction matter?

When there isn't established knowledge, we're less certain that existing approaches are correct. The fact that an existing approach hasn't been able to solve a problem for long time may mean that it's the wrong approach. It is more likely in philosophy that someone who comes from outside of the field, who isn't well versed in the existing approaches, can add something of use to the table. The fact that they aren't familiar with existing arguments may even be a virtue.

If there aren't philosophical experts, then there aren't experts to challenge.

Yet it seems to me that philosophy seems to hold greater reverence for 'experts' than most other fields.

What do you think?


[I originally posted this to reddit/r/philosophy but -- to my surprise, since it is somewhat critical of how philosophy is done -- it didn't generate any comments.]

Comment author: JamesCole 27 September 2011 08:02:13AM 1 point [-]

I think there is a problem in the culture of philosophy.

It's seen as generally better to define things up front, as this is seen as being more precise.

That sounds reasonable. Who doesn't want greater precision?

Precision is good when it is possible. But often we don't have a good enough understanding of the phenomena to be precise, and the "precision" that is given is a faux-precision.

Often logic is used to define precise categories, by philosophers examining their concept for X. Then they look at and discuss and argue over the consequences of these definitions.

I think it'd be more appropriate for them to spend more time trying to examine the nature of the instances of X out there (as opposed to the properties of their concept of X), based on a loose notion of 'X' (because at this point they don't really know what X is).

(caveat: I didn't read the pages linked to in this post's description)

Comment author: [deleted] 15 September 2011 04:09:55PM 0 points [-]

They wouldn't provide a complete picture, sure, but they'd still provide useful evidence for or against her hypothesis. For example, I'd expect it to be possible to use them to get some sort of measure of street diversity, and then compare that measure to city growth rates (or some other measure of success).

In response to comment by [deleted] on Which Fields Are Underserved?
Comment author: JamesCole 16 September 2011 04:55:41PM 1 point [-]

they might, though you have to be very careful in treating partial data as representative of the whole picture.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 September 2011 03:13:06PM 0 points [-]

I'd expect the opposite to be true, actually - it's my impression that property records are very well kept, and that we have good historical data for them.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Which Fields Are Underserved?
Comment author: JamesCole 15 September 2011 03:38:27PM 4 points [-]

but the data for the kind of factors she's talking about (i've read the book, though it was a while ago) goes beyond what property records could provide.

Comment author: JamesCole 15 September 2011 02:24:47PM 1 point [-]

The data necessary for such systematic examination is not available in some fields. I'm not sure about this field, but maybe it was one of them (back then at least)?

Comment author: JamesCole 07 June 2011 08:06:19AM 0 points [-]

Nice post. You could write a similar one on helping the environment. How often do you hear people say, about helping the environment, that "every little bit helps"?

Comment author: JamesCole 14 April 2011 02:21:51PM 2 points [-]

While we're on the topic of an Australian meetup, are there any other LW ppl in Brisbane? If there's some we could organise a meetup.

Comment author: JamesCole 19 January 2011 01:21:29PM *  0 points [-]

So, my suggestion is to use "rationality" consistently and to avoid using "rationalism". Via similarity to "scientist" and "physicist", "rationalist" doesn't seem to have the same problem. Discus

A while back I argued against using the term "rationalist".

In response to Something's Wrong
Comment author: JamesCole 04 November 2010 04:00:01AM 3 points [-]

Some further thoughts:

Noticing that something isn't right is very different from developing a solution.

The former may draw on experience and intuition - like having developed a finely honed bullshit detector. You can often just immediately see that there's something wrong.

I've noticed that when people complain that someone has given a criticism but hasn't or can't suggest something better, they seem expect that person to be able to do so on the spot, off the top of their head.

But the task of developing a solution is not usually something you can do off the top of you head. It's a creative act, and that usually means you have to sketch out bits and pieces, critically evaluate them, modify them, and repeat until you have developed something satisfactory.

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