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November 12, 2019 / Congau

No Philosophical Progress

There can be no progress in philosophy. The accumulation of scientific knowledge, the increased understanding of the physical world, can contribute nothing significant to the pure thought of philosophy. Science may certainly inspire free thinking, just as art and any other social phenomenon can do, but nothing could conceivable be discovered that would fundamentally prove or disprove any philosophical system.

Philosophy proper is pure thought, and as such it is not dependent on any physical basis. The physical structure of the brain can provide no clue about what it really means to think and a deeper knowledge about biology and chemistry gives us no idea about the true identity of life.

No discovery could ever prove Plato wrong (or any other of the great philosophers). One may certainly disagree with him and use the instruments of logic to refute his ideas, but we are in no better position to do that now than we would have been in 400 BC.

Sure, as time has passed the corpus of philosophers has increased and simply the added numbers may make it more likely that one of them has hit upon the great Truth, but there’s no reason to believe that a later philosopher is more likely to be right than his predecessors.

It’s even possible to make the argument that there has been a deterioration of sound ideas since ancient time as modern thinkers may have allowed themselves to be confused by the increasing volume of less relevant noise.

However it may be, philosophical systems don’t rely on their forerunners in the same sense as science does. The history of ideas recounts the story of the ebb and flow of influencing theories, but they don’t build on each other. The history of science, although it too has its detours and dead ends, is quite linear since there is a relative acceptance of what might count as a proof.

Philosophy has no standard outside of itself; there’s no practical experimentation that could measure the likelihood of a theory’s truth value. It is free to speculate away from past achievements or failures with no independent arbiter to correct its mistakes.

We can only strive for the Truth without knowing if we have gotten closer to it.

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