Methods in Philosophy (IntroPhil 101.6)
In empirical sciences like physics and chemistry, one tests hypotheses by making observations and conducting experiments, using what can be called method of the empirical sciences. In exact sciences like geometry and mathematics, one constructs deductive proofs and makes calculations, using method of exact sciences.
What method does Philosophy use one may ask. Needless to say, philosophy does not use the method of empirical sciences, for there is no testing of hypotheses by making observations and conducting experiments. Method of Philosophy is however, basically and generally dialectic, argumentative.
The Socratic Dialectic
Because Philosophy begins with wondering, questioning, and reflecting about our fundamental assumptions, we need to consider how it proceeds to answer questions. Philosophical problems cannot be resolved by appealing exclusively to the facts. How then does philosophy solve the problems it raises? What method does philosophy employ?
We have defined philosophy as a process of reflecting on and criticizing our most deeply held beliefs. To achieve that end, we believe that the basic method of philosophical inquiry is dialectical: Philosophy proceeds through the dialectic of argument.
The term dialectic refers to a process of thinking that originated with the philosopher Socrates.Socrates was convinced that the surest way to attain reliable knowledge was through the practice of disciplined conversation, with the investigator acting as an intellectual midwife; we call the method he used dialectic.
This is a deceptively simple technique. It always begins with a discussion of the most commonly accepted aspects of any problem. The dialectical process is a dialogue between opposing positions. Socrates, and many later philosophers, believed that through the process of this dialogue, in which each participant in the conversation was forced to clarify her or his ideas, the final outcome of the conversation would be a clear statement of what was meant.
Therefore what is important is that the dialectic is the development of thought through an interplay of ideas.
Dialectical thinking, and consequently dialectic as a method, attempts to develop a sustained pattern of argument in which the implications of different positions are drawn out and interact with each other. As the argument unfolds, we find that neither position represents a complete understanding of the truth.
New considerations and alternatives emerge, and at times they complete each other. At each stage of the dialectic we gain a deeper insight into the original problem, and by so doing perhaps come closer to the truth.
When entering a course of study, a student is generally prepared to memorize facts, learn formulas, or master a set of material; philosophy demands something quite different. By using the dialectical method, we come closer to the truth but often, in fact frequently, the original philosophical problem remains unsolved.
There are always more questions to be asked, more arguments to be challenged. The student of philosophy, however, must not despair: With this method we can arrive at tentative answers; some answers will appear to be more philosophically satisfactory than others, some we will abandon altogether.
Socrates is famous for his belief that the un-exercised life is not worth living. Similarly, philosophy proceeds with the conviction that the unexamined idea is not worth having. Dialectic necessarily involves critical reflection.
Written By Kombian SOMTUAKA