“Realization is indeed a dawning of knowledge. But the knowledge [in philosophy] is not knowledge of the world we live in. It is knowledge of the structure of our conceptual scheme.” – Peter Hacker
I have spent much of today consumed with various articles on several topics. However, one that I found particularly fascinating is the concept that philosophy, in and of itself, is not knowledge at all. Many of us, myself included, studied philosophy not as a tool to attain greater knowledge, but as a mechanism to understand knowledge. Therefore, one could surmise that philosophy is knowledge. However, what I read today seems to change that perspective in more ways than one.
Peter Hacker*, a renowned professor at Oxford University, argues that philosophy in and of itself is not knowledge. His approach is Wittgensteinian derived, which, according to James Garvey* of The Philosophers’ Magazine, is “a conception of philosophy which regards philosophical problems as confusions in language rather than deep mysteries encountered in the world.” From this perspective, Hacker argues that philosophy is not knowledge in the sense that science is knowledge – nothing philosophical is a proven theorem, unlike science which can provide multitudinous evidence to prove or disprove many a previous scientific theory. Philosophy is a “quest for understanding” and cannot be passed down to the next generation, i.e. philosophy is a journey, not a textbook.
This was only the beginning of Garvey’s* article on Hacker entitled, “Hacker’s Challenge”. The article delves further into the philosophy of the mind and Hacker’s determination to discredit the field. The assertion is that “one cannot explain why someone behaves in a certain way by suggesting that his brain tells him to… There is no such thing as a brain’s thinking, wanting, reasoning, believing or hypothesizing.” Essentially, as I understand this, Hacker asserts that we are human beings and it is the human doing the thinking, wanting, etc. not our brain’s. After my mind regained feeling from momentary numbness, it started to make sense. And, after making that comment about my numb brain, I do believe I did exactly what Hacker dislikes – I spoke of my mind as if it can function independently of myself… I can further surmise that I have gained knowledge today by illustrating Hacker’s philosophical concepts, albeit, accidentally. I’m fine with taking new learning where I can.
What I found so utterly fascinating about Garvey’s* article is not only that I understood it, as I do rank above dim, but that it expounded my previous notions of philosophy. When philosophy as a concept pops in my head, prior to today, I would conjure up Descartes stating, “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”. Or Kant pondering, “What can we know?” donning his goofy wig. Now, I am left with this new understanding that the very nature of philosophy is a manner to explain concepts of knowledge, not to be knowledge itself… and with that answered, philosophy makes a lot more sense.
* James Garvey’s full article, “Hacker’s Challenge”, can be viewed here in case you missed the numerous, highlighted links above.