# Should we seek final answers?

I take for granted that we should, but clearly other philosophers do not, and some even take for granted that we should NOT.

If philosophy is based in logic – as is math – then, as in math, shouldn’t we seek final answers to any question, even if that final answer ends up being “there is no final answer to that specific question”?

If the goal of philosophy is not final answers, what is the goal? To better society by an endless exchange of viewpoints? That seems kind of stupid to me, but I’m interested to see what POVs are out there. Please chime in if you’re a YAY or a NAY.

how far do we actually take math?

how far does it need to go?, how far can it go?

like math, philosophers take philosophy only as far as tey need it to go.

we don’t learn math because we like numbers (generally), we learn math because it’s a tool that can be applied to reality, to accomplish some unrelated goal. All carpenters understand trigonomics… (calculator weilding ones)

Personally i pretend like there are no final answers. I let other people look for them if it makes them happy, but they usually wind up in endless complexity, and often absurdity. (even more absurd than things already are)

For now i’m off to work… should i seek the final and best job?

no, that would be too much work and probably impossible, i just need to get one that satisfies me.

This is where I find the basic problem with your view. Just because both rely on a system of logic does not make them the same; math problems are divorced from the real world in that they are positioned in a created absolute structure wherein final answers are actually possible. 1+1=2 is right, it will always be right and this is because it is defined by right by the meaning we give to these arbitrary symbols.

Philosophy is incomparable. Its greatest challenges and its most important developments are all rooted in a reality that is muddy and complex. Most importantly, all statements referring to it are entirely contextual on the referent. There can’t ever really be final, practical answersin philosophy until the world stops spinning, but that’s not going to happen.

Furthermore, philosophy should be deeply hostile to any form of finality. 2000 years ago Aristotle advocated slavery. 100 year ago people in Britain argued that women shouldn’t have the vote and that thinking too hard made women ugly. Granted, 100 years ago the latter views hardly represented a totality of society, but at some times the previous one had, if Aristotle’s pronouncements on it had been declared final what world would we live in today?

However, there are some ‘final answers’ in philosophy as much as there are in maths. Since what is allowed to be said by people making discussions in the subject are regulated by rules enforced by the community what you’re looking for is something that, if the opposite is proposed, will be thrown out. Now, try finding a serious philosopher and convincing that slavery is right. Our own argumentative nature generally produces ‘negative’ answers as well; the world is not composed of just air, or just, or just water, we’ve moved beyond that. Asking about ‘final answers’ in philosophy verges on the meaningless as you’re asking about questions that span the entire spectrum of human intellectual endeavour, you end up repeating the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ problem in that, should you ever find the answer it would be so abstract as to be meaningless itself.

Finally, A final answer have an awful, awful tendency to lead to a final solution.

Personally, I think that the goal is always a final answer in that we are searching for a perfect answer, but whilst I believe that this is what creates and fuels debate (and is in return forged by it) I do not believe such a thing is achievable. The most we can hope for is the best answer for us to act upon.

We take math as far as we can. How far it needs to go is an interesting but currently completely unknown question. Math CAN go infinitely far, but this isn’t a very interesting thing to say, because precisely it just means that the set of true mathematical statements is infinite.

In mathematics, there is absolutely zero perceived limitation on where we should take it. The attitude of mathematicians, and thankfully for us, also the attitude among grant institutions, is that we should pursue all math, because even if it’s completely impractical now, it may become very practical in the future. Presumably this is the same attitude we should have towards philosophy.

SOME Philosophy is incomparable, but certainly not all. In fact, I think the question of WHICH of philosophy is comparable, is very interesting.

Certainly sociological questions like slavery are not comparable, since those are fundamentally issues of morality, and morality is relative. On the other hand, if you believe that morality isn’t relative, then you believe that questions like slavery can be addressed by pure logic alone, and thus would be comparable.

However, that aside, most metaphysical questions can – in theory – be answered with such precision. Do we have free will? Are we the same person from one minute to the next? Etc. While different societies have different preferred answers to these questions, they are not fundamentally sociological in nature; rather they investigate a relationship between definitions. Is the definition of free will something that is inherently contradictory, or not? Is the definition of identity something that is sustainable given basic facts about biology, or not?

Even if you disagree with these points, I think a better way to think about my question - a phrasing I should probably have used initially - is that, ASSUMING that there are issues in philosophy that have the capacity to be answered finally, with perfect logical precision, SHOULD we look for such an answer?

That is a very final viewpoint, and I am deeply hostile towards it.

what are the odds that taking philosophy beyond the point of utility will produce some unknown superior utility?

seeking all knowledge in hopes of it being useful just isn’t pragmatic. I’d rather start with looking for what i think will be useful.

Depends on the knowledge in question. As a blanket statement you may be correct. When it comes to philosophy, that least-useful-of-the-sciences or the most-useful-of-the-humanities, depending on where you place it, I agree that seeking all knowledge may not be useful. When it comes to mathematics, seeking all knowledge has proven extremely useful.

But I’m not really asking about a broader sense of utility. I’m asking, in the field of philosophy, by definition of philosophical goals, do we try to seek answers to questions, or do we just undergo the process of inquiry without the end goal of resolution?

I would say that we should seek answers which are useful, investing in an unknown isn’t wise when life is so short.

However we should not deny all answers. It’s just that they might only pan out 1000 years from now, so why bother.

Yes, I did make the point that some philosophy is equally capable of achieving a ‘final answer’.

However I use slavery as one such example as I think a ‘final answer’ is not achieved on the same logical grounds as maths, but on the acceptability of proposing the opposite to the philosophical community. Hence I would argue that the ‘evil’ of slavery is as final as philosophy gets. However, this could always change (so not very final).

The only time that metaphysics could give a ‘final answer’ is through the creation of a false logical structure that excludes anything hostile to their ideas. I still hold that ‘use of logic’ does not equal ‘comparable to maths’. There aren’t equal, universal rules of the game as there are in maths. Basic mathematical statements (and I would assume most) have their justification contained within the sentence itself. 1+1=2. A=A. Show me a metaphysical argument that boils down to A=A. There are a couple, and some similar. But since we STILL argue over the logical ramifications of Liebniz’s Law I feel it’s safe to say that, using maths as an example of what can have a final answer, that excludes 99.9% of metaphysics.

Again, as I said in my previous post, yes we should. But we should not ever look to actually reach them. I think the quest for final answers is much more about political philosophy ethical philosophy and those other, fundamentally very human aspects of the discipline. That’s exactly what (discounting large amounts of 21st century philosophy) all political philosophers have look for; at various times and by various people, Communism, Liberal Democracy, Monarchy and Anarchy have all been cited as the true and best answer to how we should live. The idea of a ‘final answer’, given a bit of a liberal re-interpretation, is the principle behind those two disparate works Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ and Marx’s ‘Das Kapital

I see the point you’re trying to make me consider, but I believe that assuming that issues have a final answer disables the point of large amounts of philosophy. The search for final answers is important, finding them isn’t.

We’re agreed them

Edit: There is a fundamental problem with this discussion in that you’re looking for your answers in metaphysics, I’m not. The principles behind our viewpoints may crossover but the foundations from which they arise are totally different.

The only ‘final answers’ I find for metaphysics generally boil down to ‘stop asking such stupid questions’ and that’s reserved for only a few sections of it

Philosophers work in the opposite direction of scientists. An applied mathematician seeks the furthest ramifications of mathematical axioms; a philosopher of mathematics seeks those axioms. These two “people” may be the same person - it’s the activity that requires the one label or the other. Put another way - the scientist’s exegesis is justified by the assumptions and the philosopher’s assumptions are justified by the exegesis.

The starting point of the scientist is the goal of the philosopher.

But neither has ever found a final answer.

There is no reason to limit ourselves by not seeking final answers…

I don’t know about that. It certainly sounds all nice and fuzzy and warm, but I don’t think that’s true.

First, someone who starts with mathematical theorems and seeks the axioms isn’t called a philosopher - honestly, the amount of rigor required for that is well beyond most philosophers. That’s actually a particular branch of mathematics called Reverse Mathematics, started by a mathematician named Harvey Friedman maybe 20 years ago.

Philosophers seem to do a variety of things. There are many philosophers who work to deduce theorems from axioms, just as a mathematician would, except that they work in philosophical logic instead of mathematical; or they apply their logic to philosophical ideas; or they just make arguments for ideas, instead of giving proofs for theorems. If I’m trying to argue that humans do not retain identity from one minute to the next, I’m (most often) taking a definition (of identity) and arguing for logical consequences of that definition. That’s exactly what mathematicians do.

Often, philosophers – most often without realizing it, unfortunately – are taking consequences and arguing for a specific definition. The Free Will debate doesn’t boil down to a logical debate; it boils down to a debate about which definition to adopt. Still, even though this isn’t arguing for a “theorem” equivalent in a standard setting, it’s still arguing for a “theorem” equivalent in a meta-setting. They are arguing that one thing is better than another, given a certain definition of “better”.

I certainly agree that the starting point of the scientist is, abstractly, A goal of the philosopher. Although Hume has pretty much disabled that as a potential achievement, by giving a good argument that induction and the laws of physics seem to be independent from the axioms of logic.

Most philosophers aren’t philosophers of mathematics - it was an illustration. Bertrand Russell was a philosopher of mathematics - and what I have given is essentially his explanation, given much prior to twenty years ago. He was not nown to be particularly fuzzy and warm, but by all means, feel free.

Free Will is a religious debate. It’s metaphysics - which requires three-dimensional thinking. But also feel free to trash metaphysics - it is philosophy gone bad. But science can go bad, too.

Hume destroyed three-dimensional thinking as useful method of philosophising. One must think four-dimensionally now.

Your question is three-dimensional - it discounts time. The kinds of goals you are talking about change over time. Conditions change. Everything changes. One final goal freezes time - ignores time. Mathematicians can afford to think this way - philosophers cannot. Which is why metaphysicians never get anywhere.

We are far to young of a sentient species to even be in the realm of final answers, our education is just beginning, we are barely out of diapers so to speak. Seek the paths sure but, to think we realistically will find finality is overreaching for science , math and philosophy.

Or just final answers in general?

This is actually quite incorrect. If you had to give a percentage of mathematical statements that boiled trivially down to A=A, they would comprise literally 0% of all of mathematics. There are simple examples… (a+b)^2 = a^2 + 2ab + b^2. Sure, the END RESULT is that they’re the same thing, but that isn’t trivially true at all - you need axioms of the real numbers to prove this. (Incidentally, even 1+1=2 doesn’t have its justification in A=A. There are numerical systems in which 1+1=0. Thus, in order to prove 1+1=2, you need to know what number system you’re in.)

So yeah, few metaphysical arguments are justified by A=A, but that’s meaningless.

I think you’re focusing too heavily on sociological philosophy. I’m not making a broad sweeping statement that we should look for final answers in all of philosophy – although I think we should – but rather that there are areas of philosophy where it’s obvious we should seek (and could easily find) those final answers. Given the definition of free will where I have free will if and only if “I, myself, could have acted otherwise than how I did,” one can prove conclusively that free will doesn’t exist. Given other definitions, it’s also often possible to arrive at a final, conclusive answer. These answers should be sought, and should be found - that’s the whole point of the debate.

Sure, in other cases - cases pretty much exclusively described by moral, sociological debates - you can make a good case for seeking but never finding a final answer being the best way to go about things. But even as my “remain hostile towards final viewpoints” turnaround demonstrates, this isn’t the case for ALL of philosophy. Which you seem to accept. I propose that we’re agreed on this much.

But as far as the rest of your examples go, I think they’re incorrect. Let’s continue with slavery as an example. Or, hell, something more basic, like sexual repression. (I think this last one is a good example, because although society often has strong views on it, a dispassionate analysis is less likely to reveal an obvious answer. We are biologically hard-wired to respond to sexuality, and so being overly sexual really does carry harm with it in many cases. However, sexual repressiveness also can be harmful. Where do they balance?)

You may argue that we shouldn’t seek final answers, because presumably a “final answer” to sociological issues would be too limiting. It would take away our ability to grow, and may lock us into a stance that might be best overall, but might not be best given our particular society. (Please let me know if I’m unfairly summarizing your stance.) However, none of these are valid concerns.

First, while purely metaphysical issues like Free Will and Identity are usually manageable using pure logic, sociological issues are RIDICULOUSLY more complex, and do not easily lend themselves to mathematical analysis. A proof that free will (given the above definition) is impossible is easy; I have no idea how you’d generate a real PROOF that slavery is bad, as opposed to just an argument. Those issues are way too complex to be manageable with the tools we currently have.

Second, even if we could prove the answer to such things – even if we could prove that slavery was bad – it would be meaningless without context. For example, what if we had some (stupid) hypothetical society that required slavery in order for the human race to continue? Putting aside the utter implausibility of such a scenario, we can agree that slavery in such a society is good, because no slavery means we all die. What constitutes “good” or “bad” depends entirely on the context of the situation. So even if we could prove that slavery was bad, it would be in the context of certain assumptions. If we found ourselves in a society where those assumptions didn’t hold, then the conclusion that slavery was bad may also not hold.

Third, if we COULD prove that slavery was bad, either in all cases, or in a particular society on which we wished to focus, why would it be bad for us to reach that conclusion? If slavery is always bad, then it’s good to know that so that we can never attempt it again, and can immediately put aside any pro-slavery arguments propounded by others. If slavery is bad given our society, we can rest assured that as long as we have that sort of society, slavery is always wrong, and know that we won’t have to re-evaluate until our society changes beyond the assumptions of the given proof.

The facts are always there, even if they’re difficult to prove beyond a doubt, and even if they’re not of the form we suspect they are. I don’t think there are any areas where knowledge of the facts is Always bad. Thus, it seems we should strive for final answers with the goal of achieving them, rather than just wallowing in the search. For all of the examples you have named, I think the risk of actually achieving any final answer is essentially zero - but if we did actually come upon such a final answer, it seems that that would solve more problems than it would create.

Sure, I shouldn’t have generalized your point. Nonetheless, my statement holds, and I wasn’t making a trivial or snipey point. My undying admiration for Bertrand Russell aside, the categorization you offered was too simplistic and in fact incorrect, and one can’t dismiss the goal of final answers so offhandedly.

Free Will is often a religious concept, but the core debate isn’t itself religious. Issues of free will itself, or compatibilism vs. incompatibilism, are pure philosophy, albeit with religious ramifications, like much else of philosophy.

Metaphysics is philosophy gone bad? We are getting completely off the original point, but I’m curious to know your argument for this. I often think of metaphysics together with philosophical logic as one of the few remaining intellectual honest sections of philosophy.

It’s true that metaphysicians never get anywhere - but non-metaphysical philosophers don’t either, at least to the same extent.

I think these statements apply well to large subsets of philosophy, such as the sociological questions in philosophy that we’ve been flinging about a bit in this thread - but you make them way too broadly. There is plenty of good philosophy being done that is “3-dimensional”, or perhaps “1-dimensional” (your definitions are nonobvious for non-physical philosophy). The very large and productive field of philosophical logic is a good example of this. Most of metaphysics can be done without requiring reference to time. Lastly, and perhaps most relevant to your point, is that there are mathematical (1-dimensional?) models of philosophical issues that take time into account, but as they are purely logical, mathematical models, they can prove the theorems they wish without reference to a specific point in time, so that the theorems hold over all time values. Especially because of valid and strong methods of analysis such as this, I think your point in general is invalid.

I believe that there is no definite answer. I mean, what do we search for? It is Human Nature to strive and continue. For example, the invention of the automobile. We found a new way to transport things. But did it just end there? No, everyday man seeks a new ways to get to places, new ideas, new theories.

Like math, this can be a Math Function. Having F(x) and G(x). F(x) = (x + 2)^2 - 1. What ever you plug in there, you will get an answer, correct? Then say there is the function G(x) = (2x+1)^2 - 3. Then that gives you an answer. But what people do is not just that, this is what we do F(G(x)), in which whatever we get for F(x) we must put in G(x) to see what may come out. Then the same goes for G(F(x)) and see what comes out. Then once we get an answer, we don’t stop there, who knows, a new function may show up. Thus, ending with lots of solutions for domains and ranges.

That’s why in some cases i go with Thomas S. Kuhn. He believes that even the sciences do not present a definite answer and that the sciences do not seek the truth, but instead, the sciences are here for improvement or new ideas. Science does help us find some facts, but also, in science there are some theories.

Another example, 2 + 2 = 4. Correct? Now, is that the only way you can find the answer 4? Now what about 2 x 2 = 4. Man will continue on finding ways for improvement, new ideas, or new ways on finiding things.

And i believe that there is no such thing as a final answer, because even if we do find one, we will want to know more about it, thus more answers come out form that one.

Hitler was looking for a “final solution”. I think philosophy is necessarily fluctuating and in motion. If we artificially “pause” reality and try and understand it, all we’ve understood and all we have the final answers about is this artificial slice of reality which isn’t part of the constant change. There are final answers to everything, but some of those answers go on forever without end.