TAing Intro Philosophy Pt. 2

Last week I continued running sections for introduction to philosophy. We had, in theory, read Bertrand Russell’s “The Value of Philosophy.” I say “in theory” because in reality when I asked my students who had done the reading, not many people raised their hands. Turns out the bookstore hadn’t actually gotten the book in, yet.
No problem, though, really, since I put the important text in my slides. I got tired of having to find things in books because I’ve noticed in discussions that usually by the time everyone has gotten the text out and found the spot, the person sharing has already finished reading. Between that and just losing people spacing out when we turn our attention to the text, it’s easier for the screen to just have the text ready.
I first posed the questions “What is the main point of this text?” and “What argument is given for it?”. The argument goes:
  1.     Philosophy is to be studied only if there is some value derived from doing so.
  2.     There is some value derived from doing so.
  3.      So, philosophy is to be studied.
The first premise is essentially the challenge posed by the imagined interlocutor. Since nobody really has a problem with 1, the main challenge is arguing for 2. I needn’t go into detail here on how he does so (see the link above), but I did challenge the students to then argue against it. I imagine that’s the only time in their academic careers they’ve been asked to provide reasons to leave.
We spent the most time then discussing whether the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. Discussions took off on their own pretty quickly.
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On the Two Parts of Empirical Knowledge

There’s two parts to looking at the world. The looking and the world. Most fields of inquiry fix their way of looking and go out in search of the world. Philosophy (at least some of it) instead turns to the way we’re looking at it.
Take for example the role of acetylcholine in the brain. If you ask “Why is that ACh there?” the organic chemist will answer with some sort of mechanical explanation. There’s some mechanism that created an ACh molecule and put it where it is. On the other hand, if you asked a molecular biologist, she would give some sort of purposive explanation. There’s ACh doing the stuff it does being the beings with the ACh doing what it does were able to reproduce. Here we see two scientists answering the same question with two different but compatible answers. Both look to the world, gather their evidence, and draw conclusions about the world. And both keep their ways of looking at the world more or less fixed throughout.
This isn’t meant as an insult to the scientists! Fixing a method of investigation is just how we get a science going. Until we have a concrete system of generating questions (or problems) and an established method of answering (or solving) them, we just don’t have a science. Once we do, though, we apparently get quite a bit of use out of it. The tricky part is figuring out which systems of generating questions and which methods of answering them are the good ones. This is where I see philosophy fitting in.
I take my work on consciousness in particular to be serving this role to neuroscience and psychology, for example. The two fields have very effective ways of investigating nervous systems and mental/behavioral structures. I think that they don’t yet have a great way of investigating subjective conscious experience itself yet (which isn’t a super unpopular view). Don’t get me wrong: I don’t deny the current best empirical data people have collected. My point is not that we have no information from our current perspective, but rather that with a fundamental reconfiguration of our understanding of what consciousness is, and with this reconfiguration a new vocabulary, calculus, etc., we can see it much more clearly.
It takes all kinds. Some people are excellent at taking the blueprints and paving the roads. Some people are great at taking the beaten paths and continuing to build. And some of us see some value in taking yet-undiscovered approaches to the same material. Thus there is in fact not a conflict here but rather two parts of the same larger enterprise.