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Philosophy, Introduction

definition according to Webster's dictionary.

We begin with the idea that philosophy is a kind of clear, deep thought; essentially putting our thought and language in order. This apparently analytic and linguistic understanding arises from the explicit recognition that all expression and communication, in particular all works of philosophy, the body of Principia Cybernetica, and this article itself, exist in a physical form as a series of symbol tokens in a particular modality and interpretable in a specific language and interpretational framework. It is impossible to consider philosophy in particular outside of the context of its processes and products. In that respect, philosophy must be understood as a process of philosophizing in which linguistic symbol tokens are produced and received. This includes the normal linguistic forms of speaking, hearing, reading, and writing, but also other linguistic forms such as diagrams, mathematics, and sign language. The authors of this paper philosophize as they write it; the readers philosophize as they read it. This article itself cannot have any existence "as philosophy" outside of this context of its production and/or reception.

What then distinguishes philosophical linguistic productions from any other? It is tempting to distinguish philosophy on the basis of its content, that is its referents, or what it is "about". Then we would believe, as some cybernetic philosophers have suggested \cite{BAA53a}, that philosophy is linguistic thought which refers to specific deep questions, e.g. about existence and knowledge, the nature of thought, and the ultimate good. We do not deny this, but do not believe that it is a good place to start in finding a definition.

Rather the focus on philosophizing as a process leads us to consider philosophy as any language conducted in a certain manner. In particular, whenever we deal with issues in depth, continually asking "why" and "how" to critically analyze underlying assumptions and move to the foundations of our complex knowledge structures, then that is necessarily philosophy. Thus we construct philosophy of language, of mind, or of law when we consider these specific subjects in their depth. Surely we could have a philosophy of plumbing or gum chewing should we wish.

As we proceed in the question asking mode towards deep thought and thus philosophy, then of course we are naturally drawn to the traditional philosophical questions outlined above. But what distinguishes them as the quintessential philosophical problems is their generality. Thus if we restrict ourselves specifically to (say) philosophy of law or plumbing, then perhaps we can avoid certain general philosophical issues. Philosophy per se is simply the result of philosophizing in an unrestricted domain of discourse.

See also: Cybernetics and Philosophy(paper by Turchin in tex format)

Links on Philosophy

Copyright© 1993 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Aug 1993


Introduction to Principia Cybernetica

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Philosophy as Linguistic Representation

Epistemology, introduction

Metaphysics, introduction

Ethics, introduction

What is a world view?


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