TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

Problems of idealism; Is there such a thing as an unnecessary question?

As the old age sentiment goes, "Dear student, there is no such thing as a dumb question."

I think most of us would agree that in fact there most definitely is. Throughout the average day we might come across a few of these redundant, repetitive, or intentionally idiot,/misleading (yes, some people ask obvious questions for reasons other than actually wanting to know the answer) ramblings spouted by our coworkers, students, peers, etc. For example, there is always the individual in a meeting or classroom that, for some reason, always seems to miss the direction or content of every other sentence.

These instances aside, though, could there possibly be this sort of phenomena occurring in philosophical discourse?

The types of questions I am referring to merit the labeling of "philosophical mind games." We can look to the instances of most of our first encounters with "philosophical thinking" for examples of what I'm speaking about; "Whoa bro, what would happen if I took a picture, of a picture, of a picture?, or "What if we're all dreaming right now and when we think we're having dreams, we're having dreams within dreams?". These youthful utterances are usually followed by the phrase "That's deep."

Admittedly, the first encounters with infinite regressions spark the intellectual engines and we have ridden into more sophisticated scopes of inquiry. I must also note that the philosophical spirit of questioning is very valuable and I in no way am arguing for the lack of this or diminishment of creativity.

But I find these sorts of questions quite dangerous when used for the foundation of philosophical paradigms. Solipsism, for eg., by exploiting perceptive limitation, comes to the ridiculous conclusion that there is nothing outside of ourselves. This similarly occurs with argument for idealism.

Could we not entertain these ideas as students of philosophy and critical thinkers without taking them any more seriously than a critical thinking exercise?


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Sep 8 2013: Yet if we know how to identify philosophical paradigms and learned to question them, I don't see any danger in those at all. By this we can freely dive into them and choose what sparks our own philosophical interest to reflect on it.

    This way is becomes less likely to get stuck into pit-falls of any paradigm in general, which to me is one of the basic qualities a 'critical thinker' develops.

    On infinite regressions it may just help to take a look into fractal geometry, or the next cauliflower on our plates to enjoy its beauty (and taste) and this without the risk of getting 'loop trapped' ... :o)
    • thumb
      Sep 8 2013: Lejan,

      "Yet if we know how to identify...and learned to question them, I don't see any danger in them at all."

      The problem here, then, is not you and I failing to see that some of these paradigms are faulty, but that they continued without sufficient scrutiny. Not necessarily philosophers, who are subject to peer review, etc., but those popularizing sorts that are hijacking philosophy and science in order to support the principles of their self-help conferences.
      Furthermore, these Mystics and Idealism are self-proclaimed academics and philosophers. Here, I think it is the duty of the philosophical and scientific community to protect it's integrity.

      "this way it becomes less likely to get stuck..."
      Absolutely. But we have to be careful here. We cannot immediately assume that paradigms other than are own are erroneous and lack rigor by the implication that critical thinkers would know better. Some of the Idealists and mystic I'm taking issue with are incredible rigorous and intelligent.
      So how is it we can criticize these individuals? Especially in the instance that they deny a material universe?
      If they do not accept science or logic what language could we possibly speak in to persuade them of their errors?
      This is why I find the questioning itself so problematic. It allows for these types on individuals to develop all-encompassing systems which are irrefutable due to tricky wording and awkward premises and we lose them forever.
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: Peer review in philosophy as a 'duty of the philosophical and scientific community to protect it's integrity.'?

        That would be a soft framing for hard censorship!

        Philosophy is about the freedom of minds and the right to be wrong while using this freedom.

        It is about dispute and argumentation for those who are interested in it, and to exchange minds on subjects which can not be captured and examined under reproducible lab conditions.

        Philosophy is opinion, points of view constructed and argued on belief and therefore no subject to run our true/false algorithms on them.

        Don't try to persuade those whose 'errors' can only be supposed and therefore impossible to be proven.

        Just don't feel threatened by 'these types of individuals' if you don't share their views. Don't try to keep them. Stay friendly, and let them go ...

        Thats the beauty of pluralism!
        • thumb
          Sep 9 2013: 1) I think you misunderstand the goal of philosophy
          2) Freedom, yes. Intellectual Dishonestly, no. Calibrated by the discipline. IF psychics and new age "woo-woo"- as Michael Shermer calls- wasn't trying to be passed off as philosophy or science, I'd have no issue with it. Other than, of course, it's deliberate manipulation of individuals, their emotions, and their money.
          3) Relativism is more dangerous than you might think.
          4) Relativism and pluralism aren't interchangeable for "tolerance"
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: Fair enough for you to disagree with me.
    • thumb
      Sep 9 2013: how about to give an absolute definition to the ethics for might give a real definition to the critics.
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: An absolute definition on ethics denies its very nature, its necessity for change, on which criticism is a vital and valid motivator.

        And who would be able to define such undefinable?
        • thumb
          Sep 9 2013: an ethical critics can be an absolute ethics for the critics and us.
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: By my understanding of ethics and the meaning of absolute I can not agree on what you said, but if the concept of an 'absolute ethics' comforts you, thats fine with me.
        • thumb
          Sep 9 2013: i thank you for your compassion to the absolute but the flexibillity is needed here more Sir,how about *an ethical flexibilty to the critics which make it an absolute flexible ethics for the critics ?
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: 'Absolute flexible ethics'? Agreed! :o)
        • thumb
          Sep 9 2013: thank you for your flexibility it's like first just our principals for the absolute ,it's look like perfection ,what we are far from it like human but it can be perfect from us together one day :)
      • thumb
        Sep 9 2013: Its 'us together' what I wish for us humans, which doesn't mean to become all the same. :o)
        • thumb
          Sep 10 2013: a lovely joke can be better than biggest dream :)

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.