Sunday, April 15, 2007

Philosophy can't prove anything...

~From I Am a Strange Loopby Douglas Hofstadter, page xvii:

It seems to me that many philosophers believe that, like mathematicians, they can actually prove the points they believe in, and to that end, they often try to use highly rigorous and technical language, and sometimes they attempt to anticipate and to counter all possible counter-arguments. I admire such self-confidence, but I am a bit less optimistic and a bit more fatalistic. I don't think one can truly prove anything in philosophy; I think one can merely try to convince, and probably one will wind up convincing only those people who started out fairly close to the position one is advocating.

I agree with the latter part... that one will only wind up convincing only those who started out close to the position one is advocating. However, isn't whether or not something can be proven dependent on whether or not it's convincing? Philosophy suffers from having to use imprecise words all the time, while in math a number is understood to be the same by all mathematicians. I disagree with Hofstadter; ideas in philosophy can certainly be proven, perhaps just not as easily and precisely.

But what is "proof"? Can it be relative? Can something be proof for you, but not for me?



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