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Philosophical Inquiries

An Introduction to Problems of Philosophy

Nicholas Rescher

Publication Year: 2010

Nicholas Rescher offers his perspectives on many of the foundational concerns of philosophy and reminds us that the purpose of philosophy is to “question the questions.” Rescher sees the need to inquire as an evolutionary tool for adapting to a hostile environment and shows how philosophy has thus developed in an evolutionary fashion, building upon acquired knowledge and upon itself. In a historical thread that informs and enriches his overview, Rescher recalls the contributions of Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Hegel, Leibniz, Laplace, Bertrand Russell, and others. Among his many topics, Rescher discusses knowledge and the unattainablity of absolutes, skepticism and its self-defeating nature, the limits of science vs. the limits of cognition, refuting reality as mind-independent, and idealism and divining our role in nature. He considers the universe and intelligence as the product of intelligent design, science and religion as non-conflicting and purposeful pursuits, and determinism and other fallacies surrounding the concept of free will. Rescher views morality in its hierarchal structure, its applicability to human coexistence, and its ontological commitment to the enhancement of value for ourselves and our world. He examines questions of authority and the problem of judging past actions or knowledge by present standards. Overall, he argues for philosophy as an unavoidable tool for rational, cogent responses to large questions.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Title Page/Copyright/Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-

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pp. ix-

Before getting down to the book’s proper work, a brief preliminary word about the nature of the enterprise is in order. This book is compiled in the spirit of Bertrand Russell’s Problems of Philosophy and A. J. Ayer’s Central Questions in Philosophy as an attempt by a senior philosopher to give a sort of cook’s tour conspectus of major philosophical issues. It is not a students’ introduction to philosophy, nor does it seek to provide a comprehensive survey of the field—no single...

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The Task of Philosophy

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pp. 1-19

Philosophy may well be something of an acquired taste. For philosophers not only raise questions and propose answers, but they try to glimpse behind the curtain of such issues. They want to question the questions themselves and ask why they are important. And they are not just satisfied to have an answer but want to know just what it is that makes an answer correct and appropriate. Philosophy is identified as one particular...

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Knowledge and Scepticism

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pp. 20-35

...But do we ever achieve absolute certainty? Perhaps sometimes in matters relating to oneself—as per Descartes’ example, “I am thinking.” But surely impersonal matters of objective fact are in a more difficult position. On this basis, philosophers since Plato’s1 day have stressed the unattainability of absolutes in our knowledge regarding this world. And a straightforward and plausible argument for scepticism is at work...

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Limits of Science

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pp. 36-50

How far can the scientific enterprise advance toward a definitive understanding of reality? Might science attain a point of recognizable completion? Is the achievement of perfected science a genuine possibility, even in theory when all of the “merely practical” obstacles are put aside as somehow incidental? What would perfected science actually be like? What sort of standards would it have to meet? Clearly, it would have to complete in...

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pp. 51-60

The position of metaphysical realism stands essentially as follows: Reality is mind independent. We live in a world not of our own making, a world whose constituents and their modes of operation are independent of our thought. Thought and its machinations have no bearing on the constituents and laws of nature, which are what they are independently of the existence of thinking beings. This sort of realism is not without its difficulties. One of its...

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Intelligent Design

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pp. 61-73

Two key ideas guide the present discussion: (1) that there is a substantial difference between being designed intelligently and being designed by intelligence, and (2) that evolution, broadly understood, is in principle a developmental process through which the former feature—being designed intelligently—can actually be realized. The conjoining of these items means that, rather than there being a conflict...

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Fallacies Regarding Free Will

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pp. 74-88

Philosophical controversy regarding the freedom of the will has been astir since the dawn of the subject. The freedom at issue calls for an agent’s being in conscious control of what they do in ways that are at odds with the prospect that their thoughts and intentions could be bypassed in an adequate explanation of their actions. The contradictory position—determinism—holds instead that agent control is an illusion and that the processes of nature settle matters of...

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Mind and Matter

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pp. 89-97

For centuries, issues of mind-matter interaction have preoccupied philosophers, and recently modern science has added fuel to the fire. But unfortunately, the interpretation of most science-inspired theorizing about mind-matter interaction is hopelessly muddied through misconstruing brain activity and the physiological gearing of the body to mental thought, that the latter is somehow governed and determined by the machinations of the former. Granted, there is a...

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Pragmatism and Practical Rationality

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pp. 98-109

Pragmatism is a philosophical position that puts practice at center stage and sees efficacy in practical activities as the prime goals of human endeavor. But there are two markedly different ways of working out this sort of a program. One way of implementing the leading idea of pragmatism is to see theory and theorizing as being incidental and secondary in importance—a “merely intellectual” concern that has a less significant role...

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The Demands of Morality

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pp. 110-131

The pervasive relativism of the age views moral principles and standards as little more than a matter of custom based on practical convenience, like the rules of the road for driving—useful devices to diminish conflict in contexts of human interaction, but lacking any deeper validation and legitimacy, and certainly without any claims to universality. Morality as regarded from this angle is predicated on local custom, as part of the mores of the group. And any such...

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By Whose Standards?

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pp. 132-145

How far do our ethical and evaluative standards reach across the divides of space and time? Can we appropriately judge people remote from our own setting by the criteria we would apply locally, in our own spatiotemporal proximity? This discussion will argue against “presentism” and “localism”—the idea that we should judge others by our own standards and that our norms project all-embracingly across the reaches of time and...

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Pluralism and Concretization Quandaries

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pp. 146-157

Is seeking consensus to be regarded as a prime imperative of rational social policy? To be sure, the widely favored allocation of a pride of place to consensus sounds benevolent, irenic, and socially delectable. Indeed, it may sound so plausible at first that it is difficult to see how a person of reasonableness and goodwill could fail to go along. Nevertheless, there is room for real doubt as to whether this utopian-sounding position makes sense. Serious questions...

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The Power of Ideals

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pp. 158-169

Ideals pivot on the question, “If I could shape the world as I want, how would I have it be?” And, of course, every voluntary action of ours is in some manner a remaking of the world—at any rate, of a very small corner of it—by projecting into reality a situation that otherwise would not be. To act intelligently is to act with due reference to the direction in which our own actions shift the course of things. And this is exactly where ideals come into play. Our ideals guide and...

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Science and Religion

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pp. 170-188

...But once these facts are granted we are at the beginning of the story, not at its end. For in the end, the salient question is not whether science involves and requires religious commitment but whether it is compatible—or even congenial—with religion. Granted, science as such does not require God. (Neither does architecture!) But that of course does not mean that scientists do not need God (or, for that matter, architects). Human life is replete with...

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On the Improvability of the World

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pp. 189-200

Since Voltaire, most people have thought it absurd of Leibniz to deem this vale of tears to be the best of possible worlds. And what principally gives people pause here is that they see this world as imperfect on grounds of potential remediation. Laplace, for one, maintained that, given the chance, he could readily improve on the natural world’s arrangements. And other bold spirits often think the same. It is perfectly clear, so they say, that this, that, or the other...

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Why Philosophy?

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pp. 201-206

It is one of the ironies of twentieth-century philosophy that self-distrust pervades the entire enterprise. The era’s schools of thought, otherwise the most varied and reciprocally discordant views, seem to agree on one—and perhaps only one—significant point: that the discipline as traditionally understood and historically cultivated is misguided, profoundly wrong, and in crying need of abandonment. With remarkable unanimity, the philosophers of the twentieth...


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pp. 207-216

Index of names

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pp. 217-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780822973782
E-ISBN-10: 0822973782
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960751
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960753

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2010