Philosophy 76 - 5.1 Philosophical Methods for Discovering Truth

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the role that dialectics plays in logic and reasoning.
  • Define “argument” and “negation of a argument.”
  • Define the laws of noncontradiction and the excluded middle.

Like most academic disciplines, the goal of philosophy is to get closer to the truth. Logic, reasoning, and argumentation are the predominant methods used. But unlike many other disciplines, philosophy does not contain a large body of accepted truths or canonical knowledge. Indeed, philosophy is often known for its uncertainty because it focuses on questions for which we do not yet have ways of definitively answering. The influential 20th-century philosopher Bertrand Russell explains that “as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, the subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science” (1912, 240).

Because philosophy focuses on questions we do not yet have ways of definitively answering, it is as much a method of thinking as it is a body of knowledge. And logic is central to this method. Thinking like a philosopher involves thinking critically about alternative possibilities. To answer the question of whether there is a God (a question for which we lack a definitive method of answering), we can look at things we believe we know and then critically work through what those ideas entail about the existence or possible characteristics of God. We can also imagine God exists or God does not exist and then reason through what either possibility implies about the world. In imagining alternative possibilities, we must critically work through what each possibility must entail. Changing one belief can set off a cascade of implications for further beliefs, altering much of what we accept as true. And so, in studying philosophy, we need to get used to the possibility that our beliefs could be wrong. We use reason to do philosophy, and logic is the study of reason. Hence, logic helps us get closer to the truth.

This lesson has no exercises.

The content of this course has been taken from the free Philosophy textbook by Openstax