What's the METHOD in philosophic research? Don't tell me, please, that it's logic or the principle of inconsistency. The logic can be applied to all kinds of thinking: scientific, religious, philosophic, and even artistic. What I mean by METHOD is something like case-control or cohort methodology in scientific research. Is there any methodology in philosophic research? Do philosophers conduct any research for testing their propositions/hypotheses with some kinds of evidence? How? Which kind of evidence are they concerned about? How much evidence is enough for approving or refuting a hypothesis?

Philosophy does not have a distinctive method. The subject is better characterised in terms of the problems it addresses than in terms of the methods it uses. But in philosophy we do often find ourselves in the situation where the question seems genuine but there is no straightforward procedure for answering. (Some might even be tempted to define a philsophical problem in this way: real questions with no clear way to determine answers.) The questions seem neither straightforwardly empirical, nor susceptible to anything like proof. So we scrabble around as best we can, clarifying, articulating, and checking for consistency and coherence.

Philosophers appeal to human intuition all the time as a sort of "data" on which to base various arguments. but what if we are simply possessed of intuitions which are plainly contradictory in an unintelligible way? I have to imagine that an appeal to thought experiments presumes that there is some underlying truth to our feelings, but what if there is no such truth? Might we simply be running in circles?

This sounds a lot like Descartes' demon scepticism in the First Meditation. There he worries that he might be mistaken even about things that seem most obvious, like simple mathematical sums. If one suffers from this kind of 'hyperbolic doubt', a doubt that even what seems obviously contradictory might be consistent, and that even what seems obviously consistent might be contradictory, then it is very difficult to see how one could reassure oneself by argument, since one might worry hyperbolically about that very argument. Perhaps if we did suffer from hyperbolic cognitive disability, then we wouldn't even be capable of thought; but that seems cold comfort. Let me make two slightly more encouraging points. The first is that the case for demon scepticism is not as impressive as the case for dream scepticism. For while the dream sceptic can construct a possible world where we are mistaken about the external world, there is a sense in which a demon sceptic cannot even describe the world she is...

Dear Philosophers, When philosophers write about scientific method, are they proposing a description of the actual practices of scientists or are they attempting to produce a normative theory of what science should be like? If it's the former, then shouldn't this be answered by historical study and not philosophy? If the latter, why do philosophers talking about scientific method bother to look at the history of science at all if one cannot gurantee an 'ought' from an 'is'? BMW

Here is another way in which the normative and factual mix in the philosophy of science. One of the central normative issues is whether we are justified in saying that our best scientific theories are (at least approximately) true. The best known argument for saying that our best theories are true is the miracle argument, according to which the truth of our best theories is the only account that avoids making their remarkable predictive successes miraculous. The best known argument for saying that our best theories are not true is the pessimistic induction, according to which the fact that so many of the best theories in the history of science have turned out to be false (even when they were predictively successful at the time) makes it very likely that our current best theories will turn out to be false too. The miracle argument and the pessimistic induction address the normative question of whether we are justified in believing our best theories to be true, and they depend on factual claims about the...

Does (and should) philosophy influence other disciplines? For example, does the philosophy of science have any real impact on the work of physicists or aesthetics on artists today? Did they ever? Does (and should) the philosophy of X do more than comment on and document X?

Astronomers study the stars; philosophers of science study the astronomers. And just as astronomy is worthwhile even though it does not improve stellar behaviour, so philosophy of science may be worthwhile even if it does not improve the behaviour of astronomers. Some scientists have nevertheless been influenced by philosophy. In the history of science, giants like Galileo, Newton, and Einstein come to mind in this connection. And some current scientists probably also come under the influence of philosophical ideas, for example Karl Popper's idea that it is important to think about negative evidence, about what sort of data would show that your hypothesis is wrong. Philosophical influence on science may be beneficial, but one shouldn't exaggerate the case. For quite generally there is a big difference between being good at describing a practice and being good at doing it. For example, it's one thing to be good at coming up with hypotheses and testing them, quite another thing to be good...

My 7-year old daughter has asked what philosophy is. Can anybody give an explanation that she would understand? Bonus question: while we were discussing this, she quoted the song, 'Rubbernecking': "Stop, look and listen baby, that's my philosophy". If you can shed light on this you are a legend.

Sadly, I'm not familiar with 'Rubbernecking', but I guess that here 'my philosophy' just means something like 'my general approach to life'. As for explaining to your daughter what philosophy is in the sense we focus on here at AskPhilosophers, examples are better than definitions. For example, you might tell your daughter that in philosophy we think about questions like: 'How do you know that your teachers aren't really robots?

Are there any great literary stylists in philosophy? Its analytical nature would seem to militate against this i.e., trying to express difficult ideas as intelligibly as possible. Some may have (but the only ones I can think of are in translation and far from what the panel go in for) and are usually aiming for a 'felt' response such as Nietzsche, Kierkergaard, Plato's account of the death of Socrates, and so on. Wittgenstein seemed to like portentous statements (again I only know him in translation and couldn't really understand him) such as 'The world is all that is the case' and 'Whereof we cannot speak thereof we must pass over in silence'. Was he trying to sound gnomic and literary while conducting philosophical analysis? I teach English and use Russell's lay writings as models of concision and eloquence in style. I also use extracts from Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' to show how not to write! Someone told me Sartre had had no training in logic hence his tedious verbosity. I also consider Martin...

You don't have to be a stylish writer to be a great philosopher, as Kant proved. Nevertheless, some great philosophers write beautifully. In addition to Plato, my personal favourites include Descartes, Berkeley, and Hume. I subscribe to the principle that "style should be the feather in the arrow, not the feather in the cap".

I have read, recently, that it is better for a student of philosophy to have completely mastered the secondary literature before moving on to the primary. Is this really the best approach to a philosophical text?

Philosophy differs from physics in this respect. If you want to learn physics, you pretty much have to start with textbooks. Indeed you may well complete an undergraduate major in physics without ever reading a research paper. But philosophy is a deep-end-first subject. The text you are reading in your freshman course may be the same text your teacher is focusing on for her research. That is one of the neat things about the subject. Of course not just any primary source is a good place to start: Kant can wait. But anyone with decent reading skills could do a lot worse than start their philosophical career by reading Plato's Meno or Descartes' Meditations or Hume's Inquiry concerning Human Understanding.

From the some of the questions I see submitted to this site, it seems that many people expect philosophers to affirm that their faith / superstitious beliefs have some positive value or grounding in reality. I cannot however think of many modern philosophers who would support such a belief system, so my question is: why do people feel that philosophy will be more supportive of faith-based belief systems than science?

Maybe there is some contrast in stereotypes, with scientists seen as more down to earth and philosophers seen as more speculative, and this leads folk to think that philosophers are more likely to take ungrounded claims seriously. Here is another possibiliity. The great skeptical tradition in philosophy is an epistemic leveler. In light of Descartes' sceptical arguments about the external world and Hume's sceptical arguments about induction, the warrant for scientific claims can seem no better than any other claims. This train of thought may of course lead one to put less weight on science; but it may also lead one to take other sorts of claims more seriously. (Like many philosophers, however, I prefer to try to show what it wrong with those sceptical arguments.)

Can we really benefit from philosophy? Are we reaching a cumulative understanding of the universe or gaining any proof? Philsophy has destroyed the faith of believer; as far as I have seen, it has only increased the vigour of the sceptic. Would it be fair to say then that philosophy has only revealed the limitations of what we can know? Are we left in an unresolved epistemological crisis?

I have considerable sympathy for your sentiment that philosophy has increased the vigour of the sceptic. But that may be a good thing. For if the sceptic is right -- if some of our beliefs don't have the warrant we supposed them to have -- then it may be good to know this. Moreover, grappling with the sceptic is mind-expanding and, for some of us, a great deal of fun.