Hi, I'm Dave Ward from the University of Edinburgh and welcome to the first lecture of our Philosophy MOOC. So in this week of the course our job is to try and understand a bit about what philosophy as a subject is. So here's what we're going to do. I'm going to tell you what I think philosophy is. And then I'm going to try and illustrate that conception of philosophy by talking a bit about how that relates it to some other subjects. Then we're going to move on to thinking about how some other features of philosophy follow from that definition of philosophy that I'll have given you. Then we're going to move on to thinking about how we actually go about doing philosophy. And we're going to do that by looking at our first couple of examples of philosophical arguments and thinking about how we should understand them and criticize them. And finally, we're going to finish by thinking about what it might mean to look for the best or the right way of thinking about something. And we're going to look at the views of a couple of great philosophers from history who are going to help us think about that question. So let's get started. What is philosophy? Well, it's a difficult question to answer, and I think the best answer that we can give is a very simple one. Philosophy is just the activity that philosophers get up to. So one important thing about that is that philosophy isn't just a subject, it's an activity that we have to engage in. It's something that we have to do. And to really get a good sense of what it is to engage in it, what it is to do it, and to do it well, you're going to have to do more than just listen to what I have to say about philosophy this week. The best way to work out what that activity is all about and how to be good at it is going to be to work your way through the course. And try to engage and think about and understand all the different topics and problems and arguments that we're going to consider there. So by doing that you'll hopefully get a much better sense of what philosophy is all about than I'm going to be able to give you this week. But I can at least try and make a start on saying what I think philosophy is, and here's the definition that I'm going to be working with this week. I think that philosophy is the activity of working out the best way to think about things. So what do I mean by that? Well, let's clarify it first of all by thinking about how that relates it to some other subjects. So one question that you might have immediately about that definition is, don't all subjects try and think about things in the right way? Okay, from astronomy to zoology, everything tries to think about whatever topic or domain it's concerned with in the right way. And I think that that's true. But I think that what the philosopher needs to say in response to it is to distinguish between the activity of getting on with thinking in a particular way and the activity of stepping back from that way of thinking and working out the right way to think about things. So it's that distinction between thinking in a particular way and working out whether some way of thinking is the right way that I think corresponds to the distinction between some particular academic subject and doing philosophy about that subject. So let's take physics as an example. If you're a physicist, then you do things like collect data, do measurements, construct experiments and try and build theories on that basis, okay? When you're doing that, you're getting on with the activity and the way of thinking that's characteristic of physics. But we can step back from the activity of doing physics and thinking in that way that we do when we're doing physics. And we can ask questions like, what is it for data to confirm or refute a theory in physics? What are we doing when we're trying to measure reality? And what does it even mean to try and understand reality in terms of its basic physical constituents? So when we step back from the actual process of doing physics in that way and start asking questions about the ways of thinking and the ways of carrying on that we're employing when we're doing physics. Then we're making the transition from doing physics to doing the philosophy of physics. We're stepping back and trying to work out the right way of thinking about things. So for our second example I want to think about medicine. Specifically I want to think about the way they would have practiced or thought about medicine in Medieval times. So in those times, as I understand it, they tried to explain all different diseases, and tried to treat all different diseases in terms of what they called four humors. So there was blood, black bile, phlegm, and yellow bile. And if you had anything wrong with you, then they tried to understand that disease in terms of some kind of imbalance of those four humors and treat it accordingly. Now obviously, we don't think about medicine in that way anymore. We don't think that that's the right way to think about diseases and their treatment. So how can that change in our way of thinking come about? Well one way it could come about is just by us asking questions about what it really means for a disease to be an imbalance of black bile and yellow bile or whatever. So we might just ask ourselves whether we really understand what it means to make that identity claim that a disease just is that. Or we might look at all the other things in the body that seem to also be important to our physical health and treatment and curing of disease and think that there seems to be a lot of evidence that they seem important to our health as well. So there are things other than blood and bile and phlegm that are important to being healthy. How does our medical theory explain that? Or we might just notice that our ways of treating diseases and trying to cure people according to this framework really aren't very successful. So different ways in which we might be prompted to revise our conception of what the best way of thinking about diseases and how to treat them are. So notice from the quick discussion of physics and that quick discussion of Medieval medicine that it looks like there are a couple of different ways that we can be prompted to revise our way of thinking about things. Revise our conception of what the best way of thinking in a particular domain is. One sort of way can be making that revision from the insight, so making that revision from just thinking about the subject. So when I was talking about philosophy of physics, I was talking about asking questions such as, what is it for data to confirm or to refute a theory? And those are questions that can change the way that we think about physics just from the armchair, if you will, okay, just by thinking about them. In the case of medicine I suggested that one way that we might be prompted to revise our medical framework was by thinking about whether or not we really understand what it means for a disease to be an imbalance of different humors. So again, that'd be what we might call a challenge to our way of thinking from the insight, right? We don't have to go out and be confronted by the world to change the way that we're thinking about things in those cases. But another way that we might be prompted to change the way that we are thinking about things is from the outside. So this is probably particularly clear with the example of Medieval medicine. So presumably one of the reasons why we don't subscribe to that way of thinking about diseases and their treatment anymore is because we just noticed that it wasn't very successful, okay. When we try and understand diseases and treat diseases by thinking about them and acting towards them in that way, a lot of people seem to die, and we don't seem to do very well. We might think that we can think about similar examples in physics. So perhaps the sorts of discoveries that were made in quantum mechanics at the start of the 20th century might give us examples here. One way you might think about those discoveries is that they appear to give us results just by looking at the world and doing experiments on it and observing what we found there. That seem to show that we had to really change quite fundamentally some of our notions about how we understand the world. So you might think that some of the results from quantum mechanics put pressure on basic intuitions that we have about what it is for one thing to be able to cause another. So there might be results in quantum mechanics that suggest that one thing can instantaneously affect another thing that's very far away from it and that doesn't seem to have any connection to it. There might also be some results from quantum mechanics that suggest that a thing can be like a wave in some respects, but like a particle in some other respects. Whereas it seems that according to our common sense conception of reality, a thing can be either a wave or a particle but not both. So that's a very quick and crude characterization of some stuff about quantum mechanics. But it's just by way of example to suggest how the world can throw up reasons for us to change our way of thinking about things, just as surely as we can get reasons just by thinking about it from our armchair. And so it's that feature of philosophy, the feature that by taking our ways of thinking about things out into the world and testing them against the world, we can be prompted to change and revise them. That means philosophy has this really close relationship with a lot of other subjects. So in our two examples we've seen how it can have a close relationship with physics and with medicine. By getting on with the business of doing physics and doing medicine, we can be given reason to step back and think about or rethink what we think are our best ways of understanding the world. And this goes for a whole lot of other subjects as well. So for example, in a future week of the course, we're going to be thinking about some issues in the philosophy of mind. And we're going to see how developments in artificial intelligence and computer science led to people stepping back and trying to think about new ways to think about what it actually is to have a mind. So in this section I've suggested that philosophy is the activity of stepping back and working out the right way of thinking about things. And I started off by saying that philosophy, in an important sense, was an activity, not just a subject. So far I've tried to say a little bit about what that activity is and illustrated it with a couple of examples.