Philosophical Methods for Philosophy Majors

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Philosophical Methods for Philosophy Majors

1. Logical Argumentation

For most philosophers, East and West, logical argumentation is a core method. Indeed, many philosophers will say that, in the final analysis, it is the only method. Without going into that dispute, we can say that philosophers typically give rationales for their views. Even when they say cryptic things or use poetry, dialogue, or other literary forms, it ought to be possible to "recast" what is said in the form of an argument.
Sub-methods: inductive inquiry, deductive ordering of ideas.

2. Using the Results of the Natural Sciences and the Arts to fuel speculative theorizing.

"Theorizing" is treated as a separate method below. Here, the focus is on how philosophers use the various branches of knowledge as source material for speculation. Ultimately that speculation leads to theory building, but it's important for many philosophers to immerse themselves in the results of the various disciplines of knowledge, especially as they relate to traditional philosophical problems. That's why you find many philosophers of mind reading journals like "Brain Research" and why philosophers in medical ethics read about the actual practice of medicine. It's not eveyone's approach or emphasis, but there's something to be said for it.

3. Using Case Methods.

Case method is well known in fields as diverse as Business Management and Jurisprudence. In looking at a case, we try to gain insights about a situation that can be generalized. While looking at one case might not seem like a promising approach to creating a generalization, the hypothesis in case studies is that we will see a problem in it's complexity and in context.
Using Thought Experiments (Hypothetical Cases to Possible Worlds)
See Routledge article on thought experiments. Major examples: the brain in a vat, the Turing test, Searle's Chinese Room argument.

4. Careful Definitions

Using some of the distinctions in the Copi reading on definitions, you should be able to show how attending to diverse definitional strategies, as well as the whole question of the stability of meaning in post-strucuturalist thought, can open up a philosophical terrain for exploration.

5. Distinguishing Senses

Perhaps this is just a particular defintional strategy, but often we attend just to different senses of a term without necessarily being concerned about giving an overall definition.

6. Phenomenological Reduction

This can be quite a technically and lengthily elaborated process depending upon whose phenomenological methods one follows, but the general idea to to cheer, “Back to the Phenomena” and develop an attentiveness to deep structures of experience in some area. Here, perhaps, philosophy borders on ethnography, poetic methods, and structuralist methods, including Freudian pschoanalysis.

7. Postmodern strategies: deconstruction, giving genealogies, applying contemporary post-structuralist theories of interpretation.