Paul Graham on Philosophy
October 8, 2007
I’ve been a fan of Paul Graham‘s since I read “Beating the Averages” some time ago. So I was intrigued to read his thoughts on philosophy, and gratified to discover he was a philosophy undergrad himself, as I was. His essay reminded me of Freddie Ayer’s opening to Language, Truth & Logic: “The traditional pursuits of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful”.
I wouldn’t take such a strong stance as Graham on the uselessness of philosophy, since I think the most basic question of metaphysics & ontology – “what kind of things are there ?” – is the same question we ask ourselves when embarking on a new design. So software design is applied ontology.
And I do like Murray Gell-Mann’s comment on philosophy: “philosopy is the discipline whose adherents kick up a load of dust, then complain they can’t see”.
I think Graham’s problem with philosophy stems from the fact that he started with it. It’s probably better to master a technical discipline, then philosophize about it – witness Taleb, Soros, Niederhoffer on markets. Or Naur on computing.