The limitations of the philosophical approach

As with the other approaches, philosophy also has its limitations.


Extrinsic limitations

Relying on authority - although less so than religion, philosophy can also suffer from an over-reliance on authorities (e.g. Aristotle, Kant, or Marx). The weight of an argument is sometimes based on who has said something, rather than on the reasoning strength of what has been said. This is reflected in the extensive use of references to other philosophers that may have an aura of authority, but mean little to those who are not initiated. Such a trend contributes to solidifying particular views into ideologies. Many philosophers have given their allegiance to various ‘-isms' and felt obliged to remain true to these frameworks.


Limitations of philosophy as a social practice

Focusing on the language - examining the relationship between the subject and object, between human beings and reality, degenerated in the main stream philosophy of the mid-20th century into examining only the means by which the constructs of reality are made: the use of words and language. The clarification of language (getting rid of ambiguities) was considered a proper way of formulating the truth, despite the fact that the futility of such an endeavour was realised very early[1].


Intrinsic limitations

Abstractedness - one of the problems with philosophy (which is, to some extent, a consequence of focusing more on relations rather than on that what relates) is that it is divorced from everyday experiences. Philosophers often indulge in attempts to outwit each other by building more and more complex arguments, while examining in minute detail the arguments of their opponents, which only moves them further away from the subject at hand and contributes little to its real understanding. This is why there is a saying that philosophers live in ivory towers, and the term ‘philosophising' sometimes has a derogatory meaning. Philosophical theories that entirely flout common sense tend to forfeit a connection with ordinary life and become too abstract.

Groundlessness - reasoning can be so proficient that it can prove almost anything, which easily leads to relativism. Sufficiently complex systems allow endless combinations and permutations, so even radically opposed views may seem reasonable. Hence, philosophy can become a game and, therefore, in effect unreliable. To relate to the real world, some other constrains or tests of acceptability are needed besides the internal criteria. In other words, reasoning needs to be grounded in hard facts that can be supplied by methods usually associated with science.

Speculativeness - philosophers are in a good position to deal with universals, but philosophical method cannot provide content (without taking into account experience, reasoning is nothing more than speculation). And if the full picture, aspired to by philosophers throughout the centuries, is ever to be reached, philosophy cannot rely only on everyday life. It would be difficult to avoid drawing from, and taking into account, what can be broadly called spiritual practices and experiences, as these can supply the raw material needed for a metaphysical framework.

  • [1]. As far back as 1902 Charles Pierce wrote in the Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology: ‘Think of arm chairs and reading chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees, dentist's chairs, thrones, opera stalls, seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the art and crafts exhibitions, and you will see what a lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term. I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or chairishness that you gave me.’