Many people complain of the trouble that philosophers cause with all of their theories and disputations. As a “professional” philosopher, I’ve fielded my share of such complaints over the years. For example, a friend once scoffed to me how he had once heard a philosopher question whether he could know that the chair in which he was sitting was real. I simply smiled in response, sensing that he was in no mood for a serious discussion of the matter. The truth is, of course, that it is not philosophy which poses the problem of the reality of the chair, but science. As physicists tell us, that chair is 99.9% empty space—very far from the “reality” of the chair that we seem to perceive with our senses. That is a scientific conclusion, not so much a philosophical one. What the philosopher says in response to this is to ask, given this apparent scientific fact, whether we can know the “chair” that is really there. This is a very natural and ordinary question, it seems to me, given the facts of the situation. So then, we might ask, what is my friend’s actual complaint in this case? If he claims the problem is with philosophy, then he’s really just confused or else in denial. But if his problem is with science and its implications for knowledge, then, well, he’s a philosopher.

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