Mark English on Philosophy, science and expertise – A Naive Reply

Dictionary Series - Philosophy: philosophyby Peter O. Smith

A number of articles have come out recently about the role and future of philosophy, contributing to a growing sense of dismay about that discipline that demands a reply. A recent essay by Mark English in Scientia Salon [1] crystallized the issue, and so it represents a good reference point for a reply. Reading English felt like watching a profession fall on its collective sword. Why should they do that? Then again, critics of philosophy are all prominent people in their fields and I am not a professional philosopher, so why should my opinion count in this debate? Perhaps that is precisely why it should count, because people like me are the real target of philosophy and its critics. This, then, will be the theme of my reply.

First, some background. I am a foundry metallurgist who was retreaded as a quality engineer, then a software engineer, and was finally subsumed into corporate management. I am a naive philosopher with a limited grasp of the ideas and a tentative use of the terminology. But I think I am also intensely practical, with a keen appreciation of the power of ideas to motivate and guide behavior (blame my management background). It is precisely this intrinsic power of ideas that makes philosophy so important: if philosophy cannot be made relevant to a person like myself, then it has no relevance I can think of.

It may help to see the debate about philosophy in the context of a struggle among three competing world views [2], which can be approximately described as follows:

1) The scientistic world view: The authority of the Tangible.

This sees the world as a vast assemblage of particles driven inexorably by the laws of nature. There is no inherent purpose and meaning. Science discovers how this process unfolds and this is the only truly valuable activity since it deals with the only truths. Alex Rosenberg expressed this point of view very clearly [3]. Morality, purpose, meaning and freedom are just incidental and most likely illusions of the mind. This world view rests on the authority of the Tangible.

2) The humanist world view: The authority of Ideas.

We are the fortunate inhabitants of a stage that is by chance just right for us. We are privileged participants in the drama of the universe and have a special responsibility to each other and to the world we inhabit. We have no future but we should care for what we have while we have it, which includes caring for each other. We have created a rich culture, driven by a world of ideas and this culture gives us our purpose and value. We are custodians of and must cherish this world and culture for our successors. This world view rests on the authority of Ideas.

3) The religious world view: The authority of the Absolute.

This shares aspects of the humanist world view but argues for a real purpose and meaning to life that transcends our existence. It places more onerous demands on our standards of behavior. This world view rests on the authority of the Absolute.

The key features of this struggle between competing world views are the demands they place on our behavior and the nature of their appeal to authority. The religious view makes onerous demands and appeals to the Absolute for its authority. The humanist view makes lesser demands and appeals to the world of ideas for its authority. The scientistic view makes few demands and appeals to the tangible, the demonstrable, for its authority. This struggle takes place because we are discovering a new world of abundance and freedom. The authority of ideas seems to be losing its hold on our imagination and being replaced by the authority of the tangible. Science is tangible and successful, which gives the scientistic world view great credibility. Humanist and religious world views, by contrast deal with intangible problems that resist easy solution, so have lower credibility. In the last two hundred years the authority of the Absolute has been replaced by the authority of ideas, which in turn is now being replaced by the authority of the tangible.

With this background in view, I will attempt to: 1) summarize Mark English’s main thesis; 2) reply to his core points; 3) outline what I think is the real problem; and 4) propose a solution for the problems facing philosophy. I want to immediately note that (4) is in fact an admission that (from this naive philosopher’s point of view) philosophy does have a serious problem.

Mark English’ main thesis

This is my schematic summary of the ideas expressed in English’s essay for Scientia Salon:

a) Philosophers cannot claim expertise.

b) Philosophy is a broad and ill-defined discipline and there is no agreement concerning what it is about.

c) It has no centre or core sub-disciplines.

d) It is losing authority and status.

e) The religious origins of philosophy are important.

f) It is “not possible nowadays to articulate a broad and ambitious vision of philosophy which will be persuasive to a wider audience.”

g) The unity and independence of philosophy are not sustainable, and the only possible future for the discipline is by means of closer ties to science.

h) “Empirically and mathematically unconstrained approaches may need to be jettisoned.”

i) Students are disillusioned with philosophy.

j) Meta-questions about disciplines are best addressed by the individual disciplines themselves.

k) There are questionable motivations for defending philosophy.

A reply to English’ thesis

I want to start by acknowledging that there is a problem, but I think it is not what Mark English thinks it is. I will cover these points briefly because Aravis Tarkheena has already done a good job at answering them on the ensuing discussion thread [4].

The claim that philosophers lack expertise is rather like claiming that scientists lack expertise. No scientist has expertise in the full range of science, and in the same way no philosopher has expertise in the full range of philosophy.

That philosophy is broad and ill defined, a loose amalgam, is true, but does not constitute a serious criticism. It is the consequence of growing specialization in the academy, and we see it in all the main academic disciplines, including the sciences.

The idea that philosophy has no center is in fact not true. Its center is ethics, both theoretical and practical [5]. One may disagree with my assessment, but I find it interesting that English says so little about ethics at all. Still, a naive philosopher or onlooker, such as myself, may be inclined to concede the apparent truth of these criticisms because philosophy does not come in a neatly wrapped package with a label explaining its contents. Other disciplines do have clearer packaging that makes them more readily apprehensible.

English also claims that philosophy is losing authority and status. The loss of authority is part of the general trend towards scientism. This is accentuated by the sustained scientistic attack itself, part of the clash among world views with which we are preoccupied. I think the attack is motivated by a decided hubris, which results in a clear display of tribal behavior. I think of this as a form of empirical imperialism.

As for the religious origins of philosophy, they are just beside the point, as all disciplines are built on the ruins of the past. Raising the point feels like an attempt to smear philosophy on the assumption that most readers would be unhappy with its association with religion.

It is true that a small number of philosophers are claiming the role of “enfant terrible,” playing avant garde critic. But in reality they are merely within the norm, conforming to the general trend in society of accepting the authority of the tangible. English tries to make his point stronger by drawing attention to examples of bad writing in philosophy and one must reply, so what. All disciplines contain examples of bad writing and a lovely example of that is Krauss’ infamous book, A Universe From Nothing, and an even worse example is Dawkins’ The God Delusion.

English claims that students are disillusioned with philosophy. Aravis Tarkheena disposed of that point in a powerful fashion when he mentions the demand for courses in bio-ethics [4].

As for the idea that it is “not possible nowadays to articulate a broad and ambitious vision of philosophy which will be persuasive to a wider audience” I admit that this is indeed a serious problem. But I do not agree that such vision cannot be articulated, and in the last section I will outline how I think it can be done.

The assertion that meta-questions about disciplines are best addressed by the disciplines themselves is a questionable one. That is precisely because practitioners of such disciplines lack the philosophical training and background necessary to carry out that kind of analysis, and most importantly they lack the detachment and objectivity that is provided by an outside view of things.

We then get to the main thrust of English’s argument: he is arguing that philosophy should be more closely allied with science and that some parts of it should be abandoned: “the only real hope for the discipline [is] lying in the direction of collaboration with the various sciences.” I think this is profoundly wrong and my reasons for this stance will become apparent in the last section.

Finally, english questions the motivations for defending philosophy, claiming that political, moral and ideological commitments are at play. I’m not sure how he reaches that conclusion, or why it wouldn’t apply just as well to the other side of the debate. But seriously, can we just assume for the time being that people have sincere and legitimate interests in defending their chosen fields of inquiry?

The real problem

Mark English’s criticisms in their entirety point to what I think is a real problem, at the least as it looks to me while looking from the outside. The word “philosophy” does not convey much meaning to the ordinary person anymore. It has become something ephemeral, pie in the sky, somehow unrelated to the real life people lead. When the outsider looks in, he sees this vast array of disparate fields and he simply cannot make sense of it all. To make it worse, he cannot relate the terminology to anything in his experience. He can’t see a core to philosophy so he cannot see any purpose in it at all. To the outsider this looks like navel gazing taken to its extreme.

This problem is accentuated by the contrast with the great successes of science. Science then becomes the standard by which other endeavors are judged and it therefore may look like philosophy fares very poorly indeed. But this is a false comparison, as I will outline below. Finally, the problem is exacerbated by a good dose of scientistic hubris as the scientistic world view aggressively expands its influence.

The problem underlying it all is, I think, the trend from the authority of the Absolute, to the authority of Ideas to the authority of the Tangible with which I began this essay. Scientism reflects the authority of the Tangible and philosophy asserts the authority of Ideas. Mark English and others wish to embrace this trend toward the authority of the Tangible, but I think this is a mistake. We are volitional agents, we act, we behave. Science explains behavior, but ideas shape behavior and this means that ideas will always be paramount. Philosophy will thus remains relevant and important because it is the custodian and interpreter of the ideas that shape behavior.

A solution

This naive philosopher in me thinks that the philosophical community has been aiding and abetting its enemies by failing to provide a clear and compelling vision that is readily understandable to the rest of the world. Such a vision is necessarily a simplification that glosses over many things, it is superficial because it needs to be. It is the wrapping paper on the box that contains the many components of philosophy.

I am asking you to consider this because I think it is the outsider’s view that will determine the fate of philosophy. If philosophy cannot give a compelling account of itself to outsiders it will go into substantial decline and will keep yielding ground to the scientistic world view, a view that is simple and immediately appealing.

Let’s start with a distinction between science as a guide to the objective world and philosophy as a guide to how we respond to and think about the objective world. Science deals with the facts and philosophy deals with how we think about the facts.

As Massimo Pigliucci would likely put it, science investigates the empirical space and philosophy investigates the conceptual space [6]. The conceptual space overlays the empirical space (as well as extending beyond it), and philosophy supplies the interpretative layer between the conceptual and empirical spaces. Science and philosophy have thus two different but complementary roles.

However, this is all rather abstruse and likely conveys little to the man in the street. Why should that matter? Well, I am a man in the street and it matters to me. It matters because I live in a world making competing claims on my beliefs, time, behavior, and allegiances. I must make choices and I am continually confronted by questions like, what is true? How should I behave? What is valuable? I need to be equipped with a set of tools to navigate these choices. Philosophy is that tool.

Science is not that tool because it rests on the triad of test, observe, and measure, something the ordinary man does not do. Philosophy rests on the triad of belief, behavior, and value, something the ordinary man does all the time. To put it differently, philosophy answers three basic questions (loosely adapted from Kant [7]):

1) What can we believe?

We are faced with many claims of truth which encompass all aspects of our lives. Philosophy provides the tools to examine and test claims of truth. It develops the right attitude of mind so that truth claims are not uncritically accepted. This is becoming even more important as society enters late modernity, because the authority of the world of ideas is declining and individuals are assembling their beliefs at will from many sources, becoming a kind of “pastiche-man.”

2) How should we behave?

The world is afflicted by moral problems. Everyone of us has been impacted by the poor moral choices of others and in all likelihood we have made poor moral choices that have injured others. At the heart of philosophy, its very core, is ethical thinking. Philosophy is the custodian of ethics and is the thinking man’s guide to moral behavior.

3) What do we value?

Just as ethics permeates our lives so do ideas of value. We make value judgements all the time about things, people and events. Such important aspects of our lives need guidance, and philosophical thinking provides this guidance. The idea of value is so important because our species is prepared to go to great lengths to defend the things it values or to acquire them. Clearer thinking about values would go a long way towards mediating our conflicts.

In summary then, I believe that philosophy can make a case for itself by persuasively presenting the view that it answers the three basic questions above. This can be thought of as the wrapping paper on the box that contains the many parts of philosophy, if you will. It is what the outside world will see and that immediately conveys clear meaning that is relevant to our lives. It reinforces the idea that science and philosophy serve different needs. Professional philosophers will claim that this way of looking at things is superficial and incomplete. That is true, but it simply must be so.

People inclined toward scientism see the only real hope for philosophy as lying in the direction of collaboration with the various sciences. That is because they fail to value philosophy’s vital role as an interpretive layer between the empirical world and the conceptual world, one that fashions belief, behavior, and value. This is a role that lies outside the scope of science and one that science simply cannot provide.

_____

Peter O. Smith is a foundry metallurgist, quality engineer, software engineer, and corporate manager (recently retired), who lives by the motto fides quaerens intellectum.

[1] Mark English, Philosophy, science and expertise, Scientia Salon, 4 September 2014.

[2] Matt Warman, Stephen Hawking tells Google ‘philosophy is dead’, The Telegraph, 17 May 2011.

[3] Alex Rosenberg, The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality, On the Human, 2009.

[4] Aravis Tarkheena, reply to Mark English.

[5] Aravis Tarkheena: “By far the most thriving area in philosophy today — and the one safest from the budgetary knife — is Applied Ethics.”

[6] Massimo Pigliucci, My Philosophy So Far — part I, Scientia Salon, 19 May 2014.

[7] “Philosophy … is in fact the science of the relation of all cognition and of all use of reason to the ultimate end of human reason, to which, as the highest, all other ends are subordinated, and in which they must all unite to form a unity. The field of philosophy in this cosmopolitan sense can be brought down to the following questions: 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope? 4. What is man? Metaphysics answers the first question, morals the second, religion the third. Fundamentally, however, we could reckon all of this as anthropology, because the first three questions relate to the last one.” —I. Kant (JL 9: 24-25)

Advertisements


Categories: essay

Tags: , , ,

103 replies

  1. A very good article! I have one question and one comment.

    Regarding the questions that should define the central topic of philosophy,

    1) What can we believe?
    2) How should we behave?
    3) What do we value?

    are these not the very core questions from the domain of religion? I mean, one could say that the purpose of the vast majority of religions is to answer precisely those questions. Moreover, each (serious) religion does answer them (usually through a decree by a divine authority, but that is beside the point here). So why should this be a defining topic for philosophy then? I find this to be a somewhat odd idea, which conflates the domain of philosophy with the domain of religion. As an analogy, this is similar to trying to define the domain of philosophy through the question “how does the real world actually work?”, which is already a clear domain of science. Somehow I think that the above three questions more clearly define the “territory” of religion, rather than philosophy.

    Second, the comment is about the actual approach to the problem of defining the research domain of philosophy. This article, as well as most others I’ve seen (though I haven’t seen too many) approach this problem from a prescriptive standpoint — one tries to provide a clear definition of what philosophy is or should be about, and then discuss the pros and cons of that definition. But I feel that there is an alternative way to approach the problem, which is more practical — the “retroactive” way. Namely, one should ask the question “What are the problems that philosophy has successfully solved so far?”. The strategy is to make a list of those problems, and then look for natural extensions of that list which contain the problems which have *not* *yet* been solved, but would naturally fall in the category of already solved problems.

    So I am advocating for a bottom-up approach to defining the domain of philosophy, rather than a top-down approach of this article (and many others). Not being a historian of science myself, my feeling is that various sciences have defined their respective domains in this way — collect a set of successful results that were obtained so far, and use those to construct a conceptual domain of a given science.

    Not being a philosopher myself, I actually have a hard time compiling a list of “problems solved by philosophy”. In fact, I find myself unable to think of a single question that has been: (a) discussed by philosophers over time, (b) for which an overwhelming consensus regarding the answer has been reached, to the point of (c) everyone considering that question “conclusively answered by philosophy”. Are there such questions? Can someone make a list? What would it look like? I believe that, once we have such a list in front of us, it would be much clearer what was the domain of philosophy so far, and how it can be extended, defined, and demarked from the domains of science, religion, history, math, etc.

    My point is that the constructive, bottom-up approach would be more successful than the prescriptive, top-down approach, which typically always boils down to guessing of some set of defining properties of philosophy (often well-informed guessing, but still…).

    Like

  2. You say “they fail to value philosophy’s vital role as an interpretive layer between the empirical world and the conceptual world”.

    Of course they do. Modern philosophers deny that science makes progress toward truth, deny that new scientific theories are adopted from quantitative evidence, deny that scientists are rational, and deny much of modern science like quantum mechanics. In short, philosophers are denialists about science. As long as that is true, philosophers cannot have any value in interpreting the physical world. Asking philosophers to interpret the empirical world is like asking Young Earth creationists to interpret fossils.

    Like

  3. Good comment as usual, Marko. But I don’t necessarily see these as uniquely core questions from the domain of religion. They are central questions that surface in many domains today. For example, wouldn’t you agree that psychology–among other disciplines–explicitly or implicitly addresses the questions of belief, behavior, and value?

    In my opinion, the author is making a case for the importance and relevance of philosophic inquiry and study to the average joe today. Certainly, his core questions can be described as having an ethical concern, or as an approach to seeking guidance, regardless of one’s religious or non-religious orientation.

    Keep in mind that one of the recurring themes on this blogsite is whether or not philosophic concerns and approaches have been preempted by the sciences. Time and again, commentary has suggested that philosophy “settles” nothing. Maybe not. But it has made and continues to make a critical contribution in framing and refining questions that are relevant to mankind. As my mother-in-law once said of her daughter, “Oh, she’s knows all the first answers. But she gets lost when there’s a follow-up question.”

    Like

  4. I enjoyed this article.

    I’m not thrilled with the choice of the 3 world views. I don’t think my world view would fit in any of the categories. I can find no use for the third category (absolute authority), and the first two (the scientific/tangible, & the humanistic/ideas) seems incomplete missing the bridge of subjective qualia which precede, constrain & inform our capacity to do and understand science and to form ideas. I think philosophy can potentially play a key role in pointing the ways in which the scientific & humanistic can merge in a complementary way improving our understandings from each viewpoint.

    I don’t think this can happen without a focus on the ways our qualia emerge to inter-relate with our science and our humanism. For example, we if want to better understand the origins of our beliefs , values, and behaviors and perhaps more importantly cultivate their expression in certain less biased ways or directions it should be obvious (I think) that both an objective scientific process and a subjective personal practice is needed.

    Like

  5. Philosophers are denialists about science? I wonder from which parallel universe this statement comes from.

    Like

  6. Hi Marko,

    Perhaps until our author responds, I can throw my hat into the ring. I think the difference between philosophy and religion isn’t the type of questions they ask, rather how they go about answering them. Religion provides answers that you are expected to accept by faith; granted, religious authorities may leave room for questions, but that’s actually where the difference comes in. Philosophy equips you to think about those questions via rigorous use of logic. While they both provide a framework for thinking about those questions, philosophy provides one that is far more critical. In other words, I don’t think it matters that they ask similar questions; what distinguishes them is how they answer those questions (perhaps that should be included in an overarching ‘vision’ for philosophy).

    I’m not sure how I feel about a retroactive approach. My main concern is that such an approach could box philosophy into a few main pursuits, without leaving room for the creation of new fields of philosophical inquiry. To me, the richness of philosophy, the wonderful variety of questions that it can ask — that is what makes it such a unique and beautiful field of study. I think that looking at philosophy’s past achievements can be helpful for determining some “next steps,” so to speak, but I don’t think our vision for philosophy as a whole should be determined by our past “accomplishments.” Doing so might restrict philosophical inquiry too much; its variety is what sets it apart from other fields of study, and is what gives rise to it.

    As for philosophical accomplishments, I can name two:
    1) The Scientific Method — Science was not a separate field until recently; not until the 19th or 20th century, I believe. Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, along with all the other ‘scientific minds’ of the Scientific Revolution, were natural philosophers. Science is the child of philosophy.
    2) The Sex/Gender Distinction — Unless I am mistaken, it is a firmly held belief in various fields (feminism, anthropology, psychology(?), etc.), and a common belief among lay men, that there is a distinction between one’s reproductive role (sex) and the cultural, behavioral norms they must follow qua sexed person (gender). This distinction was introduced by Simone De Beauvoir, an Existentialist philosopher. This seems like a big accomplishment for philosophy.

    These are just the two that come to mind, but let’s say these are the only two — this would severely limit what philosophers could talk about. That’s why I’m worried about a pure bottom-up approach.

    Like

  7. Peter,
    From one man on the street to another, I commend your effort.
    I would argue though, that philosophy needs to be first descriptive, before it can be prescriptive. It needs to first sense what is true, before a course of action can be devised.
    For example, it is only really western monotheisms which assert the authority of the absolute and the logic is flawed anyway. Absolute is basis, not apex, so a spiritual absolute would be that raw essence of conscious being from which we rise, not an ideal of knowledge and judgement from which we fell. It is just politically convenient for those in positions of power to assert moral authority as top down. Yet good and bad are not some cosmic duel between the forces of righteousness and evil, but the basic biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental. What is good for the fox is bad for the chicken and there is no clear line where the chicken ends and the fox begins. So those ethical decisions of balancing all the competing factors can be tough on occasion.
    On the other hand, science is very good at extracting information, but rather poor at putting it into some larger context. As physics has observed, there is no privileged observer, or frame of reference, so in order to appreciate the bigger picture, one must be able to effectively generalize and generalists get no respect from specialists. Keep in mind though, that in the army, “specialist” is a rank slightly above private, while the generals run things. A frame or point of view that can see the larger picture, cannot also focus on every detail. So good philosophy involves the ability to effectively generalize.
    Knowledge is information. Wisdom is in the editing.

    Like

  8. I don’t see much role for philosophy in answering questions, but rather in posing which questions to ask and how those questions should best be answered.

    Like

  9. Marko,
    Thanks!
    are these not the very core questions from the domain of religion?

    I think you have been misled by the word ‘believe’ in the question ‘What may we believe?’ The word is often used in the sense of religious belief and this is how you read it. I used it rather in the everyday sense of the word such as ‘I believe you are going on holiday next week’. Or, to use a nice current example, can I believe Lawrence Krauss’ claim of a universe from nothing? Philosophy clarifies the claim by first examining the meaning of ‘nothing’. It then questions whether the claim is warranted by the science. It looks for equivocations, hidden assumptions, dubious premises and weak arguments. Thus it was a philosopher (David Alberts) who poured scorn on Krauss’ claim that the universe came from nothing.

    Ethics is indeed a core question from the domain of religion. But, religions prescribe a particular approach to ethics. Philosophy takes a more general approach and investigates the kinds of ethical systems, clarifying them and searching for their strengths and weaknesses.

    one should ask the question “What are the problems that philosophy has successfully solved so far?
    question[s] ‘conclusively answered by philosophy’

    Here you have touched on the heart of the way science(and other academic disciples) misunderstand philosophy. They make it their job to answer questions about the world and quite naturally they expect philosophy to do the same. Philosophy does not answer questions about the world, it answers questions about how we think about the world(and each other) and how we react to the world(and each other).

    This does not mean that philosophy has made no discoveries, it has, as Massimo has mentioned before.

    Like

  10. Schlafly,
    deny that scientists are rational, and deny much of modern science like quantum mechanics. In short, philosophers are denialists about science.

    Those are strong claims indeed and I have seen no evidence for them. I suspect you and I know very different kinds of philosophers. The philosophers I have been exposed to are strongly supportive of science. It is certainly true that philosophers think that some scientists have over-reached in their claims and held them to account. But that is a very good thing. Good science will withstand critical examination and critical examination will protect the public from inflated claims.

    Like

  11. Thomas,
    But it has made and continues to make a critical contribution in framing and refining questions that are relevant to mankind

    You put it very well.

    Like

  12. Seth,
    Thanks!
    seems incomplete missing the bridge of subjective qualia which precede, constrain & inform our capacity to do and understand science and to form ideas.

    You make a good point. When Kant formulated his four questions for philosophy, the third and fourth questions were
    3) What may we hope?
    4) What does it mean to be human?

    I combined these into the question ‘What do we value?’ which is possibly a mistake and I was wondering whether anyone would take me up on this, as you have. The fourth question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ covers things such as qualia and aesthetics.

    Like

  13. “Philosophy provides the tools to examine and test claims of truth.”

    For at least me, and perhaps others who have begun to doubt the value of modern philosophy, it would be really nice to see at least one modern example of this, and some actual serious “claim of truth” for which that tool has been at all decisive.

    The word modern is used above mainly to disqualify any ‘ancient’ example from logic, where all real progress has apparently been ceded to mathematics for at least 100 years. A supposed example from one of the recent (largely Australian) schools, on one of which we recently had a complete article, would likely flounder on the request for an actual claim of truth. Kripke (as a 16-year-old!) did some amazing work on showing how to give mathematical interpretation to many of the plethora of formal modal logics, but again I doubt that any “claims of truth” have ever gotten settled by modal logic. You might wish to claim that provability logic (Godel, Boolos,…) and/or dynamic logic and the like from program verification are examples; but they are merely formally similar to modal logic, and are anyway done by mathematicians.

    But perhaps your example(s) will not be within logic

    Thanks in advance for the reply.

    Like

  14. If it is a misunderstanding to conceive of philosophy providing answers, but things like clarification, an interpretive framework, then there is no real purpose in technical philosophy. And it is hard to tell whether there is any value in academic philosophy beyond the study of the classics. Some of the more thoughtful science fiction and fantasy can explore those issues just as well. But, being comprehensible, it would be more enlightening. Formal logic is a branch of mathematics, and informal logic is a topic in rhetoric, leaving philosophy with no remit.

    So far as ethics is concerned, philosophy shares this function with law and religion, but it does not really have a separate arena. Certainly for centuries the line between religion and philosophy was well nigh invisible. However was the Pythagorean brotherhood so different from a lay order? Is Confucianism a philosophy or a religion? What philosophy has instead, is a presumptive claim that its conclusions are derived from reason instead of authority, whether religious or political. But notions like free will, the insistence on moral norms, and such are the same basic religious notions. And citations from journals of technical philosophy act very much like citations of precedents. Philosophical arguments in general seem to be equivalent to a defense or prosecution in a trial, aimed not at anything definitive, and certainly not meant to say anything about the way things are, They are like case law, where every new case and every new precedent can change the brief to be made. I doubt this is sufficient justification.

    Like

  15. phoffman56, that reminds me of a joke I once read that only a mathematician might appreciate:

    Engineers think that equations approximate the real world.
    Scientists think that the real world approximates equations.
    Mathematicians are unable to make the connection.

    🙂

    Like

  16. phoffman,
    If I may offer.. Isn’t one’s philosophy more of context, than detail? The frame by which we organize information. As such, it is the “tool” by which we examine and test claims of order from our environment. Sometimes, they fit in neatly and re-enforce our world view and sometimes we construct a patch in order to fit that information into our model.
    It seems to me that everyone necessarily functions by the principles of their philosophy, whether they respect the academic discipline of Philosophy, or not. As Peter said, this is the man on the street’s defense of philosophy in principle, against academic infighting calling the whole premise into question.

    Like

  17. I think this was a well written and understandable essay. Good job! I’m also an outsider and amateur thinker or “crackpot”, but my outsider comments are:

    1. I think many, or most, people have a combination of one or more of the three philosophical world views. For me, I think the world is entirely tangible and material; the “soul”, abstract ideas, etc. are all in our material brains; and that these material things follow the laws of science. However, we certainly don’t know all these laws yet, and there are so many small particles and interactions between them that we’ll never be able to predict all behavior, but in theory, it seems possible. This is the scientistic view. On the other hand, if the scientistic universe has no inherent meaning, what makes meaning for me in this cold, meaningless place is the relationships we build with our friends, family and fellow beings. This is the humanist view, which isn’t so different than parts of the religious view.

    2. I think the real problem with philosophy is that philosophers seem to more want to talk about issues and problems and use fancy words than to actually solve problems. If you provide a solution to a problem, a philosopher will criticize you for not surrounding it with pages of incomprehensible talky-talk discussing the problem and analyzing it from the perspective of long dead philosophers.

    3. It seems like more novel ideas and thinking is coming from the amateur thinkers and scientists than from philosophers. Admittedly, most amateurs have crazy, poorly reasoned ideas, but not all of us are like that.

    That’s my “crackpot” view. Thank you for listening.

    Like

  18. Peter, your critique of Mark’s argument seems to me clear, cogent and helpful. I’m a philosopher and my approach to the subject is much as you describe — that is, I think philosophy is the investigation of conceptual space. That approach gives ethics a central role, since ethical understanding is embedded in the concepts we use to deal with practical social problems. Philosophy as I see it began with Socrates and with the critical questioning of the fuzzy but inescapable concepts that we use to structure our shared lives.

    Contra Mark, I think that in some respects philosophy has never been more influential. You can see that on the web, in bookshops, and in schools. Curiously it has suffered a decline in the universities just when it has been gaining in the wider world.

    The main point that I think Mark is right about is in questioning whether philosophy has anything like a method. How exactly is philosophy supposed to make progress in its investigations? I don’t expect a neatly packaged answer, but I do think we have fallen down in trying to explain how philosophy does what it does. The methods of philosophy can’t be the methods of science. We need an account of how concept-mapping works and how it advances understanding. To me the value of such understanding is considerable and is in no way in conflict with good science.

    Like

  19. The defence of philosophy in terms of what it can do, what types of question it can answer, what purpose it serves, seems to me to take for granted a view of value which itself deserves critique. It suggests that fields of study have to be justified by their products. This is probably because in academia they have to argue their case for funding, etc., but I would suggest that philosophy, like art and creative writing (and even pure science itself?) is an activity that some people will always do for its own sake. It may (hopefully does) have some outcomes of value to society, like the ability to think clearly about the decisions we need to make and the ideologies that attempt to constrain us. But philosophical thinking (tentatively defined as the attempt to understand concepts and their relationships in reasoning) comes naturally, as do the desires to draw, to make music or to understand the natural world. I suspect that even if the academic institutions of philosophy collapsed, there would still be people thinking, reading, and writing in the same ways. (The question ‘But what do you mean by…?’ would not go away.)
    Sadly the idea of something people do for its own sake does not have much traction in our current market-driven, consumer society. If philosophy must defend itself in means/end terms, I’d say the ability to interrogate the ends societies/governments take for granted and the means they see as justified is hugely valuable and philosophy is the discipline which specifically develops that ability.

    Like

  20. Let me repeat the compliments above. This was a nice read which certainly points out some ways in which philosophy is failing to communicate its relevance to “the person in the street” and how that might be reversed.

    That said, I do have some issues with the essay. Perhaps nitpicking but they feel important enough to mention.

    While a useful way to capture some competing worldviews I did find your three categories insufficient to get at all of them, at least as described. I certainly did not see my worldview represented. I don’t see why the tangible and ideas are mutually exclusive. I might suggest three alternatives (if we must have only three worldviews).

    1) The reductive: the world can only be understood as descriptions of its nuts and bolts. Anything else is “not real” and basically epiphenominal.

    2) The holistic (or emergent): the world can additionally be understood as emergent patterns and systems within the material universe. Ideas, beliefs, and values are real enough to have practical uses and are worth serious consideration.

    3) The religious: the real world cannot be understood by the nuts and bolts, or the emergent patterns of the temporal world we experience, because these are “not real”. Anything that is eternal and so real lies beyond our experiences and must be understood through revelation (from Gods or their messengers in this temporal construct).

    That would at least allow me to fall into a category (#2).

    Also, I disagree that ethics is the core of philosophy (though agree it is very important). I think the “core” of any field is largely a subjective assessment.

    And finally, it was not clear to me whether you were suggesting philosophy could provide concrete (objective) moral answers, or whether it was an important source of guidance (a method) to help individuals navigate moral decisions. The former I would disagree with and would be overselling its position (and so backfire to a lay public) while the former I would agree with entirely.

    To Schlafly, what are you talking about? Perhaps I am not up on what constitutes “modern” philosophy? I am a degreed scientist and philosopher (albeit lower level than Massimo) and have no problem with their working together. Both of them can (and should) accept each other as methods of inquiry. Do you have examples of (mainstream, prominent) philosophers absolutely denying science?

    Like

  21. Neither science nor philosophy is about finding truth that holds but about finding code that works. A scientist may look for code that makes accurate empirical predictions while a philosopher may look for moral code or ontological code. The search for code is what they have in common. The coding languages may differ though.

    Like

  22. @Labnut,

    I enjoyed your article, I felt you gave the subject a fresh approach. I’d like to comment on a recurring issue brought up in the comments.

    I feel philosophy still is the (a?) corner stone of science, and like in all fields quality varies and like in most fields it can get very esoteric.

    It’s good to get a view from ‘the outside’ and philosophy can help us elucidate productive research directions. Scientists in each specific field can do this too and are an important and integral part of the scientific process, but in any specific field of research it is not a given that enough people with a ‘natural’ or self taught (and relevant) philosophical expertise will be available to affect a productive (or optimum level of) influence.

    Like checks and balances. When we introduce (more) philosophers into the mix, biologists for example may find their research projects under a more inquisitive light from philosophers and from biologist that are also philosophers, but that is a good thing, each contributes a level of expertise, it’s not veto power, it’s a necessary part of the process of scientific inquiry, exchange and progression.

    Like

  23. The premise of this discussion does raise a basic philosophical issue. When we ask if philosophy provides tangible, distilled, bottomline predictions and results, or is it just endless intellectual navel gazing, the assumption is that this goalseeking is beyond questioning.
    Yet as we all know, such consequences are necessarily stages in ever larger, broader feedback cycles. That bottom line pile of cash just goes back out to fertilize the ground, otherwise feed the stock, or it wanders off and is used for other uses. It is all just one mass of endless feedback loops, both positive and negative. Thermodynamics rules.
    Now a point I frequently make in these sorts of conversations, to little avail, is that we look at time backwards. It is only our individual perception which makes the present seem to move along a vector from past to future events. The underlaying reality is that physical activity is forming and dissolving these configurations, so it is those events which go from being future to past, as only what is present is physically real.
    This makes time an effect of action, similar to temperature. Basically time is to temperature what frequency is to amplitude. It is just that while masses of amplitudes are temperature, masses of frequencies are noise, so we equate them with disorder and need to isolate particular signals from this maelstrom, to create our mental framing.
    So now we have a brain which is divided into two hemispheres; The left, linear, rational side and the right, emotional, intuitional scalar side.
    While we like to think of our human rationality as an entirely objective process, psychologists have shown that for this logical process, it is more important to win confrontations, than discover universal truths. Tactics matter more to our survival than strategy. Basically it evolved as a navigation function and that’s why plants can survive entirely as thermodynamic entities, rather than logical ones.
    So to appreciate philosophy, we need to consider it in terms of that larger dynamic and not just specific results. As the old saying goes; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

    Like

  24. Yes, there are philosophers who say that they support science. But philosophers and scientists live in parallel universes with scientists ignoring philosophers and philosophers ignoring scientists. It would be good if philosophers actually held scientists accountable for overreaching.

    Rjcook135 points out that philosophers used to be concerned with the advance of science, but only names one philosophical accomplishment of the last 300 years: “The Sex/Gender Distinction”. Is this a joke? How about the cis-trans distinction, as applied to sex-gender? Was that another major advance in philosophy?

    Like

  25. schlafly, I’m afraid it is your comment that is a joke. You really ought to know better since you are a regular reader of this webzine.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. stevenjohnson,
    “Philosophical arguments in general seem to be equivalent to a defense or prosecution in a trial, aimed not at anything definitive, and certainly not meant to say anything about the way things are, They are like case law, where every new case and every new precedent can change the brief to be made.”

    If this were all philosophy amounted to, this would indeed be “sufficient justification.” Philosophy is a human thinking about human concerns. It does involve debate and resolutions contingent on the changing nature of human experience, both personal and social. If it is not about “the way things are,” then humans have no value, because the human experience is certainly “the way things are.”

    I have no problem with science fiction writers – or with science writers, for that matter – engaging in philosophic discourse. I believe that amateur as well as professional philosophers should be welcome to the table. Nothing needs to be settled finally for all time – only authoritarian ideologues and governments act as though philosophy has reached a conclusion.

    My training was in the philosophy of rhetoric; I guarantee you that “informal logic” is not all that rhetoric – or its philosophical study – are all about.

    I also am glad that I live in a society where case law matters, reaching definitive results in particular cases following appropriate debate by trained lawyers before a judge and jury. Philosophy has, can, and ought to present its own debates before the widest jury of the public.

    Personally, I have no interest in having ethics decided solely by politicians and religious leaders.

    It is true that some professional philosophers have closed themselves off from the society around them through the development of arcane technical languages, whether this be the logical subtleties of the analytic school, or the obscure categories of the continentalists. Even intelligent people make mistakes. Aether was an error in physics, not philosophy. (And string theory may yet prove a chase for a wisp through a cloud.) But that leads into another discussion. Here we need only note that, despite mistakes, humans continue to struggle to learn something, not only about the world around them, but about themselves, and will continue to do so in many fields of study and conversation. Including philosophy.

    Like

  27. I think this is why books like Dennett’s “Intuition Pumps” or Rebecca Goldstein’s “Plato at the Googleplex” are really helpful; they make philosophy more accessible. I would include Massimo’s writing here, as well as, Stephen Law’s books in this category. There is lots of help available for the philosophy-challenged crowd.

    And Schafly, please stop digging a bigger hole for yourself.

    Like

  28. Excellent article, and I do not have any negative thing to say but would like to add some more. Your three worldviews analysis is reflecting the current situation; your solutions are fair. Yet, they are superficial. The deep root problem is that all sides are not knowing the ‘whole’ truth and arguing against other sides with their partial truth.

    Human is a part of this Nature. That is, ‘all’ attributes of human must be based on Nature which is mainly described by two ‘hard’ sciences (physics and biology). Human has three ‘empirical’ powers (faculties: rational; emotional; spiritual. See https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/scientia-salon-a-manifesto-for-21st-century-intellectualism/comment-page-1/#comment-123 ).

    While none of these three human attributes can be directly explained by those two hard sciences yet, most of those scientists accept rational and emotional faculties while reject spirituality as a nature-reality. And, this is the whole problem.

    The Christian Bible could be a good book for some historical accounts. But, it is totally wrong about the cosmology and about the conception of God, way beyond being wrong but is totally stupid. Yet, it does encompass ‘human spiritual faculty’ as a nature-reality. So, if the hard sciences can ‘prove’ that human spirituality is only a made-up religious-nonsense, all issues will be settled.

    Yet, human spirituality is a true empirical human attribute and faculty, and it can be felt and sensed by almost all humans except a very small group of people who denies it with their grandiose self-proclaimed knowledge.

    Spirituality by definition must transcend both the space and time (that is, timelessness and spacelessness). Superficially, both timelessness and spacelessness are not realities in this physics-universe. As soon as this universe comes into being, it has time, the arrow-of-time, timeless no more. It is the same for the spacelessness. In this sense, the timelessness cannot even be defined in physics (operational definition). Without any operational possibility, it (timelessness) cannot even be defined conceptually. The above is not an argument but is fact, the God damned truth. So damn the spirituality, trash can it goes, forever and ever more.

    But, this is not the case. I have showed a ‘four-lock-litmus-test’ for physics (see https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/logic-buddhism-and-all-that/comment-page-3/#comment-7859 ). The only (only, …, only,…) way to open these four-locks (calculating Alpha, constructing string-unification, etc.) is by two processes.

    Process one: timelessness to arrow-of-time transformation.

    Process two: immutability to quark-dynamics transformation, that is, how to construct the string-unification (generating the 48 Standard model fermions, see http://prebabel.blogspot.com/2014/02/ghost-rascal-conjecture-and-ultimate.html ).

    With these two processes, the ‘Spirituality’ is the fundamental of the entire Nature-physics which is the ‘emergent’. At this point, the religions are more correct than physics. In a simple analogy, religions talk about the whole-ass while not knowing what that ass is ‘at all’. The human-physics knows about the half-ass in some details while claims that it knows all.

    Like

  29. Considering that up until that point in history, women and men were thought to have fixed essences; considering that such a distinction was not made by anyone prior to De Beauvoir; considering that biological essentialism was used to justify the legal oppression of women; considering that the distinction between one’s biology and one’s culturally influenced behaviors is now a firmly held belief in various fields; considering that it’s still a topic of discussion in philosophy; considering that such a distinction is an invaluable part of philosophical discussions regarding social oppression — no, it’s not a joke. However, you are free to continue making an ass out of yourself.

    Like

  30. Does any one not agree that anonymity violates realism *and all that that entails, minus the exotic exceptions of having to be secret to disclose actual information), and therefore incurs the very same problems that its seeks to resist (identifying themselves to which their words may be truly and responsibly associated)?

    Like

  31. Regarding philosophy and religion, I guess that in ancient times some people discovered that reaching wisdom trough the churches didn’t fulfill their spectations, so they took the road of self-inquiry. This is pretty clear in Buddha, Epicurus, Socrates and many more. Whether this enquiry is useful for the entire society is arguable, but, in any case, the way of self-inquiry seems to lead to wisdom. In other words, religions might be at the edge of a new paradigm in which the believers are becoming more autonomous and, therefore, they need a new perspective.

    Like

  32. Thanks to Thomas Jones and brodix for their replies to me. Hopefully at least four did read my earlier, counting also the ‘vetting’ and hopefully the article’s author!

    Thomas’ interesting joke I hadn’t heard. One could rewrite the last line as ‘Mathematicians can’t distinguish engineers from scientists since they take the relation “approximates” to be symmetrical.’ And, risking Massimo’s chagrin by resurrecting the MIT guru of modern-day Pythagoreans like me, one could add the 4th line ‘Tegmark thinks the real world and (some as yet unknown) equations are exactly the same thing.’ But that would be fairer as ‘… the real world and some mathematical structure are the same thing.’

    Brodix has: “(philosophy) is the ‘tool’ by which we examine and test claims of order from our environment”. That seems rather different from the article’s: “Philosophy provides the tools to examine and test claims of truth.” The latter is much more grandiose and questionable than brodix’ when read in context. However, I don’t see that even there one can make a general announcement and be able to avoid giving an example to back it up by saying philosophy is “…more of context, than detail” So how about an example even of such a ‘tool’ as at the start of this paragraph, one which has actually achieved something in this past century?

    And I’ll assume the article’s author has no example as I asked originally, and so perhaps withdraws that more grandiose general claim, at least as far as modern philosophy is concerned. Or rather, I’ll assume it till such an example is forthcoming. What with the time limits on these discussions, it seemed unwise for me to wait too long, as I’ve done a few times before!

    Thanks again in advance for that example were it to be forthcoming.

    Like

  33. ejwinner, One of the many disappointments in Sandel’s Justice was the way he didn’t ask whether immoral, unethical acts should be in some sense illegal (not just criminal statutes but in the grounds for lawsuits, and the exercise of governmental functions and the constitutional order generally.) As is, expediency; limitations on what is admissible as evidence; limitations on jurisdiction; limitations on types of arguments, especially rejection of arguments addressing equity; resistance to generalization; prior committment to precedent…well, it would be imprudent to think that law, broadly understood, is the real world practice of ethics. But shouldn’t it be? And what does it mean that philosophy, whose core is ethics, has so little to say to the world? Philosophy of law has a great deal to say I suppose to philosophers of law and possibly they mean to address lawyers.

    But I don’t really think there is much reason to think that philosophy—which in this context means the philosophy taught in colleges—has much to say to people in general. The last thing it does is hold itself on trial before the jury of humanity. The Scientia Salon webzine is very much an outlier in its courtesy to non-professionals, but it is still about teaching, not learning, about explaining, not about explaining itself..

    “…Philosophy is a human thinking about human concerns…”
    ” …only authoritarian ideologues and governments act as though philosophy has reached a conclusion…”
    It is not at all clear how logic and metaphysics are widespread human concerns. And it is especially unclear in what sense our thinking about these subjects is “human.” On the other hand, aesthetics is very much a human concern, but it is extraordinary how rarely this is a topic of discussion in popular philosophy. I cannot help but feel this is symptomatic of philosophy’s role as religion for people who can’t bring themselves to “believe” in the supernatural claims of any overt religion. I think that’s why the indignation at authoritarian denial of your right to believe what you want. Well, governments have authority, or at least power, but it is not at all that in what sense these collective entities either have or use philosophy. Whether they think philosophy has “a conclusion” is moot I think. (Also, “a” conclusion?) The word “ideologue” is more or less merely an epithet. But the notion that thinking philosophy should have come to some kind of conclusions is in itself authoritarian really makes no sense. Unless “philosophy” is covertly understood as a substitute for religion, and henceforth not to be rejected as wrong.

    Like

  34. Hi phoffman56,

    We share equal love for Pythagoras and I agree that, at least for philosophy, the work done by the classics is invaluable. I don’t understand your claim about Gödel and Boole, I’ve never heard about “probabilistic logic”. Regarding Gödel, that, by the way, was theist and good friend of his Jewish mates, Einstein included, I don’t think that his logic is probabilistic, though perhaps you refer to Gödel’s incompleteness theorems. If it is so, I don’t consider such theorems probabilistic.

    “So how about an example even of such a ‘tool’ as at the start of this paragraph, one which has actually achieved something in this past century”?

    Well, this is a god point. There is a woman, Lynn Margulis, she wasn’t philosopher but offered us a philosophical, wise, view about nature. Karl Popper also got good results.

    Like

  35. “But that would be fairer as ‘… the real world and some mathematical structure are the same thing.’”
    That metaphysical claim cannot be decided by mathematicians or physicists. What is the “real world” in this claim?

    Others have asked, what have philosophers done for us? I didn’t want to get into this since it involves some historical research. But please acquaint yourself with the history of education. This was determined by philosophers in the 19th century. You would never have been educated in your chosen field if philosophers had not prepared the way for you.

    This trash – “what have philosopher’s accomplished” – wears thin and has no empirical basis. History weighs in against it.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Thanks, phoffman.
    I did try to address, if not answer that issue in my 11:34 am post.
    The problem is that philosophy is much more the provence of the right side of the brain, while bottom line scientific conclusions are more based in the left, linear, logical side.
    While the right side of the brain is described as emotional and intuitional, the process is something of a scalar function, where all the information in our minds is constantly interacting and the resulting connections, pressures, stresses, blowbacks, attachments, etc. do not have that distinct linear connection. Think pressure, or temperature and what rises to the top/pops the valve, etc, rather than a specific sequencing. It is more a framing effect. Consider that instinct is a function of cumulative knowledge. For instance, what would be instinctive for a physicist, artist, farmer, businessman, child, teenager, etc are all going to be different, because they have different views of reality and stores of knowledge. As such, their “philosophy” is going to emerge from this framework.
    Now when you get a specific causal sequence, it essentially qualifies as science and all the framing on which it is based is background. Yet without that background, there is no foreground.
    As for “modern philosophy,” the last couple hundred years have been a bit overwhelming from the philosophic perspective. Analytic tends to be more straight forward, but also a bit mechanical and continental beats around the bushes, but tries being more organic.
    If you want actual consequences, try economic, political and social philosophy. Marx comes to mind. While there is debate over his views, they did have as much consequence as any scientific discovery.

    Like

  37. Mario Roy:

    You used quotes: “probabilistic logic”, as though I had written that. I wrote nothing even close to that or close to meaning that, which is itself a perfectly respectable subject. Often I would think a complete lack of understanding of what I wrote was due to my poor writing. But here, with that quote and other aspects of what you say (e.g. Boole versus Boolos), it is clear that you need to read it again. Doing so much more slowly and carefully this time perhaps would help. Then have a quick look at wiki or perhaps even the (uneven!) Stanford Encyclopedia for the words which need familiarization.

    Just briefly on your main puzzlement, provability (NOT probabilistic) logic refers to a formalization exposited and contributed to very ably many times by George Boolos (NOT the famous Boole from more than a century earlier). Boolos was also at MIT and unfortunately died not long ago at much too young an age. That formalization has Godel’s 2nd incompleteness theorem, concerning proof impossibilities for consistency, as its main motivation and example.

    ejwinner:

    My wording (not Tegmark’s) was done to be in consonance with the earlier joke’s wording.

    Discussing what he has conjectured and claimed to have given a possible later method of falsification (Do you mean to say “cannot be decided” ever? …or, right now?) is something off topic. Discussion here is probably undesirable to our gracious host, if past experience is a guide.

    I did not ask “what have philosophers accomplished?” And you actually put that in quotes as though I’d asked that literally. This is worse than merely a failure to observe scholarly etiquette.

    I simply asked a person for a specific example of a very general claim made by that person. Of course I am happy to hear of such an example from anyone else here. The correctness of that claim is quite reasonable to be dubious about, as long as it lacks even a single instance. Vague accusations of my ignorance of history should at least be supplemented with, in this case, at least one example, from the history of philosophers on 19th century education, of what I asked for. I assume you have one and eagerly await to hear it.

    Like

  38. Hi Peter, I appreciate the careful attention you have given to my essay. Let me just come in here, however, on one point (which I also tried to clarify in the comment thread on my September piece). You write:

    “The claim that philosophers lack expertise is rather like claiming that scientists lack expertise. No scientist has expertise in the full range of science, and in the same way no philosopher has expertise in the full range of philosophy.”

    On the question of the breadth of a discipline and expertise one needs to bear in mind that both the notion of breadth and the notion of expertise are relative: for a layman, the physicist might be an expert ‘in physics’ but for the physicist his or her expertise would lie in a particular area of physics. And my claims were not about breadth only but also about whether the potential area of expertise (theoretical or practical) was clearly defined and recognized, and also about the structure and nature of the knowledge or skills involved.

    The sub-disciplines of physics and chemistry, say, derive ultimately from an uncontroversial body of basic knowledge (high school physics and chemistry and beyond). Practical disciplines like medicine also build on a basic body of accepted knowledge. Likewise mathematics (parts of which, of course, are part of the knowledge base required for doing physics and other sciences). One part builds on another. But philosophy doesn’t seem to fit this pattern. Thus the authority problem for the ethicist or metaphysician, for example (though not so much for the logician).

    Of course, you can be an expert in what philosophers have written on these subjects. But, clearly, scientific sub-disciplines are on a firmer epistemic footing than philosophical sub-disciplines. The crucial point is that scientific sub-disciplines are always closely integrated into a broader structure of accepted knowledge.

    Like

  39. In regard to philosophy and science, it seems to me that at least metaphysics should almost be a scientific discipline. If metaphysics is the study of the nature of being, reality and existence; because the universe “be”s, is real and exists; because physics is the study of the universe; then the laws of physics should be derivable from the principles of metaphysics. That is, if metaphysicians extend their logic about the properties of the most fundamental of existent entities, and use these properties to make testable predictions about the universe that these existent entities constitute, then they’ll find themselves in physics. This metaphysics-to-physics or philosophical engineering approach would be of great benefit to both physics and philosophy, in my opinion. That’s the kind of method I try to use in my own thinking as an amateur.

    Like

  40. Mark, I think your last remarks are crucial, and clearly indicated where you and Peter (and myself) disagree. That science is on a firm epistemic ground is true, but also irrelevant. It seems important to you because you insist, like many, in treating science and philosophy as competitors in the same arena – I’ll call this the DeGrasse Tyson fallacy, just to pick one of several possible names.

    I don’t see it that way. To me philosophy is about critically reasoning on a number of issues, including other disciplines, fully taking on board whatever of pertinence the sciences have to say. Philosophy, then, aims at understanding (and, I would say, even wisdom, going back to its roots), not just at knowledge. The latter is necessary but not sufficient for the former, and knowledge is all that science can provide us with. It’s a lot, but not enough.

    Like

  41. phoffman56,
    I apologize for the abruptness of my previous comment. It was late, and I was tired and irritable, and should not have posted in that mood. I completely misunderstood the Tegmark reference and its purpose, I had forgotten the joke. However, the claim in the sentence still stands. Scientists have made metaphysical claims on the nature of the universe cannot be denied; but there is not yet a unity to these claims that can determine an over arching reality without theoretical modeling that can – in my opinion – only be constructed philosophically. Perhaps that may change in the future.

    The double quotes around -what have philosophers accomplished?- were mistaken, these should have been single quotes, alluding to general claims made by others, although your comment did make a demand on the OP for ‘tools’ of use from modern philosophy.

    The development of modern education in the United States involved 1) secularization, 2) compulsory attendance, 3) diversity of curriculum teaching an accepted body of knowledge in fields believed to be useful for the individual and society as a whole. A major turning point arrived in the 1890s with the work of the Committee of Ten at Harvard, which effectively established what would become the curriculum of the public schools in the coming century. These were ten philosophers and scholars whose main influences seem to have been Hegel, Emerson, and Spencer. The model most education reformers followed in the 19th century was that of Prussia, designed under the influence of Fichte and reformed by the philosopher and linguist Von Humboldt.

    The influence of philosophy on education continued throughout most of the 20th century; the influence of John Dewey and his students is well known. This influence helped shape the flourishing of community colleges in the 1960s.

    It must be noted, that if it hadn’t been for philosophically informed education activists and reformers, the principle forum for education might still be the church school; science might still be only a study for dilettantes and hobbyists; and many of us would never have made it into college.

    One problem here has been that some assume that philosophy has developed in an academic box, uninvolved with, and uninfluential to, society as a whole. In fact a lively intellectual culture has always encompassed sciences, the arts, and philosophy, in play not only in conversation, but in social policy making as well.

    Committee of Ten: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Committee_of_Ten

    Prussian model: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prussian_education_system

    Brief history of educational reform: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_reform

    Influence of Dewey: http://www.education.com/reference/article/dewey-john-1859-1952/

    The boom in colleges in the ’60s was actually grounded in the report of the multidisciplinary task force, The President’s Commission Higher Education for Democracy, 1947: http://courses.education.illinois.edu/eol474/sp98/truman.html

    (Sorry I could only do web searching, I don’t have my original sources to hand.)

    Like

  42. phoffman,
    it would be really nice to see at least one modern example of this

    A good example was David Albert’s commentary on Lawrence Krauss’ book ‘A Universe From Nothing’. Here we have a physicist significantly overstating what physics shows. A philosopher(Alberts) correctly points out that Krauss is misusing the word ‘nothing’ to imply far more than science has actually shown.

    and some actual serious “claim of truth”

    With this remark we see how scientistic thinking has crept into everyday discourse. The many academic disciplines such as physics, chemistry, archaeology, history, etc, make claims of truth about the tangible world. Philosophy does not make claims of truth about the tangible world. It provides the tools for thinking about the claims of truth made by other disciplines. That is a crucial distinction.

    Thus Alberts used his training as a philosopher to critique Krauss’ claims of truth. Krauss’ reaction showed just how strongly the criticism hit home.

    And I’ll assume the article’s author has no example as I asked originally, and so perhaps withdraws that more grandiose general claim

    You were a little premature, no?

    You should also consider Sandel’s book, ‘What’s The Right Thing To Do?’, where he used the tools of philosophy to confront problems of ethical conduct. Do you think science can answer those questions?

    Like

  43. Dear Eve and Adam,
    One can learn a lot from philosophy, science, and even religion, but not everything. And sadly for many or most, One can get truly lost. Eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge that grows in this beautiful land of Paradise can lead to Paradise lost. =

    Like

  44. stevenjohnson,
    So far as ethics is concerned, philosophy shares this function with law and religion, but it does not really have a separate arena.

    Both law and religion are specialised forms of ethics. Philosophy deals with the entire field of ethics. More importantly it subjects ethical systems to critical examination.

    They are like case law, where every new case and every new precedent can change the brief to be made

    Case law extends the law, it does not usually change settled law.

    Like

  45. Hi phoffman56,

    I’ve never heard of Boolos, sorry about that. What Peter wrote down is:

    “We are faced with many claims of truth which encompass all aspects of our lives. Philosophy provides the tools to examine and test claims of truth. It develops the right attitude of mind so that truth claims are not uncritically accepted. This is becoming even more important as society enters late modernity, because the authority of the world of ideas is declining and individuals are assembling their beliefs at will from many sources, becoming a kind of “pastiche-man.”

    It seems to me that you take out of context his statement and afterward ask for an example of a tool to examine and test claims of truth. But, surprisingly, you say that you have begun to doubt the value of modern philosophy which means that you don’t trust in philosophy as a way to develop the right attitude of mind so that truth claims are not uncritically accepted. Peter’s position is, in my opinion, reasonable about this topic. He still thinks that philosophy is a good tool to examine critically the different matters of human life: ethic, science, politics, arts, history, etc.

    As I said in my previous post, Lynn Margulis offered us a philosophical view about nature despite that she wasn’t philosopher but biologist. Karl Popper tried to set a philosophical approach about science. And other philosophers have issued their views on different subjects.

    Are the Zenon’s paradoxes true? Are there some particles travelling faster than light? Is the idealistic theory of Plato true? Shall we consider the truth Aristotle’s theory of knowledge? Was Socrates’ daemon true? Was Jesus a mental construction in St. Paul’s mind? Is Quine’s philosophy a safe road to the truth? Is Gödel’s logic the truth? Which is more reliable, QM or Einstein’s theories?

    I’m healthily skeptic about this topic, I’m close to Peter’s position in this regard, philosophy helps us to develop the right attitude of mind so that truth claims are not uncritically accepted. I haven’t lost my faith in philosophy as long as it provides us a free inquiry about the human existence and nature, in this sense philosophy is an old voyage that doesn’t seem to have an end.

    Like

  46. stevenjohnson,
    Concerning what you say about specifically professional academic philosophy, there is truth in that. Undoubtedly the worst impact logical positivism had in America was its – quite explicit – collective decision to refuse to discuss metaphysics (in the classical sense), to discuss ethics, to discuss art, to discuss history – basically, the logical positivists did what they could to narrow philosophy down to a language game, and in doing so removed themselves from the table of social discourse. It has taken some time for American philosophy to dig its way out of this whole, but I think considerable progress has been made.

    However, philosophy in a more general sense has always been in play, both socially and academically. Philosophers of law are not just better educated lawyers, they are indeed philosophers. And much of the debates during the “theory wars” in the arts during the ’80s was energized by efforts to discover philosophic groundings in such studies as that of literature.

    But in an even more general social sense, while it is true that a great many people feel no need for philosophy, it is also true that most of these also feel no need for science, either. So the issue really needs to be addressed to those educated, who do wish to learn something about the world and themselves in a way that will give them some assurance that they understand themselves in the world, and provide them some basis on which to make decisions – ethical, creative, even financial. Again, as I remarked in comment to phoffman56, “In fact a lively intellectual culture has always encompassed sciences, the arts, and philosophy, in play not only in conversation, but in social policy making as well.” If contemporary academic philosophy does not address intellectuals beyond the university, intellectuals will get philosophy elsewhere, through their own reading, driven by their own desire for greater understanding.

    I think it is just such a lively intellectual culture that the OP is arguing for. Even if philosophy were simply a kind of specialized literary genre, as Rorty seemed to claim, that would be sufficient justification for it in such a culture. As Aristotle remarked “All men love to know” – and we can now admit that all women do, as well. Philosophy certainly informs what we know.

    As to the problem of authoritarian conclusions to philosophy – as having studied the rhetoric of Hitler and Lenin, I can guarantee that it is the authoritarian frame of mind that philosophy achieves its perfection and final realization in the authoritarian’s own ideology. That is what makes them ideologues, which is not an epithet but an adequate description. There can be no philosophy practiced in a truly authoritarian state, there can only be purification of ideology.

    Like

  47. Roger Granet,
    Thanks!
    what makes meaning for me in this cold, meaningless place is the relationships we build with our friends, family and fellow beings.

    Indeed. But relationships with our fellow beings create ethical problems. History is the record of these ethical problems.That is ample evidence of how great is our need for ethical guidance, hence the value of philosophy.

    Allan Tapper,
    Thanks!
    but I do think we have fallen down in trying to explain how philosophy does what it does
    Yes indeed. This is the thorny nettle the profession must grasp.

    Flissw,
    I would suggest that philosophy, like art and creative writing (and even pure science itself?) is an activity that some people will always do for its own sake.
    Exactly. Many will always love thinking and thinking about thinking.

    If philosophy must defend itself in means/end terms, I’d say the ability to interrogate the ends societies/governments take for granted and the means they see as justified is hugely valuable and philosophy is the discipline which specifically develops that ability.

    You have put it succinctly.

    Brandholm,
    Thanks!
    Your three categories, reductive, holistic and religious are a useful, alternative way of looking at the issue.

    Also, I disagree that ethics is the core of philosophy (though agree it is very important)

    Once you have been mugged or robbed you might agree with me 🙂

    And finally, it was not clear to me whether you were suggesting philosophy could provide concrete (objective) moral answers, or whether it was an important source of guidance (a method)

    I see it as ‘an important source of guidance (a method)

    Like

  48. marclevesque,
    Thanks!
    When we introduce (more) philosophers into the mix, biologists for example may find their research projects under a more inquisitive light from philosophers and from biologist that are also philosophers, but that is a good thing, each contributes a level of expertise, it’s not veto power, it’s a necessary part of the process of scientific inquiry, exchange and progression

    You put it well. We see something similar in other fields. For example, in accounting there are auditors who keep the accountants honest. Many companies employ internal auditors, not only for their financials but also for their IT operations and their quality assurance processes.

    Brodix,
    Now a point I frequently make in these sorts of conversations, to little avail, is that we look at time backwards.

    You raise a very interesting point about time. If you will pardon the pun, it is time we had a post on ScientaSalon about the philosophy of time. Sean Carroll has much to say about the subject and reading his book will be time well spent. Why is the arrow of one one-directional? Is time a fundamental dimension of the universe? Carroll thinks so.

    Massimo, an idea, invite Sean Carroll to contribute an article about time.

    schlafly,
    But philosophers and scientists live in parallel universes with scientists ignoring philosophers and philosophers ignoring scientists.
    Lawrence Krauss and David Alberts have not ignored each other, far from it.

    Like

  49. Ejwinner,
    I have no problem with science fiction writers – or with science writers, for that matter – engaging in philosophic discourse

    The subject of science fiction and philosophy is fascinating in its own right. Science fiction is a kind of rehearsing of imagined potential scenarios. Science fiction illustrates our fears and potential dangers, preparing us to think about them.

    tienzengong,
    Thanks!
    Human has three ‘empirical’ powers (faculties: rational; emotional; spiritual.

    That is an interesting categorisation and maps well into the three categories I proposed.

    waderingphilosoraptor,
    However, you are free to continue making an ass out of yourself

    Asses are such easy targets for raptors 🙂
    I assume the ‘wadering’ in ‘waderingphilosoraptor’ was meant to be ‘wandering’?

    Peter Rugh,
    Does any one not agree that anonymity violates realism

    I think that anonymity can lead to the violation of responsible behaviour.

    Mario Roy,
    In other words, religions might be at the edge of a new paradigm in which the believers are becoming more autonomous and, therefore, they need a new perspective.“.

    You have identified the major problem that religions face today.

    Stevenjohnson,
    On the other hand, aesthetics is very much a human concern, but it is extraordinary how rarely this is a topic of discussion in popular philosophy.

    Aravis is a specialist in this field, you should read his article ‘Normative criticism and the objective value of artworks’ (http://bit.ly/1wTTMBo). You should also see Humes Aesthetics (http://stanford.io/1zZBZh7) and Aesthetic Judgement (http://stanford.io/1aVASMT), both SEP articles.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: