Philosophy and the rise of science

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Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 01:07 pm
Some here have bemoaned the scientific tendencies of contemporary philosophy, or at least, analytic philosophy. And, although I don't think these are really as pronounced as some think they are (whatever is meant by that-and that is an interesting question too) still, I wonder what such people would expect? Let's turn it around a little and ask what we would think of philosophy had it not changed with the rise of science, the most important development in Western civilization since the rise of Christianity, and certainly on a par with it. Not only could it not have happened that philosophy would not change in response to the rise of science, but it would hardly be philosophy had it not. Philosophy ought to respond to seminal changes in culture. Shouldn't it? The important question is how philosophy has responded to the advent of empirical science. I am talking here about the rise of analytic philosophy and its predecessors logical positivism and then, logical empiricism in the beginning of the 20th century. Philosophy was forced to recognize that its old claim to discover truth and reality could not be seriously maintained when that was exactly what the empirical sciences were claiming. The only expedient philosophy had in response to that claim while continuing to maintain its own claim to be making discoveries about truth and reality was to try to distinguish between different kinds of truth and different kinds of reality. But obviously, that had major problems of its own. Although, of course, it was certainly attempted. But, for various reasons, it failed to hold water, and certainly,failed to persuade, let alone, convince.

The next step was that of analytic philosophy (or at least some analytic philosophy since there were important exceptions). The step was to distinguish between science as a first-order discipline, and philosophy as a second-order discipline. Science was about the world, and it tried to discover empirical truths about the world. Philosophy, on the other hand, was not about the world (or not, at leas, directly). Rather is concerned the concepts we used to think and talk about the world, including, of course, the concepts science uses to talk and think about the world. For example, the concept of causation. So here was a division of labor, and the reduction, if not the complete elimination, of the original competition between science and philosophy. Science is talk about the world, and philosophy is, as Gilbert Ryle (one of the most prominent of the analytic philosophers) talk about talk. Philosophy was not an empirical discipline about the the world, but it was a conceptual discipline about our concepts about the world.

That may not be quite right. Important philosophers like Bertrand Russell, and W.V. Quine refused (for different reasons) to distinguish so sharply between science and philosophy. But even it it is not quite right, it seems clearly on the right track. Or so it seems to me, anyway.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 03:53 pm
@kennethamy,
Quote:
Greek words philos and Sophia mean respectively 'love of 'and 'Wisdom' and thus the term philosophy primarily means 'love of wisdom'"
Wisdom could be held to be different than knowledge of specific facts or the measurable and empirical properties of objects. It is a mistake not to take the facts and knowledge of science into account in forming a world view or a theology. Science alone, however. does not address the entire range of human concerns and human experience and is an inadequate basis for forming a worldview which includes a sense of value.
Quote:
Speculative philosophy" for Whitehead is a phrase he uses interchangeably with "metaphysics." However, what Whitehead means is a speculative program in the most scientifically honorific sense of the term. Rejecting any form of dogmatism, Whitehead states that his purpose is to, "frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted"
By "every element of our experience" it is not meant just those things which can be measured and empirically tested and verified. It also meant our subjective experience and our notions of value (aesthetics and ethics).
Quote:
Whitehead's words are: "The explanatory purpose of philosophy is often misunderstood. It is a complete mistake to ask how concrete particular fact can be built up out of universals. The answer is: in no way. Philosophy must explain abstraction, not concreteness". He speaks of "an instinctive grasp of ultimate truth": "The sole appeal is to intuition".
Science was of course a subtopic under philosophy (natural philosophy). Now science has broken free although metaphysical and philosophical speculation often still form the basis of significant breakthroughs in science (later confirmed by empirical observation). Philosophy remains rational speculation about matters unknowable and often forms the conceptual basis for our broader worldviews and into which scientific knowledge as well as human experience should be incorporated.
Quote:
Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good. from Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 04:12 pm
@prothero,
prothero;159401 wrote:
Wisdom could be held to be different than knowledge of specific facts or the measurable and empirical properties of objects. It is a mistake not to take the facts and knowledge of science into account in forming a world view or a theology. Science alone, however. does not address the entire range of human concerns and human experience and is an inadequate basis for forming a worldview which includes a sense of value.
By "every element of our experience" it is not meant just those things which can be measured and empirically tested and verified. It also meant our subjective experience and our notions of value (aesthetics and ethics).
Science was of course a subtopic under philosophy (natural philosophy). Now science has broken free although metaphysical and philosophical speculation often still form the basis of significant breakthroughs in science (later confirmed by empirical observation). Philosophy remains rational speculation about matters unknowable and often forms the conceptual basis for our broader worldviews and into which scientific knowledge as well as human experience should be incorporated.


Maybe that is what the ancient Greeks meant by "philosophy" (but I doubt it. It was the English classicist Victorians, especially Benjamin Jowett, Master of Balliol College, Oxford (and famous or notorious, depending on your view, translator of Plato) who pinned that translation on to "philosophia") but anyway that is irrelevant, since even it it did mean that in ancient Greek, it does not follow that "philosophy" means that in English, nor that it means that now. As I pointed out, it is to commit the etymological fallacy to argued from what a word used to mean, that it means the same thing now.

Philosophy remains rational speculation about matters unknowable and often forms the conceptual basis for our broader worldviews and into which scientific knowledge as well as human experience should be incorporated.

If that is true (and I doubt it is) but if it is true, then you don't think that "philosophy" means love of wisdom, do you?
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 04:43 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;159407 wrote:
If that is true (and I doubt it is) but if it is true, then you don't think that "philosophy" means love of wisdom, do you?
It really depends on what you mean by "wisdom" doesn't it? You are familiar with Sophia the wisdom lady? and with the difference between logos and sophia?

Although I am a big fan of science, I am not a big fan of the notion that science imparts wisdom or is the basis for values and aesthetics.

To reduce philosophy to a branch of science or even to a branch of logic is to destroy the original purpose of philsophy which is to serve as a framework for the entire scope of human experience and human concerns.
To limit philosophy to logical positivism (that which can be confirmed empirically) or even to analytic philosophy the logical analysis of statments and questions, is to render philosophy incapable of serving its original purpose (to intergrate the totality of human experience) and to serve as a guide to a life lived well (an examined life).
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:02 pm
@kennethamy,
It seems to me that science assumes many things that philosophers themselves question. For this reason, I think philosophers and scientists are concerned with different levels or types of explanation (although there are scientific philosophers, and philosophical scientists). For example, consider the efficacy of algebraic geometery and calculus as devised by Descartes, Newton, Liebniz, and so on. Nobody would argue that this has not been fundamental to many of the subsequent successes of science, physics in particular (which incidentally in many works of Newton's time was called philosophy.)

Mathematical physics has become arguably the most successful of the sciences, what with the developments in the understanding of matter, physical cosmology, and quantum theory.

But the question as to what number is, is a philosophical question, as distinct from a scientific question. So science has used mathematical logic to make enormous strides in our understanding and mastery over matter. But as soon as you start to ask questions such as: 'is mathematics discovered or invented', then you're in a different realm of explanation. Our mathematics itself, no matter how powerful, cannot answer the question. (This might be a problem of recursion: by analogy, that the 'eye cannot see itself'. I suspect this recursion is behind many of the conundrums of science and philosophy.)

Now a lot of philosophical thinking seems to concern itself with questions of this type. Another whole area is the nature of cognition and consciousness. The scientific approach championed by Dennett et all, assumes that cognition and consciousness are characteristics of the brain, and then proceeds to analyse the specifics. But when you ask a question such as: does the brain generate consciousness, or is consciousness somehow a latent attribute of reality itself, which somehow causes the brain to evolve? - you are once again in the realm of philosophy rather than science.
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:11 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs wrote:
But when you ask a question such as: does the brain generate consciousness, or is consciousness somehow a latent attribute of reality itself, which somehow causes the brain to evolve? - you are once again in the realm of philosophy rather than science.


Why is that question in the realm of philosophy? It doesn't seem like it is to me. "What is consciousness?" seems like the philosophical question. But not all answers are philosophical answers.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:19 pm
@prothero,
prothero;159414 wrote:
It really depends on what you mean by "wisdom" doesn't it? You are familiar with Sophia the wisdom lady? and with the difference between logos and sophia?

Although I am a big fan of science, I am not a big fan of the notion that science imparts wisdom or is the basis for values and aesthetics.

To reduce philosophy to a branch of science or even to a branch of logic is to destroy the original purpose of philsophy which is to serve as a framework for the entire scope of human experience and human concerns.
To limit philosophy to logical positivism (that which can be confirmed empirically) or even to analytic philosophy the logical analysis of statments and questions, is to render philosophy incapable of serving its original purpose (to intergrate the totality of human experience) and to serve as a guide to a life lived well (an examined life).


Who is it, do you think, is reducing philosophy to science? On the contrary, I have just argued they are very different, and that they are not in competition. I agree that science does not impart value. But then, I don't know what does impart value, if anything at all.

You are more sure of what you call philosophy's original purpose than I am. Indeed, you seem to know that philosophy had an original purpose. And I don't see how you can know such a thing. The earliest Western philosophers, the pre-Socratics, were, if they thought they were doing anything, were doing a kind of primitive science. Where did you get the idea that philosophers like Thales, for instance, thought they were, "integrating the totality of human experience". I doubt such a thought even crossed his mind, At least, if it did, we have no record of it.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:29 pm
@kennethamy,
Jebediah;159433 wrote:
Why is that question in the realm of philosophy?


Find a falsifiable hypothesis for it, and it won't be! But how would you do that? The fundamental nature of mind - or whether there even is somethng that answers to the title 'mind' - is a very elusive question. I mean, you can measure brain activity, you can compare brainstates based on various conditions or inputs, you can analyse neuronal patterns and neuro-chemistry - and in fact there a millions of books and papers on these very questions. But the question as to how 'brain generates consciousness' is still unsettled. David Chalmers has a page with a squillion dense articles on this very point.

Furthermore, you can 'close' a question about the motion of bodies quite successfully because it is measurable. Newton's and Einstein's predictions about the behaviour of bodies and particles are testable. You can do experiments and verify the predictions.

But the areas of 'nature of mind' and 'evolutionary explanations for development of human capacity' are fraught with questions that are of a different type to the questions of physics.

Isn't materialism the attempt to reduce all such questions to the laws of physics?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:44 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;159437 wrote:
Find a falsifiable hypothesis for it, and it won't be!


But there are falsifiable propositions that are philosophical propositions. For example, the proposition that fatalism is true is both philosophical and false (not merely falsifiable).
 
prothero
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:54 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;159441 wrote:
But there are falsifiable propositions that are philosophical propositions. For example, the proposition that fatalism is true is both philosophical and false (not merely falsifiable).
Yes and science traditionally was part of philosophy but the reverse is not true. Philosophy is not a subdivision of science.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:56 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;159441 wrote:
But there are falsifiable propositions that are philosophical propositions. For example, the proposition that fatalism is true is both philosophical and false (not merely falsifiable).


But how would this be falsifiable in Popper's sense? You can claim that something is logically flawed or 'doesn't make sense' - but what would be involved in empirical verification?

With fatalism, for example - Joe Blow is run down and killed on 25 April 1990. A soothsayer will claim that 'it was fated, always meant to be'. The soothsayer won't particularly care that the accident seems the result of a long chain of fortuious events.

You could choose not to believe him/her - most would. But proving it is a different matter isn't it?
 
Amperage
 
Reply Sun 2 May, 2010 06:58 pm
@jeeprs,
not to mention fatalism cannot be shown to be false without building a time machine.....and even then, not really
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 07:32 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;159447 wrote:
But how would this be falsifiable in Popper's sense? You can claim that something is logically flawed or 'doesn't make sense' - but what would be involved in empirical verification?

With fatalism, for example - Joe Blow is run down and killed on 25 April 1990. A soothsayer will claim that 'it was fated, always meant to be'. The soothsayer won't particularly care that the accident seems the result of a long chain of fortuious events.

You could choose not to believe him/her - most would. But proving it is a different matter isn't it?


But that someone happens to say that an event was fated and, therefore, that nothing anyone could have done could have prevented its occurrence is no reason to think that is what is asserted is true. And what the soothsayer cares about, or does not care about, does not seem relevant to me. Obstinacy and dogma are hardly arguments. The fact is that Joe Blow could have avoided being knocked down in a number of ways. He could have been more careful; he might have decided not to cross that road, and so on. To hold that none of these would have been effective, and that Joe Blow would have been run down anyway seems to me to be mere assertion without any support, and contrary to the evidence.

Since when is someone's refusal to care about the evidence a reason to think that there is no evidence the person should care about? I would have thought that is what we call invincible ignorance, and pointless obstinacy. You, I am sure, know the famous story about the priests who obstinately refused to look through Galileo's telescope at Jupiter's moons. Did that show that Jupiter had no moons to look at?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 03:26 pm
@kennethamy,
Nevertheless if you say that fatalism is falsifiable, one is entitled to ask how it could be falsified. And I don't think it can be. It can be disregarded but it is impossible to prove one way or the other. I am not arguing in favour of fatalism, but saying that it is the kind of belief for which empirical validation is probably never going to be possible.

Anyway fatalism does not interest me that much. But I think the OP is an interesting and important question. I don't agree with Russell's 'All that can be known, can be known by means of science'. I think there are intuitive forms of knowledge which cannot be formalised. Michael Polanyi made a very similar point. The other philosophers of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, also showed how much attitude and other intangible factors influence the course of scientific discovery. And we can be scientifically sophisticated but pretty ordinary in the ethics stakes. Many people are.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 04:08 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;159661 wrote:
Nevertheless if you say that fatalism is falsifiable, one is entitled to ask how it could be falsified. And I don't think it can be. It can be disregarded but it is impossible to prove one way or the other. I am not arguing in favour of fatalism, but saying that it is the kind of belief for which empirical validation is probably never going to be possible.

Anyway fatalism does not interest me that much. But I think the OP is an interesting and important question. I don't agree with Russell's 'All that can be known, can be known by means of science'. I think there are intuitive forms of knowledge which cannot be formalised. Michael Polanyi made a very similar point. The other philosophers of science, such as Thomas Kuhn, also showed how much attitude and other intangible factors influence the course of scientific discovery. And we can be scientifically sophisticated but pretty ordinary in the ethics stakes. Many people are.


But fatalism has been falsified. Certain controlled experiments (for instance) show that there is no significant chance that taking aspirin is not more effective than taking a placebo to prevent second heart attacks. In fact, such trials were stopped because it was clear that aspirin worked . So, if fatalism is the doctrine that implies that no matter what we do, if we are fated to have a second heart attack we will have one, it has been shown to be false, buy the Framingham studies. Otherwise, what do you think the Framingham studies showed? And why did the experimenters stop them before they were even completed?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 05:18 pm
@kennethamy,
the problem with that is that the fatalist can say that those who were fated to have the second heart attack would do so. It was destiny that they should become involved in an experiment which prevented them from taking the remedy, which led to the heart attack. On the other hand, if they were given a medicine by which a heart attack was avoided, why then, this is also the working of destiny.

This is exactly why fatalism is not a scientific attitude. Its advocates are able to adapt to any set of circumstances ad hoc. But consider this anecdote.

There is a story of a well-known Western devotee of an Indian guru (I know you will think all Indian gurus are fakirs and snake-oil salesmen, but bear with me.) He and a group of about 50 people had been attending a festival in some part of India. They made a decision at the end of the Festival to go and visit the guru across the other side of India. He wasn't expecting them and they had no way of telling him they were coming, as he dwelt incommunicado in a remote village.

Anyway, they set out on this voyage but didn't get very far when their bus broke down. They all piled out in this obscure village in the middle of nowhere, waiting for the bus to be fixed. Then the Western devotee noticed that the guru they had been setting off to see, was walking along the side of the road in conversation with another man, completely unexpectedly. Joyful reunion etc. The guru invited them to the place where he as staying, the whole party. And when they got there, food had been prepared and everything made ready. So they were all given lunch. The devotee asked one of the attendants why they had everything ready. He just shrugged and said 'This morning, when he got up, Baba-ji said "better make preparations for a large group of guests. About 50" '. And that was that.

Of course, you can say that this never happened or it was just a coincidence. But the darndest things do happen.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 05:36 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;159705 wrote:
the problem with that is that the fatalist can say that those who were fated to have the second heart attack would do so. It was destiny that they should become involved in an experiment which prevented them from taking the remedy, which led to the heart attack. On the other hand, if they were given a medicine by which a heart attack was avoided, why then, this is also the working of destiny.



Well yes. They can certainly say that. But, of course, one can say anything to defend a theory when one s in the grip of a theory. I can, I suppose, defend the view that I am God if I am happy to say enough implausible things, and defend that proposition that I am God, "come what may" Quine. But all that would show is that the proposition that i am God can be made consistent with thee evidence if enough implausible assumptions are made. But, so what?
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 06:13 pm
@kennethamy,
But I think you are mistaking 'mystical thinking' for a theory or a proposition in a scientific sense. It is just a completely different type of understanding or outlook. There is a book doing the rounds called 'God: The Hypothesis that Failed'. It is of course an atheist tract. I only want to comment on the title itself. I don't think that God is an hypothesis in the sense understood by scientists or those with a scientific outlook. So if you put forward a scientific hypothesis to 'prove' that God exists, then of course it will fail, and you will end up with a book title like that one. But a lot of this thinking comes from the efforts of early modern philosophy to 'praise the handiwork of the Lord' by showing 'the marvellous symmetry of the heavens' as Newton et al were prone to do.

But by essentially trying to write God into the equations, this thinking actually paved the way for the complete abandonment of the idea of God, because - it is kind of obvious when you spell it out - if God is a completely transcendent being or intelligence, then there is no way He can be described by or accomodated in our hypothetical descriptions of the way things work. This actually goes right to the point of the OP. To wonder about the particular causes of particular phenomena, and to frame hypotheses with explanatory power for that range of phenomena, is one type of thinking. But to wonder about 'the first cause' or 'the source of all being' is a different kind of thinking. They are like chalk and cheese, although in some thinkers (Pythagoras; Heisenberg) they are happily combined.

Richard Dawkins, love him or hate him, is rightly criticized for his philosophical naivety, which is exactly his inability to make distinctions of this type. He himself seems to imagine that theological or philosophical accounts of the origin of being are simply bad science, the kind of science we had before we knew anything about how the universe works. But this is only true if we mistake the symbolic meaning of the traditional accounts for a literal meaning. (And of course, there are some that do that. Hence the problem of fundamentalism, but it is as characteristic of secularism as it is of religion nowadays.)
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 06:23 pm
@kennethamy,
I don't think any disputes that it's a different kind of thinking. The question is whether it is a worthwhile kind of thinking.
 
prothero
 
Reply Mon 3 May, 2010 06:33 pm
@Jebediah,
Jebediah;159722 wrote:
I don't think any disputes that it's a different kind of thinking. The question is whether it is a worthwhile kind of thinking.
While those who accepted the logical positivism assertions about "statements which can not be verified are meaningless" and the less dogmatic assertions of the analytic philosophy (logical analysis of language) about what types of inquires would be meaningful might not think a lot of metaphysics is worthwhile.

Those trends however I think have run their course, since such assertions themselves can not be verified and I think the trend now is a return to more traditional philosophical questions. Of course, not everyone thinks this is a good thing.
 
 

 
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