Is philosophy a science?

I’m not going to answer the question posed above, for I haven’t resolved it in my own mind, but I did want to throw out a few thoughts and invite the input of readers.  This post was inspired by two New York Times pieces at The Stone, a forum for philosophers.

The first, “Philosophy by another name“, was published on March 4 by Colin McGinn, a famous philosopher of mind who’s now at The University of Miami.  it’s a rather petulant piece; for McGinn is rankled by the lower rank occupied by philosophy than by the sciences in the public mind.  Here’s a snippet:

Our current name is harmful because it posits a big gap between the sciences and philosophy; we do something that is not a science. Thus we do not share in the intellectual prestige associated with that thoroughly modern word. We are accordingly not covered by the media that cover the sciences, and what we do remains a mystery to most people. But it is really quite clear that academic philosophy is a science. The dictionary defines a science as “a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject.” This is a very broad definition, which includes not just subjects like physics and chemistry but also psychology, economics, mathematics and even “library science.”

Academic philosophy obviously falls under this capacious meaning.

McGinn then suggests that the practice of philosophy be given a new name: “ontics.”

It is sufficiently novel as not to be confused with other fields; it is pithy and can easily be converted to “onticist” and “ontical”; it echoes “physics,” and it emphasizes that our primary concern is the general nature of being. The dictionary defines “philosophy” as “the study of the fundamental nature of reality, knowledge and existence.” We can simplify this definition by observing that all three cited areas are types of being: objective reality obviously is, but so is knowledge, and so also are meaning, consciousness, value and proof, for example. These are simply things that are.

. . . I like “ontics” best: it sounds serious and weighty, it is easy to say, and it sounds like a solid science. Note that the names of other sciences are similarly peculiar: “physics” just comes from the Greek word for nature, and “chemistry” derives from “alchemy” (an Arabic word). And “ontics” will certainly not be confused with “philosophy” in the vernacular sense — so no more of that tedious linguistic wrangling about what a “philosopher” is or should be.

When McGinn says stuff like this, though, I thought the whole piece must have been a parody:

Perhaps in 100 years’ time the process will be complete and our universities will all have a “department of ontics.” Don’t you want to be part of this historical movement? I believe that once the matter is seen clearly the eventual renaming will be well nigh inevitable.

But it’s not a parody. It wasn’t published on April 1; it’s in the New York Times; and McGinn is a heavyweight philosopher.  The name “ontics” surely won’t catch on, but his question is a good one: where does philosophy rank among the sciences? Is it a science?

In the second piece, “Philosophy is not a science,” Julian Friedland, an assistant professor at Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business, demurs. Although he considers philosophy separate from science—a different “way of knowing”—he sees it as adding to the sum of human knowledge. Indeed, he sees it as more efficacious at understanding stuff than science itself, and he manages to get in a curmudgeonly lick at “scientism”:

The intellectual culture of scientism clouds our understanding of science itself. What’s more, it eclipses alternative ways of knowing — chiefly the philosophical — that can actually yield greater certainty than the scientific. While science and philosophy do at times overlap, they are fundamentally different approaches to understanding. So philosophers should not add to the conceptual confusion that subsumes all knowledge into science. Rather, we should underscore the fact that various disciplines we ordinarily treat as science are at least as — if not more —philosophical than scientific. Take for example mathematics, theoretical physics, psychology and economics. These are predominately rational conceptual disciplines. That is, they are not chiefly reliant on empirical observation. For unlike science, they may be conducted while sitting in an armchair with eyes closed.

There are so many things wrong with this that I can’t begin to discuss them.  First of all, psychology and economics often do depend on empirical observations, as does a lot of theoretical physics, which often takes as its starting point empirical observations.  Theoretical physics can also make testable predictions.  These aspects are hallmarks of “true” science, at least in the way that Susan Haack defines it on p 24 of Defending Science—Within Reason: Between Science and Cynicism (p. 24).

“There is no mode of inference, no ‘scientific method’, exclusive to the sciences and guaranteed to produce true, probably true, more nearly true, or more empirically adequate, results.. . . .  And, as far as a method, it is what historians or detectives or investigative journalists or the rest of us do when we really want to find something out: make an informed conjecture about the possible explanation of a puzzling phenomenon, check out how it stands up to the best evidence we can get, and then use our judgment whether to accept it, more or less tentatively, or modify, refine, or replace it.”

Haack’s definition, if it can be called that, is what I’ve always referred to as “science construed broadly.”  Under that aegis, archaeology, car mechanics, and plumbing are also species of science.

But in what respect can, say, economics and psychology (or theoretical physics for that matter) “yield greater certainty” than science?  Mathematics can, of course, because some of its propositions are true by definition, not verified by empirical observation.  But I’d assert that we’re far more certain about the double-helical nature of DNA than about any psychological or economic “theory.”

I must say that I was put off by Frieland’s certainty about questionable propositions:

Does this mean these fields do not yield objective knowledge? The question is frankly absurd. Indeed if any of their findings count as genuine knowledge, they may actually be more enduring. For unlike empirical observations, which may be mistaken or incomplete, philosophical findings depend primarily on rational and logical principles. As such, whereas science tends to alter and update its findings day to day through trial and error, logical deductions are timeless.

Well, I’m not going to argue about whether 1 + 3 = 4 is “knowledge”, or whether logical syllogisms that end in conclusions like “Socrates is a man” are also knowledge.  That’s largely a semantic issue.  What I have no doubt about is whether philosophy is a tool for obtaining knowledge. It is.  By enforcing strict rationality and logic, it helps clarify our thoughts and, more important, sweep away errors—and the sweeping away of errors is indeed a “way of knowing.”  Two examples where philosophy has helped me understand things better are Peter Singer’s analysis of animal suffering (if our ethics are based on suffering, and they often are, then we must take into account the suffering of animals in thinking about morality); his analysis of our “expanding circle” of empathy; and the efforts of philosophers like J. L. Mackie to expose the holes in theologians’ arguments for God. (Read his The Miracle of Theism if you haven’t; it’s very good).

Now none of this work has revealed anything new and true about the universe. Given the nature of philosophy, that’s impossible. But the work of philosphers like Mackie, or that of other ethical philosophers who use rationality to pick holes in arguments (e.g., the Euthyphro argument) help show us what is likely to be false, or at least which propositions lack strong support.  In that way philosophy resembles statistics, which tells us what we are and aren’t entitled to conclude from our data.  Like statistics, philosophy is a way of drawing limits around what we know and don’t know, though neither area by itself produces new knowledge.

So I was prepared to say that philosophy, if not strictly a science, is surely a way of knowing.  But then I began thinking about real theoretical “science”, especially theoretical population genetics, which I know a bit about. No biologist would doubt that theoretical population genetics is a science. But why? It usually produces no knowledge itself, but merely sets limits on what we can conclude and not conclude.  For example, the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium equation tells us that earlier geneticists’ ideas that dominant alleles—like the one causing Huntington’s chorea in humans—would become predominant in a population by virtue of their physiological dominance alone was wrong.  That, at least was an increase in understanding.

So is theoretical population genetics a science?  Was it a science when it proposed the “neutral theory” of molecular evolution, which explored the theoretical consequences of assuming that genetic variants at a locus were equivalent in their effects on an organism’s fitness?  That was a purely theoretical enterprise, without initially drawing on empirical data.  Yet the discipline made predictions which can and have been tested (e.g., nonfunctional parts of the genome, or the third positions in the triplet DNA code, should be highly variable), so it certainly has helped produce knowledge and understanding.  Further the tools of theoretical population genetics have helped analyze data, like the data on hybridization between modern Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, that did give us scientific “truth”: the fact that we carry a small fraction of Neanderthal genes in our genome, almost certainly reflecting ancient hybridization. That is a scientific “fact,” and it came from a combination of data and theory.  Without the theory, we wouldn’t have the “fact.” The theory was integral to the production of fact, just as theoretical physics is in areas like quantum mechanics.  (Theory predicts, for instance, the existence of certain particles.) To nearly all scientists, theoretical population genetics and theoretical physics are truly “science”.

So if the theoretical branches of natural and physical sciences are truly science, then why isn’t philosophy, which often does similar things?  Certainly philosophy by itself can’t produce knowledge, but neither can many areas of theoretical population genetics.  Both require empirical input, but can work out the consequences of that input using the tools of rationality. Philosophy might not be able to tell us what is true about the universe, but it can tell us what is false.  But that’s also true of much theory in biology.  So I agree with Friedland when he says:

Logically fallacious arguments can be rather sophisticated and persuasive. But they are nevertheless invalid and always will be. Exposing such errors is part of philosophy’s stock and trade. Thus as Socrates pointed out long ago, much of the knowledge gained by doing philosophy consists in realizing what is not the case.

I’m prepared, then, to say that philosophy is a “way of knowing,” but not quite comfortable in saying that it’s a science.  I’d love to hear readers’ input on this.


  1. Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I’d love to hear readers’ input on this.

    Since you ask, in my opinion yes, philosophy is a science, but then I’m an unrepentant scientismist!

  2. Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with you. To me, science is quintessentially an empirical project — it’s about the physical universe, and stands or falls on whether its claims test out successfully. Philosophy is enormously useful, and possesses a dignity of its own — but it isn’t science.

    Historically, what we now call science was a branch of philosophy — “natural philosophy”. But the progress of knowledge has seen empirically-based studies first branch off on their own, then gradually take over much of the former territory of philosophy (eg: philosophy of mind can no longer go on independently of neuroanatomy).

  3. Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Philosophy (thinking about thinking) is art, like mathematics is. Science is applied philosophy and has lots of use for applied mathematics. There, solved. No-one can possibly argue with my conclusions.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink



      You’re forgetting—

      Dammit, man! I find it impossible to argue with your conclusions!!


    • ivo
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      There, now you’ve gone and broken the philosophy of science.

    • jmckaskle
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      How is science applied philosophy? Didn’t Bacon propose the scientific method as an explicit rejection of the application of philosophical technique to the process of discovery? (the answer is yes, he did)

      • Sastra
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Perhaps the apparent contradiction there is resolved if science is considered a form of philosophy. Bacon wasn’t proposing rejecting philosophical technique per se, then, but rejecting an inappropriate or unworkable form of philosophy and substituting a better one.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

          Yeah, that’s basically what I was trying to say.

        • jmckaskle
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

          Why call it philosophy when it doesn’t use techniques of philosophy and rejects syllogistic analysis as a workable method? What you propose is to extend the meaning of philosophy so far and wide as to make it meaningless. Everything is philosophy and nothing isn’t. If philosophy is supposed to be useful in at least clarifying concepts and definitions, then saying science is under the scope of philosophy is anathema to philosophy.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Yeah, an explicit rejection of pure thought as the path to knowledge – not understanding the necessity of checking against the world is why the great ancient Greeks, smart as they were, failed to invent science as we know it.

        But there’s more to thinking about thinking than what Bacon rejected as an approach. (Much as there’s more to thinking about thinking than what professional philosophers do, despite their attempts in this comment thread to claim them.) Despite his famous denunciation of philosophy of science, Feynman is also famous for quite a few bits of how to think about science and what you’re doing – which I certainly think is no stretch to class as philosophy of science.

        • jmckaskle
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

          That’s philosophy defined as subjective opinion. No different than saying, “my philosophy is to live life to its fullest.” It s an annoyingly common misconstruance.

  4. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Lemme see now…

    PRESENTLY we have empirical science (including physics) and we have philosophy (including metaphysics), along with an epistemological efficacy (empirical falsification) which demarcates and distinguishes science from philosophy.

    PROPOSED is for us to instead have empirical science (including physics) and ontics (including metaphysics), along with the same epistemological efficacy (empirical falsification) which demarcates and distinguishes science from ontics.

    Oh yeah, THAT’ll change EVERYTHING!

    (Or not.)
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

    “There are no certainly correct philosophies; there are, however, some surely wrong ones.”
    — Charles F. Breslin

    • newenglandbob
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink


  5. hhislander
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is not a science; nor should it be. Science profits from critical examination and philosophy provides some of this critique. That is, it stands outside science and asks as many questions as possible about the legitimacy of science and its findings. It is exceedingly important that philosophy do this; otherwise, science would be just another dogma.

  6. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Science is a philosophy.

    It derives from induction, which is a form of logic that is derived from philosophy – and the idea of the hypothesis comes from abductive reasoning, from philosophy. It uses mathematics to hone itself, which is a form of logic; to be more specific, science is a special case of Bayes’ Theorem. And the whole idea of ‘evidence’ belongs to the Empirical philosophy.

    Science is a (major) tool that philosophy uses to become ‘wise.’

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I would define science as experimental philosophy.

      A few centuries ago, science was called “philosophy of nature”, which is a proper term too.

    • Berlinerweiss
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Just that the foundations of science can be traced back to philosophy doesn’t make the practice of science a part of philosophy.
      A weightlifter deals a lot with gravity but that doesn’t make him a physicist. Nor does it make the physicist better at weightlifting, regardless of how much he would like to go to bars and pretend to be an athlete…

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        The foundations of weightlifting are certainly not to be found in physics, but in sporting practices, and yes, weightlifting is a part of sporting practices.

        • Berlinerweiss
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          The *theoretical* foundations of weigtlifting are surely to be found in physics, as it gives you not only the lower limits to the energy you’ll need to lift that weight, it also gives you the most important details, e.g. about how to lift it so to not create unnescessary and uncontrollable torque. Even the movement of your muscles and accordingly your trainig is physical in every sense.

          And that’s exactly the analogy I wanted to make – practising something which is theoretically explained by X does not make the practice part of X (nor trained Xers any good at them).

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            Why use metaphors ?

            • dschealler
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

              Because metaphors are hyperlinks: Useful symbolic link that reaches out to a larger concept and context.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

            Do you mean that practicing weightlifting would have been impossible without developing physics first? I doubt it.
            Yet practicing science would have been impossible without developing philosophy first and historically science emerged as a branch of philosophy (namely philosophy of nature).
            Having its foundation in something is not the same as being explained by something.

            • Berlinerweiss
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, I don’t believe that (“practicing science would have been impossible without developing philosophy first”). I guess it makes a good Sid Meier game, though 😉

              Do we just call researching the basics of mathematics or measuring the distance to the moon philosophy just because there was no strict division between our modern concepts in antiquity? And while modern science is clearly a different beast, did Roman engineers construct their buildings using philosophy or did they have an early version of accumulating knowledge on the basis of testing and succesfully deriving principles? I think there’s a case to be made for scientific traditions beginning parallel to philosophical ones, not just as a derivative.

              Sure, at one point in European history all higher education was happening in a theological-philosophical framework, intellectually and institutionally. So it’s no wonder that modern sciences re-emerges from within that context but also influenced by the re-discovery of ancient scientific texts. So there’s clearly strong influences from philosophical traditions towards modern scientific ones. But as with theology, modern science emerges not just from that intellectual background but in many cases *against* that background, with people noticing they need a new, different approach. Hard to tell, but I think it’s a mistake to confuse historical contigency too readily with nescessity.

              Maybe we should start to call philosophy ontics then no one would confuse what Thales or Aristoteles did with what either a mathematician, scientist, or a philosopher does today…

              Late night ramblings, logging off now 🙂

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

                Do we know this historically or is it a platitude? Bet magical thinking was the basis for most empirical testing and experiments.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 1:41 am | Permalink

                That’s an interesting point. Does philosophy lead to practical applications just as science does? Apparently not, but in my view, philosophy is an attempt to understand the world, and that’s what theoretical science is as well. We just call it science when it get sufficient precision to allow practical applications. Besides when physicists question the fundation of their theory (for example when they discuss the nature of the wave function and the role of measurement in quantum mechanics) they definitely do philosophy.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 4:01 am | Permalink

                You’re doing something quite a lot of correspondents here are doing: conflating “you’re doing something we could plausibly label ‘philosophy'” with “you’re doing what’s the proper domain of philosophy departments”. The first is much larger than the second.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink

                No, philosophy is the effort to impose an ideology on others to gain power/influence. It does so by pretending ideas like logic exist outside of local language conventions — clearly false.

                It is the same as playing on people’s emotions and needs by pretending there is a god, etc. It is the standard ideological practice of lying to trigger emotions in others to manipulate.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

                @Rich and Co.
                “It does so by pretending ideas like logic exist outside of local language conventions”

                If you knew a little philosophy, you’d know that the question of weather logic is pure language conventions is debated inside philosophy, not a premise of all philosophy.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                It does, though in strange ways.

                One is that it spawns off partially autonomous fields – the sciences themselves.

                Two is that many recent developments used in computing have (at least in part) been developed for philosophical reasons initially. For example, various non-classical logics and bayes networks.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        “A weightlifter deals a lot with gravity but that doesn’t make him a physicist.” Precisely, because, to weight lifting, gravity is a tool to use to gain strength; whereas physics is the tool to understand gravity.

        Weight lifting is to strength training – a tool to obtain strength – as science is to philosophy – a tool to obtain wisdom.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

          The judgement of “wisdom” is only useful if empirically predictive.

          However, the prediction may be in the ability to get people to believe it — to obtain power/sales results.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

            The usefulness of ’empirical prediction’ is what makes science such a useful to to become wise – the goal of philosophy.

            There are many wrong ways to do science; there are many wrong ways to do philosophy – but science is one of the right ways.

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

              Peer-reviewed double blind data-based knowledge is the least wrong of any form of human knowledge. The rest are archaic.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

                Mathematics is pretty not-wrong too. The only form of knowledge we have that can be considered ‘fact’ – whereas science can only go as far as ‘law’ or ‘theory.’

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

                Nope, it’s either measurable predictions or not. The rest is trivial semantics.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

                So then math is our highest measurable predictor.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

                Yup, since it is the least subject to the solipsistic errors built into our brains, and the brains of all animals.

                Brain science has really exposed other forms of “knowledge” and claims as deeply false.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

                A scientific theory is far from being any kind of idealized “data-based knowledge”, as philosophers have shown (read Kuhn for example). Data are actually very theory-dependent. The length of a mercury column is not a measure of temperature without a theory of thermodynamics.

                The “rest” is not archaic. The rest (metaphysical assumptions and the like) is all that our knowledge and representation of the world is actually based on.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        If science evolved from philosophy, why is there still philosophy?


        • gbjames
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink


        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Bet, empirical-based knowledge evolved from animistic magical thinking/behavior.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

          Science evolved from philosophy of nature.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            You’re taking an obviously facetious comment far too seriously!


            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

              Oops sorry. Forgot the name of the blog…

            • Justicar
              Posted April 14, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

              Should not the riposte here simply be a refinement of the question (like any good scientist does in the face of new information)? Observe: very well then, if science evolved from philosophy of nature, why is there still nature?

        • ivo
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

          Also, where’s the missing link between philosophy and science? Now show me that!

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

            “Heart has reason reason knows nothing” could lead you to the missing link…

            Pascal was a man of science, a philosopher and a mystic at the same time. There are no contradictions between those sphere when you know where their territory begins and ends…

        • Justicar
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:52 am | Permalink

          Human compassion has prevented our finally making it extinct. We’re far too sentimental. =P

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      I cannot agree.

      Science is an empirical-based methodological epistemology (the most efficacious methodological epistemology to yet come down the pike for sorting propositional wheat from propositional chaff — but it only works for propositions which, were they false, could be empirically shown to be false).

      Philosophy isn’t.

      Philosophy is important, however, and there is a philosophy of science (several of ’em, in fact ).
      _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

      “Philosophy is for ponderin’ whilst piddlin’ on the privy.”
      — The Thinker [Rodin’s]

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        I cannot agree.
        Epistemology is part of philosophy, not of science. Scientific theories are not statements about our knowledge (nor about what is truth, nor about how to sort propositions) but statements about the world.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

          There is a perhaps subtle (and by many, unappreciated or even unrecognized) but VITAL difference between TRUTH and our human KNOWLEDGE of truth; namely: TRUTH is whatever is actually true (whether we know it or not and even if we cannot ever know it), while our KNOWLEDGE of truth is forever fallible and always held tentatively to one degree or non-zero other (and thus is forever subject to revision or abandonment as future empirically intersubjectively demonstrated discoveries may warrant).

          And so, I agree with you that scientific statements (theoretical propositions about the physical world) are not statements ABOUT our KNOWLEDGE of the physical world; they are indeed (as you’ve said) statements ABOUT the PHYSICAL WORLD, and as such THEY themselves CONSTITUTE our (forever fallible) KNOWLEDGE of the physical world.

          All our theoretical statements about the physical world MAY be false, and some of them have on occasions been empirically intersubjectively demonstrated to BE false beyond point-in-time reasonable doubt; and THAT those which have been shown to be false beyond reasonable doubt ARE FALSE is what constitutes our surest (though still forever fallible) “knowledge” of the physical world (though we don’t usually talk or think about our knowledge in that way, we cast a positive light and focus on the verisimilitude of the theories that are still standing as still viable candidates of “knowledge” and which are step-stones that lead us closer and closer to truth (in a NEVER-ending PURSUIT of truth).

          Said more simply, scientific statements (theories)about the physical world constitute what we know — our (forever fallible!) “knowledge” — of the physical world.

          And you may be right that empirical science itself is a philosophy, but I cannot agree with you that science is a philosophy.

          I DO agree that the study of “epistemology” is a branch or subset of philosophy.

          And I DO agree that the study OF empirical science (as distinct from the empirical study of the physical world KNOWN as “empirical science”) is ALSO a branch or subset of philosophy.

          But I cannot agree that the empirical study of the physical world is a philosophy.

          Science (as I previously expressed) seems to me to clearly be an empirical-based methodological epistemology (the most efficacious methodological epistemology to yet come down the pike for sorting propositional wheat from propositional chaff — but it only works for propositions which, were they false, could be empirically shown to be false), while philosophy (which includes a branch that studies “epistemology” and a branch that studies the methodology (and also the sociology) of empirical “science”) tests propositions for logical validity; the testing of the soundness of premises employed in the arguments for the truth of proposition requires mathematics and/or empirical science.

          And within philosophy there is a subset philosophy of mathematics (though, like science per se, neither is mathematics per se a philosophy that I can see).

          Heck, if EVERYthing is “philosophy,” then why do we need the term “philosophy?” Relative to what ELSE does the term “philosophy” specially refer, if ALL is philosophy???

          And if NOT ALL is philosophy (so that there is a indeed a need for the term “philosophy”), then two things I (for one) presently think are not philosophy are (1) mathematics, and (2)the empirical methodology for producing (forever fallible but nonetheless) reliable knowledge of the physical world named “science.”

          (And there may be others too, but I am presently content to limit my participation in this thread of commentary/dialogue to just those two.)

          As I am a Popperian falliblist, I do of course acknowledge the possibility that my expressed perspective on all this may be wrong, but there it is; I cannot agree that empirical science is a philosophy (though there is a philosophy of science, several of them in fact ).

          I fully understand and appreciate that you and MANY others cannot agree with me. And so, all is well and normal!
          _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

          Anyone interested in why I hold such an oddball perspective may want to thoughtfully read Popper’s OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE (just for starters), or his CONJECTURES AND REFUTATIONS. Or at the very least read Peter Godfrey-Smith’s THEORY AND REALITY (which includes .

          Or not [LEGION are those who do not].

          • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink


          • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

            I think we don’t understand “epistemology” the same way. You seem to take it for a method, and I take it for the study of science.

            Now what philosophy is — to me — is an attempt to understand things (create knowledge and meaning). In that sense, science is part of philosophy, and lots of things are not philosophy.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        You just pointed out, exactly, why Philosophy is NOT a Science: “Science is an empirical-based methodological epistemology… Philosophy isn’t.” If philosophy isn’t what science is, it can’t be a part of it.

        But, science is what some of philosophy is, namely “an empirical-based methodological epistemology.” The fact that we cannot directly perceive things ‘as they are’ leads to induction being our most valuable form of reasoning to understand the world – with empiricism you get a lovely combination that creates the scientific method (experimentation, evaluation, re-experimentation, re-evaluation, cont.).

        Philosophy was not born out of science, and science did not birth itself out of obscurity. Centuries of thought and dialogue (ie, early philosophy) led to methodology that we now know as science.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

          Sure we can know things as they are — happens every time a plane flies or you visit the doctor, etc.

          The historical claim could be made for magical beliefs as well as philo. How do we know magical beliefs weren’t more causal of successful evidence-based knowledge?

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

            The fact that our spectrum of perception is limited means we only know things in a limited way. We may see the plane flying and know that it’s a plane flying (as far as our language is concerned), but what other properties are we missing?
            This is the things ‘as they are’ question.

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

              Claims outside of empirical prediction are nonsensical — by definition.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

                This is why the ‘beyond the physical’ metaphysical questions are so ridiculous.

                The greatest non/pseudo-empirical predictions we have are through mathematics/logic – but even they are rooted in empiricism.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

                Anything that predicts empirical events is all that can count as “knowledge.” There are intermediate steps.

                The abstractions of maths, ultimately tied to measurable predictions, are sensible. Solipsistic, supernatural statements, although using similar language, are nonsensical — but very popular.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

                I totally agree.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                What counts as empirical is theory-dependent.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

                Subjective claims are empirical too.
                You guys are limiting the empirical to what can be repeated and verified with the scientific method. In philosophy, that is called scientism. Scientism is the belief that only science can bring valuable knowledge.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                @JF Fortier

                I think that phrasing it that way is misleading.

                Science is natural philosophy. Natural philosophy is the area of expertise and authority when it comes to determining knowledge about the natural world. This isn’t scientism – it’s giving the branch of natural philosophy its just dues.

                The trick is in the assumption that the natural world is the only thing about which we can have meaningful knowledge.

                Or at least it would be, if anyone actually made that assumption.

                Most scientists with whom I’m familiar would be happy to say things like “Mathematics is sort of not part of the natural world, but we can still have meaningful knowledge about mathematics.”

                The people who like to complain the most about ‘scientism’ are usually championing a discipline that claims to have access to meaningful knowledge, but that can’t actually back that claim up with any form of justification other than appeals to tradition and authority.

                So when their best and most impressive-sounding appeals to tradition and authority get fairly dismissed by scientists, any such individuals have to retort with *something* in order to relieve cognitive dissonance. Easiest tool lying to hand is to leap to the erroneous conclusion that scientists only accept science as a means to knowledge (as opposed to mathematics, etc), and complain noisily about scientism. Because it’s just not *possible* that someone could dismiss their entire tradition for good-faith reasons. I mean, look at all our tradition and authority and impressive-sounding rhetoric. It can’t all reduce down to hot air, can it? I mean, then we all would have been spending our lives on a complete waste of time, and as clever and intelligent individuals that’s just not possible.

                If you disagree, gimmie a counterexample.

                I’ll be waiting.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

                We grasp the world in a certain way. And unless you can compare it with another way, another mode i should say, you believe, unconsciously or not, that the picture you get from your senses and our intellect is accurate.

                If you could grasp the world through a different mode, a mode known as non-dual by the oriental traditions, you could see for yourself that you are taking for granted the way you are perceiving the world and your self. Not that the average dual mode isn’t real. It is just not absolute. By comparing both mode, you could see why science and even math are not able to talk about some phenomenon.

                You’ll notice that it is not because I talk about oriental traditions that it is an appeal to tradition or authority since you have to experience non-duality in order to know what it is.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

                Yep, you’re on drugs. There are 12 step programs for that.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

                When lost — insult the messenger.
                – Rich and Co.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

                @JF Fortier

                To grasp the world is to split it into two parts: The grasper, and that which is grasped.

                Bodhi is fundamentally without any tree;
                The bright mirror is also not a stand.
                Fundamentally there is not a single thing —
                Where could any dust be attracted?

                Dajian Huineng, 638–713

                Now: You can claim that the non-dualistic understanding of the world is neither the tradition nor the authorities historically associated with that tradition.

                However: As you cannot show this understanding to us, we can only take your word for it – your authority.

                You can appeal to others that have had a similar experience… But then you’re, again, appealing to the authority of qualified experts.

                So you’re back to square one, either way.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

                Which is to say:

                If knowledge requires justification, and you are unable to justify your claim to knowledge in a way we can verify, then it is not knowledge, but something else.

                Further furthermore: If your knowledge of the world consists of an inner understanding in your mind, then this is not knowledge of the world, but rather knowledge of how your mind seems to be.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

                Are you guys on some kinda of drugs? This stuff makes no sense at all.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

                You know, the Buddha himself said to not believe him but to check it out for your self.
                No matter the justification you’ll find to undervalue the experience of a non-dual mode of perception, which can only be by essence subjective, you won’t know anything about it unless you experience it.
                What more can be add?
                That non-dual perception doesn’t exist..?

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

                C’mon, who knows what any guy named buddha said? It’s silly propaganda and crass salesmanship.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

                “That non-dual perception doesn’t exist..?”

                Form is no other than emptiness, perhaps? ^_^

                Look, here’s the thing: It is very clear from the context and the way in which we use the term that when we say ‘knowledge’ we are referring to having a firm grasp on the world in some relevant way.

                The non-dualistic understanding of the world cannot be grasped, because to grasp the world is to divide it into the grasper and that which is grasped.

                So whatever else you are talking about, if it does not or cannot be grasped, then it is not the sort of thing that we mean when we talk about ‘knowledge’.

                In short: You’re making a category error.

                Now, you don’t need to convince me that there’s something to the non-dualistic view. It may not be knowledge as we are using the term here – but it is still something.

                It is like a man hanging by his teeth in a tree over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the tree another man asks him, ‘Why did Bodhidharma come to China from the West?’ If the man in the tree does not answer, he misses the question, and if he answers, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

                No, it’s empty self flattering word play. Less than trivial.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

                “The non-dualistic understanding of the world cannot be grasped, because to grasp the world is to divide it into the grasper and that which is grasped.”

                Yes it can be grasped, but grasped non-dualy. Which means that words can’t talk about it because language is a dual mode of communication.
                You seem to know about non-dualism a little so I don’t think you’ll learn something if I say that on a non-dual mode, there is no distance between the grasper, what is grasped and the act of grasping.
                And if you read me well, I didn’t say that the dual mode was false or wrong, I said it wasn’t absolute.

                Btw, I think the man should remain silent.
                Me too I know…

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

                This is complete gobbledygook.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

                “You seem to know about non-dualism a little…”

                I like to think that I’m merely aware of some of my areas of ignorance on the subject. ^_^

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

            “The Tao belongs neither to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is false understanding; not knowing is blind ignorance. If you really understand the Tao beyond doubt, it’s like the empty sky. Why drag in right and wrong? (i.e. dualism)”

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

              Off we go into the fairyland of magical thinking. Sorry, not worth our time.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                You either get it or you don’t. Can’t be explained. So transmission is… Difficult.

                It is not knowledge.

                Neither is it magic.

                It is… A way.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

                Riiiight, the domain of very special people all this….well the rest of us clay footed lesser humans need to struggle with our lower class problems everyday…nothing the enlightened need to concern themselves with….

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

                Everyone has a way, Rich. Unless they’re dead, of course.

                Does this mean that everyone is special?

                Or does it mean that no-one is special?

                I prefer the latter… But then again, I’ve been told I have bad taste.

                Is a way better because it is harder to transmit?

                Or does that make it worse?

                I prefer the latter.

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

                You’re in good company pretty much everyone prefers and defends platitudes and fairy tales and other childish notions. They are very salable — but just garden variety lies lies of manipulators.

                Simple and manipulative lies to get power over others. Feeding on emotional weaknesses. You can take pride in that, we suppose.

              • dschealler
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

                It seems that the only power I possess over you is the power to annoy.

                C’est la vie.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

                @ dschealler

                It was refreshing to have this exchange with you. It changes from the typical Rich and Co. comments.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

                “The Tao belongs neither to knowing or not knowing. Knowing is false understanding; not knowing is blind ignorance. If you really understand the Tao beyond doubt, it’s like the empty sky. Why drag in right and wrong? (i.e. dualism)”

                Rich and Co.
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Permalink
                Off we go into the fairyland of magical thinking. Sorry, not worth our time.

                Rich and Co, there is nothing magical or dated here. It is even not religious… It is about the way you grasp the world. That way has some boundaries. The Tao tries to explain what are those boundaries. That’s it…

    • jmckaskle
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:13 am | Permalink

      I think you are misconstruing philosophical logic (syllogism) with science. The scientific method was an explicit rejection of the syllogistic method. There just is no philosophy in science.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:17 am | Permalink

        There is no uniform set of behaviors usefully labeled the scientific method — it is always changing.

        Instead of engaging with the full complexity of evidence-based knowledge folks want to create little, neat labels and word boxes to fit their limited comprehension — it’s a false project.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

        Syllogistic logic is only one form of logic. Science uses mathematical logic and propositional logic (which is derived from, or is the most ‘updated’ form – hence the rejection – of, syllogistic logic – but it’s also part of mathematical logic). Syllogism is used for argument – putting one conclusion against another to figure out which one is better.

        There is philosophy all throughout science, but philosophy is not a science; science is a philosophy – the empirical and inductive methodology.

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:12 am | Permalink


        What is the thesis of the knowability of the world? That it contains objective patterns? These theses, presupposed by (and confirmed by) science, are parts of epistemology and metaphysics, respectively.

        There are more.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

      I’d add the refinement, science is the special case that results from presuming experience has pattern (complexity recognizable by ordinal degree turing hypercomputation) and using a greedy search quasi-algorithm for testing alternative descriptions. (Deciding which alternatives to test is non-algorithmic, due in part to the halting problem.) Insert my usual doi:10.1109/18.825807 pointer….

  7. jonathan
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    something something scientific method something something NO IT’S NOT

  8. ZackLewis
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    I’m currently not comfortable labeling entire fields as being science or not. For me, there are scientific activities and non-scientific activities. It may be true that almost all physicists and chemists usually pursue knowledge in a scientific way. Not all do, but I don’t think that that fact allows me to say that those few aren’t studying chemistry or physics.

  9. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I’m not a scientist; I’m not a philosopher either, except insofar that pretty much any human being is a philosopher.Why? Why not?

    I don’t understand this argument. I thought it was finished when, in the 16th century, Galileo had to call himself a philosopher (and, by the way, a astrologer!) because the prevailing devotion was to churning over Aristotle. Nobody dared to term anything but astrology a science.And nobody performed experiments to see if their “philosophy” held up in fact.

    Galileo, who we’d call a physicist and astronomer, called himself a mathematician. This was sort of daring for him because mathematics was frowned upon as a declasse sort of knowledge.
    And he had to couch his remarkable books as “philosophical dialogues,” because that was the only acceptable way of describing (and disguising) what we’d call scientific discoveries.
    Philosophy is no more a science than it was in Galileo’s time.

  10. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Personally, I would say that, as with all questions of definition for which there is no clear answer, we are trying to apply discrete digital states to a continuum. While all science relies (often implicitly rather than explicitly) on a certain underlying philosophical position, not all philosophy is science but some (“natural science”) surely is. Likewise, not all the tools employed by science are themselves “science” when taken in isolation but they become science when combined with data/models etc. Asking when something becomes science, though, is a bit like asking when Homo erectus became Homo sapiens, or when does a fertilised egg become a person? It’s interesting (and potentially useful) to think about but is ultimately a semantic issue, based on an arbitrary definition of terms rather than any self-evident truth. Science has many different meanings to different people, and so where philosophy sits on the science/non-science continuum will ultimately depend on which definition you favour, which may itself depend on the circumstance. (I am fairly sure that I do not have a single consistent definition of “science” for all circumstances.)

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:22 am | Permalink

      (PS. I meant “natural philosophy” not “natural science”. Maybe, subconsciously, I think that philosophy and science are the same thing after all!)

    • Gluon
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink


      The word “philosophy” covers a very wide range of activities. It seems to me that at one end philosophy is merely a branch of math (e.g. logic), and at the far other end, it is a kind of literature. Somewhere in the middle it is a kind of rigorous literature, which helps us clarify our own muddled thoughts about various topics.

  11. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I’ll note also that the philosophy articles on Wikipedia are just really low quality (less readable than the SEP), and the ones related to philosophy of science are particularly terrible. I just rewrote consilience to be the slightest bit comprehensible to anyone with any idea what science was. I have no idea who they think the audience for this stuff is. I’m assuming people interested in clarity just aren’t writing about this stuff on Wikipedia.

    • couchloc
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Wikipedia is pretty terrible for philosophy. The best resources are SEP (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) and IEP (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Both are peer reviewed and usually reliable. The latter is often more useful to people outside the field because it’s pitched to the general reader.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

        I’ve been editing Wikipedia since 2004, when it was mostly just terrible. So I’m somewhat pleased to be surprised that an area is terrible. I suppose I should dive in and fix it up a bit; evidently I can’t do worse than whoever’s been doing it so far. (The Wiki Philosophy in a nutshell!)

  12. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    While I recognise the value of Philosophy (root words : love of wisdom) as a way of thinking I don’t think it is science or a way of knowledge.

    The difference between the two is that science is constrained by observation (if not now, then later) and if you make stuff up it can be challenged by objective facts.

    With Philosophy (and its chum Theology) well meaning adults make stuff up and then argue about it.

    Science is working toward a coherent view of reality. Philosophy seems to be making no real progress towards the One True Philosophy.

    And for all those who would argue that I am ‘doing philosophy’ right now – it just shows how open and unconstrained philosophy is.

    • jmckaskle
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

      This is it exactly and I will add that philosophy has no way to tell the difference between the truth or validity of two mutually exclusive positions or propositions. Philosophers implicitly acknowledge and often use this fact as an attack on science: science is just naturalism, naturalism is a philosophy, therefore your naturalistic philosophy is no more valid that my dualistic theological philosophy (you’ve probably heard a similar argument concerning atheism as a religion).

      So you can have competing, mutually exclusive schools of philosophy that make wildly different claims about the world and no philosophy can say that one is right and the other is wrong, but they can both equally well rationalize their positions. And philosophers have been doing this since the dawn of philosophy.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        Moreover, there is indeed progress in philosophy, as many assumptions from the past are now widely rejected and other widely accepted.

        Philosophy is just cutting edge science. When something becomes clear enough for philosophers and widely accepted, it can be handled by scientists. That is why science gives an impression of progress while philosophy does not: philosophy is always concerned by what not yet well defined problems, while science inherits well defined and solvable problems from philosophy.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink


        What you’re describing as “philosophy” is very unfamiliar to me.

        Philosophers decide between competing theories all the time. They use logic, empirical observation, social science, intuition, or some combination.

        Quentin, who also replied to your comment, is correct that progress exists in philosophy. That progress is made by using the aforementioned tools. I could give you a long list of examples if you want.

        I’d be curious to read what your answer is to the charge you paraphrase: that science alone cannot justify its foundational assumptions, and it needs philosophy for that. And without being able to justify foundational assumptions, it’s difficult to see how scientific discoveries should count as knowledge.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink


      You’re right that philosophical knowledge, if it exists, is mostly non-empirical. But that doesn’t mean it’s not constrained by anything; it’s just not constrained by observation. It’s still constrained by logic and intuition, and since all of us trust logic and intuition implicitly (at least prima facie), it would be special pleading to say that those aren’t reliable ways of revising our beliefs.

      As for progress, philosophy has actually made a lot of progress. For one thing, we’ve rejected a great many arguments that people used to find persuasive, such as various arguments for the existence of God. (There are a few people who still accept those arguments, but you can always find people who disagree with the prevailing view, in science as well.) And we’ve rejected a great many positions, such as idealism and phenomenalism, verificationism, logical positivism, naive falsificationism, a kind of naive intuitionism, and so on. I could elaborate.

      Finally, yes, philosophy is very broad, and you are doing philosophy when you criticize philosophy. It looks as if you recognize, then, that there’s a sense in which your position is self-defeating.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      With philosophy, adults make stuff up and argue about it. Part of this stuff is called scientific theories when they apply to the natural world. Science is just a part of philosophy, a part of our knowledge.

  13. Jacob
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Philosophy can lead to certainty, but I think that it only rarely does. Nietzsche, Kant, and Hume all had different ideas, many of which will never be reconciled or proved correct in any specific way. Too much of philosophy involves finding justification for one’s prior ideas, and though it’s all very interesting, I don’t think that it counts as science. If Kant had never existed, would anyone have come up with Critique of Pure Reason or at least hit upon its specific ideas? Are philosophical answers to the questions that haunt humanity as unique as the people that conceive them? I think the biggest problem is that there is just no good way to distinguish between two competing philosophical theories (if they are well made) to the point where we can call that thing knowledge. But those are just my tentative observations, and I am obviously not a philosopher, so I am interested in reading other thoughts on the matter.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Knowing some philosophy is very useful if you like arguing with people on the internet, as humans are full of it in quite predictable ways and it’s useful to know these ways. I am a mere amateur philosophical streetfighter but I find the stuff useful to know, even if reading it I actually think “tl;dr” a lot of the time. Thinking about thinking is productive in general.

      The trouble with philosophy as a discipline is that the incentives are all wrong – they are to come up with why the other guy is wrong and your philosophy is better. This is the way to publication.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

        as humans are full of it in quite predictable ways and it’s useful to know these ways.

        Exactly: the compendium of standard logical fallacies is a product of philosophy, and it’s an invaluable thing to have at one’s mental fingertips. Frequently, merely to name a falsehood is to expose it for what it is.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

          This is why a lot of the really productive stuff in philosophy these days turns into cognitive psychology. Philosophical intuition – the very mechanism you use to answer “does this argument convince me?” – turns out to be analysable as the product of cognitive biases. (Dennett does a lot of this sort of thing.)

          Whereas a great deal of questionable philosophy rests on treating philosophical intuition as a black box, an unsplittable atom. This is how Plantinga – who I am reliably told has actually done good and useful philosophy – can turn out what is really obviously transparent rubbish to anyone outside his head, when it doubtless looked just fine inside his head.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      “If Kant had never existed, would anyone have come up with Critique of Pure Reason or at least hit upon its specific ideas?”

      That’s a good question. If you accept Kant’s genius, the answer might well be that nobody else would have come up with the Critique or something similar, at least not until the late 19th or 20th century. As you know, Kant was trying to reconcile empiricism and rationalism, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only philosopher who had thought about it. But would somebody independently have come up with a comparable analysis in the 19th or 20th century? I don’t know.

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Contentiously (though I of course think correctly) Kant glued the wrong halves of rationalism and empiricism together. Consequently without Kant we would have likely the tacit reconciliation done by the real (not textbook) Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, etc. and the rest of the scientific revolution and someone would have bothered to point this out prior to Bunge (1983) and the _Treatise on Basic Philosophy_ presumably …

  14. georgea
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Ponder the antics of ontics.

    • newenglandbob
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      Isn’t antics and ontics the stuff that E.O. Wilson studies? 🙂

  15. Liz Naples
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    It’s kinda catchy. I can visualize it now… Prof. McGinn, Head of the Department of Antics. 😛

  16. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink



  17. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink


    I think philosophy is an analogue of science.

    Science: At least any centrally empirical way of knowing about the world.

    It may have to have other features, too, although it’s notoriously difficult to define exactly what science is. (This is what philosophers call the ‘demarcation problem,’ at least when we’re trying to figure out what distinguishes science from pseudoscience.)

    And then

    Philosophy: At least any centrally a priori or intellectual way of knowing about the world.

    If I’m right about these sources of knowledge, then it follows that scientists discover contingent, descriptive truths about contingent, physical objects, and philosophers discover any other truths:necessary, descriptive truths about contingent, necessary, or abstract (immaterial) objects, contingent, descriptive truths about necessary or abstract objects, and normative or evaluative truths, such as ethical truths. (The thesis that such truths don’t exist is a philosophical thesis requiring philosophical argumentation.)

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Science is no more empirical than it is rational. Scientists invent ideas and systems of same (e.g. theories) just as much as artists invent plays or paintings. However, the scientist must then *check* the ideas, which is also a partially “empirical” operation, also partially a rationalistic one as there are (for example) theories of instruments.

  18. Josh
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I’m not really a morning person (still morning here on the west coast!) so I think I missed something…

    First you seem to be saying that if you think that theoretical population genetics is science (which you apparently do), then you need to provide some kind of argument as to why philosophy is not a science and theoretical popgen is. However, I don’t think I’m seeing that argument? Like I said, I’m probably being dense, but if you could clarify that’d be awesome.

    As a person who dreams of being a theoretical population geneticist (I tend to be more on the data side than I would have liked), I’ve had a similar thought about my own discipline. A lot of population genetics theory is really just a bunch of conjecture and fun math, although in recent years it has shifted so that most “big” theory papers have an eye toward data. But what about things like modeling hybrid zones? No one thinks that the kinds of models that Nick Barton works on actually describe reality, but they yield quite beautiful results. I feel like saying that they generate non-trivial testable predictions might be saying a bit much though.

    Where I think a lot of models like this are useful is that they outline scenarios and try to explain phenomena that aren’t explicitly testable. Continuing with the hybrid zone example, Nick showed that there are a lot of reasons that hybrid zones should get “trapped” (e.g. declines in population density, barriers to migration, etc.) and even though I think that it’s almost impossible to actually test those hypotheses in most cases, the models themselves provide some insight into what is going on in the system.

    In a sense, what’s going on is that by helping think more clearly and rigorously about the problem, theoretical modeling can shed light onto things that otherwise might be empirically untestable (if you don’t buy my hybrid zones example, I’m sure I could come up with something else). I feel similarly about philosophy. Sometimes by thinking clearly you realize implications of something that you otherwise would not have figured out. For example, to my mind, the fact that we should consider animal suffering in our ethics is something that a lot of people did not think clearly about but then Singer (and others) by making us think clearly, revealed a fundamentally new aspect of our understanding of the world.

    Thanks for listening to my rambling.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Is string theory science? There’s serious question about this because it’s taking so damn long to come up with anything testable. The question has blurry edges. Not that this is reason to fall into the fallacy of grey.

      • newenglandbob
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        I would venture that it is not…yet.

        • Gluon
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          It is probably string theory that irks philosophers. They see that it’s the same thing they are doing, but string theory has a lot more prestige than philosophy. I believe that string theory itself is benefiting from the enormous, well earned, prestige of physics in general. That is, string theory is a prestige freeloader on the physics train. Just think about the status of string theorists compared to, say, the best psychologist, and that gives some idea of the magnitude of freeloading here. Psychologists have at least learned *something* about the world we didn’t know (e.g. eyewitnesses aren’t reliable) . Is there one thing, even one tiny thing, we know now that we didn’t know before Susskind?

          I think the problem really comes when we want to say that the only valuable activity is “science”. If that is the attitude it becomes desperately important to identify your activity as science. A lot of theoretical activities are not-science until someone finds a hook into reality to turn it into science. I think these activities have value, even if only as exercises, as educated guesses where we might look for further insight, where we might want to direct the light of empirical science, or as a kind of art even. They just aren’t as valuable as actual science that is already grounded in testable reality. By dent of being uncoupled from reality, an awful lot of theoretical activity will be irrelevant or wrong and so wasted. That makes it a poor investment, and so it is only reasonable to expect the resources devoted to such activities to be smaller than to activities with a better risk profile.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      I think some areas of study are too fine-grained to be considered as sciences in their own right – they wouldn’t exist without the concrete foundations of a fully empirical science. Theoretical physics is “simply” a branch of physics, which certainly is a science (and string theory a branch of theoretical physics or of cosmology); theoretical popgen is a branch of biology or of genetics, also clearly sciences.

      /@ (ex-theoretical particle physicist)

  19. Jer
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I think that the answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question “Is Mathematics A Science”. And I would answer that with a “No, but it is foundational to science – without mathematics, no science. Without philosophy, no science”. Mathematics and Philosophy are often partners with Science in the endeavor to explain the universe (which is what I consider Science at the abstract level to be) but unlike Science that isn’t the primary motivator for those fields. So not science.

    And they function in exactly the same manner. Mathematical axioms can be created for all kinds of worlds of various descriptions – but the only ones that can derive knowledge about this world are the ones that have been formulated to describe this world. Likewise philosophy – philosophy is a good partner to science when the philosopher starts from a position where she/he is describing the actual world. Philosophy is not a good partner (and can even be a detriment) when the philosopher starts with assumptions about a world that are not about our world. They may produce knowledge about some world in their heads, but it doesn’t lead to knowledge about this world.

    (Theology shows a good example of philosophy divorced from the real world that can act as a detriment to those trying to discover more about our universe. It doesn’t even try to use the real world as a starting point, instead they do things like Plantinga’s “suppose there is a God who is omnipotent but not powerful enough to create perfect worlds” nonsense).

    • Gluon
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Philosophy’s contributions to science strike me as historical, whereas mathematics’ contributions to science are ongoing. That is, philosophy gave some one-time gifts to science… logic for example (though that has since been subsumed into mathematics). Mathematics, however, continues to expand, and these expansions aid science in new ways. I see no equivalent expansions of philosophy that provide new aids to science. In this sense, if I want to aid science, I’d do much better to spend money on math research than on philosophical inquiry.

      • ivo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

        I mostly agree with this (and, as a pure mathematician, it is also in my interest to agree :-)), but I believe that at least some philosophers have been keeping up the good critical work that Jerry was mentioning, i.e., the critique of faulty reasoning and misled inference from data that even scientists (gasp!) commit. I’m thinking specifically of Dan Dennett’s work in the philosophy of mind, for example, where some trendy theorizing by working neuroscientists is revealed to be a bit hasty and probably incorrect. Or his devastating critique of the (scientific) theory of pointed equilibrium in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea. More generally, scientists are constantly reorganizing their overarching theories, principles and assumptions, and the input of (a few) good knowledgable philosophers could be quite helpful there (and I guess it sometimes is).

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

          I love Dan Dennett, and when I am having skeptical thoughts about philosophy I often think of him as a counter example in exactly the same way you are here. I find myself almost making this false syllogism:

          Dennett is a philosopher
          I am impressed with Dennett.
          Therefore I am impressed with philosophy (?)

          Of course, I have to wonder though if it is philosophy that is providing these values, or Dan Dennett himself? Said another way, isn’t Dennett just doing science with these critiques? Are there any special philosophy gizmos he uses that say, a smart mathematician, neuroscientist, or biologist wouldn’t also be able to bring to the table in a critique of these bits of science? It’s not obvious to me that there are. So maybe what Dennett proves is the utility of brilliant polymaths, not the utility of philosophy, per se.

          I met Dennett once at a party, BTW, and I was impressed with how clearly he could engage all comers on a wide range of topics. His clarity was strikingly opposite of many philosophers at the gathering (mostly grad students).

          • ivo
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

            Hm. Good point.

          • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

            Science oriented philosophy and science “proper” are continuous; Dennett shows this.

            (There are many other philosophers, but IMO still too few, of which this is also true.)

      • ivo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

        (By the way, I’m quite happy of the way in which pure maths and theoretical physics, say, interact nowadays: ideas get passed back and forth constantly in numerous subdisciplines, enriching both enterprises. I think philosophy could learn to do the same with science a bit more systematically, as a discipline – as opposed to the few rare individuals that already do take the trouble to actually learn some science.)

    • Justicar
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      “but the only ones that can derive knowledge about this world are the ones that have been formulated to describe this world. ”

      Not so fast. Pure mathematics has a nagging habit of becoming an apt model for some set of phenomena despite no one thinking or realizing that some obscure theoretical construct actually has anything to do with anything real in the universe. But someone clever comes along and recognizes that, hey, this obscure piece of mathematics actually has a home in the real world. Say manifolds, which come from Euclid’s parallel postulate, which were merely mathematical curiosities of no particular relevance to anything real. Except that without this seemingly obscure bit of mathematics, Einstein wouldn’t have been able to invent general relativity. And this is hardly a rare happenstance. Many modern fields of scientific inquiry hearken back to the strange curiosities of erstwhile mathematicians doing mathematics for its own sake: cryptography, medical imaging to name only two that no one would argue aren’t central to living in the modern world.

  20. Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it would be accurate to describe philosophy as a science. Here’s what Bertrand Russell said in the last chapter of The Problems of Philosophy.

    “Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathematician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man of learning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a philosopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science.”

    There is a relevant discussion in the latest podcast from Philosophy Bites.

    • Luc Nerwinski
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      In 1919 Russell said, “I believe the only difference between science and philosophy is, that science is what you more or less know and philosophy is what you do not know.” (Lectures on the philosophy of logical atomism. Lecture 8)

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

      So, this seems to echo the “is Richard Dawkins an ape” question: Philosophy as a whole is not a science, but there are parts of philosophy (more precisely, of natural philosophy) which are sciences, but we now categorise them as science rather than philosophy. (Unless you’re a professor at Glasgow University, in which case you may still call science natural philosophy.)

      The part of philosophy that’s left (that is, which isn’t science) isn’t science. (Analogous the non-human apes, which aren’t human.)



  21. Ludo
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    “The dictionary defines a science as “a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject.” ” In my opinion, this definition quoted by Colin McGinn is completely wrong because it leaves out the most important aspects of science: experiment, falsifiability and verifiability. As quoted by McGinn, it would also appply to asstrology or theology.

    • Ludo
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Sorry: astrology, not asstrology – slip of the mind…

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

        Not taken! “Asstrology” is a great name for this ‘branch’ of unnatural inquiry…

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Only if you accept that asstrology (deliberate typo, or serendipitous? ;-)) and theology constitute “knowledge”, which IMNSHO they don’t. I think OTOH that at least some results of philosophy do constitute knowledge — the identification of the common logic fallacies as mentioned upthread, or an analysis showing that a particular argument is flawed, or Hume’s demonstration that induction cannot yield the same kind of “knowledge” as deduction.

      But of course, what’s missing from that dictionary definition is the domain of science: the physical universe.

      • Ludo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Right: the physical universe. Not the metaphysical world – whatever that is.

        • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          Note however that “metaphysics” and its cognates have well defined philosophical usages, which if then done right can also be continuous with science too. (See D. Armstrong or M. Bunge for my favourite examples of general metaphysics meant to at least be consistent with science.)

          • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

            aka magical, fantasy words, stories and statements…..for children mainly…

            • Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

              and scientists…

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

                The core of childish and magical thinking is (my) mind (including ideology and speech) over matter.

                No, evidence-based professionals directly challenge and disprove this silly conceit.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:59 am | Permalink

                Sorry I thought you were talking about metaphysics.

  22. Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I like Haack’s definition of science, but Jerry I wish you’d provided a definition of “knowledge,” because I think I disagree with yours.

    In my view, any fact, any supposition, any statement about reality can be knowledge. For example, “dominant alleles do not become predominant in a population by virtue of their physiological dominance alone” IS knowledge, because it tells you something about reality that you didn’t know before.

    Furthermore, I should state that deriving conclusions from premises is also a matter of producing knowledge. If the conclusions were not already known to you, then by any reasonable metric you have produced knowledge.

    So how are philosophy and science different? Look at Haack’s description of what scientists do:
    “make an informed conjecture about the possible explanation of a puzzling phenomenon, check out how it stands up to the best evidence we can get, and then use our judgment whether to accept it, more or less tentatively, or modify, refine, or replace it.”

    Philosophers do all that. The difference is that they don’t necessarily run experiments to try and get more evidence. This is a decisive difference, because humans are notoriously bad at logic, and as such logical thought that isn’t checked for error by empirical observation goes oft awry. In my view, both philosophers and scientists try to figure stuff out; scientists do a better job of checking their work for mistakes.

  23. Maria Jinich
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Do you know the story about the president of a university who went to meet the head of the Biology Department and said:

    “You biologists spend a lot of money: specimens, computers, chemical substances.

    “You should learn from the mathematicians. They only need paper, pencils and waste paper baskets.

    “Or even better. Learn from the philosophers. They only need paper and pencils!”

  24. Zugswang
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    No, but it does not negate or lessen its importance, as you said. “Science” is the systematic empirical study of the natural world, and philosophy does not inform that part of it. HOWEVER! the application of scientific philosophy, I would argue, is just as important as the science itself, and the two are inexorably linked. The rationale for how we conduct experiments and formulate hypotheses is what makes science, well, science.

    I would say things such as neutral theory qualify as “science” because, while they define the limits of a conclusion, the limits are informed as much by natural observations as they are by formal logic.

  25. Gluon
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    What is the motive for the question? McGinn is surprisingly frank about this, it is prestige. Labeling something “science”, however, will not increase it’s prestige. Prestige flows upward from success, not downward from the label.

    Even within fields we commonly identify as science, there is a wide range of prestige. Physics has long been king. Why? Because it had the earliest, biggest, and most obvious successes. For a long time biology could only dream of having that kind of status. While Einstein and Bohr an the lot were putting the finishing touches on physics, biologists still had only a vague idea what that stuff inside of cells even was. Now, however, biology is in a period of ascendency, it’s prestige is sharply on the rise. Why is that? As biologists have gotten better and better tools for analyzing the contents of cells, the successes are piling on. The contents of a cell are no longer a mystery at all, we know exactly what the parts of a cell are. This former mystery has been reduced to a “mere” puzzle of exactly how all the pieces fit together, and even that puzzle is collapsing rapidly.

    Psychology is on the other end of the prestige scale. It has scarcely more prestige than philosophy, a fact that psychologists themselves are keenly aware of. It is not that they do not behave like scientists that accounts for this. Psychology is not astrology. Psychologists are applying the tools of science to the legitimate topic at hand. It’s just that their tools are crude relative to the difficulties of topic, so their successes are relatively weak and not transformative. Prestige doesn’t flow from good effort, it flows from success, and they just haven’t accumulated enough. The only thing anyone can do to help the prestige of psychology is possibly to work to spread awareness of the successes they have had(e.g. the fallibility of eyewitness memory is a solid and useful bit of knowledge). But that will only accomplish so much. Ultimately is is only the solid successes that will accrue to their prestige account.

    Philosophy’s biggest successes have been largely subsumed into other fields (e.g. logic and math), making philosophy as a separate enterprise in those cases somewhat redundant. Philosophy’s other contributions, like those to ethics, while I think useful, will never be as undeniable or as transformative, or frankly as useful, as those in the more prestigious sciences. I’m afraid they are forever going to lie in that zone between literature and science. There is nothing at all wrong with that zone, but if you aren’t content with that role, then you will probably be unhappy as a philosopher. There is not just one kind of value in the world, and prestige or even practical success, is not the only measure of it.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      A real philosophical eye-opener for me was Bryan Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher. He sets out in beautiful prose his own opinion of what constitutes worthwhile philosophy. After reading his book, you’re left with a much deeper appreciation of what philosophy is really about and perhaps where it fits into the general schema of our knowledge.

      • ivo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

        To me, a real eye opener was McGinn’s own The Making of a Philosopher: My Journey Through Twentieth-Century Philosophy. It’s a quite readable account of his career, and it makes it clear that, yes, academic philosophy is a career and if you want to keep it going you have to do the whole career thing – which is not always exactly the starry eyed uninterested pursuit of absolute knowledge. (Yeah, as Gluon said above, he is surprisingly frank.)

    • eric
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Prestige flows upward from success, not downward from the label.

      Ideally and in most cases, yes. Relabeling philosophy as science may give it more credibility amongst people unaware of the label change, for a short time, but ultimately folk will just adjust.

      And it won’t fool anyone savvy. Example: corporations and agencies that currently give out grants promoting ‘science’ will just change their grant language to exclude the philosophy part of science. Biotech firms won’t ask for ‘science’ degrees on employment forms, they’ll ask for some other term that denotes what ‘science’ does now. Because they are looking for people trained with a certain skill set, not people labeled scientists.

      • gluonspring
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        I am always reminded of a story my wife tells about a school she taught in. When I was in school they had fairly clearly labeled levels of classes: remedial math, math, and advanced math. Everyone knew that the dumb or very lazy kids were in remedial math (and in that ancient day many still called them “retarded” in polite circles). Much later, in a kinder era, my wife taught at a school that organized students into groups with names like “Gold group”, “Blue group”, and the “Red group”. This was a well meaning attempt to not saddle kids with negative labels like “remedial”. Of course, no one is fooled. It is obvious what kind of kids are in each group. Gold might be the most desirable color, but in no time at all the other school kids adopt “Gold group” as a synonym for “retarded”, even down to using “Gold group” as an insult for people who weren’t actually in the group (much as someone might snidely say, “Did you just get off of the short bus?”) The terms might help a little, and are worth a try. Why overtly reinforce the negative with a term that has no redeeming angle? But in general, reality pushes words around, not vice versa.

        You mention “ideally” the truth will out. I think eventually it does, but in the short term there are some prestige inversions. String theory is a salient exception. No success, but a fair amount of prestige (though eroding as the truth leaks out). They came upon their prestige by association with physics, which on the whole has been wildly successful, and math, which has also been wildly successful. It’ll live until those tenured in the sub-field die or they do find a way to test it, even a hypothetical way that we can’t afford to do, or it will die off with the last tenured supporter, an interesting but ultimately dead end idea.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Permalink

          Reading this last line it occurs to me that maybe I’m making a bit of a category error here to talk about whether or not “string theory” is science. Maybe the way to think about it is to say that “string theory” is an idea. A good idea or a bad idea, we can not yet say, but it is an idea. Science uses ideas and tests ideas but an idea by itself is not science. It might be a component of the enterprise of science, one of the raw materials, but it is a part without the characteristics of the whole. If science ends up making use of the idea, or finds a way to test the idea, then that idea becomes a working part of science. If an idea is never used or tested by science, it’s never really a part of science.

          This also suggests that the question, “is it a part of science” can only be answered in retrospect.

          • eric
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

            OT, but I’d call string theory a set of untested scientific hypotheses. AIUI there are several versions, but I’d call them scientific because we understand how to test them in principle. We just don’t want to spend the billions of dollars and decades of engineering it would take to do so.

            So, for right now, we keep them in our back pocket in case either a technological advance makes the known tests economically feasible, or some theoretical advance discovers a more elegant way to test it than is currently known.

  26. Justicar
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I am decidedly against the notion that philosophy is itself a science. An integral part of any science to my mind is that it is constrained by what can be proved true, or demonstrated to be likely true by not only some rigorous method of inquiry, but also something external to that method of inquiry. Theoretical aspects of a field of science are ultimately obliged to subordinate themselves to empirical findings.

    With respect to my distinguishing proved true and demonstrated to be likely true, I am taking into account those aspects of science which are mathematically necessarily true as compared against empirical findings that have statistical levels of confidence, but aren’t mathematically required to be true. E.g., the derivative of position is velocity, and the derivative of velocity is acceleration, and the derivative of acceleration is the jerk; whereas, the acceleration of an object due to gravity in any particular region is something that one experimentally determines, but is still modeled by and with the mathematically necessary bits from above.

    Philosophy can, but need not, operate with that constraint. I hardly need to compile a list of the various philosophical positions that have been proposed throughout history that arise as fashionable for a period of time and then slowly fade away only to be found in the halls of academia long after their expiry has been reached. See Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig for examples of people who are styled as philosophers and not content to be restrained by the findings of the empirical sciences. Dualists and Platonists still exist, and aren’t terribly hard to scare up on short notice if needed.

    I’m squishy about whether to consider mathematics as a science, even though it by convention is included. It is an integral part of science, and no science can operate without it, but the same is true of language, and no one would argue that speaking and writing are science. But then I cannot discount the fact that mathematical conjectures are often constrained by physical reality, and are able to model reality in a way that a language cannot. Moreover, there are experimental fields of mathematics which attempt to empirically verify existing theorems and curiously enough actually discover mathematical structures which are then handed back to the pure mathematicians to figure out how to prove. So, I generally render the distinction as a mathematician does science writ quaint, and a scientist does science writ respectable. And, of course, it is not to be forgotten that in mathematics any conjecture (except undecidable problems, but no one argues that therefore what can’t be decided is in some sense true) is ultimately in principle subject to being proved wrong. Philosophy does not share any of this with mathematics.

    But I am constantly being told that philosophy is important to science, and that scientists could benefit from a trained philosopher (i.e., one who is carefully trained in the use of critical thinking, application of logic to arguments and the like), but always in a way that’s never really explained to me in a way that makes it clear there’s a point actually being made. And I do not know why any philosopher would think that scientists aren’t trained in using logic, or don’t think critically. And this, of course, brings me to a sticking point about philosophy: logic.

    Logic is surely a large field, and quite important, but is for some reason classed as a subset of philosophy. I think it could easily be moved out of philosophy and restyled as a branch of mathematics. So that leaves ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and aesthetics as the remaining major branches of philosophy. Aesthetics is right out as a science, and I can’t find a compelling reason to think of epistemology as such. Ethics is important for scientists to consider when undertaking certain types of studies, but it isn’t itself scientific in my mind. Metaphysics leaves me uncomfortable thinking of it as a science. Even though it addresses some of the same questions, it is often laden with outright woo that is all too often treated seriously and considered in a way that it wouldn’t be were a scientist to propose the idea: the scientist would be ridiculed whereas the philosopher will just be thought of as a deep thinker.

    I wouldn’t argue one bit that quite a lot of what I’ve mentioned about philosophy would count as knowledge, but I cannot say that philosophy is a method by which answers to questions on the nature and structure of the material universe are determined. For that, I think it is beyond doubt, is the province of science. And indeed is the goal of science.

    • Gluon
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink


      To some extent it can all be boiled down to the gritty practicality of “What have you accomplished… lately?”

      Math is distinct from philosophy mainly, perhaps only, in that it continues to expand in ways that are useful to science (and engineering). There are new results out of math that make a difference in the world. Even the esoteric realm of primality testing, at one time a seemingly useless mental exercise in mathematics, is now central to all E-commerce (it’s used for digital signatures). It is not hard to find examples of work in math in the past 100 years that has had a major impact on science and/or engineering. I doubt anyone can name any work in philosophy that has had an undisputed effect. And that is the entire story so far as the “prestige gap” is concerned.

      Even advances in logic, a sub-field that philosophy has a legitimate historical claim to, have been largely moved to mathematics. All the real work in logic now occurs there. The incompleteness of formal logic was not discovered in philosophy departments, but in mathematics departments, by mathematicians. Even engineers contribute more to the field of logic now than do philosophy departments. Perhaps it didn’t have to be that way, but for one reason or another, philosophers didn’t keep up either the theoretical or practical work in logic, so others have taken it over. We owe a thanks to philosophy for starting us on the way, but I see nothing they’ve added in a very long time.

      I don’t think philosophy is totally valueless. I’ve had my own thinking clarified by reading the considered thoughts of ethicists. I’m not sure that “philosophy” contributed much to their writing, it is just the umbrella under which they devoted serious time to outlining and thinking through the various issues. It could have been considered a kind of political science, or literature, for all “philosophical methods” mattered. But whatever you call it, it was useful. Similarly, I’ve read a lot on the philosophy of mind. None of it was definitive in any way. I didn’t really learn anything about the mind, but it did introduce me to some fun thought experiments and gave me a vocabulary (e.g. “qualia”) for talking about the mind. That’s a slim contribution for an entire field, but it isn’t nothing.

      • Justicar
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        Qualia is a useful construct to distinguish a phenomenon from the experience of the phenomenon. Unfortunately, it’s an extraneous term given we’ve long had a way to distinguish one from the other. We’ve long contrasted ‘feeling’, ‘experience’, ‘sensation’ and the like from the thing being modulated in the brain of a given person. ‘it was a warm color’ as opposed to ‘the wavelength reflected by that object is ____’. This is just another example of adding jargon for the sake of having gussied up, technical sounding words that do nothing at all but give a certain ethos to those who know the jargon that is denied to those who do not.

        I’m not generally in favor of inventing jargon, and resist using it except for the case where it actually serves to refine a concept, and specify something that is otherwise ambiguous.

        I have also for a long while wondered why we haven’t starting listing logic as a branch of mathematics since that is what it is in practice. Hence why I think we could ‘easily’ do it – just start saying it’s a branch of mathematics and not philosophy; nothing would change.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

          I have mixed feelings about the jargon. There can be no doubt that philosophers have gone overboard with the jargon, and that in itself is a major flag that philosophy isn’t really doing anything useful. Technical terms can be useful if you have something precise to communicate, but they can also be used to obscure the fact that you don’t have anything to say. In science, too, the introduction of lots of new jargon is often a sign of someone trying to dress up a mediocre idea or to make something seem more novel than it really is.

          So the real question about jargon is, I suppose, whether it helps or gets in the way of communicating. There are lots of words that have almost-synonyms, but they persist because that “almost” part captures some useful distinction, however subtle that aids someone’s communication. “Qualia” is certainly close to being redundant with “experience” or “sensation”. I wouldn’t fight hard for it’s utility. However, it felt like a useful term in my own conversations with people, even people who have never heard the term before. I think many smart people have already considered the question, “Is your experience of green the same as my experience of green?”, so they have a conceptual slot already waiting for a term to hang on it. “Qualia” is just a short hand for “your experience of X”, and it narrows down the word “experience” a bit by explicitly focusing on just one aspect, the “greenness” itself say, excluding other aspects of “experience”, like whether or not it makes you happy, or reminds you of spring, which might be aspects of your “experience” of green, but not the aspect under discussion. I have found that I can introduce the term “qualia” to smart people and they understand it almost immediately, and then we can go on to have a conversation about qualia and it seems like a useful shorthand. If, on the other hand, I introduced the term and the conversation only got harder, that would be a clue that the term is just an obscuring or aggrandizing tactic and not a useful thing.

          But mainly I agree with you. The layers and layers of jargon often just serve as a cloak for how little is really being said.

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

          I agree. Introduction of lots of jargon is a red flag that maybe more is being obscured than illuminated. Even in science it is often the case that the introduction of lots of new jargon is part of a smokescreen of evasion or aggrandizement. Most of the time such people get ignored, but sometimes a Nobel Prize winner or someone else with stature will claim to revolutionize a field and introduce their ideas in a whole new jargon language. It’s irritating because it means you have to learn their artificial language before you can even understand, much less, criticize what they are trying to say. If jargon doesn’t enhance communication, it’s a disguise for something.

          On “qualia” itself, I think most smart people have probably pondered the question of whether “my subjective experience of the color green is the same as your subjective experience of the color green”. The term “qualia” is just a short hand for this phrase and, I think, helps eliminate other aspects of “experience” from the conversation: We are not talking about whether it reminds you of spring or makes you feel happy or any other aspect of experience, but only about the pure experience of the color in and of itself. I can explain this term to an intelligent person in about two sentences, and then carry on the conversation from there using those two sentences as short hand. In my experience, this has made the conversation easier. But that is the real test. Does it enhance communication? Can you quickly initiate people so they can participate?

          But the benefit I have experienced is mild, so I would gladly relinquish the term as a vice if I thought it would help lower the jargon pollution level as a whole.

          • gluonspring
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

            Ack. Excuse the double-post, or delete it if someone can. The first didn’t show up for awhile and I thought it had failed somehow, so I rewrote it again from memory.

      • ivo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        @Gluon: “Math is distinct from philosophy mainly, perhaps only, in that it continues to expand in ways that are useful to science (and engineering).”

        You’re forgetting a much more basic distinction. Namely, the consensus of the mathematical community on what constitutes the true knowledge produced in their activity is astounding – even better than in physics, or any natural science you’d care to name. Matters of factual disagreement in professional mathematics are usually settled pretty quickly and in a satisfactory manner to all parties. Thus the activity of mathematicians can be called science, in the strictest sense, because of its success in improving and accumulating knowledge in its chosen area of enquiry (which, yeah, is not part of the physical world, but still).

        And this is true even before you start taking into consideration the usefulness of mathematics for the natural sciences and engineering.

        Now, if you take philosophy… I’m not even sure whether they can claim any noticeable consensus on ANY of the core question that they’ve been studying. But then, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell above, this may simply be the fact that as soon as they get a few facts together, somebody snatches them away and turns them into a new scientific subdiscipline. So it would really be a matter of how we want to define philosophy, rather than any shortcoming of philosophy, that sets it apart from science AND from mathematics.

        (Sorry for the long reply. Also, I’m not pickin on you, I swear!)

        • gluonspring
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

          You make a very good point and I should have thought to put it in. It is not just the coupling with practical outcomes that distinguishes math, but also the very fact that math is able to grow and expand in ways that are widely agreed upon that sets math apart from philosophy.

          A lot of math has no obvious immediate practical application, yet there is a real sense in which it expands our knowledge about *something*, even if that something happens to be an abstraction that we haven’t yet connected to physical reality in any way. I’m quite a fan of meta-mathematics, but it’s not terribly useful. It is debatable whether Godel’s incompleteness theorem has any practical upshot whatsoever, but it’s correctness is not disputed. Chiatin has argued that the practical upshot of incompleteness coupled with later stronger results is that math will always have to be infused with new axioms, but I don’t think this has had any effect on mathematicians outside of meta-mathematics itself. It is interesting to note that the question of whether formal logic can prove all true statements is very much what one would think of as a philosophical question. It is very striking to me that the question has been answered, I don’t think that it’s at all obvious that any answer would ever be possible, and notable that it was not answered by philosophy.

          • Justicar
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:09 am | Permalink

            Since you brought it up, keeping always in one’s mind the incompleteness theorem (to include Chaitin’s work in the field and the attendant imposition foisted upon it by Kolmogorov complexity) is quite useful in preventing one from announcing to the world that one has a proof that Peano arithmetic is inconsistent. Seems like a practical upshot to me!

            *waves at Ed Nelson*

            • ivo
              Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink


              (Agk – I’ve just lost my reply to you. Let me try again)

              A propos this, I have assisted essentially live to the discussion on the nCat blog where Terry Tao revealed Ed Nelson’s mistake. It was pure awesomeness. Quite apat from the bravura performance by Tao, it is an excellent instance of the community consensus I was mentioning above. After a short, polite, but quite intense exchange — their expert reputations are behind their contradictory claims and the mathematical stakes are very high, possibly revolutionary — Nelson realized his mistake. And he immediately answered thusly: “You are quite right, and my original response was wrong. Thank you for spotting my error. I withdraw my claim.”

              Now tell me, how often do you see such professional gallantry, even in the natural sciences, even in physics?

          • ivo
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

            @gluonspring: “I’m quite a fan of meta-mathematics, but it’s not terribly useful. It is debatable whether Godel’s incompleteness theorem has any practical upshot whatsoever, but it’s correctness is not disputed.”

            One of the practical (?) consequences of Gödel’s theorem and the other negative results that populate meta-mathematics, is that mathematicians as a community have learned much about the intrinsic limits of the formal methods. (In particular, Gödel’s incompleteness theorem has forever killed all finitistic and logicistic foundational programs. The “adding new axioms” part is indeed important, and slowly we’ve begun to learn about the importance of the cognitive underpinning of mathematical activity.) On the whole, I think, the effect of these results is that mathematicians have stopped worrying too much about foundational issues and are more confortable with accepting variable degrees of certainty and formalization (i.e. use just as much as you need). This has had a positive, even liberating, effect I think, and must be partly responsible for the ginormous explosion of mathematics in the 20th century.

            Still, meta-mathematics itself is awesome (for those who still care), and has inspired awesome work in other parts of maths, e.g. computer science. As you suggested, many of its results make you want to say, “Who could have thought one can actually prove something like that”?

            It is also a very good example of a subject that not too long ago was (just) philosophy, but now has become a rigorous science!

        • Justicar
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

          Ivo, you have hit on a salient area of discussion, and it’s one I often put to a philosopher who’s trying to tell me that I am wrong to dismiss as useful philosophers in my research. Namely, I point out that if you put me in a room with a 1,000 other mathematicians, and asked a series of general questions, you’d get approximately the same answer 998 times. This would change, of course, as one becomes more specific and detailed in questions as not all mathematicians know something about everyone else’s field. And the moment that a question which is anything other than general in a field different from a mathematician’s field comes up, you get either a.) a confession that one isn’t qualified to weigh in on that, or b.) a long series of caveats to buffer the response, which won’t be a confident one in any sense.

          If you do the same with a 1,000 philosophers and ask them even the most basic of questions, you get 800 different answers – assuming that one gets a straight answer in the first place. And the confidence level will be precariously high.

          Off the top of my head, I cannot think of a single problem in mathematics that would benefit from a philosophical consultation.

          • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:40 am | Permalink

            I doubt you’d get 800 answers (depending on the problem). You might get between 2 and 5 well represented answers. Not because philosophy is useless, but because it tackles problems that are not yet well defined. When philosophers reach a consensus on something, their problem becomes a scientific problem. Some statments of antic philosophy are now widely accepted or rejected. Philosophy does not start from scratch on each new period.

            • Justicar
              Posted April 14, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

              I wouldn’t say the problem is that the problem under consideration is not yet defined sufficiently well; rather, it’s the methodology of approaching any problem that is fuzzy. There isn’t a ‘philosophical’ method. Philosophy may not start anew with each ‘period’, but it has no internal mechanism which demands that certain modes of discourse, mechanisms of explanation or modes of thinking must be dismissed. For that matter, your statement about what happens when philosophers reach a consensus presupposes that such an animal ever exists.

              Even in light of discoveries of science which lay to rest the notion of a reasoned dissent, you will find philosophers nevertheless still insisting on having their views taken seriously. Consider the free will discussion that’s being had. Dan Dennet is getting taken seriously for some reason that escapes me. It isn’t necessary to think determinism is a model of reality to dispense with the free will claim. For that matter, no great leap in thinking is required to dispense with what most people mean by free will, but Dan seems to be rather insistent on retaining the word and defining out of whole cloth an entirely new meaning of it, and then being happily content to be misunderstood.

              There is in every age a group of people interested in advancing the frontiers of our understanding of the human condition and the universe-at-large. The philosophers are quite often the ones most opposed to that by the simple refusal to let bad ideas disappear into the night of tomorrow’s yesteryear.

              • Posted April 14, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

                I don’t think free will is a bad idea.

                It’s not the methods that are fuzzy, really: the method in philosophy is critical thinking. It’s the subjects that are profound and difficult to tackle.

                When a problem is well defined, it is easy to transform it into an experimental problem. Then it become a scientific problem and we just have to wait for the experimental result to come.

                I don’t think there is an obvious answer about free will right now, for example, mainly because the mind-body problem is still a problem.

              • Posted April 14, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                The only problem is ppl not wanting to give up magical and obsolete ideologies — the data is clear — the mind and consciousness is trivial.

              • ivo
                Posted April 15, 2012 at 1:06 am | Permalink

                Speaking personally, the great value of Dan Dennett’s solution of the free will conundrum is that he has made it clear that, in order to have genuine *choices*, one doesn’t need a ghost-in-the-machine doing the choosing, or some indeterministic mechanism to override preprogrammed fate, or even a conscious being! He clarified the notion in such a way that I can still speak of human beings, animals, or computer programs (there is some continuous range here) making choices. And this not only as an awkward metaphor, but in a meaningful and informative way. Indeed, his re-definition of choice has actually brought it closer to much of our implicit intuitive use (see how naturally engineers and programmers ascribe decision-making abilities to mechanisms and algorithms). To me, this has been a valuable insight that has allowed me to better think about many related issues.

                I understand that most people may well still think of “free” choices being taken by little magical ghosts inside our heads. We may well have evolved to think this way. (Although I still haven’t seen any evidence from Jerry that people mostly subscribe to a contra-causal understanding of free will.) But so what? As I’ve said before on this blog, and I’m sure others have as well, most people definitely used to have an animistic, esprit vital view of what distinguished life from non-life. Now that we know better, have we abandoned the words “life”, “living being” or “species”? Were they simply an illusion? No. (To those who insist that “free will” is misleading and confusing, what about “animal” and “animated” (=breathing)? Do we want to abolish the words simply because of their etymologies? To those who insist that free will is an illusion: is our choice-making activity an illusion? It is not, as Dennett and others have explain quite well.)

              • Posted April 15, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

                Data is all but clear without a proper theory (expressed in language, made out of thoughts, created by minds). The magical thinking is to believe that there are clear data out there waiting for us.
                Your ideology is called scientism and is indeed obsolete, give it up!

  27. yesmyliege
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    You’d think that if philosophy was science, it might have actually answered a couple of questions by now.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Philosophy does answer questions. But the questions that it answers are not factual questions about the world (those are for science to answer); they’re questions about what sort of inferences and conclusions we can legitimately draw from those facts. What do the facts mean? Is our interpretation warranted, our argument for it sound? Those are questions that science alone can’t answer without help from philosophy.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        This is all socially construed and ideological. There are no “answers” just statements of local language usage.

    • lamacher
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      To mention Feynman’s observation once again: “Philosophy of Science is about as useful to a scientist as ornithology is to a bird.”

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        In fact, there is no universal set of behaviors or beliefs called “science” independent of specific research studies, sets of data and practices — which are always opportunistic and changing.

        “Science” is a straw man term set up by ideological opponents of evidence and data-based knowledge.

      • couchloc
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        You might temper this view of Feynman with this view from another physicist:

        “I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” (Einstein to Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

          You can answer it just quoting Feynman himself – he pontificated considerably and famously on the topic of how to do science and how to think like a scientist, i.e. philosophy of science.

  28. Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is a dead language. It has always been ideology and socially defined and self-referential language-based guesswork and salesmanship for the places where empirical knowledge had holes.

    Now, with brain research, those holes are filled. It is worthless in terms of prediction.

    Popular philosophy has always been just the pop culture of it’s time. It’s main claim to credibility is based on old books — like religion.

    It’s just power-driven semantics. It’s also usually deeply dishonest since philosophers are basically “paid by the word.”

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      Rich and Co.,

      I disagree with all of those claims. (One of the things philosophy teaches is that we should withhold belief from claims that lack evidence.) Three question-pairs:

      (1) You say that philosophy is worthless in terms of prediction. Do you think that only areas of research that make successful predictions are epistemically justified? If so, what is your evidence for that claim?

      (2) You say philosophy is deeply dishonest. Do you believe that honesty is morally obligatory? If so, what is your evidence for that claim?

      (3) In general, do you believe that people ought not practice or study philosophy? If so, what is your evidence for that claim?

      Thanks for any illumination you can provide.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Yes, it’s a waste of time. It is worthless in terms of prediction, the basis for knowledge and just local semantics/word play and ideology.

        It’s basically just salesmanship. What ideas most easily fit local brains with least expenditure of mental energy? Deadly dull but fundamentally dishonest — making general claims for trivial local statements.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

          Rich and Co.,

          You didn’t really answer any of my questions. That’s fine, of course, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t continue in this thread.

  29. Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Philosophy must be held in a superior position to science.

    How can science be knowledge if not grounded in a metaphysics and epistemology that establishes the truth-testing power of scientific inquiry?

    In fact, science is simply the “working out of the details” in confirmation of correspondence with a philosophy based on reason: facts plus logic.

    Anything outside this framework might be thought by some to be beautiful, imaginative, inspiring — but only poetically. Not factually. Not objectively universally true.

    Yes, some philosophers incorporate such poetics in their belief systems, and call it philosophy. If indeed this practice cannot be isolated out when responding to “is philosophy science,” then no: philosophy is not science, it is not anything except poetry. If instead the imaginary beliefs are stripped out, and reality is deemed the subject of philosophy, then no: philosophy is not science. It is that which must come before science and without which science is nothing.

    • Berlinerweiss
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      How can science be knowledge if not grounded in a metaphysics and epistemology that establishes the truth-testing power of scientific inquiry?

      Science is successful exactly because it rejects this notion. It establishes knowledge by demonstrating the predictive and manipulative powers of its hypotheses.
      It leaves the grounding in metaphysics and epistemology to a philosophy which works this not-so-healthy-looking horse since three milennia – with mixed results, to say the least.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        There is no such thing as “metaphysics” by definition — if there is no empirical referent, it can’t be referred to by language with any meaning.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

        It establishes knowledge by demonstrating the predictive and manipulative powers of its hypotheses.

        And yet that statement is itself a philosophical one. If you’ve got a proposition about the world before you, and you’re pondering what level of successful prediction it would take to convince you that it’s true, and why that’s a reasonable standard, you’re doing philosophy (epistemology, to be precise).

        Talking about “superior” or “inferior” is silly, but the fact remains that you can’t escape doing philosophy.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Good example of the fundamental dishonesty and ideological salesmanship that has always driven philo. The proposition that any statement requires something philo can claim is false and dishonest.

          Any body of knowledge must make statements of prediction independent of mere local language usage and cultural norms. Philo never does nor can it ever.

          Data and math will always stand separate from the fundamental solipsism of what is called philo.

        • eric
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          Talking about “superior” or “inferior” is silly, but the fact remains that you can’t escape doing philosophy.

          I agree if you’re talking about some sort of metaphysical superiority/inferiority. But that’s not really what the argument is about. Scientists often joke about ranking their disciplines (the classic joke is: biology is just a subset of chemistry, which is just a subset of physics). But in reality, we understand that a training in physics does not provide the specific subject matter expertise needed for work in a biology lab, even if bio is just a ‘sub’ to physics. They are legitimately separate disciplines because the skills and background knowledge you need to do them are different.

          Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if one classifies all of science as a subset of philosophy – or vice versa. You still need specialized training in this “subset of philosophy” in order to be able to do it. Philosophy training won’t cut it, any more than physics training cuts it for biologists.

          You phisolophers seem to have taken the old ranking joke too seriously.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            “You philosophers” — who, me? I’m an engineer who’s a sci-fan and a philoso-fan in my spare time. Which suggests a model of inter-disciplinary relations: engineers are not scientists, rather we use the results of science proper in our work, while not having to know all that much about the gory details. Similarly, science takes a lot of epistemological underpinnings for granted, without worrying about it them practice.

            • eric
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

              Labeling retracted! Otherwise I agree with you.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        You cannot claim that science discovers truth without having been endowed with an epistemology based on reason: facts and logic.

        All evasion of this by use of fudge words that actually pretend there is something other than reason are dishonest: science depends on metaphysics and epistemology to validate truth.

        • Berlinerweiss
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          To you and eamon knight above…

          The actual level of theoretical grounding one needs to do science it basically the same as when you try to eat soup out of a bowl by using a fork, a knife, chopsticks, or a spoon. Once you succeded (and tested your solution) you can reverse-engineer the process and give it any philosophical label you like, but not only would most people probably think that’s pretentious – philosophy was also no help at all in solving the problem in the first place. Nor in defining success/failure of your approaches; your hunger/aim/curiosity did that for you.

          Tragically, when it comes to science philosophy even fails to reverse-engineer the process. There is no universally agreed metaphysical and epistemological grounding given by philosophy, only the commonly agreed standards within each scientific field itself (with every problem that entails for different fields). Again, one can call that philosophy even though it results from scientific practice and, if feasible, mathematical calculations. It’s surely not philosophy done by philosophers, the kind McGinn and Friedland had in mind in the original post.

          If philosophers complain about science’s monopolizing ‘knowledge’ I think it’s time to deny philosophy the monopoly on ‘reasoning.’ You don’t need philosophy to reason if a prediction was succesful even though what you do could be described by others as philosophical.
          It would be fun, though, to see some top-notch philosophers bumble around to explain the nature of a 3-sigma deviation because some think that’s a philosophical question (and maths a part of philosophy/logic anyway 🙂

        • Dan L.
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

          I’ve said this several times, but people are capable of learning new things even in the absence of epistemologists. I know this simple fact about the world gives philosophers a major sad, but they’re really not needed for anything.

          Now sure if someone wants to investigate how we learn or what it means to learn then that person will have to engage in epistemology. But to learn new things — even if one wants to apply scientific methodology (which actually isn’t appreciably different from how regular old learning happens) one does not need to do so.

          I think your “depends” is a “fudge word” by the way. The dependency you’re talking about is an abstract one based a on particular metaphysical theory of knowledge. In the real world there are no such dependencies. I can learn things without engaging in metaphysics or epistemology (unless you want to count basic background knowledge as “metaphysics” or “epistemology” which I think is a little silly).

          • gluonspring
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

            Even if we were to stipulate that we need epistemology to do science, we could still close down all the philosophy departments and science would not be impoverished one whit. Any epistemology, logic, or other foundations, that philosophy has contributed to the endeavor of science were formulated and absorbed long ago. There are no new epistemological discoveries that philosophers can bring to scientists to use as even more powerful tools to do science.

            • Dan L.
              Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

              We could also consider an alternate world in which thinkers/tinkerers (thinkerers? I think I just came up with a new epithet for philosophers) just kind of stumbled onto scientific methodology without first finding an epistemological basis for why it should “work.” We can imagine in this world that people do science as a sort of learned craft where apprentices learn the trade from masters, largely unconsciously through the direct application of procedures known to work.

              In this case we’d have science and scientific knowledge but it wouldn’t have a philosophical basis. It would be like pottery or basket-weaving; people would learn the basic skills through trial and error and then add complexity by more trial and error. Most learning would be done unconsciously, scientists wouldn’t necessarily be able to clearly describe the thought processes underlying their choices of actions. The punchline is, of course, that this is actually how science was discovered, how it’s done, and how it’s learned in the real world. There was no triumph of rationalist philosophy that enabled scientific methodology. Science, like all learning, is a middle-out process of trial and error.

              So I agree, except that I’d go even farther and say that you don’t even need a theory of science to do science.

            • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

              This is factually false, at least has been recently: Philosophers do and have contributed directly to the invention of new “scientific tools”. For example, research in Bayesian networks by Glymour and colleagues at CMU is exactly that. No, they did not invent the over-all approach, but they have contributed to the literature on this subject.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

                All Bayes has to be validated with empirical data — philo adds nothing but ideology (wishful thinking).

              • gluonspring
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

                If anything a philosopher touches is philosophy, then that surely makes science philosophy. I imagine some of them are good cooks too.

                I have examined your example and think it doesn’t work. Glymour’s publication list is nice, and happens to overlap my own field quite a bit. He definitely has done work on Bayesian Networks, that is true. However, in this list I see disjoint sets of papers. One is a collection of philosophy papers. Another is a collection of science and math papers. They are mingled together and have titles that suggest that they somehow inform each other (philosophy paper on inference… computer science paper on inference). I do not think that they do. When I examine the science and math papers, there is no special philosophy tools deployed. They don’t rely on any results derived from the philosophy papers. The philosophy papers are like a kind of running commentary about the actual science work. Kind of interesting, but not essential to the activity they are describing.

                Consider this provocative title, for example:

                “N-1 Experiments Suffice to Determine the Causal Relations Among N Variables”

                One could imagine that such a paper benefits somehow from having a philosopher on board, that some special tools of philosophy are deployed to crack this nut. It has “causal” right in the title, after all! What could be more up philosophy’s alley than the idea of causality? But no. This is math, computer-sciency graph theory math of the sort that is common in the CMU machine learning department and, indeed, computer science departments everywhere. The authors of this paper could easily have never, ever, stepped into a philosophy department or taken a philosophy class. They use logic and math which, I suppose, came from philosophy once upon a time, but it’s part of the common heritage now. Those offspring of philosophy, logic and the rest of math, are productive indeed, superstars even, but modern philosophers can not take credit for all their successes. The ongoing contributions of philosophy, it seems to me, are merely the much appreciated and highly useful application of these widely available inventions from the past.

                Philosophy strikes me a something like a sect of scribes who insist that they continue to contribute to every discipline of science because, after all, scribes invented writing and everyone uses writing! What’s more, some of the scribes even work in labs.

  30. zendruid1
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    My notion is that philosophy provides the initial questions that empiricists seek to answer. Let us begin with Thales, who was the earliest known Hellenic thinker to assert that there should be a natural cause for every observable natural phenomenon.

  31. eric
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I will dodge the larger question and say I think it makes sense as a discipline label to distinguish philosophy from sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics, etc…

    It would be nice if all our academic category labels (like hard science, social science, humanities, etc.) had rational and sensible boundaries. But they never will, because of subject and methodologcal overlaps. At some point I think you stop fiddling with the terms, cut bait, and recognize that the benefit you get from standardized use of the terms is larger than any benefit you’d get from ‘improving’ them via change of definition.

    So, let it stay philosophy. If some of its methods overlap with those of the natural sciences, so what? Symbolic logic overlaps with mathematics and computer science. Study of greek or midaeval philosophy overlaps with history. Operationally what matters is that grad schools and employers understand what a degree in X says about the student’s knowledge and training. Folks with the word “in Chemistry” at the end of their degree are understood to be able to work with test tubes, run a GC/MS, and interpret data typically coming out of a chemistry lab. Folks with the word “in Philosophy” are understood to be able to work with symbolic logic equations, proofs, understand theories of mind, knowledge, ethics, epistemology, etc…

    I really, really don’t think relabeling disciplines at this stage is going to accomplish much – except confusion.

  32. Jeff Sherry
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    I see philosophy as a tool of science (Occum’s Razor for ex.), but not science on it’s own.

  33. Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    In some ways, science picks up where philosophy leaves off. Philosophers, from classical times to the present, have developed sophisticated, useful lines of reasoning about knowledge (epistemology), morality (ethics), and the nature of reality (metaphysics). They have identified and learned to avoid “logical fallacies.” But their approach has limitations. Without the constraints of external real-world tests, philosophers go down their own kind of rabbit trails, into a world of ideals. Philosophy assumes that if an argument can be made logic-tight, then it will be persuasive. It assumes that people can be compelled by reason. It assumes that we make moral decisions by doing some calculus that prioritizes harm avoidance or the greater good. Psychology, on the other hand, looks at how ordinary people function in everyday life and says “that ain’t the way things work around here.”

    John W. Loftus. The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails (Kindle Locations 537-541). Kindle Edition.

  34. Dan L.
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Science is a variety of philosophy. Science is basically just empirical ontology. That’s what’s wrong with the idea of “ontics.” Philosophy isn’t really (just) the study of what is. In fact, that’s really what science is and I don’t understand how philosophers can keep missing this very obvious fact.

    If you want to know something about what actually exists, ask a scientist. Scientists are philosophers specializing in what exists. They are ontologists and they use scientific methodology, the best approach yet discovered for the study of ontology.

    Philosophers who call themselves “ontologists” are studying phantasms in their own minds for the most part. These guys wouldn’t have to worry about philosophy’s reputation if they could just acknowledge that science is a valid approach to ontology and metaphysics.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      And the notion that the results of philosophy are somehow MORE reliable than those of science…

      …the track record isn’t so good on that one. Scientific research has answered thousands of questions previously considered “philosophical,” philosophy has never, ever, not once answered a question previously considered “scientific.”

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      But some philosophers do science-oriented or science-compatible metaphysics. (See my earlier messages.)

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Another lie and contradiction in terms. By definition, there can be no evidence-based metaphysics, duh.

        • Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:28 am | Permalink

          Positivism is an obsolete doctrine now, you should know this.

  35. David Leech
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Not sure about this so I might have to consult Profs Broom-fondle and Magic-thighs.

  36. Piero
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I agree with both cabbageofdoom and gluon on this matter.
    First, other posters have shown that the dictionary definition of science is flawed in several respects. So I’ll offer my own:
    “Science is an organized body of empirically tested hypotheses that allows the formulation of as yet untested, but at least in principle testable, hypotheses.”

    In that sense, some of philosophy is indeed science, but most of it is not. For example, theology clearly falls outside the range of science, because it cannot make any testable prediction, even in principle. On the other hand, Nick Bostrom’s argument that we are likely to be within a computer simulation is testable in principle, though not in practice, and hence I would rank it as science, at the same level as string theory.

    Similarly, Newcomb’s paradox is not testable in practice (and most probably not even in principle), but it leads to several important and useful hypotheses about free will.

    In short, I don’t think a definitive answer can be given: some philosophy is science, some philosophy is a contribution to new scientific ideas, and some philosophy is just plain crap.

    As has already been pointed out, philosophy can be useful as a tool to train our brains to spot fallacies. For example, let’s take the classic postmodern statement “There are no absolute truths, only relative ones”. If that wer the case, then the statement itself would have to be a non-absolute truth. Then why take it seriously?

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Defining science is a rhetorical tactic, trick really, and meaningless — independent of any specific study and set of data.

      There simply is no such general set of activities usefully labeled as science — unless you are an ideologue/theologian/pop journalist getting paid by the word and looking for a straw man. Nor is there a uniform methodology. Methods are always changing.

      Philo makes no testable predictions either. Any time it tries it moves into empirical knowledge territory, of course.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        You are actually defining science as empirical knowledge, as something methodical concerning sets of data and specific studies, aren’t you? Or is it a rethorical tactic of yours?

      • Piero
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

        I believe the ability to make testable predictions is quite useful. For example, do you think it’s important for an airline pilot to know the weather forecast?

        Your assumption that all definitions of science are rhetorical tactics and tricks is beyond silly, I’m sorry to say. I think my definition is pretty good, actually. It can be put more simply (in case you did not understand it) as: “Science is any organized body of notions which allows us to make predictions that actually obtain”. That leaves out theology, astrology, reiki, acupuncture, palmistry, buddhism, transcendental meditation, Deepak Chopra and every woo-peddler on Earth, whilst keeping physics, chemistry, biology, paleontology, evolution, neuroscience, some fields of psychology and psychiatry, most of medicine, linguistics, and any other body of knowledge you’ve come to trust because you have empirical evidence that it works.

        Different sciences have different methods. So? Is that supposed to be an argument? Playing the piano and playing the cello require very different techniques: does that mean that music cannot be defined?

        I would not want to offend you, but your post sounds like you are either drunk, high or an idiot. Have you been reading too much postmodernist prose? Be careful: it can wreak havoc with your neurons if you take it seriously.

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          Your definition is specious. The rest of the comment is unintelligible.

          • Piero
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

            Excellent post! It says nothing worth saying. I believe that’s chracteristic of your discourse.

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

              It says explicitly that the ideas you present contain little of value. But they are presented with vigor and heat – no light yet.

              • Piero
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

                Fine. Can you explain why my ideas are of little value? Because you say so? Who are you?

                Unless you proffer something resembling an argument, I’m forced to conclude that you are an arsehole, and to dismiss you comments as bullshit. I hope I’ve made myself clear enough. If not, I can make myself even clearer. My repertory of insults is almost unlimited.

    • Justicar
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      And let’s follow up with the obvious next question: who takes anything postmodernists say seriously?

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      “For example, let’s take the classic postmodern statement “There are no absolute truths, only relative ones”. If that wer the case, then the statement itself would have to be a non-absolute truth. Then why take it seriously?”

      The problem is language not the statement. Language is a dual mode of communication that isn’t able to communicate the paradox of the absolute truth of the absence of absolute truth… Language, like our intellect, works by opposition. Because of that, it fails to express the paradox that is revealed when you can reach the non-dual state explained in oriental traditions and many others.
      This is one of the reason why Bohr adopted the Ying and Yang symbols for his coat of arms…

      • dschealler
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

        “Because of that, it fails to express the paradox that is revealed when you can reach the non-dual state explained in oriental traditions and many others.”

        Traditions, eh?

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          You can’t really escape traditions, specially when they address why they shouldn’t be trusted because of the nature of language itself…

      • Piero
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        Er… yes. Or maybe no. Who knows? Whatever.

        Look, you can play around with words all day long if you so wish, but unless you get some interesting results (as Wittgenstein and Chomsky did), I don’t quite see the point.

        Statements cannot refer to themselves. Or rather, they can, but at the risk of unsovable paradoxes. For example, “this sentence contains three words” is obviously coherent and false; but “this sentence is true” has no meaning at all, because we can only judge the truth of a statement by referring to something outside the sentence itself. Worse still, the sentence “this sentence is false” is incoherent: if it’s true, te it’s false, and if it’s false then it’s true. Is that a limitation of language? I don’t think so. I’d rather describe it as an idiotic use of language; just as idiotic as using a Stradivarius to play tennis.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          I’m only saying that language has hidden boundaries. We don’t see them because we think in terms of language and hardly realize it uses a certain mode since language is what shapes our intellect…

  37. Myron
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    If “ontics” sounds more scientific than “philosophy”, than so does the good old term “ontology”—compare: “geology”, “biology”, “sociology”, “psychology”. So why not simply substitute “ontology” for “philosophy”?
    As for philosophy being a science, well, in German we call it a Geisteswissenschaft, a term which is hard to translate into English, but “intellectual science” seems more or less adequate. If philosophy is a science, it’s not an empirical science, but there are also rational sciences such as mathematics. Anyway, empirical science, i.e. natural+social science, could as well be called empirical (observational/experimental) philosophy. (Recall that natural science was once actually called natural philosophy!)
    Nevertheless, there is a relevant methodological difference between philosophy and science:

    [P]hilosophy lacks the wonderful decision procedures that are present in logic and mathematics (proofs) and the natural sciences (observation and experiment, together with mathematics). Unfortunately there seems to be no remedy for this situation, and those who thought there is a remedy, such as the logical positivists, learnt bitter lessons. But since this is so, we philosophers should be appropriately modest.”

    (Armstrong, D. M. Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. p. ix)

    If nothing is a science unless it produces public knowledge, then one may follow Armstrong and deny that philosophy is a science:

    “One moral that I draw is that in the fields of philosophy and religion there is no knowledge. We can only know what our beliefs are. For consider: In these fields there is no consensus of opinion about what is true. People who are intellectually competent to discuss these matters, who have genuinely studied the considerations for and against some view—the existence of God or the existence of universals—who know the arguments, who have read and understood the books and the articles—find themselves in complete disagreement. Surely we should not claim knowledge in these matters. We all have our hopes. Perhaps some of us do have knowledge about these difficult matters. But how can we have any rational assurance that we do have knowledge? It is prudent, and suitable to our nature, to claim no more than belief.”

    (Armstrong, D. M. “A Naturalist Program: Epistemology and Ontology.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 73, no. 2 (November 1999): 77-89. p. 82)

  38. Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I suspect you’ll appreciate what this kick-ass naturalist philosopher has to say:

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      The way I’d answer the question is that it really does not matter if philosophy is or is not a science. Good philosophy must work hand in hand with the sciences, however.

  39. Neil
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Philosophy is the broad no-man’s land that separates science from theology. The philosophy I like is near the science boundary.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Philo/magical thinking/ideology/salesmanship — all the same.

      Unpredictive ideas that make false promises and so get people to do things.

  40. gbjames
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Science is Philosophy’s grandkid, the direct descendant of an old fellow sitting over on the sofa, who from time to time says something interesting but who usually mutters to himself about unresolved arguments from his youth.

    Science, most of the time, does well to go about his own business in the real world, letting the old fellow mumble.

    Am I showing some bias here?

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      How do we know empirically based knowledge is the offspring of magical thinking? We don’t.

      Philo’s claim is ideological salesmanship — not scholarship.

  41. Scientismist
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    ..alternative ways of knowing — chiefly the philosophical — that can actually yield greater certainty than the scientific..

    Frankly, it gives me the heebie-jeebies when Anti-scientismists talk about these mythical “alternate ways of knowing,” especially when they tout them as providing “greater certainty” than science. I think of Bronowski at Auschwitz, reminding us, “When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.” Certainty is the prime fuel for genocide.

    Philosophy can be a tool, or at its best, a colleague of science. Where it gets into trouble is when it closes its eyes, settles down in it’s comfy armchair, and dismisses the need for data as mere “scientism.” Philosophers who think they are building “rational conceptual disciplines.. not chiefly reliant on empirical observation” are deluding themselves.

    Their favorite example is mathematics, but that developed from the use of clay marbles in clay envelopes to track the number of sheep being sent to market. Eventually, the marks on the envelopes became abstract representations of quantity, and people didn’t have to worry about breaking the envelope and loosing their marbles. Left to their armchairs, philosophers would never have come up with the idea.

    • Scientismist
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      (Sigh) — Blockquote fail; sorry. (Oh, for a preview button).

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        lol, Always a hoot when the Nazis are cited in discussions of “science.”

        • Scientismist
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Always a hoot when history is ignored.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

            Throwing up historical bogeymen is just a slick rhetorical trick.

            • Scientismist
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

              No. Watch Bronowski’s “Knowledge or Certainty” (available on YouTube at — all of it — and then tell me that it is a slick rhetorical trick.

            • Piero
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

              Rich an Co.:

              Have you any arguments othe than callling other arguments “rhetorical” or “slick” tricks? You are becoming tiresome, and I think I’m about to resort to offensive language. I’ve already indirectly called you a less than bright individual, but there are plenty of harsher ways of saying that. Please stop making idiotic comments; i don’t want to be forced to call you a f… i….

              • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

                The refuge of the lost and anti-intellectuals — ad hominem attacks.

              • Piero
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

                Nope. I’m not attacking you. I’m attacking your inane posts. You might, for all I know, be a genius, but your posts are etremely stupid.

        • Dan L.
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

          What’s a hoot is that you apparently jumped on the Godwin train before even reading Scientismist’s comment for content.

          Read it again. Do you really think that Scientismist is trying to say “scientists are like Nazis”?

          I think you need to slow down and read more carefully.

          • Dan L.
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

            We should be able to use Nazis and the things they said as examples as long as we’re scrupulous about refusing to make hyperbolic and emotional comparisons of people or groups to Nazis (noting that such comparisons are, very occasionally, apt after all). Can we all agree on this?

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

              By definition, dragging out Nazis bogeymen is hyperbolic and dishonestly manipulative. It used to be communist hordes, etc.

              But fear is a great sales trick — the best actually.

              • Dan L.
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

                So when my history teacher in high school told us about WWII he was being hyperbolic and dishonestly manipulative?

                You’re being ridiculous. Stop it.

              • Dan L.
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

                Or…what if I talked about Turing’s many lifetime achievements? I’d have to spend a certain amount of time talking about his work on the Nazi enigma code. I suppose mentioning that there was such a thing as Nazis and that they used secret codes is being hyperbolic and dishonestly manipulative?

                There really was such a thing as the Nazi party in Germany. it was composed of actual living, breathing human beings who said and did stuff. Your position is exactly as ridiculous as saying, “Anyone who brings up the Democratic Party is being hyperbolic and dishonestly manipulative.” You’re just not making any sense.

                I understand that the Nazi comparison is overused, but to jump from that fact to the notion that no one should ever, ever mention anything any Nazi ever did or quote anything any Nazi ever said is…well…completely honking ridiculous.

              • Justicar
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

                Please, please. Leave pharyngula out of this.

  42. Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure what to make of your closing statement. Are you saying that you’re not comfortable saying that theoretical population genetics is a science?

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      But it is judged useful, or not, by the same standards of evidence as any other form of empirically-based knolwedge.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        So… Yes?

        I’m not trying to put any words in Jerry’s mouth here, just trying to understand what he’s saying. Since he closes his post saying that he is not comfortable saying philosophy is a science after saying that philosophy is very much like theoretical population genetics, my understanding is that he is not comfortable saying that theoretical population genetics is one either. But before that, he seemed to say the opposite, endorsing what “nearly all scientists” thought.

        It’s no necessarily a big deal; not being “science” does not necessarily means “useless” or “less useful than science”. But reading the essay, I was puzzled about what was Jerry’s actual take on this.

  43. Greg Fitzgerald
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Philosophy is not a science. Unlike theoretical physics or theoretical genetics, philosophers do not make falsifiable predictions. Philosophical speculations are not constrained by how the world works in the same way science is. Until metaphysical claims become testable, philosophy can only produce plausible rationalizations, not scientific knowledge. In many cases, philosophy is just theology with less extravagant first principles.

    • gluonspring
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      And fewer holidays.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      A lot of ancient philosophical speculations (e.g. atoms, …) are now falsifiable predictions. Philosophy is cutting-edge science.

      • Greg
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

        I consider the prediction of atoms to be an early example of theoretical physics. If you consider the prediction of atoms to be philosophy, wouldn’t you consider Paul Dirac’s prediction of the positron to be philosophy, as well?

        I would consider any claim that is falsifiable and testable to be science, even if it’s uttered by a philosopher. The bulk of philosophy, from my perspective, deals with metaphysical issues such as meaning, morality, justice, and consciousness. There is no empirical basis for determining which philosopher’s conception of justice corresponds to how the universe works.

        Do you think these are arbitrary or otherwise unintelligible definitions of science and philosophy?

        • Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          Sure there are there are animal studies and human studies of resources sharing and social interactions. Guess what? The basic principals of this core aspect of life, called “justice” are challenges for bacteria and social insects.

          • Piero
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

            “Sure there are there are animal studies and human studies of resources sharing and social interactions. Guess what? The basic principals of this core aspect of life, called “justice” are challenges for bacteria and social insects.

            Rich an Co.:
            You are obviously drunk or otherwise mentally impaired. You wrote “there are” twice; you wrote “principals” instead of “principles”. And the semantic aspect of your post is beyond comprehension. Go to bed, have a nice cup of strong tea, sleep your 8 hours and then come back. Please?

            • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

              When lost — insult the messenger.

              • Piero
                Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

                Wrong again. If I really wanted to insult you,I have far more powerful weapons in my arsenal. For example, I could list all of your posts and dissect them one by one. I asure you, you would not like the result.

                In case you haven’t noticed (which would’t surprise me in the least), the subject of this thread is whether philosophy is a science or not. If you can post an intelligible and relevant idea, please do so: otherwise, go to bed and stay there for a couple of weeks. Or months.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 1:48 am | Permalink

          I cannot agree. The prediction of atoms was not an empirical prediction. It was derived from purely metaphysical views: materialism, reductionnism, …

          Those views happened to be very succesful and led to modern science, but that’s an a posteriori observation. Democrit’s atoms were not a scientific concept at all.

          • Greg
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

            Why should it matter whether the prediction of atoms was derived from metaphysical or empirical premises? It is still a testable, and therefore scientific, proposition. If Dirac had postulated the positron on the basis of religious scripture instead of physical principles, it still would have been a scientific claim.

            Do you think this is a sensible distinction. I’d like to hear your input.

            • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

              * Atoms were not testable at that time. Now take any debated modern philosophical claim and prove me that it will never ever be testable… You can’t prove such a thing. So isn’t any philosophical claim an early (potentially) scientific claim? I think it is defensible.

              * However a testable scientific proposition is always expressed within a scientific theory (it has to be more or less related to some already known scientific facts and experimental procedures -> atoms to chemical reactions and thermodynamics). In that sense it is not purely derived from metaphysical principles, but from a prior knowledge and has an explanatory power within the theory it is expressed. Democrite’s atoms were not that kind of proposition, it was more a vague abstract principle.

              -> So there is a real difference between a philosophical proposition such as democrite’s atoms and a scientific proposition such as modern atoms. The former is a pure abstraction while the latter is embedded into a scientific framework. Yet it is not impossible that a philosophical proposition comes very close to a testable scientific proposition with time.

              • Greg Fitzgerald
                Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

                I appreciate your continued dialogue, but I’m unsure about how this pertains to my point about the difference between scientific and philosophical propositions.

                Whether a proposition is proposed in the context of philosophy or science has no relevance to its inherent testability. Just because Democritus could not conceive of a means of testing his claim, it was always, in principle, testable. Contrast the atom hypothesis with the arguments in philosophy about which system of morality (consequentialist, Kantian, etc.) is superior. Perhaps I am as blinkered in my perspective as Democritus, but I cannot conceive a means by which to test the claims about the superiority of certain moral schemes. Can you?

                Thank you for being thorough and respectful in your messages. 🙂

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:25 am | Permalink

                Democritus atoms hypothesis was not really falsifiable: if we don’t find any atom at a certain level, one can argue that we will find some at a lower level.

                Maybe in 1000 years, we will have solved the mind-body problem, there will be consensus over what counts as a finality, a mean, good and evil, and one of these systems of morality (or a mix of them) will be considered the more correct answer?

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:30 am | Permalink

                I agree that the atoms hypothesis seems to us more “testable” than a moral system, but it’s hard to tell if it’s an afterward impression because of the scientific world we live in, or if Democritus would have thought the same…

  44. Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    To me “science” studies, measures, and discovers nature and the way the world works. These truths go on being true whether we think about them (or ignore/dispute/deny them) or not.
    “Philosophy” ponders human thought, including how humans define “is-ness.” There may be some overlap in certain disciplines, but these aren’t my interest or specialty so I’m not qualified to discuss them. As has been noted already, one traditional philosophical discipline – logic – is basically mathematics, which I see as an art and an essential tool of science rather than a science itself.
    Science looks “out” and philosophy looks “in”. (Which is more productive, and which would you rather do: look out the window and go for a walk, or sit in the basement in the dark? OK that was pretty harsh, but I would rather go look at rocks than sit and think about thinking.)
    I am not comfortable using the phrase “ways of knowing” when discussing science. This phrase is too often used by New Agers to argue the existence of various forms of clairvoyance, and by would-be educators to promote the latest way to label children and make excuses for not teaching them any science.

  45. dschealler
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    The cart is before the horse.

    Science is natural philosophy.

    Therefore, all science is philosophy.

    Therefore, some but not all philosophy is science.

    • Piero
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Is your argument based on lexicography? If so, it’s a pretty poor argument. Indeed, it’s an argument in urgent need of food and shelter.

      • dschealler
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        I was going for cladistic genealogy rather than lexicography.

        • Piero
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          Wow! Cladistic! Genealogy! Heavy-weight words! Which unfortunatly don’t make your argument any less rachitic.

          • dschealler
            Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm | Permalink


            I had to look that one up.

            Nice. I’m using it.

          • Dan L.
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

            cladistic memeology then? This is a very defensible POV, I’m not sure what your problem is.

  46. Myron
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    “[W]e might well brand every academic discipline as science. ‘Literary studies’ then become ‘literary sciences’ — sounds much more respectable. ‘Fine arts’ become ‘aesthetic sciences’ — that would surely get more parents to let their kids major in art.” – Julian Friedland

    In Germany “Literaturwissenschaft” (= “science of literature”) and “Kunstwissenschaft” (= “science of art”) are actually common labels for two academic disciplines.

    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Of course, “science” once meant (still means?) any body of knowledge, such as “the science of heraldry”.


    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      My german is a little rusty and undeveloped, but “Wissenschaft” in my view better translates “scholarship”, which works better for Literatur- and Kunst-, no?

  47. Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    Hold on: “Is philosophy a science?” – Is this a philosophical question or a scientific one?


    • Myron
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      It depends on what science is—a philosophical question!

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:25 am | Permalink


  48. MadScientist
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    If it’s not testable, it’s not science. The vast bulk of philosophy is non-testable conjecture, so I would never call it science. What is testable is, more often than not, demonstrably wrong – that makes philosophy more akin to religion than science. Of course there are exceptions, but they are an incredibly small minority.

    • couchloc
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      I don’t understand why people continue to insist on such false dichotomies. Of course philosophical claims of the purer kind are not (empirically) testable. But this does not imply “they are non-testable conjecture.” This claim is a non sequitur. Statements of pure mathematics are not empirically testable either, but nobody thinks that makes them little more than “conjecture”. (And please don’t go on about how mathematics is empirical–I’m talking about pure mathematics here.) Much philosophical reasoning uses the same test-procedure as found in mathematics: logical consistency. For instance, I can establish that the statements:

      (1) If A, then B
      (2) If B, then C
      (3) If C, then not A

      are logically inconsistent as a set and cannot all be true. This procedure involves no empirical testing whatever. Much of philosophy is exactly like this: it identifies inconsistencies and mistakes in reasoning with respect to our beliefs about science/ethics/common sense/history/psychology/etc (when these are replaced for 1/2/3 above). You are merely assuming one criterion of evaluation (“empirical verification”) at the exclusion of other acceptable criteria. It is important to remember that philosophy has developed alongside of logic (Aristotle, Frege, Godel, Kripke, Russell) because it’s concerned with being more rigorous and systematic.

      • Brian
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        An important part of mathematics is empiricalish. Math is more than writing down logically elegant (or more often nastily technical and long) deductive arguments but is also writing down examples and counterexamples. You write down this beautiful proof that a theorem is true… and then you try writing down counterexamples to prove your theorem is wrong. You claim some result about polynomials… and then check it by writing down a bunch of polynomials and verifying the theorem is true or false. If you find a counterexample, no matter how brilliant your proof your theorem is wrong. If find only a massive body of examples and have a convincing proof, then the theorem is probably right. Granted, the examples are conceptually constructed, but math is still not all deductive arguments.

      • ivo
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

        @couchloc: “Statements of pure mathematics are not empirically testable either, but nobody thinks that makes them little more than “conjecture”. (And please don’t go on about how mathematics is empirical–I’m talking about pure mathematics here.)”

        As a pure mathematician, I strongly object to this. I agree with Brian: pure maths is empirical, in the sense that mathematicians come up with lots of hunches (and their official cousins, conjectures), and then spend their whole working day TESTING these hunches on the blackboard. One of the first things you learn as a math PhD student is that of a hundred ideas you’ll have only one will actually work. The physicist Richard Feynman’s imperative holds for us just as well: no matter how cute your idea is, if Nature turns out to be different then you must throw it away, because She doesn’t care. The only difference is that mathematicians don’t need to look into a microscope in order to test an idea, but just have to compute a few carefully chosen examples.

        (And please, don’t object that math is not empirical as it deals in abstractions. You have introduced yourself the loaded word “empirical”, what MadScientist said is “If it’s not testable, it’s not science.”)

        • couchloc
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink


          “pure maths is empirical, in the sense that mathematicians come up with lots of hunches (and their official cousins, conjectures), and then spend their whole working day TESTING these hunches on the blackboard.”

          I wouldn’t deny any of this. But this is not the same meaning of “test” usually used when people refer to “scientific testing.” You are right that MadScientist did not use the term “empirical.” But I don’t think my attribution is far off the mark (just read some of the other comments around this post to see that this is the usual meaning).

          “The only difference is that mathematicians don’t need to look into a microscope in order to test an idea, but just have to compute a few carefully chosen examples.”

          So we both agree that pure mathematics tests things, but this doesn’t involve anything like “empirical tests” that involve labs and microscopes of the traditional sort. I’m fine with this way of putting the point. All I need for my claim is that in whatever sense mathematics involves “tests” philosophy does too. I mean philosophers use blackboards for writing down counterexamples to various sorts of hypotheses as a way of testing them. Counterexamples play a very similar role in philosophy too.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

          “Empirical” seems to refer more to things grounded in experience. The working at the blackboard is simply a memory aid for understanding the abstract proof.

          The key distinction seems that a mathematical result is not falsifiable by additional experience. (A result may later be falsified by finding an always-present mistake, but that’s slightly different.) When new experience falsifies, it does not mean the mathematics used was false, but that the application of that mathematics to describe the experience was incorrect.

          Or in other words, if your piece chalk suddenly turns into a rabbit midway through, that would be peculiar, and worth taking up with the physics department if it repeatedly occurred, but such lapine intervention would not affect the proof itself.

        • ivo
          Posted April 13, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

          I see that I have some vigorous objections.

          “Counterexamples play a very similar role in philosophy too.”

          True, but as to what *counts* as a legitimate counterexample (contradicting a hypothesis) or not, there is rarely agreement in philosophy. Definitions of the terms involved are usually just not precise enough to guarantee agreement, I suppose. In maths, it’s more a matter of simply having to point out the example/proof/remark to your colleague, and they will go: “oh, I see now, you’re right”. And the matter is settled.

          “The key distinction seems that a mathematical result is not falsifiable by additional experience.”

          There is also that thing about a priori vs a posteriori knowledge, right.

          I acknowledge these profound differences between mathematics and the natural sciences. I was only trying to emphasize how strong the similarities are: practitioners of both have hypothesis on how things are, and they can only know for sure once they have actually “looked at nature” to test that hypothesis (in math, that can have the form of a proof that shows the hypothesis to be true in general, or of a counterexample showing that it fails to be true at least in some cases).
          Even psychologically, we often have a very strong feeling that we are merely exploring a pre-existent landscape of mathematical entities, whose nature we slowly uncover by *empirical* inquiry — by going out and exploring and testing. That’s very much how our researching activity feels like. It is a quite rare mathematician who can prove any deep result without playing with numerous examples of the sort of whatever entities they’re studying, trying out their ideas on them again and again (famously, Alexander Grothendieck was such an exception).

      • MadScientist
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:05 am | Permalink

        Mathematical propositions are indeed testable and all of mathematics is based on a very small number of assumptions. Philosophy is hardly like mathematics. Despite your objection to a non-existent dichotomy, most of philosophy is indeed untestable, and I would not hesitate to add “ridiculous”. The contemporary literature is riddled with absolute bullshit – as I said, there are a few exceptions, but as it is generally practiced, philosophy is no science.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:01 am | Permalink

          I suspect you actually never read philosophy

        • couchloc
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

          Philosophical claims are indeed tested by the method of hypothesis and counterexample, which is the issue we are discussing, even if you fail to accept this. If you want to go off on a tangent and start swearing, that’s fine, but it doesn’t sound impressive, and it doesn’t change the fact that many (I didn’t say all) philosophical claims are indeed testable. I already explained before that much philosophy concerns itself with tests of logical consistency as well. This is the point I was concerned with. I am not defending the claim that philosophy is a science (you seem to be attributing wrong views to me). The point is that, just as Jerry claims, philosophy often overlaps in methods with other disciplines that are perfectly respectable.

        • MadScientist
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          Gee, I looked at samples from “The Philosophical Review” and didn’t even see any examples of the basic logic outlined above. So where is this True Philosophy which is testable etc. (or even self-consistent) published? As for quentin’s claim that I never read philosophy – poor Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustine the Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Popper, just to mention a few – all not True Philosophers?

          • couchloc
            Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

            Here are two different sources to read regarding the issue whether some philosophical claims are “testable” in some manner. This is not a matter of “empirical testing” of the traditional sort that uses microscopes and all, but a testing procedure which relies on counterexamples is described. In all sincerity, I don’t see why this shouldn’t count as a method of testing. If you disagree, maybe it would be helpful to explain why.

            “The Method of Counterexamples”

            “Philosophical Terms and Methods”

            • Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

              If it’s testable that means measurable data thus it immediately enters the domain of evidence-based knowledge – not ideology/philosophy/theology.

            • MadScientist
              Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

              Testing must produce consistent and reliable results as it does in mathematics. Where is that counterpart in philosophy?

              • couchloc
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

                Philosophy is not the same discipline as mathematics, so you cannot complain to me “you don’t do exactly what they do in mathematics, so it doesn’t count.” If you insist on defining the term “test” this way, then it seems nothing I could say to you could change your mind (you can always narrow the criteria further and specify more specific kinds of tests to rule out the tests that occur in philosophy, since by definition philosophy is not mathematics). I find this approach unhelpful. Your original claim was that most philosophy is nontestable. I provide clear evidence in the links above that a test-procedure of an appropriate sort exists, and you basically reply “that’s not good enough.” I could never hope to hit the moving target you represent.

                (There is often consensus in philosophy, but not complete agreement; that doesn’t mean there are no tests used.)

          • Posted April 12, 2012 at 1:33 am | Permalink

            Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Augustine the Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Popper, … are “ridiculous”?
            You must be a genius.

            • MadScientist
              Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

              No, you call them ridiculous. If you’re a philosopher you hardly present the discipline in a favorable light with your argumentative skills. Of the philosophers in the list, Augustine, Aquinas and Hegel are utterly ridiculous; Augustine and Aquinas go beyond ridiculous into the plain vile. Kant was occasionally tolerable and Popper was at least sensible much of the time although I never could understand why people claim that Popper’s analysis of science had any real contribution to science itself.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                » MadScientist:
                I never could understand why people claim that Popper’s analysis of science had any real contribution to science itself.

                Just one word should be enough: falsifiability. Nearly every scientist takes this characteristic of a scientific theory entirely for granted, and yet it is almost entirely thanks to Popper and his analysis of the Logic of Discovery that the word and the concept have the currency that they do these days. (Although his analysis is considerably deeper than even most of those who use the term regularly probably recognise.)

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

                Popper’s work has been debunked as ideology and pretty simple minded one at that.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

                Gee, Rich, you’re obviously a genius, man. I’d never heard that argument before, but I thought about it for a second, and it looks like I’ll have to deep-six my PhD thesis on Popper now that he’s been debunked. Thanks for the heads-up!

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, it’s just ideology. His descriptions of what actually happens with science is cartoonishly simplified and the activities of hat is called “science” are changing all the time based on every experiment/study.

                Hey, people do dissertations on silly ideas all the time.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

                Sure. I mean, it’s not every day that one can profit from the well-reasoned insights of an expert such as yourself. Thanks again!

              • couchloc
                Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink


                This is helpful to me actually, since it helps explain why your conception of philosophy is so different from mine. Do you realize that you are giving examples of philosophers from thousands of years ago? You are taking your conception of philosophy from histories of philosophy it seems. Of course you will think philosophy is not that useful if your example is Augustine! Do you not see that this is about as useful as someone whose conception of science is taken from old histories of science? Imagine someone saying that

                “Science is ridiculous. Just look at the odd views held by Thales (everything is water), Ptolemy (geocentrism), Descartes (there are vortices), Bechner (phlogiston exists), Muller (there are vital forces), Lamarck (acquired characters are inherited), Lavoisier (heat is caloric), Einstein (everything is relative).”

                I’m trying sincerely to understand what your misgivings are, but the examples you are offering are not useful in this setting. Augustine was born in 354, and Hegel is from 1770. I’m not sure why you think the field of philosophy is defined by these figures. I can assure you there are not large numbers of Augustinians and Hegelians running our national association. (Do I need to ask you whether there are Ptolemiasts or Bechnerians in science still?) I’m trying to be patient here, but I would politely suggest the evidence you cite in defense of your view is the wrong sort.

                Maybe it would help things if you read more from recent philosophers. Try David Albert (phd physics) or Thomas Kuhn (phd physics), or any number of others like Chomsky, Searle, or Dennett. You might even try Amartya Sen–he’s in philosophy and economics at Harvard and won a nobel prize a few years back.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

                You seem to apreciate only recent philosophers. You are biased. I suppose that’s because you take all the work done by philosophy during centuries for granted (it seems so obvious now, but was it then?).

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

                previous comment was for MadScientist

  49. Myron
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “So we study the fundamental nature of what is — being. To load the dice, we might also wish to describe ourselves as doing ‘ontical science,’ at least until our affinity with the sciences sinks in — then we might abbreviate to ‘ontics.'” – Colin McGinn

    In many German books philosophy is defined as or called Seinswissenschaft or Wissenschaft des Seienden/Seins = ontical science or science of being.

    • Myron
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      In Germany, philosophy has also been defined as or called Begriffswissenschaft = conceptual science/science of concepts (of being), particularly by philosophers in the Kantian tradition or, more generally, the tradition of German idealism.

    • Berlinerweiss
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      But it must be said the Wissenschaft in German is not the same as science in English thus the translation is off by that difference.
      After all, even English literature is a Wissenschaft in German so that’s basically the situation were even literary criticism would be called science.

      • Myron
        Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

        Yes, in the English-speaking world most people equate science with natural science; but this narrow use of the term may be questioned.

        • Berlinerweiss
          Posted April 11, 2012 at 1:02 am | Permalink

          Well, that’s the question in the post’s title, isn’t it. Also, the German usage of Wissenschaft could also be questioned and rightly so; in the end things are called Wissenschaft who don’t even use anything like a wissenschaftliche Methode/scientific method at all.

  50. Neunder, philosopher
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, you’ve defined science this way:
    “if one construes science broadly—as meaning “a combination of reason and empirical observation”

    Therefore, any part of philosophy that employs both empirical observation and reason should be called by you a science.

    Did Mackie employ both empirical observation and reason in his argumentation against theism? He most certainly did. So, by your definition, he was doing science.

    Are there parts of philosophy that don’t employ any empirical observation? Sure, like pure logic. It employs only the ‘reason’ part of your definition of science. So logic would not count as a science on your definition; but neither would pure mathematics.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      It is difficult to avoid reason and observation – but if everything that involved reason and observation was science, then the word is not worth anything.

  51. Posted April 10, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Human knowledge, or that for any living thing, is not a matter of definitions but data.

    Changing languages is irrelevant. That’s why maths works best.

    • Piero
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      Rich and Co.:

      Please go to bed or to a place without access to the intenet.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      There is no data without a theory that interprets data and some implicit practices – what Kuhn calls a paradigm (e.g. there is no length without a mathematical theory of space and an implicit way to use rulers).

      There is no theory that interprets data and no implicit practice without a living human language (not a formal one) and without definitions.

      • Posted April 11, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

        You are assuming that words mean anything in terms of behavior. It appears they are post hoc and don’t.

        • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

          Sorry I don’t get your point. What does “meaning anything in terms of behavior” mean?

          • Posted April 11, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

            Epiphenomenal. Words and verbal behavior means very little in terms of predicting anything.

            • Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

              Of course they do. You seem to have a very idealized and abstract view of how science works, which I woudl say is inexistent. Scientists spend a lot of time discussing their ideas, explaining how they do what kind of measure etc.

              Take a newbie, give him the math (only the math) of a scientific theory and some scientific apparatus and leave him alone in the lab. Be sure he will never predict anything on his own.

              Even specialists in a sub-field understand their theories in terms of words. The math is just there for checking that everything is correct, but published article with only math are unreadable, even for specialists, without any intuitive hints expressed in natural language on what the article is actually about and what was done experimentally, or what was the theoretical idea. That’s a fact.

    • Dan L.
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      OK, what’s the following bit string mean?


      Any idea?

      Me neither. I just sort of randomly tapped “1” and “0” on my keyboard for a bit. But it’s data.

      It’s just useless data because we don’t know what it means (in this case we don’t know the meaning because there is no meaning to know). Are you starting to see the problem with pure data?

      Try this. The ASCII code for the letter “a” is “01100001”. The number “97” in binary is “01100001”. There’s a floating point number with bit string “01100001” that I don’t feel like trying to calculate right now. So when a computer encounters the bit string “01100001” how should it be interpreted?

      It depends on the context. And that’s why data is never enough. No, not even in science.

  52. Flounder
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I think philosophy degrees are very important. People with degrees in philosophy spend a lot of time pondering great questions. Like: “Why do you want fries with that?”

    • couchloc
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      This old joke keeps being repeated but isn’t that funny. Here is a list of salaries by “undergraduate major” that show that philosophers do quite well in fact. And this is based on actual data, not hearsay.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        Ideology and sales always pay well. Philo is just selling ideas with no concern for proof — of anything.

        Logic is an artifact of language syntax — nothing more. But a great idea to sell.

        • Piero
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

          OMG! Will you stop posting nonsense already? I’ve had enough of your idiotic comments which only clutter the thread. Go away.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

            lol look who has anger management issues and pompous no less.

          • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

            You came up with a really dumb definition of “science.” What, you expected no one to call your mistake?

            • Piero
              Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

              If you show me why my definition of science us flawed or “dumb”, and If your arguments are well-founded and consistent, I might actually beging to ponder the possibility of consider you az a human being. For the time being, your posts correspond to what a monket would write by haphazardly strinking the keys.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted April 11, 2012 at 4:58 am | Permalink

              Look you guys, please knock of the invective and insults! I try to maintain a classy site here, and name-calling is just not on. If you want to squabble in this way, I suggest you take it to private email.

              • Peter Beattie
                Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:44 am | Permalink

                In light of this from Piero:

                I’ve had enough of your idiotic comments which only clutter the thread. Go away.

                I would like to suggest adding to the list of not-ons a) pretending to be able to speak for the owner of this space (which has given some other sites a mob-like air about them) and b) telling others to fuck off or shut up, which is bullying at best and serves to stifle honest discussion.

              • Posted April 11, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

                Yes, we were surprised the moderator missed the vicious attacks from Piero. That’s how bullies usually win.

  53. Posted April 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Late to the party, no time to catch up or even subscribe. Sorry.

    But philosophy is basically atheistic theology, with philosophers impressively and authoritatively pulling definitive bullshit out of their asses.

    Astrology gave birth to astronomy, and alchemy to chemistry. So, too, has philosophy given birth to logic and ethics. But thinking that philosophy therefore merits serious consideration as a result is as silly as paying attention to your newspaper horoscope.



    • Posted April 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      You validated your own bullshit, ostensibly with reason, and reason is philosophy. However, since you reached a conclusion that philosophy is bullshit, you devoured your own tail and you are dead.

      • jmckaskle
        Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        By your definition, any time anyone anywhere says something, they are conducting philosophy? “I got in my car and drove to work” is a philosophical position, then? Up is down, war is peace, freedom is slavery, stating a fact is philosophy.

  54. couchloc
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, this is an interesting discussion and your comments are also interesting. Two comments in reply to some of the posts above.

    First, I do think that philosophy is a “way of knowing” of sorts and there are some claims it has established. I believe all of these statements are very likely true and can be known nonempirically:

    (introspection) I am a thinking thing.
    (introspection) I exist.
    (logic) The president is either a man or he isn’t.
    (language) A bachelor is an unmarried, adult, male.
    (ethics) You cannot derive ought from is.
    (philosophy) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    (ethics) What is good is the greatest happiness for all considered.

    Not all philosophical claims are true, of course, but I think there is a restricted group of claims which philosophers have established (or largely established) independent of empirical verification of the scientific sort. We may disagree about what this set is, but I would say that the view some philosophical claims are true is at least highly probable.

    Second, I think Neunder, philosopher is right. The sense in which philosophy is like a science depends on the particular area involved. The point made by the professor at Fordham (the Stone) was that philosophy often *overlaps* in method with other fields like economics, theoretical physics, mathematics, and jurisprudence.
    An example would be the comparison made with theoretical physics:

    “Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. The importance of mathematics in theoretical physics is sometimes emphasized by the expression “mathematical physics”.

    The advancement of science depends in general on the interplay between experimental studies and theory. In some cases, **theoretical physics adheres to standards of mathematical rigor while giving little weight to experiments and observations.**”
    (Wikepedia entry on Theoretical Physics)

    This is what the Fordham author claimed, that in some cases philosophy works like this and is not mainly reliant on observation (but proceeds conceptually). In other cases (like the ones Neunder mentions) philosophy appeals to empirical observations and reasons. So it really depends on which areas of philosophy we are considering.

    • jmckaskle
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Those are some pretty superficial similarities, though. Theoretical physics is conducted with the intention to be validated experimentally. The reason that there are theoretical physicists on the one hand and experimental physicists on the other is because of the complex skill sets involved in both. Theoretical physicists don’t win Nobel prizes for theory, then win for experimental validation of theory. Science proceeds like a huge machine with many moving parts that continually advance it forward inch by inch. Philosophy really isn’t a part, more of a factory bug that some like to call a feature…

  55. biostatmatt
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, sorry I missed your talk at Vanderbilt. I took a special topics course on speciation with Lev Yampolsky at ETSU years ago. It was guided by your text with Orr. I remember enjoying discussions of scale-eating cichlids.

    As a statistician, I’ve sometimes thought of the discipline like that of machine tool making, which can be empirical and even add new knowledge about the effectiveness of certain types of tool. For a statistics example, suppose we want to understand the behavior of the sample mean (or more generally, any sample statistic) when repeatedly sampling from some population. We could postulate a population and derive a result analytically, as is very common in theoretical statistics. Or, we could just select a natural, real-world population, then sample and compute the sample mean repeatedly. The latter brings new knowledge about a statistic in the context of a natural phenomenon. Is the statistic then more isolated from the natural world than a machine tool?

    Can we think of philosophy in the same way?

  56. corio37
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Philosophy is just applied linguistics. Two people — or one person at different times — say things that are apparently contradictory, and philosophers try to determine if they’re really compatible claims which both convey meaning. It’s moderately useful and good intellectual training, and it provides insight into language.

    It’s only when people delude themselves that by sorting out human language they’re actually investigating the real world that philosophy goes astray.

    • Piero
      Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      I partially agree. In that sense, philosophy (or some parts of it) could be considered a science of language (more specifically, a science of semantics). So I would not really define philosophy as applied linguistics, simply because linguistics is too broad a field which also deals with, say, the rhythmical pattern of nursery rhymes and similar subjects. Interesting subjects, no doubt, but wholly outside philosophy.

      • Posted April 10, 2012 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

        Applied to what? Conferences and papers in the NYT? Useless chit chat.

        • Piero
          Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

          Another pithy comment by the resident chimp.

  57. Evgeny Brud
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I would count philosophy as a science. Finding out what’s false, as well as the criteria that an acceptable answer to some question ould have to meet, are useful things to know and increase our knowledge about the world. The comparison to pop gen is quite good.

    Of course, this only applies to the more rigorous branches of philosophy, not the gibberish of pomo.

  58. bernardhurley
    Posted April 10, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have time to read this in detail as I’m off to do jury service, about which I can’t tell you anything. I just wanted to chip in that I have heard the “ontics” proposal before and I can’t see the point of it. As someone with a D.Phil in Pure Mathematics but who has always been interested in philosophy and in science in general, I would just like to say that I don’t really care whether Philosophy and/or Maths are counted as sciences. As for whether academic philosophy is respected much by the general public, respect has to be earned. In my youth when people like Russell were still around, it was held in quite high esteem by the educated public, at least in the UK.

  59. greyhound1405
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Yes, philosophy is a science, although a crude one. Observation and reflections on what was observed, gave rise to later science and rules of logic.

    Religion does not like philosophy, unless it uses (breaks) all the rules of fallacious thinking. WL Craig being the best of examples of misuse of logic and fallacy.

    Science goes further and tries to destroy mere observation, and then accepts hypothesesis if it fails to destroy a theory.
    Philosophy is useful in that it gives questions to ask…

  60. Posted April 11, 2012 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    “As such, whereas science tends to alter and update its findings day to day through trial and error, logical deductions are timeless.”

    These are words of a bad philosopher, either uneducated or lying. Logical deductions have historically not been “timeless”, because humans are stupid and can’t make them right.

    Exhibit: Zenon.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      “Exhibit: Zenon.”

      Are you referring to:

      -Zeno of Elea?
      -Zeno of Citium?
      -Zeno of Tarsus?
      -Zeno of Sidon?
      -Zeno the Hermit?
      -Zeno the emperor?
      -Michael Zenon (the actor)?
      -Paul Zenon (the street magician)?
      -Miguel Zenón (the saxophonist)?
      -the lunar crater?


  61. Ewan
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Philosophy means ‘love of knowledge’, I think. Most scientists have a Ph.D.or a ‘philosophical doctorate’, and I would argue that philosophy includes all forms of academic study.

    Most serious academics ‘love knowledge’ and therefore are philosophers. So, some scientists are philosophers, but not all philosophers are scientists.

    You are asking the wrong question. It should not be ‘Is philosophy a science?’ but instead ‘Is science a philosophy?’, to which the answer is clearly yes.

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:30 am | Permalink

      Apparently they don’t love knowledge enough to test it empirically or go beyond local, socially acceptable language usage.

    • MadScientist
      Posted April 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      Unfortunately that is conflating etymology with practice. Only a little over 100 years ago, science was “natural philosophy” – after all, even Aristotle had his notions on how the physical world worked (and almost all of his notions were plain wrong – and even demonstrably wrong in his lifetime). Humans have a natural curiosity about the world around them and it is science, not philosophy, which succeeded in compounding knowledge – philosophy simply wasn’t enough to get results.

  62. Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    Quoth Freiland:

    For unlike empirical observations, which may be mistaken or incomplete, philosophical findings depend primarily on rational and logical principles. As such, whereas science tends to alter and update its findings day to day through trial and error, logical deductions are timeless.

    Actually, this is subtly wrong. First off, philosophical findings depend primarily on the principles (of concept and inference) chosen to start with; and, depending on principles started with, also may be mistaken, incomplete, or inconsistent – particularly if the philosopher is insufficiently meticulous about the principles. Philosophy isn’t even limited to logical deduction, or enforcing strict rationality and logic, as existence proof from the dozen or so dialetheist papers annually shows. Thus, philosophy also includes a category I’d loosely call “incoherent bullshit” — where translating the inference framework into language leaves a trivial lattice where (in the words of the Principia Discordia) “All things are true, even false things”. This allows for philosophy being what a mathematician might call “Not even interestingly trivial” and a scientist might call “Not even wrong!”

    I’d say philosophy is the grandmother of sciences; or alternately, that mathematics (concerned with a class of abstract consistent language) is one branch of philosophy, science a sub-branch of mathematics and philosophy (concerned with correspondence-truth between some such language and “experience”), and engineering a sub-sub-branch (dealing with ≥-ordering design choices, informed by expectations from the larger branch).

    • Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Sigh… “into FORMAL language”. Oh, well.

  63. John S. Wilkins
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    In my view, philosophy is what you argue over when facts do not fix the solution.

  64. Peter Beattie
    Posted April 11, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    What a strange pair of articles. First off, it seems strange that this whole discussion revolves around a strictly definitional issue, which by definition (SCNR) is not very interesting. Compare this with the question of whether Pluto is or is not a planet: people got all hot under the collar over the decision in which pigeonhole to put the poor thing. As Neil deGrasse Tyson, responsible for the Rose Center exhibit that kind of started the Pluto affair, explained in an open letter, the discussion shouldn’t be about definitions but about classification and familiarity:

    With this approach, numbers do not matter and memorized facts about planets do not matter. What matters is an understanding of the structure and layout of the solar system.

    So maybe we should be less bothered about what philosophy is than what it is like, and what it is unlike. In a certain way, for example, philosophy is very much like any science, as Popper says in the preface to The Logic of Scientific Discovery:

    And yet, I am quite ready to admit that there is a method which might be described as ‘the one method of philosophy’. But it is not characteristic of philosophy alone; it is, rather, the one method of all rational discussion, and therefore of the natural sciences as well as of philosophy. The method I have in mind is that of stating one’s problem clearly and of examining its various proposed solutions critically.

    And since science is distinct mostly in the different specialised tools it uses to achieve this critical discussion, it makes a whole lot more sense to me to call science applied (or maybe empirical) philosophy than to call philosophy a science—but the labels hardly matter, really. If experimental setups in biochemistry and particle physics look more alike than they do like philosophy, then we have a case for lumping them together in a category distinct from the latter, called ‘science’. But both are still alike in that they produce objective knowledge (see below).

    Two more observations on statements by McGinn and Jerry:

    » McGinn:
    We may as well recognize that we are a science, even if not one that makes empirical observations or uses much mathematics. Once we do this officially, we can expect to be treated like scientists.

    Which is really hard to believe for its hardcore naivete. The issue is exactly not what you call your discipline or yourself but what you do. Ask the “Creation Science” guys.

    » Jerry:
    Under that aegis, archaeology, car mechanics, and plumbing are also species of science.

    Well, I’d rather say they are examples of scientific thinking at work. That way, we’d be able to distinguish an instance of some part of scientific methodology at work from a field that has a number of generalizing explanatory theories in its arsenal which it aims to continually improve.

    » Now none of this work has revealed anything new and true about the universe.

    I’d like to give Richard Dawkins’s explanations of the Selfish Gene and of the God Hypothesis as a counter-example. Both describe the logical properties of abstract concepts, clarifying which properties (such as premises and arguments) are and are not consistent with, or imply etc., which other properties. Of course, these insights feed back into science proper as soon as somebody imagines experimental evidence that might be used to test the premises; but the test of the logical structure itself yields objective knowledge too.

  65. Posted April 11, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    It is really a hard question to consider since philosophy is such a wide field. conciousness, logic, perception, ethics… Some aspects have quite a lot of scientific influence and methodology, whereas others don’t.
    I think the beauty of philosophy is that it can be applied to most studies and depending on how we use it can be both an art and a science.

    • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:42 am | Permalink

      On science vs philosophy: “Philosophy is thinking hard about the most difficult problems that there are. And you might think scientists do that too, but there’s a certain kind of question whose difficulty can’t be resolved by getting more empirical evidence. It requires an untangling of presuppositions: figuring out that our thinking is being driven by ideas we didn’t even realize that we had. And that’s what philosophy is.” ~ David Papineau”

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 4:06 am | Permalink

        Yeah, cognitive psychology from the inside

        Quite a lot of philosophical questions are more productively viewed as cognitive psychology questions, e.g. rather than ask “Do I have free will?”, ask “Why do I think I have free will?”

        • Posted April 12, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

          I can’t agree – except if you view cognitive psychology as a foundation for physic, biology, and… well… cognitive psychology.

      • Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

        Not that hard, since it is all done solipstically and with zero data, falsifiability, peer review, etc. — seems pretty lazy actually.

        • Posted April 12, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

          It is done with peer review. The data is your thoughts. It comes *before* falsifiability, since this process is involved in the construction of *any* scientific theory.

          What do you mean by “solipstically”? I can’t think of anything that is not done “solipstically”.

          Seems lazy to the ignorant: maybe you should question your own presuppositions (I guessed a few in your comments that you do not seem to realize).

          • Posted April 12, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            That is a dishonest, and manipulative use of the term “data.” Data is inter-subjective and measurable with and agreed scale.

            Philo-ideology-theology is just socially normed local language usage and epiphenomena = trivial chit chat.

            • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

              Science is entirely a product of this trivial chit chat

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

                Ah, no, it is not entirely a product of chit chat – it is a product of chit chat and then checking the chit chat against reality. That last step turns out to make all the difference. If a philosophy does that, it may be science; if it doesn’t, it’s not.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

                Sure, I agree. I think science is experimental philosophy, as explained in other comments. Just wanted to remind how important and constitutive is the “chit chat” in that story, which Rich and Co. does not seem to realize.

                If some philosophy is not checked against reality, it’s not unwillingness, but that we need a little more “chit chat”, a little more preparation, before to be able to check these important concerns against reality in a proper way and found new scientific disciplines or renew existing ones.

            • Posted April 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

              You say our thoughts are not data and philosophy is an epiphenomenon… You seem to assume, then, that our thoughts are somehow reducible to some more fundamental intersubjective measurable data?

              Personnaly, I assume the contrary: that those intersubjective measurable data and the scientific theories that structure them are somehow reducible to our thoughts.

              Your position is highly speculative and probably false. Mine is rather straightforward: scientific theories, however efficient they are, always exist inside our thoughts and are nothing but ordering efficiently our interactions with the world.

              Then why denigrate that work on our thoughts — the most fundamental things that undoubtedlty exist — that is philosophy?

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

                This appears to be incorrect: cognitive psychology is already splitting the atom of philosophical intuition and telling us how it works, what the process involved in finding something convincing are and so on.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

                More simply, thoughts are not fundamental entities, any more than minds are. We have no reason to think thoughts are more than the result of neurological processes. Dualism is incoherent, magic doesn’t happen, and philosophy that claims it does is merely looking at echoes of itself. c.f. the p-zombie argument, where “I can conceive of p-zombies” is a conflation of “I have completely worked out the logcal chain that proves p-zombies exist” with “I haven’t seen a contradiction yet.”

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

                Cognitive psychology is a scientific discipline based on reasonning. It cannot *explain* what it is based on.

                Mind are fundamental entities from a phenomenal perspective. We experience life as one individual, not as a multiplicity. That does not necessarily entail dualism, but it’s a fact.

                That is not addressed by science today. There is no phenomenal experience in a physical description of the world. At most can we seek the correlates of phenomenal experience (the project of neuroscience today), thanks to a collusion between the experimenter and the subject (the experimenter assumes, without any formal evidence, that the subject is a human being with phenomenal consiousness. He is making an implicit reference to his own phenomenology). This implicit reference without evidence highlights the so-called “explanatory gap” and that study of the mind is fundamentally different from any other study of nature, simply because the mind and its associated phenomenality is always the ultimate referent in ay kind of study.

                That’s why I would be very very careful before claiming that philosophy is somehow replaced by cognitive psychology.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                Data, evidence takes the mind out of explanations. There are gaps in all evidence, predictions and explanations based on inter-subjective data.

                Only place there are no gaps is in ideology where stuff is made up using local language and fantasy notions/beliefs w/out reference.

                Philo is a dead language based on old books, like theology.

              • Posted April 12, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

                A simple lie. There is no such thing as thoughts only verbal reports of the supposed thing.

                No, thoughts appear to be, based on neurocog work, trivial words spoken largely to negotiate social power/acceptance of the moment locally and largely self-refentially.

                Apparently, words spoken-verbal behavior signaling is predominantly lying to ourselves — and others. Deception seems the main role in all species for throat based signaling. Thus, evidence-based processes are needed to detect deception in groups.

                Philo could learn from market researchers — self reports, yes, even of the degreed, have very low information value. “Information is expensive” Philo is very cheap and therefore carries little if any information.

                Only people who get paid by the wod would pretend words matter — they don’t.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 2:21 am | Permalink

                @Rich & Co.

                “No, thoughts appear to be, based on neurocog work”

                But neurocog work is based on thoughts. All your understanding of neurocog, expressed in your comments, is based solely on words you read (and maybe a few diagrams?).

                You seem to conflate scientific theories with a kind of transcendant reality that would exist outside our minds, because you have too few philosophical hindsight.

                You really need to do more philosophy to question your presupositions, but if you are reluctant, I can do nothing but let you in your proud ignorance.

                Philo does not carry little information, it carries a huge quentity of information, but its information is public. That’s something markets in a capitalist system, based solely on private property, blatantly ignore (and that’s actually the main cause of the environmental and economic crisis today).
                Public information is the framework of our society, the referent, the basis on which private information can exist – hardly visible but always implicitely there.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:10 am | Permalink

                So now we get to the crux of the argument — it is political ideological and extremely naive.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 5:55 am | Permalink

                This is certainly not the crux of the argument. I am only addressing your irrelevant side points, indeed impregnated with naive political ideology (such as conflating economical value in a capitalist system with an absolute measure of value in general). Besides you talked about the economy, not I.

                The crux of the argument is that everything you think you know about cognitive psychology, you know it by mean of language which make it inocherent of you do deny the value of language using cognitive psychology concepts. You trust words much more than you pretend to.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 7:32 am | Permalink

                No, it is behavior and not language that is predictive. Language is post hoc and epiphenomenal to behavior.

              • Posted April 13, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

                You don’t get my point.

                How did you learn about cognitive psychology? Reading some books? Language. Attending class? Language. Talking with researchers or participating to experiments? Language.
                How do you express the results of cognitive psychology? With words.
                How are they published? In academic journals, by writing plain english words.

                Now tell me that cognitive psychology proves that somehow language is an epiphenomenon. That’s simply inconsistent.

                Besides, talking about psychology, sorry to tell you that behaviorism (a philosophical doctrine, for your information) is a bit outdated.

  66. Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:03 am | Permalink

    I have several degrees in philosophy (but now work in computing) and have long held that science and philosophy have to be closer together than they are.

    There are, however, several reasons I say “no” to the question.

    One: the minor quibble that some branches of philosophy are normative in a way that makes them closer to technology than to science – for example, ethics.

    Two: The question presupposes a dividing line which in my view, i.e., *with* a science oriented philosophy, doesn’t in fact exist: it is thus as much true to say that philosophy is a science (or ought to be) as science is specific philosophy.

    Three: What does one do about non-science oriented philosophy, or worse, anti-science philosophy? These won’t go away any time soon, and they are quite influential – and a matter of degree, too. One can explicitly design a science oriented philosophy (Bunge), attempt to make a compatible one (Armstrong), gesture towards science (Putnam), be somewhat compatible in large parts – by omission (many contemporary philosophers), or be science-hostile to varying degrees (e.g. those who still adopt psychoneural dualism). Worse still, these categories can apply to the same thinker in various different ways. Popper, for example, is in with Armstrong, largely, in my view, with the exception of his philosophy of mind, which is in the last category.

  67. Schenck
    Posted April 12, 2012 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    If regular old philosophy is a questionable scientific stature, then is the philosophy of science, science? Can you do science without philosophy? Are we being philosophical in this thread or scientific?

    What about things like logical empiricism and positivism? To me, they seem like the branches of philosophy that /most/ tried to seem like science (in a star trek-y sort of way).

    And what about things like linguistics and Chompsky, are they philosophers or scientistsi?

    Also, why NOT exclude things like economics, or even most of sociology, from the realm of ‘science’? We often hear that a hallmark of science is that ‘it works’. Economics, as an operational science, doesn’t seem to work very well at all, even if it produces a lot of speculative science.

  68. nazani14
    Posted April 13, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    With philosophers like Thomas Nagel holding forth on sciences he has never studied, it’s small wonder that students are rejecting the discipline of philosophy. Nagel seems to unaware that there is a budding physical science of consciousness and mind.

  69. Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    The mother of philosophy and science both is the human intellect.Science is oriented in material proof,though the way things work at the most basic empirical level may not be determined,the effect is there for all to see.Physical Cause and effect.The influence of science and all other things and events of the universe on the human condition could be philosophy.Philosophy has always an abstract element unexplainable.NYC is science,A utopian NYC is a philosophy.A research paper is science,a metaphysical essay is philosophy.A nice poem,creative music can be scientific and philosophical both. The intellect shall appreciate.The need is to combine and mix and match,which seems to be light years away.As the original philosopher said with a long enough pole or rope we can move or tie the universe.Lets get there.

  70. Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on ///…..MAXCHELUR…..///.

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