Oy! Rebecca Goldstein versus Professor Ceiling Cat (Emeritus)

I am doubly aggrieved this morning, for even us battle-hardened website bosses can be hurt, especially when it’s by a friend. Or at least I thought philosopher Rebecca Goldstein was a friend, as our relations have always been amiable and I’ve admired her work. So I was hurt when I discovered yesterday, by accident, that she took after me big time for being a prime example of  a “philosophy-jeering scientist.” This was in a piece posted about a year ago at The Big Think, in which Jag Bhalla interviews Goldstein about the purview of philosophy. In the third bit of the interview, “What’s behind a science vs. philosophy fight?“, Goldstein levels some severe criticisms at scientists who diss philosophy, claiming that those scientists don’t even understand philosophy or what its task is. And I’m the prime example of such a jeerer. I’m a bit hurt that she never told me she published this, as it’s my own custom, when I criticize a friend in a piece of writing, to let them know I’ve done it. But let’s leave that aside and get to the arguments.

Now Rebecca does a very good job in explaining what philosophy is good for: she says it’s to “maximize coherence”. By that she means the logic and reason of philosophy is good for dispelling incoherent or inconsistent arguments—a method pioneered by Socrates and now given his name.  She also agrees that philosophy has nothing to say about the truth of the natural world, for that’s not its job.  But, she adds, it can contribute to our understanding of the real world by helping scientists ponder the implications of their theories, as they did when quantum mechanics was being formulated.

I agree with all that! In fact, I’ve said precisely that. My latest take on the value of philosophy, in a critical post about Bill Nye, says pretty much what Goldstein said. My words:

My own view is that philosophy is valuable in adjudicating questions about morality and politics, and has also contributed, though to a lesser degree, to the progress of science. Since philosophy specializes in clear thinking and logic, and examining arguments through “thought experiments,” it’s helped clarify our thinking about moral issues (i.e., the trolley problem, abortion, our duty to those less fortunate), political issues (viz., Mill’s On Liberty and The Subjection of Women), and religious issues (I’ve long maintained that Plato’s Euthyphro argument is one of the best contributions of philosophy to thinking about God).

What about science? Well, some philosophers like Dan Dennett and Phil Kitcher have applied their professional skills to discussions of evolution and sociobiology, and have made very real contributions to scientists’ thinking about those issues. Indeed, both of those men have a strong scientific mindset, a mindset sufficient to criticize scientific ideas in a useful way. Their contributions aren’t all that different from the Gedankenexperimentsmade by Einstein and Niels Bohr, for instance, in their epic battle about the meaning of quantum mechanics. Philosophy plays a substantial role in interpreting quantum mechanics and other issues in modern physics, whether or not physicists like Lawrence Krauss admit it (he’s a big detractor of philosophy). Nye doesn’t touch on any of this; it’s above his pay grade.

I will claim that philosophy by itself cannot tell us anything new about nature. It can help us do that using its powers of logic and analysis, but ultimately it is science—reasoned and testable observations of nature that produce provisional “truth”—that must tell us about the nature of the cosmos. But that’s not philosophy’s bailiwick, for the field involves ways of thinking about problems, not telling us what’s real. And it’s none the worse for that.

Now granted, this was in July 5, nearly a year after Rebecca’s post, but my position has been pretty much the same all along. And given that I expressed it in a small meeting that Rebecca and I went to a few years ago, she should know that (it’s also in Faith versus Fact, published two years ago.) And yes, there are some scientists who don’t seem to appreciate the value of any philosophy, for scientists or anyone else: these seem to include Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and it’s clear that I disagree with them. But in the Big Think article I’m touted as the Prime Miscreant among their ranks.

First comes a supposed demolition of my argument that philosophy, like math, is not a “way of knowing”. I’ve carefully defined what I meant by that, in Faith versus Fact and elsewhere, as “ways of knowing what’s true about the natural world and cosmos.” I’ve argued, for instance, that math tells us a kind of truth, but a truth about the consequences of its assumptions. Goldstein agrees with me, saying this

 Now whatever it is that philosophy is trying to do (and it’s notoriously difficult to make this clear) it isn’t trying to compete with the empirical sciences.  If it were, it would be just as deluded as the philosophy-jeerers say it is.

. . . Mathematics is a prime example of non-empirical knowledge that is, unassailably, knowledge.  But its aprioricity comes at a price—namely its truths are all necessarily true, which means they describes all possible worlds, and therefore don’t give us knowledge about our specific world, the way the sciences do. The sciences use mathematics to express their truths, but the truths themselves are discovered empirically.

Now what is a scientist “philosophy jeerer”? Goldstein explains:

And a good part of the reason why philosophy-jeerers presume that philosophy must be trying to compete with the physical sciences is that they just can’t imagine any useful intellectual work that doesn’t lead to knowledge as they know it, which is knowledge of physical reality achieved by way of the empirical sciences, with a methodology requiring that theories, no matter how abstract, ultimately be subjected to testing so that our wrong-headed intuitions can be corrected.

Whatever that is, it surely isn’t me, and doesn’t resemble anything I said.

And indeed, all I’ve claimed, when saying philosophy isn’t a “way of knowing,” though it’s very useful to ethicists, scientists, and the average person, is that philosophy can’t tell us what’s true about the cosmos. I was simply including philosophy on a list of things that people have claimed are “ways of knowing” that compete with science, and trying to clarify that, like literature, math, and religion, philosophy can’t tell us anything about what’s true in the natural universe.

But Goldstein apparently thinks I’m trying to say something deeper. Here’s part of her conversation with Bhalla:

JB: I’m reminded of David Sloan Wilson’s observation that “philosophy gave birth to the sciences and parental care is still required” and that “it is the job of philosophers to think clearly about concepts.” That’s a yawning chasm from biologist Jerry Coyne’s response to Blachowicz—“Neither philosophy nor poetry are ‘ways of knowing’… it’s not the business of either to find out truth.” And I’m particularly interested in philosophy’s practice of rigorous non-numeric logic. The “highly quantified” thinking that Blachowicz says scientists typically rely on, doesn’t seem to capture all useful truths (they’re not all in “the numbers”). And hard though it may be, can you say more about what philosophers seek to do?

RNG: Well, before going on to say what it is that philosophy does, the kind of intellectual work it performs, I’d like to spend a bit of time with Coyne’s statement, because it so beautifully demonstrates what philosophy-jeering scientists don’t get. I’m surprised that Coyne, who understands his own field, evolutionary biology, so well and gets quite annoyed when outsiders lodge non-sophisticated objections against evolution, would make such a non-sophisticated statement about another field. I suspect it was made in haste, before he’d thought through the implications.

JB: Please, do point out Coyne’s hasty misstep.

RNG: Coyne’s statement would be absolutely correct if it were understood to read: “It’s not the business of either [philosophy or poetry] to find out truths about physical reality.” Coyne would be on safe ground there, damnably safe, because that statement isn’t only true but trivially true. It’s about as informative as saying that it’s not the business of firefighters, qua firefighters, to choreograph ballets (especially with their full gear and boots on).  [JAC: my emphasis]. But if you don’t understand Coyne’s statement to be asserting this trivially true proposition, then what you have is a proposition that’s not only false but self-falsifying, because it is itself a philosophical claim. So if it’s true, then it’s false, which is just about as false as you can get.  Coyne has demonstrated, in only a couple of sentences, the philosophy-jeerer’s tendency to bumble his way into philosophy without realizing it.  And this is because of the difficulty in making clear what it is that philosophy does.

JB: So philosophers know they’re not doing science, but some vocal scientists don’t know they’re doing philosophy! And that brings us back to what it is that philosophy does.

RNG: Perhaps the most effective way to try to say what philosophy does, and how it makes headway, is to simply point to an example of philosophical work.  And we have an example close to hand, because what I was just doing, in going to work on Coyne’s statement, was a paradigmatic philosophical exercise: closely analyzing what a proposition could mean, distinguishing various possible meanings, each with its own corresponding truth-conditions, and then showing that, under the analysis, the proposition collapses into incoherence.

This is what bothers me. First, I am by no means, nor have ever been, a “philosophy jeering scientist.” Second the statement that I made is indeed the one in bold that Goldstein considers “trivially true.” Well, perhaps it is to a practicing philosopher like her, but not to the general public, who thinks that science is only one “way of knowing” what’s true about the universe, and that philosophy, math, literature, and religion are others. Perhaps it’s trivially true to Goldstein, but I think needs “unpacking” for the layperson.

The rest of her argument I don’t quite understand, and perhaps readers can explain it to me—as well as telling me how Goldstein has construed my “trivially true” statement in a new and different way that falsifies it. If I was indeed doing philosophy, and my statement was “true and trivially true”, what’s the beef?

So my second tsouris comes from being misunderstood. Yes, a trained philosopher could parse and interpret my statement so that it “collapses into incoherence,” but I’m not responsible for that parsing.

Enough. Perhaps I seem defensive, but so does Rebecca.  The rest of what she says is, as usual, very good, and I’ll quote her here on the value of philosophy:

The kind of progress philosophy is after isn’t the same as the progress sought by the empirical sciences, namely to discover the nature of physical reality.  And it isn’t the same as the progress sought by mathematics, which aims to discover conceptual truths about abstract structures. Rather, it’s a kind of progress that has to do with us, the complicated reason-giving creatures that we are. Philosophy is trying to maximize our coherence. We are creatures who happily coexist with many inconsistencies, and it’s the business of philosophy to make that coexistence a less happy one.  Philosophers pay careful attention to what’s being asserted, separating out different possible meanings with their associated truth conditions, forcing hidden premises out into the open and probing the arguments and intuitions behind them, laying out the range of possibilities revealed when you’re forced to justify your inferences, which often reveal new possibilities that are worth pursuing in their own right. And sometimes these possibilities feed new scientific research (as philosophical analysis opened the way for interpretations of quantum mechanics beyond the “Copenhagen interpretation” of Niels Bohr) or even mathematical research (the incompleteness theorems of Kurt Gödel are a good example) or they help us to make moral progress, as when our general ethical intuitions concerning the rights and dignity of human beings were philosophically demonstrated to be incompatible with, say, the practices of slavery. Maximizing coherence has been the job description of philosophy ever since Socrates wandered the agora making a general nuisance of himself by subjecting his fellow citizens to the kind of interrogation that revealed their inconsistencies and incoherencies. It’s not surprising that the reductio-ad-absurdum was the form of argument to which Socrates most frequently resorted, and it’s distinctively of that type of reasoning that you call non-numeric logic.  And it’s useful intellectual work to do, this attempt to maximize our coherence, at least if you value truth, as the philosophy-jeerers so clearly do.



  1. Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    The rest of her argument I don’t quite understand, and perhaps readers can explain it to me …

    She’s claiming that the statement she attributes to you (that philosophy is not a way of knowing) is a philosophical one and not a scientific one. Therefore if it is true, then it is itself an example of a philosophical statement that contains knowledge, and therefore it contradicts itself.

    I always think that this sort of rigid demarcation between philosophy and science, and hence this sort of gotcha argument, is silly. “Philosophy” is a style of clear thinking. But science also uses the same clear thinking.

    What “ways of knowing” there are is not something we know a priori, and not something we know from philosophy, it’s something we know from science, essentially from finding out what works.

    Thus science itself is a product of science (= a product of the process of finding out what works).

    • rickflick
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      It’s like saying – I use reason and logic and you use reason and logic, so you can’t criticize my use of reason and logic because you’ll be criticizing you’re own reason and logic.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Or the way I put it – the two are not disjoint if one’s philosophy is science friendly. Philosophy just becomes the most hypergeneral scientific and technological fields. The latter includes ethics and aesthetics, for example, as well as normative epistemology.

      As I could have said on an earlier thread: *yes* science can explain why it works, with a minimum of ad hoc hypotheses. Other non-scientific epistemologies and metaphysics cannot.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      You explained that really well and really clearly.

      I hope Rebecca can give us an Annie Hall moment and come here to say what she meant in context with the whole thing with referring to Jerry.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Very astute.

      Like religious support of history, philosophical methods like rational reasoning were training wheels for science. I like to think that science has given that value back to society at large, and that religious and philosophers should let go.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        + 1

    • Mohammad Mohtaj
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:30 am | Permalink

      This appears to be a misunderstanding on the part of Goldstein. She takes JB’s mischaracterization of Coyne at face value and runs with that. That is her first mistake. The second mistake is that she wants to apply the word “knowledge” to mathematics and logic (both part of philosophy). I would not call mathematical truths a “knowledge”. I would call it a theorem or a deduction or even a truth. But not a fact or knowledge.

      The short of it is that science deals with the empirical while philosophy deals with the rational. Math and logic are rationalistic “sciences” and not empirical, so they are technically not a science. Let’s call them philosophical science to make both sides happy.

      Does non-mathematical philosophy contribute to science? I think it does. The very fact that the scientific method has been described in philosophical language says a lot about philosophy’s contributions, not to the discovery of knowledge, but to the understanding of discovered knowledge and to its contribution to the process of discovery itself.

      • Mohammad Mohtaj
        Posted July 15, 2017 at 2:55 am | Permalink

        Also the topic of “philosophy of science” is a huge contribution by philosophy to enlightenment and to science as it sees itself.

  2. Xuuths
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Perhaps she should instruct all the many other philosophy majors, people with philosophy degrees, etc. who keep trying to imply (or actually say) that Philosophy does have something to say about physical reality. They should be introduced to this “trivially true” concept that keeps eluding them.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink


    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I regularly encounter philosophers who claim philosophy has the power “to tell us what’s true about the cosmos.”

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        Really? What is?

        • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          What is true about the cosmos is that it can be understood only through science!


    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, your observation is extremely significant evidence that philosophy, as an academic discipline, is woefully undisciplined.

      If there’s a raging philosophical argument amongst philosophers over whether or not philosophy can, does, or should have anything to say about reality…

      …somebody remind me, again, who let them in the room and why?

      If philosophy is simply an entertaining form of fiction, great. I’m a great fan of fiction in all forms — opera, movies, novels, and so on. And anybody who’s seen Verdi’s Macbeth knows (or should know) that it simultaneously has no bearing on reality whatsoever but can also be as instructive as it’s entertaining.

      But Rebecca’s nonsense about philosophy and Quantum Mechanics is every bit as absurd as suggesting that Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake offers vital insight into ornithology.



      • Tom
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        Philosophers like everybody else are trying to find a place in the modern world.
        Each time science manages to shed light on one of natures “mysteries” a little bit of philosophy dies.
        Just how long philosophy can continue is more or less the same question as to how long religion can continue since at root both are short on evidence and mainly speculation dressed up.

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          The good philosophers — and I keep picking on Daniel Dennett for a reason — have found their place.

          They immerse themselves in the down-and-dirty details as best they can, and then do high-level synthesis and meta-analysis based on the observations that they subsequently compare with the observations. Scientists, but specializing in the “How do we make sense of it?” end rather than the (famously put) “stamp collecting” end.

          Or, like mathematicians, they work on model-making techniques without worrying too much how well the models match reality. Others can then come to them with samples of reality and use their model-making expertise to try to come up with a good model of reality.

          I’ll even grant that a plurality, maybe even a majority of those who describe themselves as philosophers do such.

          Thing is…a plurality if not a majority of theologians devote their efforts to building moral and successful societies, for example. That does nothing to validate theology as a field of study, any more than philosophers being productive validates philosophy.




          • Tom
            Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

            Wasn’t it Luis Alvarez that told his geologist son that geology was just stamp collecting?
            His son then went on to uncover one of the most important finds in the history of science then dad changed his mind and joined in the fun.

            • Diane G.
              Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

              I had not heard that. Great anecdote!

    • Zach
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      They must be smote with Newton’s Flaming Laser Sword!

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

        As I understand it Sagan placed Plato among the mystics, that ruined early greek empiricism. [Philosophy has a lot to answer for.]

        Rather amusing to read an analysis that places the Return of The Scientists as smiting Plato with a Flaming Laser Sword!

        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Plato was a gonk.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

        Hopefully a purple one!

  3. busterggi
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Philosophy is like masturbation – everyone does it without any need for teaching though how well is another matter.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      What, even the Pope? [philosophy…!]

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        JP II was a philosopher by training. His entries (under his birth name KW) in the Blackwell Companion to Ethics are … interesting, to say the least.

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Golly, I was going to say something very similar except I was going to try and throw in pornography.

      I was thinking, most of these comments sections and most of the musings are philosophy, of sorts.

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

        That’s why I used to try to make a case for “small-p” vs. “capital-P” philosophy. The former is what we do by nature (and nurture) and all-in-all I think most humans are fairly successful at it. The latter is done in the rarefied Ivory Towers where they have to make up whole new vocabularies to so that it sounds like they’re doing something important.

  4. Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Quoting Goldstein:

    Mathematics is a prime example of non-empirical knowledge that is, unassailably, knowledge. But its aprioricity comes at a price—namely its truths are all necessarily true, which means they describes all possible worlds, …

    This is wrong. We don’t know mathematical axioms a priori. What mathematicians do is *adopt* them.

    Why do mathematicians adopt those particular axioms? Mostly because they are found to be good models of reality, they are real-world true.

    Further, it is not the case that mathematical axioms “describe all possible worlds”, since it’s possible to envisage worlds with different axioms.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Leibniz and Kripke have a lot to answer for!

      (re: possible worlds)

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        My monads are moaning.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Leibniz does make better cookies than Newton.

        • Jonathan Wallace
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:16 am | Permalink


    • Xuuths
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      Exactly. The great Indian mathematician and autodidact Ramanujan was convinced of the accuracy of all of his work — only to have other mathematicians demonstrate to him that some of them were wrong when proofs were attempted, or when real figures were used.

      Brilliant human, indeed. Amazing mathematician, beyond question. But it took working out the proofs, and checking with actual numbers to determine whether the formulas were accurate or not. Just thinking about them wasn’t enough.

  5. Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I think I disagree with your interpretation and characterization of Goldstein’s comments. I have not read the whole exchange, and am only basing this on the excerpts provided. You say that she “took after me big time,” but she didn’t bring you up, Jag Bhalla did. And she didn’t say anything about you personally, she only attacked the specific comment that JB mentioned. She didn’t call you a “philosophy-jeering scientist,” she just used the quote provided as an example of something that “demonstrates what philosophy-jeering scientists don’t get.” Perhaps I’m being too generous, but I think she was careful to specifically go after that particular comment and not you personally.

    Finally, I think in the end she is saying that since you are doing philosophy when you say “philosophy is not a way of knowing,” you are, in effect, saying “I have used philosophy to determine that it is true that philosophy cannot determine what is true.” That is obviously self-refuting and ridiculous. If you extend your statement to “philosophy is not a way of knowing about the natural world,” then you are saying “philosophy is not synonymous with science.” That is what she says is “trivially true.” I think the big difference here is that she seems to take it for granted that science is the only valid way of knowing what is true about the natural world, whereas you know from experience that this cannot be taken for granted.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I agree. Goldstein was handed a statement to analyze, so she analyzed it (while expressing skepticism about Bhalla’s characterization of you as a philosophy-jeerer).

      • loren russell
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Are you referring to something introduced upstream in this interview? RG seems to embrace the pejorative “philosophy jeering” and seems to agree that PCC’s remarks about “knowing” are entirely deserving of the pejorative. [eg, I’d like to spend a bit of time with Coyne’s statement, because it so beautifully demonstrates what philosophy-jeering scientists don’t get..]

        That’s pretty personal, and if I made such a remark about someone I had any relationship with, the right thing would be at least a “head’s up”… embarrassing if I didn’t. Perhaps she doesn’t see PCC as a friend/colleague as he apparently accepts her?

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          She agrees that the remark attributed to Jerry would, taken at face value, be an example of philosophy-jeering.

          But note that she didn’t say “I’m not surprised to hear a philosophy-jeerer like Coyne say something like that.” What she said is that she is surprised if it turns out he actually said that. That suggests she holds Jerry in fairly high regard.

          Personally, when I say dumb stuff, I’d much rather my friends tell me how surprised they are than how unsurprised they are.

          • Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

            I’m surprised you’d write that.

            (Oy — sorry! Bad fingers, bad fingers. Stop typing like that!)



    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      I’m surprised that Coyne, who understands his own field, evolutionary biology, so well and gets quite annoyed when outsiders lodge non-sophisticated objections against evolution, would make such a non-sophisticated statement about another field.

      I think that’s saying something personal about JAC.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I too think Goldstein got ambushed by the interviewer. He told her what Jerry said and asked her to respond to that. From her pov she too may have been hurt to discover that a friend was supposedly saying such a thing. I think the problem here is the person doing the interview.

      If I was Jerry I would have been hurt coming across this too. However, it would be hard for Goldstein to know he hadn’t said what the interviewer said he had, or that the comment was out of context.

    • bencbt
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

      I read it that way too, but you explicated the argument so clearly.

      • bencbt
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

        This was intended to support pacopicopiedra’s excellent analysis. I haven’t mastered wordpress.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          It does (I think–sometimes I can’t really tell which indentation goes with which remark). One of the drawbacks of the indentation format, though overall I like it.

          (Sometimes when I realize my reply is going to end up miles below the original comment I will quote the first sentence or so of it, just to make the connection. But I usually forget to!)

          • bencbt
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the tip. I vaguely knew that, but don’t comment very often, so haven’t built good habits.

  6. Phil
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I think it’s time or philosophers to be as critical of religious philosophy as they are of scientists like Krauss who reject that.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      “religious philosophy”??? – wash your mouth out!

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      I believe John Loftus said something about this in a book…

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Actually Goldstein has a nice fictional book which is specifically critical of religion and god in particular: 36 Reasons for the Existence of God.

    • phil
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

      Grayling is a strong supporter of science and a critic (at least occasional) of religion. He trashed Fuller’s book supporting intelligent design.

  7. GBJames
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink


  8. Kevin
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Goldstein might want to familiarize herself with years worth of posting from PCC(E) with regard to philosophically interesting topics. And then compare those postings with hot-topics in philosophy in literature and other bl*gs.

  9. Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Hmmm… I am not sure philosophy tells me anything.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

      Isn’t it a contradiction? You’re making a philosophical statement so it is self falsifying. No, ignore what I just said.

  10. Richard Bond
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    And sometimes these possibilities feed new scientific research (as philosophical analysis opened the way for interpretations of quantum mechanics beyond the “Copenhagen interpretation” of Niels Bohr)…

    Rubbish, unless she meanings philosophical musings by professional physicists. Actually, philosophy per sehas never said anything interesting about quantum mechanics (or relativity, come to that). Immanuel Kant, in his attempt to “purify” (his term) metaphysics defined it as reaching synthetic truth from a priori propositions: see his Critique of Pure Reason. See particularly chapter two, in which his three supposedly supportive examples are seriously flawed. It might have worked centuries ago, but physics since, say, Maxwell . depends entirely on experiment and mathematics. Philosophers who try and get into this field, like William Lane Craig, are either suffering from physics envy, or are religious, or are both.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      Note to self: do not post while (a) annoyed, or (b) after a couple of glasses of wine after working in my garden. I hope that, nevertheless, my meaning is clear.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        I drink therefore I am.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Do you regard the *refutation* of the subjectivist misinterpretations of QM to be uninteresting? Or the clarification of the axioms necessary to get the Bell inequalities? Or the (necessary, in light of the first item) repeated pointing out that “realism” was repurposed with great danger?

      Just as there has been physics since Bohr and Einstein, there has been philosophy (or hypergeneral science if you prefer) since Kant which is not provably wrong (like WLC).

      • Richard Bond
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 5:00 am | Permalink

        “No” to all three, which is why I deliberately referred to “philosophical musings by professional physicists”.

        • Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          Well, as it happens a lot of those were done by philosophers (by academic affiliation) trained as physicists, yes. Bunge (who did 1 and 3, for example) was a physicist by training but he studied physics *because* of philosophy. (Just like I studied computing partially because of philosophy.)

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

            Because you needed something empirical to get the philosophy right?

            • Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

              I’d say ‘factual’, (as opposed to formal), but more or less yes.

              In fact, when I first started at McGill, undergraduate philosophy majors (before they revamped faculty of arts regulations) were required to 12 credits in another field. (Honours students were exempt.) Now *all* arts students not in an honours program have to do at least a major/minor combo.

              • Diane G.
                Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

                Good for McGill. 🙂

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                I’m not sure what the requirements are now but all first year Humanities students at McMaster whether in honours or not, had to take a full year’s worth of social science (I did anthropology) and all honours English students (or those intending to go into the program) had to take a second language beyond year 1 (which could mean two full years of a second language or 1 year of a second year – I did second year German – don’t get me started on what happened with French).

                I probably would have done my undergrad work in anthropology if it weren’t for the stupid stats requirement as I had sworn off taking anymore math after my horrid experiences throughout my life.

    • phil
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      “Philosophers … like William Lane Craig”

      William Lane Craig? A philosopher? And all this time I was thinking he was a buffoon.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

        A sophisticated buffoon.

  11. Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    My take is that you were unfairly lumped together with others who have made disparaging comments about philosophy. Bhalla offered up an out of context quote and somehow that is the one that got the most mileage.

    I think one thing missing from the discussion about philosophy-jeering scientists is that some of them are reacting to science-jeering philosophers. There are good philosophers of science out there, but there are also many who seem to have a chip on their shoulder and want to take the scientists down a notch.

    Some philosophers of science can be rather arrogant and condescending when they tell scientists that they don’t really understand the big picture of how science works and then proceed to tell them how science actually works. It can be a little infuriating when an outsider explains to you your life’s work and on occasion much more so if they get something important wrong and then expect you to defer to their “expertise”.

    Separately, I didn’t care for the David Sloane Wilson quote “philosophy gave birth to the sciences and parental care is still required”. It isn’t exactly wrong, but it isn’t quite right either. It would also be valid to see science born as a schism from philosophy. What made science science was that they started doing things differently from the philosophers that came before even though it is true that there were philosophical developments that helped it get started.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      + several million.

  12. darrelle
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Very interesting because . . .

    Back during the Moving Naturalism Forward meeting something that was very noticeable to me was a tension, at certain times, between you, Jerry, and the philosophers in the group. Nothing that seemed disrespectful on anyone’s part (well, maybe Massimo Pigliucci once or twice, a little bit)and nothing contradictory to anything else I’ve heard (read) you say about philosophy, including in this article. I don’t remember details off-hand but I clearly remember my impressions. I might make time to go back and watch those videos again.

    I think Rebecca has a legitimate gripe in general, but she also seems, here at least, to be slightly trigger happy. It looks like she’s guilty of taking you out of context. Perhaps she’s just had enough of philosophy dissing scientists.

    I agree completely with you that she explains what philosophy is for very well. That’s about the best I’ve seen it explained. I do understand people rolling their eyes a bit about philosophy because there is a lot of bad examples that warrant eye rolling, but I disagree with those who dismiss philosophy as good-for-nothing navel gazing. It’s like art in that most art ranges from pure dreck to some level of adequate construct of already well established techniques and themes. But great new art is a very rare thing. And that is enough for it to be a very worthwhile endeavor.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      It wasn’t Goldstein who took Jerry out of context; it was Bhalla. From Goldstein’s reaction, this seems to be the first she’s hearing of this statement of Jerry’s. She’s just going with what Bhalla is telling her.

      • darrelle
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        I disagree. I concede that Rebecca may not have intended for her analysis to be aimed at Jerry personally, that it is possible she changed tracks from responding to Jerry’s quoted statement personally to a general “if we take this statement on its own at face value” track and that change just didn’t come across clearly.

        But generally speaking, accepting a quote from someone and going with it doesn’t absolve you from all responsibility for taking that quote out of context. Especially so if you know the quoted person and have talked with them before on issues closely related to the quote.

        Perhaps “quoted out of context” isn’t precisely accurate so let me change it to “accepting an out of context quote at face value.” Once you’ve done that and then construct an argument or criticism based on that, it doesn’t seem significantly different to me from quoting out of context. Before going with it you could check the context. You could ask for context from your source. You could clarify, “if the quote means this, then . . .”

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          She did clarify in exactly that way when she said “But if you don’t understand Coyne’s statement to be asserting this trivially true proposition…”

          • darrelle
            Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

            “Coyne has demonstrated, in only a couple of sentences, the philosophy-jeerer’s tendency to bumble his way into philosophy without realizing it.”

            I think we just disagree here. You, perhaps correctly I concede, seem to interpret the written exchange as favorably as possible. I’d say too favorably, unless you are privy to something that the average reader isn’t. I really have no conscious bias here but your interpretation seems unlikely to me.

            Actually I do have a bit of a bias. If I didn’t have some familiarity with Rebecca I’d be much more sure that she was intentionally categorizing Jerry as a philosophy-jeering scientist.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

              Fair enough, but let’s be clear that what Goldstein stands accused of here is interpreting Jerry unfavorably. If we’re going to demand that she read him more favorably, it seems to me we’re obliged to extend her the same courtesy.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      The “tension” I recall is that several of us (I won’t name names) got exasperated as the philosophers seemed to dominate the discussion by talking about the “meaning of meaning”, which seemed nonproductive. But I don’t recall ever saying that philosophy was a waste of time!

      • darrelle
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that jives with my inadequate memories.

        That meeting was really interesting. In my top 5, right up there with, for example, the Beyond Belief meetings. A bit of tension can be a good thing!

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      If philosophy only was presented as art, or at least as inspiring hypotheses which I long thought was its aspiration. Then it would have general use.

      But no. Now it has retreated into a superfluous gap of “maximizing coherence”, which is about as useful as “minimizing hypotheses”. Never mind that science excel in doing those when needed.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      “But great new art is a very rare thing.”

      Not to mention highly subjective.

  13. Liz
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    “The rest of her argument I don’t quite understand, and perhaps readers can explain it to me—as well as telling me how Goldstein has construed my “trivially true” statement in a new and different way that falsifies it. If I was indeed doing philosophy, and my statement was “true and trivially true”, what’s the beef?”

    It doesn’t sound like the issue is with you specifically. It sounds like Bhalla brought it up and Goldstein was responding to it. Goldstein may have been grouping you with other scientists who have had harsher words than you had on the subject. I thought you put it nicely and appreciate the clarification.

  14. Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think there is any substantive difference in understanding between you and Goldstein, just some miscommunication. Your comment about philosophy and poetry not being ways of knowing, while not jeering, is provocative. Especially to philosophers who spend their careers arguing about what it even means to say we know something.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Understanding what “ways of knowing” means or is taken to mean seems to be at the crux.


      • Xuuths
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        And clearly does not appear to have a consensus in the Philosophy community.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          There’s jeerable philosophy and non-jeerable philosophy – but nobody knows which bits are which because then they would be doing philosophy which can be divided into…

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      “Especially to philosophers who spend their careers arguing about what it even means to say we know something.”

      And people get paid for that…SMH

  15. Patrick Foley
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Rebecca Goldstein has latched onto a concept, the ‘philosophy jeerer’, and needs an example. You stepped into that role, probably, not so much because you fit it perfectly, but because of your argumentative style.

    Now you should invent a concept, the ‘philosopher solipsist’ or something, which she may fall into since she seems to miss the fact that part of normal science is the search for consistent theories. Or in other words, coherence is at the basis of science already, and only a ‘philosophical solipsist’ would imagine that only philosophers are careful about coherence.
    Disclaimer: I majored in philosophy for a while as an undergraduate, but am mainly a scientist. I also have enjoyed a Goldstein’s novel and her Spinoza book.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      I’ve used the term Sophisticated Philosopher before, nailing bigger and bigger words together to form a plank edging out over the abyss (which gazes into them).

      • Diane G.
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        🙂 Very good!

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      ” ‘philosopher solipsist’ ”


  16. Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    More Ben-bait!


    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      Alas, caught me (above) in a momentarily kitten-deprived state, as she napped. She’s eating now…and Baihu is hungry but still not comfortable eating in Vega’s presence. So I might be back below the radar again….


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Haha. This is always the bait I use when hunting for Bens.

      • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Ultimate Ben-bait: Trolley problem; a scientist on one track, five dyed-in-the-wool philosophers on the other …


        • Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink




          • Dale Franzwa
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:26 am | Permalink

            Rebecca went after the wrong person. Jerry isn’t the “philosophy jeerer”, Ben is. She should go after him. On the other hand, Ben and Jerry make good ice cream for which we all scream. . .

        • phil
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:48 am | Permalink

          Is that like the joke “what do you call a bus load of lawyers going over a cliff with one empty seat?”

          • phil
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:50 am | Permalink

            “what do you call a bus load of lawyers, with one empty seat, going over a cliff?”

  17. Posted July 12, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink


  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    One minor glitch in Rebecca Goldstein’s metaphor is that on at least one occasion,
    firefighters HAVE choreographed a ballet(!!!), or at least a parody of one (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”).

    Of course, in some eyes, this might be strong evidence that RG is correct that firefighters should not be choreographing ballets.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

      Now that was fun!

      • phil
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:51 am | Permalink

        I’ve already seen more than I want to, and I haven’t hit Play.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

          Aw, be brave! 🙂

  19. peepuk
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    In philosophy anything goes, as Paul Feyerabend once discovered (although he thought he had found a stick to beat science). Luckily we have science to constrain all the pretentious philosophical nonsense.

    At least a little bit.

    Don’t see why we should take philosophy serious; the only use I see is to defend science and reason; in general it’s a total waste of time.

    If all the philosophers died at this moment it would hardly be noticeable in a negative way, for science or our future.

    “philosophy-jeering scientist”

    I’m guilty 🙂

  20. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Oh no, that’s too bad that Rebecca Goldstein misunderstood you are misinterpreted your intent as I too thought you were clear on where you stand and I have often argued (vs. Ben!) here in what I think is a parallel position to yours with what philosophy is and is not and Rebecca Goldstein seems to agree with that.

    I also agree that this should be spelled out to the layperson because I don’t think they do understand what philosophy aims to do and why it’s important and it’s especially important for a scientist to spell this out to other scientists (like NdT & Krauss).

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      (Kitten and cat are fed and sleeping. Whew!)

      I think the summarized version of our differences…would be that I’m categorizing science and philosophy in accordance with the definitions of the terms, and you and Jerry are categorizing them based on the labels conventionally assigned to the activities.

      Ethics is the perfect example. For me, it’s a perfect fit for the definitions of broadly-construed science as Jerry and I use the term, so I consider it science. You see the “philosophy” sign over the department hallway where the classes are taught and consider it philosophy.

      Another example would be metaphysics, especially with respect to Quantum Mechanics as Rebecca used as quoted above by Jerry. Philosophy is completely and utterly useless when it comes to physics. We’re not going to settle the question of Many-Worlds or hidden variables or whatever just by thinking about it. Indeed, we’re not even going to know that there’s something to think about in the first place without doing the observations. And, unsurprisingly, the physicists making progress on QM cite physics research, not philosophy papers.

      I think we can agree that metaphysics is pure philosophy and that it’s worthless mental masturbation.

      Ethicists have closed the empirical loop and do good science. Quantum mechanics have very tightly closed the loop and do superlative science. People like Daniel Dennett who wear hats with “philosopher” imprinted on them close the empirical loop and do good science. But lots of philosophers don’t close the loop…and what they do is still philosophy, but isn’t science, and is generally worthless.




      • Diane G.
        Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

        + 1 from the usual source…

      • Samedi
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        Can you explain why you think ethics is an empirical science? For me that is a surprising claim. What, for example, is the real-world object that ethicists study? What are its measurable attributes?

        • darrelle
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

          What are the real world objects of any branch of study of animal behaviors? The animals and their environment. In the case of ethics, humans. You look at real data on human behavior relevant to the ethical issue you are considering, formulate an explanation, formulate rules or methods based on your hypothetical explanation and what you have decided is the more desirable outcome, wait for new data to be generated and evaluate it to determine whether or not the new rules or methods cause the changes you intended.

          In short, use appropriate philosophical methods where relevant but base your philosophy on scientifically generated data and test your ideas against reality (science).

          It really seems so damn simple. I can’t for the life of me understand why smart people get bent out of shape when someone mentions science in the context of ethics. Turf defense is the only thing I can come with.

          I am really exasperated by the typical “you can’t get an ought from an is” and similar arguments. Even if that were assumed to always be true in every case, that would not in the slightest bit change the obvious fact that any ideas about ethics need to be based on verifiable facts about human behavior and that any policies derived from those ideas need to be empirically tested for efficacy or else the probability of you coming up with anything accurate or useful is no better than chance.

          • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            darrelle’s response is perfect.

            I’d just add…”ought from is” is a distraction. The real question is “should from want.” If you want to live a long, productive, comfortable life, the optimum strategy is to be a peacefully contributing member of a prosperous society, and so you should do all you can to be one.

            You might want something perverse, of course, in which case your “shoulds” are going to be equally perverse. But such perversions don’t tend to be all that evolutionarily successful in the long run — see Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels.

            Further, even if your wants are perverse…chances are superlative you’re going to have some other more-important wants that aren’t perverse. Such as, you might want to steal and rape and murder…but you probably want even more to die peacefully in your sleep of old age surrounded by your loving family; such a want isn’t compatible with the marauder wants.




            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

              Careful Ben, you’re starting to sound like a philosopher. 😝

              • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                Hey! Dem’s fightin’ words!

                …but, of course, the punchline is that you can observe yourself to determine what you want, which is science. And you can observe the results of various strategies, which is also science.



            • Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

              That’s a good philosophy …


              • Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

                I’m sure it’s a good theology, too. Probably a good horoscope, come to think of it.

                …but how do you know that it’s good philosophy / theology / astrology?

                By testing it scientifically, of course….



              • Diane G.
                Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:10 am | Permalink

                Meh, small-p philosophy is fine with me–describes something most of us do naturally and is characterized by being explainable. It’s the capital-P academic obscurantists who’re the problem. Kind of like theory, Theory (shorthand for common use, scientific use), only the relative importance shifts to the capital side in that case there. Semantics, yet again!

            • darrelle
              Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

              Thank you Ben.

              I haven’t yet read Better Angels, only excerpts. I see it coming up often in many different places these days, so I think I’ll move it to the top of the reading list.

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

            Hear, hear! Very well said, Darrelle.

            I just found myself posting something slightly similar in the Peter Singer thread, attempting to differentiate people who reason from data with the head-of-a-pin crowd. (Or fatman and trolley crowd.)

          • Samedi
            Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:54 am | Permalink

            Of course studying human behavior counts as science. No argument there. But when you say “what you have decided is the more desirable outcome”, you have left the realm of science and entered into the realm of personal value judgement. Sure, once you have selected a desirable outcome you can empirically test the means for achieving it. But you cannot empirically determine what is desirable or not.

            As for exasperation, I don’t understand why people continue to look for some outside factor to make their personal value judgements “objective”. People have traditionally used God to objectify their beliefs but now I’m seeing people use “objective moral facts” or in your case “scientific ethics” to do the same.

            • darrelle
              Posted July 14, 2017 at 8:33 am | Permalink

              I didn’t leave the door open, I specifically stated it. You may want to read what I wrote with fewer assumptions about what someone who thinks science is a valid tool for ethics thinks.

              I don’t have a problem with Philosophy in my ethics, but you seem to have a problem with science in your ethics. I could be wrong about that, but your first comment did read that way and your second comment here does also. This isn’t an either or, keep your peanut butter out of my chocolate. But many philosophers act as if it where and immediately become belligerently defensive when someone starts arguing that science should be used more in ethics. As if someone is trying to take their property away from them. That’s the wrong way to look at it. A better way to look at it is that they are being shown a tool they haven’t considered using before that can help them do their thing even better than they have before.

              I don’t understand why anyone thinks that taking the most well validated data available about every aspect of the context of an ethical issue into consideration when making personal value judgments is a bad thing. Actually, I doubt anybody actually does exclude such considerations when making personal value judgments. I think your likening doing so to using a god to objectify beliefs is not only fallacious but likely intended as an insult. In any case, no, using science for doing ethics is not even remotely like using a god to objectify your ethical beliefs.

              • Samedi
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, my statement was not intended as an insult. Let me restate it without the inflammatory speculation about motivation. I’m in favor of more science, not less. The question for me is how is it useful in ethics? Simply put, my view is that science is useful for studying means but has nothing to say about ends.

                Also, I completely agree with you about collecting data about the context. I don’t see either how that would be a bad thing.

            • Posted July 17, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

              But you cannot empirically determine what is desirable or not.

              Hunh? What on Earth should make you think that?

              Here’s a trivial counterexample. Offer passersby in downtown Phoenix this afternoon a choice between a chilled bottle of drinking water and a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Which do you think they’ll prefer? Do you think you’d have any trouble empirically determining other desires?

              Sure, the weighting can get subtle and it can vary with circumstances. But how’s that different from anything else we measure? Will you make more profit by offering a $0.10 sale on bananas or charging $0.05 more for strawberries — and does it make a difference if you’re displaying them side-by-side? Maybe do both, and include a free recipe booklet that uses strawberries at a 2:1 ratio with bananas?




              • Samedi
                Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps we are talking past each other. Your examples are tangential to my point which was focused on whether or not science is a valid method for identifying “true” ethical preferences (whatever that might mean).

                Yes, you can measure the choices people make but what does that information do for you in the ethical sense? If 99% of people choose chilled wine is it therefore the “ethical” choice? My point simply is that no amount of measurement will allow you to say that someone ought to do something or should believe something.

                Ethics is better placed under rhetoric than science. We cannot prove empirically that someone else’s preference is factually wrong but we can try to persuade them to hold a different one.

              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

                If you want this to be a matter of ethics, how ’bout a study comparing, for example, the preferred living conditions for prisoners? A truly enlightening study would include conditions for the worst of the worst through petty crimes, and for random strangers through close family to the subjects themselves.

                If you were convicted, rightly or worngly, of serial rape and mass murder, what sort of prison cell would you personally prefer to live in for the rest of your life? How would that differ from the prison cell you’d prefer your child to be put in, or from the cell you’d prefer Charles Manson be put in? How would those preferences change for a first-time no-accident drunk driving conviction? Possession of recreational amounts of marijuana? Again, all post-conviction (and appeal), whether or not the conviction matched reality.

                If you don’t think that’s an ethical and / or moral matter, or that philosophy is better suited to answering it than science…then we really are typing past each other.




              • Samedi
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

                “how ’bout a study comparing, for example, the preferred living conditions for prisoners?”

                OK, let’s consider that. So, following common practice in the social sciences you develop a survey to document people’s views on the subject, their preferences. Then you select a random sample of people to complete the survey. Once you have the survey data you can apply a variety of statistical tools to find possible correlations, e.g. between income level and preference. As a result you now have some possibly interesting data about people’s preferences for prisoner living conditions. This is the type of study psychologists, sociologists, and criminologist routinely conduct.

                The question is, what is the ethical import of this data? After your study you may have a better understanding of people’s views on the subject but how does this data help you determine what the “correct” view is? The answer is simply that it can’t. There is no statistical tool that is going to transform your empirically gathered data into a “should”. Hence ethicists cannot use empirical methods to determine the “correct” preference, and since the empirical method is not applicable ethicists are not scientists.

                One of my favorite quotes from Feynman is, “If it disagrees with experiment, it’s WRONG. In that simple statement is the key to science.” When ethicists can devise an experiment that proves preference A is “better” (I can’t even imagine what the unit of measure would be for this) than preference “B” then you will have a point. Until then, “scientific ethics” looks like a textbook case of the is/ought fallacy.

              • Posted July 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                Your initial objection was that you need philosophy, not science, to determine what people’s preferences are. Your response is an wholehearted endorsement of science for determining preferences, complete with an even-more-thorough-than-mine summary of how that works.

                Now your objection is that knowledge of such preferences doesn’t determine the “correct” view, with an obvious implication that one way of treating prisoners is better than another way.

                But that’s a different question from preference!

                If you want to know the most effective way of treating prisoners, you need to examine recidivism rates and similar figures, which you can trivially do by comparing different jurisdictions. You can also examine overall societal health and wellbeing, such as defined by Gini coefficient. And, if you’re wondering why the Gini coefficient is worth optimizing for, just look at its constituent elements…and it’s no trouble seeing how they represent preferences that are objectively demonstrated to have broad, near-universal support.

                This is all science, not philosophy.




  21. claudia baker
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    In a way, it was worth it that Goldstein went after you, so we could see the “I haz a sad” picture. lol

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Reminds me very much of Merlin, cat of Daveau who used to post here.

  22. Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I find it quite telling that when Goldstein is asked what philosophy does, she doesn’t come up with a straight forward answer she donates around the topic for a couple of paragraphs and then kind of addresses the question with an example in which she uses philosophy to “demonstrate” that a true statement (I don’t see how putting the word “trivially” in front of “true” makes it not true) collapses into incoherence.

    Taking that section in isolation, I think what she is saying is that what philosophy does is take simple true statements and make them appear to be false. That strikes me as not a constructive use of time.

    • Posted July 12, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      donates -> dances

    • Xuuths
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Making simple true statements appear to be false is not good science.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

      “I find it quite telling that when Goldstein is asked what philosophy does, she doesn’t come up with a straight forward answer ”

      Yeah, when she started off with, “[n]ow whatever it is that philosophy is trying to do (and it’s notoriously difficult to make this clear)” she pretty much nailed one of the best criticisms of it…

  23. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    The irony here is that Big Think links to an article where Krauss was defending a book from a philosopher’s science-jeering review, and also pretty much agreed with Goldstein on philosophy.

    Goldstein [on that philosophy builds]:

    “One of the great difficulties in spotting the kind of progress that certain branches of philosophy have made—in this case epistemology—is that we aren’t seeing the philosophical progress because we’re seeing with it. It’s penetrated deeply into our conceptual schemes.”

    Krauss [on that philosophy does not build]:

    “There are areas of philosophy that are important, but I think of them as being subsumed by other fields. In the case of descriptive philosophy you have literature or logic, which in my view is really mathematics. Formal logic is mathematics, and there are philosophers like Wittgenstein that are very mathematical, but what they’re really doing is mathematics—it’s not talking about things that have affected computer science, it’s mathematical logic. And again, I think of the interesting work in philosophy as being subsumed by other disciplines like history, literature, and to some extent political science insofar as ethics can be said to fall under that heading. To me what philosophy does best is reflect on knowledge that’s generated in other areas.”

    The same observation, but one sees a half full glass, the other a half empty.

    Speaking of observation, consistency is overvalued. That is why philosophy, which has no ways of knowing, consistently [ha] offers so many inconsistent opinions.

    It is analogous to religion in that way. A final Goldstein is when she opinionate that science hard won constraints and results are easy won philosophical premises: “I think that underneath what seems to be the failure of imagination of philosophy-jeerers in dismissing any form of useful intellectual work other than their own is (to give them the benefit of the doubt) an argument along these lines: [on nature and science] … granting the two premises, the conclusion doesn’t follow.” A theory that can point at anything and say “philosophical premises/religious gods did it” – explains everything – explains nothing.

    • phil
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:13 am | Permalink

      “…philosophy, which has no ways of knowing…”

      A -> B
      B -> C
      and we know (e.g. from science) A, doesn’t that mean we know C from logic, for all intents and purposes philosophy?

      Perhaps we need to define what we mean by “ways of knowing”. In a sense even science might not be a way of knowing (with absolute certainty) if all scientific knowledge is contingent.

      Contingent isn’t quite the word I’m looking for, but right now the tight word escapes me, but that is not important to my main point.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        Provisional: arranged or existing for the present, possibly to be changed later.

        • phil
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

          Thanx. I’m getting old and my brain doesn’t always keep up.

      • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

        Suppose A -> B B -> C and we know (e.g. from science) A, doesn’t that mean we know C from logic, for all intents and purposes philosophy?

        Time and again, we’ve made exactly such assumptions and had them blow up in our faces. Mercury wasn’t where Newton thought it should be. Rutherford had cannonballs bouncing off tissue paper. Michelson and Morley couldn’t find the aether, no matter how hard they looked.

        It gets worse the farther we go. Electrons can be in two places at the same time, and can simultaneously pop into and out of existence — and that’s just the least of quantum weirdness that completely totally defies the most basic principles of logic. Math, too…how’re you supposed to count an electron that might or might not be there or could be here and there? Do you have one electron, several electrons, no electrons? Logic as the philosophers use it fails utterly.

        …which should hardly be surprising. What we consider logical is little more than a set of heuristics that apply superbly for the human-scale terrestrial environment. Aristotle’s metaphysics, even: stop pushing on that cup of coffee on your table and it will stop moving, just as Aristotle says. The water in your kettle isn’t going to boil unless you want a cup of tea.

        But that just works in our very, very tiny corner of the Cosmos. Virtually all the rest of it is utterly alien, and our logical intuitions break down, fast, once you push them outside of the environment in which they evolved.




        • phil
          Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:02 am | Permalink

          “Time and again, we’ve made exactly such assumptions and had them blow up in our faces.”

          But if it blows up in our faces that implies that A does not imply B or B does not imply C. It simply means that one or other of the premises are wrong, not the logic.

          Anyway, if it blows up in your face doesn’t that mean you weren’t standing behind a student? (I work in a physics dept at a university) Rule No. 1 when testing a new system: get someone else to turn it on.

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

            But if it blows up in our faces that implies that A does not imply B or B does not imply C. It simply means that one or other of the premises are wrong, not the logic.

            But that’s just it. If wishes were fishes we’d all cast nets. In theory, there’s no difference. In reality, there is.

            Indeed, it highlights a serious practical problem with the philosophical love of the Platonic perfection of logic: it instills a certain sense of complacency. In theory, all orbits are (basically) ellipses as described by Newton. A implied B implied C. But it didn’t, and it wasn’t until Einstein was willing to throw out the logical necessity of it all that we could look deeper to the fuller picture.

            Logic is a great shortcut when you don’t have the resources to do better. But it’s still a shortcut.



  24. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    Rebecca Goldstein’s comments do not fit any of my impressions of PCC. It could be she was speaking off the cuff during an interview and we should allow her some slack. Interviewers sometimes have a story they want to tell and make the results tell their story. It does seem she was calling out Jerry Coyne as a “philosopher-jeerer.” Any one who has read Faith vs Fact would know her statement does not reflect Jerry Coyne’s attitudes. In chapter two he states, “In fact, I see science, conceived broadly, as any endeavor that tries to find the truth about nature using the tools of reason, observation, and experiment.”

    I read WEIT because it is one of the most humane sites on the web. In one place I get science (sometimes a bit above my head), religion, philosophy, a little politics, food, travel, wildlife, humor, sometimes a little literature, music, great suggestions for books, and cats. I have probably missed a couple things.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

      I’d add, “and some great comments.” (Not mine, mind you.)

  25. Katiness Everdeen
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    Philosophy can add perspective to a debate, but it can’t replace empirical evidence. Any philosophy that has the consequence of lost love is a bad philosophy.

  26. Robert Nola
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to read that Rebecca Goldstein thinks that Jerry Coyne is a philosophy-jeering scientist. So wrong! Can’t be right if you have read at least his latest book. Jerry has done a lot to consider the science-philosophy interaction. Why was this said? Maybe Heather Hastie has it right in her post.
    So philosophy does not provide us with knowledge of the actual world. For example, its worst excesses in this direction arose when Hegel gave allegedly a priori reasons for their being just 7 planets! For a real case, philosophy can give us knowledge relevant to the sciences. For example, it is commonly said by scientists that Einstein’s special theory of relativity is closer to the truth about the world than Newtonian mechanics. So what is truth and what is it for one theory to be closer to the truth than another? On the second question Karl Popper proposed an answer which other philosophers proved to be wrong. Then they proposed quite new theories about what this means. And the job is not yet completed. So are we closer to the truth about the issue of what closer-to-the-truth means? Here one does need a dollop of logic and epistemology – but also a background of scientific theorizing against which to test theories in this area.
    Inventing alleges controversies between science and philosophy is a waste of time. There is a lot of productive interaction!

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 12, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      And I really don’t understand why “[s]o what is truth and what is it for one theory to be closer to the truth than another?” is considered such a tough question.

      • phil
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:28 am | Permalink

        Because you have to get a lot of people to agree, perhaps. An argument over definitions.

        “So what is truth and what is it for one theory to be closer to the truth than another?”

        I think that is blurring the distinction between accuracy and precision on one hand and truth on the other. I think it would be more accurate (haha) to say “that Einstein’s special theory of relativity is more accurate about the world than Newtonian mechanics.” Newtonian mechanics is certainly true if you want to put a probe on Mars.

        • darrelle
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          I think a great deal of the problem is the single word “truth.” Philosophy more often seems to consider the word as a Platonic ideal and then asks how can we be sure that we have discovered a truth, how can we know that something is true, how can we be sure that a given method of searching for truths is trustworthy.

          That Platonic ideal of “truth” just isn’t applicable to science. That’s actually one of the most important findings of science in my opinion. That in the context of reality absolute truth is a non sequitur. That we just have to deal with the fact that probabilities and useful models are all we have. And science cuts through all the philosophical bullshit about “truth.” It simply finds out what actually works in real life.

          • phil
            Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:04 am | Permalink

            “I think a great deal of the problem is the single word ‘truth.'”

            I certainly agree with that.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          “I think that is blurring the distinction between accuracy and precision on one hand and truth on the other. I think it would be more accurate (haha) to say “that Einstein’s special theory of relativity is more accurate about the world than Newtonian mechanics.” Newtonian mechanics is certainly true if you want to put a probe on Mars.”

          Exactly. See how simple that was? Who would have a problem with the premise?

      • Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        If theories are taken as a system of propositions closed under an entailment relation (as is usually the case in physics and pure mathematics, for example), then most entailment relations make for an infinity of propositions. Evaluating the truth value of each is difficult, as is aggregating the results.

        Bunge suggests that one worry about “key theorems” and evaluate the partial truth of each in a vector. This has some merit, but I have no idea how to figure out which the “key theorems” are, or how to understand a truth-value *vector*.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          Throughout this thread, beginning with Goldstein herself, we have people telling us how hard it is to explain various aspects of philosophy. Doesn’t that tell you something?

          (And are there really math theorems with an infinity of propositions?)

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

            Suppose a brain surgeon develops a revolutionary new technique for performing a certain notoriously tricky procedure. I imagine it would be fairly difficult to explain to anyone who’s never done brain surgery exactly how this new technique is better than the old technique. Should we therefore conclude that brain surgery is worthless, simply because some aspects of it are hard to explain?

            • rickflick
              Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

              Not such a good analogy. You’re talking about a detailed technical understanding. Something specific. The overall goals and objectives of brain surgery would not be that difficult to explain. That’s the problem with philosophy…it should be explainable as an important undertaking. It should be understandable in it’s general differences from science and other fields.

            • Diane G.
              Posted July 14, 2017 at 1:21 am | Permalink

              So, philosophy actually is brain surgery?


              • Posted July 17, 2017 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                It’s not just that philosophers have a difficult time explaining it to laypeople.

                It’s that philosophers can’t agree amongst themselves on the explanation.

                Relativity is notoriously hard to explain, but it’s only at the frontiers of research (black holes, cosmogenesis, etc.) that physicists start to have diverging opinions. And while there’s plenty of disagreement over how to understand what (if anything) underlies quantum weirdness, no physicist disagrees about the quantum weirdness itself.

                …but philosophers can’t even agree on what philosophy is or the basics any of the core subjects of philosophy. The same “big questions” of Aristotle’s time remain every bit as mysterious today as then.

                Unless, of course, you ask a scientist. We know what life is and have as complete an understanding of its history as you can ask for. We know far more about the fundamental nature of reality than any philosopher would admit — and we’re making great strides into figuring out the ultimate history and origins of everything. Cognitive neuroscientists can tell you oodles more about consciousness and the mind than a philosopher. Ethicists literally have morality down to a science. And so on.




  27. Robert Nola
    Posted July 12, 2017 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    A quite intuitive definition of truth-likeness or verisimilitude was given by Popper. It was proved, at roughly the same time by a mathematician at the University of Otago, and then a philosopher at the same university, to involve an inconsistency. Here are two people, one a scientist the other a philosopher, working on the same problem! This led to a research project to patch it up – but it is not easy to do this. See the item in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on truth-likeness.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      See also volume 6 (or it might be 5) of Bunge, _Treatise on Basic Philosophy_ for partial truth.

      His innovation is *not* assuming that v(P) = = 1 – v(~P)

  28. Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Ways of knowing. Ways of knowing. And Poetry not relevant as a way of knowing. Now I would say that I am as committed to the scientific ideal in truth seeking as anyone here, and yet when I read:

    “When you tilted toward me, arms out
    like someone trying to walk through a fire,
    when you swayed toward me, crying out you were
    sorry for what you had done to me, your
    eyes filling with terrible liquid like
    balls of mercury from a broken thermometer
    skidding on the floor, when you quietly screamed
    Where else could I turn? Who else did I have? the
    chopped crockery of your hands swinging toward me, the
    water cracking from your eyes like moisture from
    stones under heavy pressure, I could not
    see what I would do with the rest of my life.
    The sky seemed to be splintering, like a window
    someone is bursting into or out of, your
    tiny face glittered as if with
    shattered crystal, with true regret, the
    regret of the body. I could not see what my
    days would be, with you sorry, with
    you wishing you had not done it, the
    sky falling around me, its shards
    glistening in my eyes, your old, soft
    body fallen against me in horror I
    took you in my arms, I said It’s all right,
    don’t cry, it’s all right, the air filled with
    flying glass, I hardly knew what I
    said or who I would be now that I had forgiven you.”

    I seem to find out more about the human condition than all the time I ever spent in studying Psychology and Biology.

  29. Mohammad Mohtaj
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Science deals with the empirical and philosophy deals with the rational. As simple as that. That is why mathematics and logic are classified as “philosophical science”.

    Then there is the humanistic philosophy: Ethics, theology, political philosophy, etc. which are not science nor mathematics.

  30. Mohammad Mohtaj
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:00 am | Permalink

    It should be noted that in Quantum Mechanics, rationalism broke down and we have observed quantum behaviour that defies all logic. Quantum nondeterminacy in fact tells us that there is no rational method to predict the behaviour of a quantum event.

    On the other hand, empricism held steady under quantum science. Events were reproducible and observations and inductions could be made. So I think we can conclude the superiority of empiricism over rationalism in the physical world.

    • Posted July 14, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      What rational method is there to predict the behaviour of a classical event; e.g., a die roll?


      • Mohammad Mohtaj
        Posted July 15, 2017 at 3:05 am | Permalink

        It is quite possible to model a die roll. Just like it is possible to model the weather. The fact that there may be no good models is really besides the point. If you could model each of the godzillion molecules of air, you could model the weather.

        The issue is not the breakdown of modelling, but the breakdown of the ability to understand the phenomena or simulate it due to its huge number of variables.

        It would be relatively very easy to model a die roll.

        On the other hand, quantum events may mot be modeled, except statistically, i.e. by probabilities. It is not possible to predict when a heavy atom of uranium will split (except statistically).

        • Posted July 15, 2017 at 4:59 am | Permalink

          “If you could model each of the godzillion molecules of air’

          For which you would need quantum field theory!

          “except statistically”

          Just like a die roll, then.


          • Mohammad Mohtaj
            Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:21 am | Permalink

            Yes, ultimately all classical phenomena have their origins in quantum phenomena. But that is besides the point. There is a qualitative difference between modeling a classical die roll and modeling a quantum phenomena. I can develop a bullet model that will predict where what face you will get upon a die roll, depending on how it is thrown and the details of its topology. But it is impossible to build a model that can predict where a coherent electron emitted by a filament will hit the screen.

          • Posted July 17, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

            The fundamental problem here is that not only is the map (science) much smaller than the territory (the Cosmos), the map is itself embedded in the territory. If your map were logically bigger than the territory, your map could be made perfect, but us humans are so far away from that that it’s laughable to suggest we could pull it off.

            At the same time, this particular territory just happens to be superbly well suited to data compression types of tricks. You only need Newton’s equations and the conditions at a given moment in time to represent millennia of orbital mechanics to remarkable precision. Extend that from Newton to Einstein and you don’t need anything more for human purposes — humans will be long extinct by the time the planets get out of synch with the model you run today on your smartphone.

            We have no reason to think that any particular phenomenon yet observed is fundamentally impossible to model — including quantum weirdness so long as you take the Many-Worlds (or a similar) perspective. What we do see are many practical limits to modeling. Some limits come from our inability to gather enough detail about the system we’re modeling (like the weather); others from a lack of understanding of the phenomenon (dark matter); and still others from an inability to make any observations at all (Many-Worlds, black hole interiors, multiverses, etc.).

            So…science will never be perfect, and may well forever have some distressingly-large holes in it. But it’s already more than complete as far as the ancients would have been concerned, and there’s no reason to think that an hypothetical entity with sufficient resources would be unable to complete it. (But there’s also overwhelming reason to be confident that no such entity exists, of course!)




    • Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Irreducibly probabilistic events are *not* a break down of “rationalism”, so long as they are taken objectively, which needless to say they are. If they were subjective, then one could study them via psychology, like any other branch of psychophysics, but that’s indirect.

      (I ignore the question of what an irreducibly probabilistic event is: I for one am happy to use the notion even in classical statistical mechanics, for reasons I cannot easily go through here.)

      • Mohammad Mohtaj
        Posted July 15, 2017 at 3:17 am | Permalink

        I am not sure if I understand your comment. The term “breakdown of rationalism” is really a dysphemism – i.e. let us not take the language literally.

        In the objective quantum domain, rationalism would dictate that for example a particle will have to go through one of the slits in a double slit experiment, which is incorrect. Empiricism on the other hand correctly observes the interference pattern. And in fact a quantum event cannot be rationalized until the event is realized.

        The irreducible probabilistic quantum event defies rationality. You cannot model this event, except statistically.

        • Posted July 15, 2017 at 5:01 am | Permalink

          That’s nothing to do with rationality. QFT is perfectly rational. It’s your “classical” intuitions that are wrong.


          • Mohammad Mohtaj
            Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:24 am | Permalink

            Can QFT predict where on the screen the particle in a double slit experiment will be realized? The answer is no. There is no rational model for that.

  31. Mohammad Mohtaj
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    JB has committed a mischaracterization of Coyne, and Goldstein has uncretically taken that to be correct and is expounding on what JB says about Coyne and not what Coyne actually has said. It is an error by Goldstein, but the real culprit is JB.

    Another issue is an uninteresting linguistic matter as to how does one define the word ‘knowledge’. Scientists restrict that to generally mean empirical knowledge. While Goldstein wants to apply that word to rational knowledge as well. For example, that we know the hypotenuse of a right triangle is the square root of the sum of the squares of its sides. This seems to be a quibble and I have to side with Coyne that rational knowledge should be called something else – such as a ‘theorem’ or a ‘deduction’, and knowledge should be reserved for the empirical.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Scientists restrict that to generally mean empirical knowledge.

      I don’t think that’s true. Scientists are as likely as logicians to say things like “We know X can’t be true, because that would imply Y, which we know is false.”

      In fact the vast majority of scientific knowledge is arrived at by inference, not by direct observation. Darwin didn’t observe natural selection in action; he observed the results, and inferred the existence of a process yielding those results. But no biologist would argue that that inference doesn’t count as knowledge.

      • Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        This is partially why it is incorrect to say science is “empirical”. (See above about “factual”.) Science is no more empiricist than it is rationalist.
        (I have defended the idea that it also contains a narrow slice of a pragmacist – not in the sense of Rorty, of course – epistemology as well.)

        • Mohammad Mohtaj
          Posted July 15, 2017 at 3:35 am | Permalink

          That is why science is said to be “empiricological”. I.e. empiricism followed by rationalism. But science must have an empirical component, or it would not be science. While a scientific induction does not need to have a rational component.

          Could you explain why science needs to have a slice of pragmatism? Pragmatism introduce subjectivity which conflicts with the objectivity of science. And why epistemology? Can’t we leave that to the philosophers?

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

            Your claim that “science must have an empirical component” is a claim about epistemology.

            • Mohammad Mohtaj
              Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:29 am | Permalink

              I would think that is a philosophic claim, and not a scientific claim.

      • Mohammad Mohtaj
        Posted July 15, 2017 at 3:32 am | Permalink

        Of course – science is about taking empirical observations and using a rational method to arrive at conclusions. That is why science is “empiricological” and not pure empirical data crunching.

        In your example, if Y is false due to observation, then a deduction based on that fact would also be a knowledge.

        But science requires the empirical component. Without that, you are in the domain of philosophy and logic.

        The Pythagoras Theorem can be proven without resort to measurement. Is that knowledge or is that a theorem. In vernacular usage it is called knowledge, but this is where I disagree. It is not something that you have observed and thus you know. It is something arrived at by pure logic. It is an insight – a truth, a theorem.

        It is very important to make this distinction. Because realms like religion are not based on empirical knowledge, but the adherents wish to call it knowledge, and thus confuse the bejesus out of the uninitiate lacking in the philosophy of science. That is how ‘belief’ is given the aura of knowledge and in fact hoisted above knowledge.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted July 15, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          I’m extremely skeptical that throwing mathematical knowledge under the bus will have the slightest effect on the tendency of religion to claim spurious “knowledge”. All it will do is sow confusion among people who deal legitimately in abstract knowledge, where the usage of “knowledge” in the sense you wish to prohibit is well established.

          • Mohammad Mohtaj
            Posted July 16, 2017 at 1:40 am | Permalink

            I don’t recall mathematicians or logicians talking of their field as knowledge based or using the term ‘knowledge’ in describing the structures they have constructed in their fields of mathematics and logic. Empiricological knowledge is not the same as rational ‘knowledge’. It is best not to allow them to be confused. And given the fact that rationalism breaks down in certain domains while empiricism remains coherent, it is best to keep them separate.

            That is the reason rationalistic systems of thoughts make claim on knowing things, such as “knowing God” – in order to unduly elevate themselves and appear ‘scientific’.

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