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The use and value of Philosophy to Science.


studiot
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This to introduce a discussion on the proposition that Philosophy is still valuable in this day and age, dominated as it is by scientific considerations.

Some have argued that Philosophy has become redundant in modern times and that Science can somehow replace all its functions.

I argue that this is not the case, but that the issues have moved on for some and we would be well served to stop re-enacting old battles and put our efforts into new matters.

By way of example here is a sequence of instances culminating in a modern day issue.

 

The ancient Greeks were so distressed about irrational numbers that they tried to forcibly suppress knowledge of them.

In the Middle Ages, a similar thing happend with the discovery of imaginary numbers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Science learned to exclude uncomfortable matters 'by definition'.
Today that exclusion process is being applied to 'information' and full consideration of its nature.

I argue that Philosophy offers an independent forum for the conduction of such consideration, regardless of how useful and successful a tightly conrolled scientific definition might be.

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1 hour ago, studiot said:

This to introduce a discussion on the proposition that Philosophy is still valuable in this day and age, dominated as it is by scientific considerations.

Some have argued that Philosophy has become redundant in modern times and that Science can somehow replace all its functions.

I argue that this is not the case, but that the issues have moved on for some and we would be well served to stop re-enacting old battles and put our efforts into new matters.

By way of example here is a sequence of instances culminating in a modern day issue.

 

The ancient Greeks were so distressed about irrational numbers that they tried to forcibly suppress knowledge of them.

In the Middle Ages, a similar thing happend with the discovery of imaginary numbers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Science learned to exclude uncomfortable matters 'by definition'.
Today that exclusion process is being applied to 'information' and full consideration of its nature.

I argue that Philosophy offers an independent forum for the conduction of such consideration, regardless of how useful and successful a tightly conrolled scientific definition might be.

My first thoughts are philosophy is still valuable today, not in conflict with science, but as a means to hold politicians/scientists to account and hold up a mirror to their biases.

 

Because a scientist seeks to eliminate bias from their experiments, proves their not free from it.

Edited by dimreepr
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42 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

My first thoughts are philosophy is still valuable today, not in conflict with science, but as a means to hold politicians/scientists to account and hold up a mirror to their biases.

 

Because a scientist seeks to eliminate bias from their experiments, proves their not free from it.

Thank you for the response.

I look forward to hearing what others have to say.

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3 hours ago, studiot said:

This to introduce a discussion on the proposition that Philosophy is still valuable in this day and age, dominated as it is by scientific considerations.

Some have argued that Philosophy has become redundant in modern times and that Science can somehow replace all its functions.

To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, scientists can be so  preoccupied with whether or not they can, they don’t stop to think if they should. It’s why certain independent permissions (ethics) are needed for some experiments.

Science gave us nuclear weapons but science isn’t what tells us not to use them.

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Philosophy involves a specialized skillset to address complex questions. People who do not have this specialized skillset may still be pretty good at addressing these questions but the average philosopher will do a much better job at doing so than the average non-philosopher. 

Similarly the average carpenter may do a pretty good job at  designing a house that is structurally sound but an engineer and his skillset is on average age going to be better at seeing all the issues and addressing them clearly, resulting in a better design.

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42 minutes ago, zapatos said:

Philosophy involves a specialized skillset to address complex questions. People who do not have this specialized skillset may still be pretty good at addressing these questions but the average philosopher will do a much better job at doing so than the average non-philosopher. 

Similarly the average carpenter may do a pretty good job at  designing a house that is structurally sound but an engineer and his skillset is on average age going to be better at seeing all the issues and addressing them clearly, resulting in a better design.

The ten thousand hour rule may make a master out of a carpenter, it doesn't mean the carpenter thinks better... 

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Science today is vast, but interesting epistemological problems arise in all fronts. Ethical too, taking @swansont's cue.

Philosophers today, willing to say anything significant --that scientist will pay attention to--, must learn at the very least the conceptual framework of scientific theories, their degree of success, as well as the point at which they fail, falter, or simply shrug their shoulders. Their limits, in short, and a working knowledge of how these limits appear.

It takes a very special kind of person, and it requires a considerable degree of specialization. There are people like this, and sometimes they do a thankless job.

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Again I defer to Eise on this.
He once tried to explain the usefulness of Philosophy with regard to science ( which resists all my attempts to be found ).
My simplistic interpretation of what he said, is that Philosophy teaches one how to think about a problem, but this is not nearly nuanced enough.
Perhaps @Eise will join this conversation, and offer up a more elaborate explanation.

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4 hours ago, swansont said:

To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, scientists can be so  preoccupied with whether or not they can,

Indeed theoretical physicists at Oxford University have a whole department studying "The Science of Can and Can't" under David Deutsch.

Stangely no one else seems interested in my thread on that subject.

 

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11 hours ago, studiot said:

Philosophy is still valuable in this day and age, dominated as it is by scientific considerations.

I completely agree with this, also because philosophy tackles some questions that aren’t readily amenable to the scientific method.

What irks me a bit about philosophy in general though is that rarely - if ever - is there any consensus reached on anything. At least it seems to me like that. There just seem to be individuals with differing opinions, often diametrically opposed. But maybe that’s just me (and I do have an interest in philosophy)...

Edited by Markus Hanke
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To some extent I would classify religion under the heading of Philosophy as well.  It brings to mind when, after retiring from Engineering, I taught Science at a small Christian High School.  There were two factions in the school-- one (including me) who wanted the students taught using secular science books, and another wanting to teach "Science" using religious "science" books from Bob Jones University.  After much debate the school board of directors decided to use University of California approved secular books.  Their reasoning was that Science should teach the students how the world works, and Religion classes (philosophy?) should focus on the moral issues-- including the rights and wrongs of the application of science.

Going beyond religion, I believe the role of philosophy includes looking at the implications of science.  I would even go so far as to argue that Science Fiction frequently becomes philosophy, as when authors postulate a scientific development and then examine its effects on society via the story.

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37 minutes ago, Markus Hanke said:

What irks me a bit about philosophy in general though is that rarely - if ever - is there any consensus reached on anything. At least it seems to me like that. There just seem to be individuals with differing opinions, often diametrically opposed. But maybe that’s just me (and I do have an interest in philosophy)...

Perhaps that stance supports the following quote.....

"Philosophy consists very largely of one philosopher arguing that all others are jackasses. He usually proves it, and I should add that he also usually proves that he is one himself."

Henry Louis Mencken:

 

or....

Philosophy, n. "A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing".

Ambrose Bierce:

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

 

Please don't take this as a criticism of philosophy! In my lay person's opnion, philosophy cannot be underestimated for the groundwork and foudation it has laid out for science. And yes, it still covers regions not undertaken or outside of the realms of science. But again, imo, while science [knowledge] is virtually never ending, philosophy [beyond the foundations and ground work] within science, is limited to some extent.

I found this which I see some logic in..."Science is about empirical knowledge; philosophy is also about a priori knowledge (if it exists). Science is about contingent facts; philosophy is also about necessary truths (if they exist). ... Science is about physical objects; philosophy is also about abstract objects (if they exist)"

 

9 hours ago, swansont said:

Science gave us nuclear weapons but science isn’t what tells us not to use them.

Wouldn't that be better said that science gave us the means to split the atom and knowledge of nuclear physics; how we use that power is in our hands.

Edited by beecee
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1 hour ago, Markus Hanke said:

I completely agree with this, also because philosophy tackles some questions that aren’t readily amenable to the scientific method.

What irks me a bit about philosophy in general though is that rarely - if ever - is there any consensus reached on anything. At least it seems to me like that. There just seem to be individuals with differing opinions, often diametrically opposed. But maybe that’s just me (and I do have an interest in philosophy)...

Well philosophers can be objects of ridicule (think Python)

https://youtu.be/l9SqQNgDrgg

 

and Socrates himself was dismissive of them in his Apologia ,not wishing to be associated with them and their seeming reputation  for speciousness (was it?)  -he was being accused of not respecting the gods ,if I recall correctly)

Imagine  how insufferable they would be as a profession if they agreed on a position ;)

Edited by geordief
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8 hours ago, OldChemE said:

Going beyond religion, I believe the role of philosophy includes looking at the implications of science.  I would even go so far as to argue that Science Fiction frequently becomes philosophy, as when authors postulate a scientific development and then examine its effects on society via the story.

Good point. Example: Hyperion Cantos tetralogy by Dan Simmons. Very much recommended to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Another one is Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. And for the brave ones, there’s always Roadside Picnic by the Strugatski brothers.

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10 hours ago, beecee said:

Wouldn't that be better said that science gave us the means to split the atom and knowledge of nuclear physics; how we use that power is in our hands.

Sure.  

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14 hours ago, geordief said:

Well philosophers can be objects of ridicule (think Python)

https://youtu.be/l9SqQNgDrgg

 

and Socrates himself was dismissive of them in his Apologia ,not wishing to be associated with them and their seeming reputation  for speciousness (was it?)  -he was being accused of not respecting the gods ,if I recall correctly)

Imagine  how insufferable they would be as a profession if they agreed on a position ;)

Socrates himself was particularly missed, a lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed...

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Likely philosophers who focus on a specific branch (usually numbered at seven:  metaphysics, logic,  axiology,  aesthetics,  ethics,  epistemology and political philosophy) that pertains to specific methods or objectives of science will get more respect and fewer sixteen ton weights. 

Ethics is one,  as several noted.   Epistemology is another,  as it looks at what can be known in the interpretation of data and what can be said to be known in advance of that interpretation.   And good old logic is handy when you kick the tires on any conclusion.  

I've found epistemology the most useful branch when it comes to making sense of areas like NCC (the neurological correlates of consciousness)  or quantum theory.   

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I think one should not see philosophy too much as a separate subject, but looking in a special way to a subject. When a physicist is trying to find a particle  at CERN he is doing physics. When a physicist is trying to find a new theory he is doing physics. Both activities are about physical reality. However, when it e.g. turns out that a conceptual framework does not work anymore (e.g. rise of quantum theory in the 1920s), when there are questions about the validity of certain methods, or about a demarcation criterion for science (e.g. string theory, multiverse) then one is doing philosophy. And one does not necessarily need a philosophical education for that: the interest in conceptual clarity and the intellectual capacity to do so, are enough. Latter should not be a real problem for physicists. First of course is really a question of what one is interested in. It's not everybody's thing.

So not philosophers should push scientists to philosophical questions, so to speak from another discipline; the need for doing philosophy should arise in themselves because e.g. methodological or conceptual problems. Philosophers might be helpful in methodological and conceptual discussion, they are well trained in such discussions. 

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25 minutes ago, Eise said:

I think one should not see philosophy too much as a separate subject, but looking in a special way to a subject. When a physicist is trying to find a particle  at CERN he is doing physics. When a physicist is trying to find a new theory he is doing physics. Both activities are about physical reality. However, when it e.g. turns out that a conceptual framework does not work anymore (e.g. rise of quantum theory in the 1920s), when there are questions about the validity of certain methods, or about a demarcation criterion for science (e.g. string theory, multiverse) then one is doing philosophy. And one does not necessarily need a philosophical education for that: the interest in conceptual clarity and the intellectual capacity to do so, are enough. Latter should not be a real problem for physicists. First of course is really a question of what one is interested in. It's not everybody's thing.

So not philosophers should push scientists to philosophical questions, so to speak from another discipline; the need for doing philosophy should arise in themselves because e.g. methodological or conceptual problems. Philosophers might be helpful in methodological and conceptual discussion, they are well trained in such discussions. 

Thank you for your well reasoned reply. +1

 

Have you heard of counterfactuals ?

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