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message 1: by Adeel (last edited Nov 02, 2010 09:56AM) (new)

Adeel | 2 comments Stephen Hawking, in his latest book, The Grand Design, claims that philosophy is dead:

Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.


Comment.


message 2: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) I don't think philosophy is dead. We still think about the world and what will happen to future generations, esp, if you are a parent. As far as the deep underlayering of creator made, who knows, but someone made it. It takes a group such as this to reawaken again the topic of philosophy, and engage in true and meaningful ways.


message 3: by Tyler (last edited Nov 02, 2010 09:28AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Wow. A great physicist has made a sweeping dismissal of philosophy. The paragraph in which he does this seems daunting, unanswerable even. Could any tool in philosophy take on this claim?

When confronted with such an apparently devastating piece of reasoning let’s first take a deep breath. Its scope is vast, so let's approach it first by seeing if we can break it down into smaller, more digestible parts. The idea, in grappling with it, is not to get overwhelmed by the peremptory majesty of the claim.

Philosophy provides us with tools. We need to remind ourselves of good procedure in argumentation and logic; first things come first. Step one is to make sure we actually understand what Hawking says. To do this, we have to grant both charity and fidelity where they're due, so that we don’t end up attacking a straw man.

The first thing that jumps out at me, besides the broadness of the claim, is that the physicist doesn’t specify what he means by philosophy. As it stands, what he’s saying is:

Main Branch I -- Metaphysics and Ontology: Dead
Main Branch II -- Epistemology: Dead

Evaluative Branch I -- Ethics: Dead
Evaluative Branch II -- Politics: Dead
Evaluative Branch III -- Economics: Dead
Evaluative Branch IV -- Art: Dead
All other branches of philosophy: Dead, Dead, Dead ...

In order to grant charity to Hawking’s claim, I might say that he obviously meant only Metaphysics, since his profession deals with the nature of reality. But the quoted paragraph makes no such distinction, so the requirement of fidelity means we must concede that he’s condemning every branch of philosophy to the scrap yard.

Is there another way to be charitable to this claim? Let’s ask ourselves if there’s any sense in which philosophy could be dead. Possibly. In academia philosophy gives the appearance of a merely technical subject concerned with increasingly pointless queries into syntax, linguistics, postmodern notions and so on. To quote J.R. Saul in The Unconscious Civilization:

“…the great philosophical voice of human decency is absent from the public debate. Why? Because most of its exponents are caught up in the complexities of philosophical professionalism -- a world of narrow specializations and impenetrable dialect. […] They have left the field wide open to more cynical forces on the other side. …”

Saul goes on to say that academic philosophy has defaulted on the task of helping the general public think more clearly. Hawking himself lives in the world of academia, the one whose philosophy departments enshrine this default. So if this is where Hawking gets his ideas about the philosophy, he may be right.

But he doesn’t specify this group in the quote Adeel gave us. So to grant fidelity to what he’s saying, we must again concede that he refers to the entire philosophical enterprise, including us amateurs who want to use philosophy for their own personal mental and psychological development, or who just want generally to understand the world better.

Hawking, then, is saying that philosophy cannot do this, that other areas of human thought -- science, he says by way of example -- are adequate for the task of personal and social improvement.

What I’ve done here is first to understand Hawking's claim in the way he must have intended it. Have I said enough to avoid a straw man? If so, we can proceed to look at the many aspects of this broad claim in our next posts. What do you all think?


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Saying "philosophy is dead" is similar to saying "God is dead". I have read more than one book in which the author states that "God is dead" My definition of God is one's best self with a few extra qualifications. The Devil or evil would be your worse self. Works for me anyway and I'm not conerned if people disagree. I like Samuel Butler's remark in The Way of All Flesh" . " He came to see that Christianity and the denial of Christianity after all met as any other extremes."

As a novice in philosophy, I have a more simplified definition of philosophy. Philosophy in early times, as I understand it, stood for mathematics and the sciences among other things. In our modern world, I think philosophy has reduced its scope. If you consider that philosophy stood for mathematics and physics I think Hawking has a valid point. Most philosophers have a much more limited knowledge of mathematics and physics.

However, I became interested in philosophy when I saw this definition in" Philosophy for Dummies" by Tom Morris.

Philosophy is the " Love of Wisdom." What is wisdom? "Practical insight for living."

Two more quotes that got me hooked on the subject.

" We have it within our power to endow our lives with meaning by structuring them around purposes, values, and desires that we choose to pursue"

"The object of studing philosophy is to know one's one mind, not other people's."

Reading philosophy for me was to clarify my own view of the world. By listening to other peoples view of the world does not mean you have to agree. The philosophy forum allow people with different views to discuss them in a considerate manner. If people want to discuss the more academic side of philosophy that's great too, if it is a value or desire that the individaul wants to pursue. I enjoy reading some of your discussions but do not often participate.

In my perspective Hawking's view will challenge the rational side of many people, but in my experience the emotional side (for lack of a better word) has to be on board. Science will never explain the spiritual and emotional side of man. My life experiences rather than concepts are the most powerful elements in my understanding of the world I live in.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Poor editing. " The object of studying philosophy is to know one's OWN mind , not other peoples."

glen


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Glen wrote: "Saying "philosophy is dead" is similar to saying "God is dead"."

I had the same reaction. Neither statement makes sense to me.


message 7: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 47 comments I can recall while years ago studying what called itself, with some grandiosity, Philosophy of Science, that one philosopher quipped with some smugness, that it was the duty of the philosopher to explain to the scientist just what he (the scientist) was talking about. Scientists wasted no time in replying, naturally enough, that they were in no need of a philosopher to further confuse what they already understood. Of course what I took from the seminar of graduate students (hungry for the advanced sheepskin as we were) was that this version of philosophy had intended to formalize all thinking into logical quasi-mathematical statements. I can recall an entire tome concerning what was termed "the Is-Ought question." It was very difficult to see that philosophy at that time was progressing in leaps and bounds. In this regard, perhaps Hawking is correct that, over time, the corpse has begun to smell.
On the other hand, while indeed there is nothing new under the sun, perhaps this eminent scientist has simply consumed too much skepticism from the dust of the black holes.
Nevertheless, Hawking perhaps makes a significant point that philosophy seems somewhat confused by its own lack of conclusions, especially in its treatment of modernism. Where there is one well known name to make a given statement concerning that which is true, there are a dozen waiting and ready to ridicule its significance and modify its essence to the point of inexorable complexity. Perhaps in this way it is true that philosophy has at least fallen on hard times.
Still it strikes me that it is in our links to the past which give us the truth about the future and we have been perhaps unwilling to give these ideas our full attention, believing that such earlier ideas have been squeezed dry of life itself. Still if one expects that philosophy can live in a universe of sterile mathematics alone, we are certainly mistaken, regardless of the fact that the world goes on quite easily without any given individual voice, Hawking's included. It remains, I think, for us to be able to tie ourselves back to the great thinkers of the past in order for philosophy to live for the future. So long as one has not found the foundation of man’s own being, there is hope for almost everything, even theoretical physicists.


message 8: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Hawking's quote is perfect evidence that most people well versed in science are dreadfully ignorant of work in the humanities. First of all, what he said facilely draws a quick-and-fast distinction between science and philosophy that most people knowledgeable in the latter would even deny exists. Secondly, he tacitly implies that physics is somehow a superior form of knowledge, or can "tell us more" about ourselves, failing to realize (or admit) that science will never be able to answer aetiological questions.

One wonders, if pressed, how many "modern developments" in philosophy he could even come up with.


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Philosophy is not dead in Iran. They will be hosting World Philosophy Day in a celebration November 21-23.

However, it's a bit controversial. (What with Iran isn't?) Two weeks before the event, UNESCO, which had been scheduled to host the event, pulled out.

Of course, philosophy in Iran may not be the same thing as we think of. According to today's New York Tiems, "Iranian officials said in October that Western social and human sciences were dangerous for Iran. The Iranian minister in charge of science, research and technology announced the freezing of any new academic courses in Western disciplines, including philosophy, until their content could be reviewed to ensure that they conformed to Iran’s religious values. "

Philosophy as subject to approved religious values. Well, I suppose Socrates would understand this.


message 10: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Patrice, I'm not sure where you heard this from, but I can assure you that it's not true. Who on earth is out there spreading the idea that there's such a thing as the "philosophy police"?

Even if it were true, as you mentioned, his thought was so influential in the work of many other thinkers of the twentieth century, Arendt and Derrida foremost among them, that it would be like trying to cut off the head of the Hydra.


message 11: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) I suppose it's my fault. Newbies like me aren't familiar with the different personalities of people in the different conversation fora. Mea culpa.

If you're interested in a thorough (yet short) explication of Heidegger and his intellectual background, thought, and influence, I highly recommend George Steiner's eponymous book. It's where I got my introduction, and I return to it often.

To a certain, albeit limited, extent, I can understand why they would want to curb Marx's influence, considering the atrocities that have been committed in his name. However, Marx never stood by and watched while tens of millions of people were slaughtered in his name (as Heidegger looked on). Neither did Nietzsche, whose ideological connections with the Nazi Party he would have abhorred and despised. Walter Kaufmann's biography of him does a good job of showing how the proto-Nazis at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries tried to appropriate those ideas from Nietzsche that suited their political propaganda, and handily dismissed the rest.

And, without going into too much detail, I think you're definitely right in mentioning that there's no definite line of demarcation between philosophy and politics. I think most philosophers would probably agree.


message 12: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Thanks for being so cordial and welcoming, Patrice. It's much better than joining of these conversation groups and watching no one say anything for days and weeks on end.

Are there any other interesting conversations going on in any of the other philosophy groups here?

And, looking at your profile, I just saw two other groups that I'd like to join ("Elgin II" and "Classics and the Western Canon"). I hope to talk to you in those as well.


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Patrice wrote: "I'm not sure that politics and philosophy are totally separate entities. "

To the Greeks they certainly weren't separate, but were closely linked.

But philosophy has moved a long way from that, and I think today "pure" philosophy, as opposed to what universities used to, and may still, call "political philosophy," have drifted far apart.


message 14: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) The library therein, Everyman, is trying to adduce a definition of "pure philosophy." This is precisely what a lot of people today really exists, especially as distinct from literature or history. Rorty has made strong arguments like this.


message 15: by Rhonda (last edited Nov 10, 2010 01:01PM) (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 47 comments There has, of course, been a great deal written about Heidegger and the Nazis. I even have one book (German Existentialism) with a great swastika on its cover containing Heidegger's pro-Nazi statements as rector at Heidelberg.
However we have also heard what Heidegger had to say about the matter. One simply takes the man at his word or one doesn't. The facts seem to justify what Heidegger has said, if not completely vindicating him.
It seems a shame that people are searching the past so carefully for fanatics when the present is so replete with the ones who seem otherwise invisible.


message 16: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Patrice, when someone is considering the merits and value of someone's intellectual output, it would be remiss to pass judgment based solely (or even largely) upon their politics. What if Kant was a radical leftist and supporter of the French Revolution? Would this in any way diminish his importance or his relevance as the architect of transcendental reason? What if Descartes was a reactionary conservative? Does this mean that his "Meditations" are any less philosophically potent than they ever were?

It's also bordering on the highly anti-democratic (and I would argue, anti-intellectual) to want to "discourage access" to any set of ideas. Anyone that did this would be doing PRECISELY what the Nazis would have done - murdering academics, burning books, et cetera. The best way to fight bad ideas is not to ban them, but to show, in the open marketplace of ideas, that there are better, fairer, more effective ones.


message 17: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Everything comes full circle. Welcome to Nietzsche's Eternal Return. :)


message 18: by Cleanfun (new)

Cleanfun | 1 comments Philosophy is dead, to Stephen Hawking.


message 19: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) And Stephen Hawking is definitely dead to philosophy.


message 20: by Tyler (last edited Nov 12, 2010 11:26AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Maybe not dead, but at least indifferent to philosophy. Or is he, rather, bothered by it?

What Hawking says is so broad it can be dismissed in several particular ways. He may have intended never to defend it, but simply put it in his book for its "ouch" factor. If that's so, nobody can take him seriously without stumbling upon the Appeal to Authority, a fallacy in reasoning that might not make any difference to physicists, but which makes a huge difference to the soundness of a philosophical argument.

This isn't the first time I've heard a physicist dismiss philosophy, at least philosophy since Hume, as one once told me -- the Is-Ought question that Rhonda mentioned earlier. We have to remind ourselves of the question, What Is Philosophy? How can we answer that question in a way that makes philosophy relevant?

To me, anyway, at the heart of Hawking's wave of the hand lies a confusion as to which field of study has precedence over the other. Is it philosophy that judges physics or the other way round? Physicists who dismiss philosophy are assuming, or arguing, that physics is the field that will subsume all others.

I don't agree. It's philosophy that fills that role, and physicists don't like that. That's why they sometimes say snarky things. As an example to demonstrate my point, let's take Hawking's statement:

Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

The physics Hawking refers to is not science any more than mathematics is science. There may be overlap, but none of the countless proposals among physicists for a Theory of Everything can never be proven because no evidence can be adduced to support any of them. Physics at this level will always be speculative, not scientific.

That's not to say one of those theories might not turn out to be true; it's just that they will never be scientific. Philosophy, too, has speculative aspects, such as our thought experiments. Perhaps the resemblance between advanced physics and speculative philosophy cuts too close for Hawking.

That's just one problem with what Hawking says. Might there not be others? Maybe, but this one does remind me that I need to add a post in the logic thread.


message 21: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) I have responded to your argument about the Argument from Authority in the original place that you made it. And I would argue that it’s just as important in any epistemological pursuit that proceeds by deduction and logical proof, of which most people would probably say that physics was one.

Hawking really need not be defended because of his place as a world-class scientist, but the question “What is philosophy?” is not a question that most people think about, even well-educated ones. He very well might have Scholastic notions of philosophy as bookish scholars sitting around a scriptorium debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. This is probably where all of the associations of philosophy as being useless and too abstract come from. But he should know that it was only about 400 years ago or so when there was no firmly drawn distinction between “physics” and “philosophy.”

I think it might be wrong to speak of whichever field as “precedence” over another. To see philosophy as the Mother of the Sciences that ultimately has to be referred to in time of Kuhnian paradigmatic crisis is somewhat old-fashioned. I think the natural sciences have developed a level of sophistication and autonomy that we can see them as legitimately pursuing a different type of knowledge. And it’s precisely this realization that should stop Hawking before he says something like “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” [Also, as a side note, I find it humorous that he suggests “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science.” I’ve dealt with many philosophers and scientists and, speaking as objectively as possible, I feel confident in saying that it’s the scientists who don’t know about philosophy, not vice versa.]

Tell me again why you’re saying that “a Theory for Everything can never be proven because no evidence can be adduced to support any of them”? This doesn’t make sense. I don’t see any reason to believe why the GUT that modern cosmologists and some theoretical physicists are pursuing would be any less “scientific” than any of their other pursuits.


message 22: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi John --

I think it might be wrong to speak of whichever field as “precedence” over another. To see philosophy as the Mother of the Sciences that ultimately has to be referred to in time of Kuhnian paradigmatic crisis is somewhat old-fashioned.

That brings us back to the question of what philosophy is in the first place, and I don't think every person has the same idea about it. I look at philosophy as an integrated view of the world, as an integrating system of ideas that pulls the others together. So I don't think it's a science. But I do think it has an interdisciplinary priority. Say, for instance, that in psychoanalysis determinism is taken for granted, while in physics some observers come to the conclusion of utter randomness. It is up to philosophy, perhaps only to philosophy, to mediate these two contrasting views.


I don’t see any reason to believe why the GUT that modern cosmologists and some theoretical physicists are pursuing would be any less “scientific” than any of their other pursuits.

By "science" I'm referring to the study of reality in which evidence is obtainable. Discoveries such as planetary orbital eccentricties that confirm elements of the Theory of Relativity put physics in the scientific realm. To that extent, Einstein's theory is verifiable.

However, no version of the GUT is similarly verifiable, and perhaps never will be. How would you prove a multiverse, for example, even if one in fact exists? It's not even conceivable what experiments could verify any particular version of a unified theory.

Humans may simply be at the limits of their technology, or the concepts are starting to elude human understanding, or both. This puts theories about a unified physics in the realm of speculation, not evidence-based science. I don't mean to say the speculation is unfounded or one of the versions of the GUT won't actually be the true one. My point is epistemological -- how will we ever know it?


message 23: by John (last edited Nov 12, 2010 03:26PM) (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) To suggest that philosophy could mediate between psychoanalysis and physics is questionable. First (and this may or may not be an important point in this case), I don’t think most people would consider psychoanalysis a “science” in the most rigorous of senses. Secondly, even if one did, these two sets of discourses are so far removed from one another that I suspect there would be little ground for reconciliation. Besides, reconciliation would be unnecessary anyway: to say that there is determinism (whatever that is) in psychoanalysis and to say that there is pure entropic randomness in physics is not to make two mutually exclusive statements. You’re talking about two different things (presumably atoms in one case and human volition/lack of free will on the other). They’re not at all the same thing. I would think a mediating discourse would need an argot that could address both topics fairly and equally, and I don’t see philosophy being that discourse.

I’m not sure your definition of science as “the study of reality in which evidence is obtainable” is sound. What do you mean by “evidence”? Strictly empirical? We have no empirical evidence of empirical evidence of the strings that constitute string theory, but I think any string theorist would (rightly) tell you that it’s a scientific idea, even if all the kinks aren’t worked out yet. And not all of Einstein is verifiable. He said that, if one were able to travel at the speed of light, time would completely stop relative to all other Lorenztian frames of reference. We accept this, even though we’ve never sent someone buzzing through space at the speed of light. Scientists don’t accept or dismiss ideas on the basis of their ability to be empirically verified or not, but rather on their explanatory power.

How will you ever know there’s a black hole? All you see is stuff falling into a super-dense space-time singularity, you can’t experience it for yourself. But that doesn’t mean that positing the existence of a black hole is “speculative.” We suggest it because it explains things about the universe – and accurately explains them – better than anything else that has been presented to this point.


message 24: by Tyler (last edited Nov 12, 2010 05:14PM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi John --

I don't know how you define philosophy, but we must be in disagreement as to what it is. And if we take what you say to its conclusion, philosophy the way I define it would be dead because human knowledge, such as it is, would stand in no further need of integration. Nothing in psychology would contradict findings in sociology. Nothing in chemistry would conflict with anything in biology. Each field would stand in its own uniqueness. Someone could extrapolate (human) free will from physics or (human) determinism from psychology and nothing would be wrong in either case. There would be no reasoning applicable to all fields. Of course, I could be mistaken about your meaning.

In the second paragraph you mention string theory. It is not science until evidence of it comes in. If it possesses explanatory power, that's evidence of something. Even so, to rule out the possibility that string theory won't be superseded by a better theory is premature until strings are somehow detected or this explantory power somehow rules out any other ideas.

However, string theory is as easy as physics gets nowadays. There are several competing theories that lay the groundwork for a unified theory, and none could in any conceivable way be called science. It is all speculative physics. If it weren't, there wouldn't be a profusion of ever-evolving
hypotheses concerning the ultimate nature of reality. I do not agree that this level of reasoning is scientific.

As to your third paragraph, I did not say that "evidence" means personally experiencing something. I apologize if I gave that impression.

Returning to your first point, I consider philosophy an integrated view of the world. This is why I think it has a priority over other fields, including physics. If you don't agree, are you saying that the various fields of human knowlege stand in no need of integration into some coherent whole, or are you saying that something other than philosophy can perform this task?


message 25: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Well, it might very well be the case that we see philosophy as two different things. I don’t see its task as integrative at all. Why should it be integrative any more than physics, or sociology, or history should be? If history concludes X and sociology concludes not-X, then the dialogical nature of these fields will eventually proceed until one proves to seem more conclusive than the other. Things have a way of synthesizing themselves without the aid of the philosopher.

When you say that philosophy (and presumably nothing else, but you haven’t said this explicitly) is “integrative,” you commit the same mistake Hawking made when he did the same thing to physics. You give it a special place, when it’s no more valid than any other epistemic pursuit. Also, the examples that you mention here are much “closer” in how they are pursued. You originally mentioned physics and psychoanalysis – whose conclusions, it would seem to me, would be unable to be reconciled by philosophy if they were at loggerheads. However, the pairings of chemistry/biology or psychology/sociology seem much more appropriately interdisciplinary. They “play by one another’s rules,” much more than your previous psychoanalysis/physics example.

Addressing the last part of your post, no, I don’t see philosophy as being there to create some sort of “coherent whole.” I see no need for a coherent whole, let alone any way that someone would want – or even be able to - synthesize, against to use your example, psychoanalysis and physics. Perhaps you know of someone that I don’t, but do you know of any serious philosophers today that are advocating this view? I have to admit my own views on this, and many other things, are heavily Pragmatist, with Rorty being a peculiarly heavy influence.

Of course string theory could always be superseded by something else – that’s the nature of the Kuhnian paradigm shifts that I was referencing earlier. Science is a story; we never reach any final, absolute answers. I’m not sure how “possessing explanatory power” is necessarily “evidence of something” (presumably that something exists/works the way that a scientist claims that it does). Have you ever spoken with a theoretical physicist or a philosopher of science about what you consider to be “science”? I think that, they would both agree that something like string theory is a scientific pursuit. Does that mean that whatever is being said about it will have a precise correspondence theory of truth mapped onto “reality” as we know it? No. But that doesn’t mean its spirit isn’t of a scientific nature.

I’m not sure that I see the clear line between “speculation” and “science.” What separates the two? I’m not sure, but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s more than just “verification.” I’m trying to think of someone that might say this – Hacking, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Nagel, van Fraassen – but I’m not sure that any of them would. We can’t verify Big Bang Theory, but it’s taught in science classes, and rightly so – because it is science.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Cleanfun wrote: "Philosophy is dead, to Stephen Hawking."

I remember fondly the bumper sticker which was prevalent at the time of the God is Dead debate. It read:

"My God Lives. Sorry about yours."

That's pretty much my response to Hawking. Philosophy for me is alive and well. I'm sorry his isn't.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Tyler wrote: "By "science" I'm referring to the study of reality in which evidence is obtainable. Discoveries such as planetary orbital eccentricties that confirm elements of the Theory of Relativity put physics in the scientific realm. To that extent, Einstein's theory is verifiable. "

Well, yes and no. The best we can say is that for certain conditions, within the limits of our present knowledge and ability to observe, we have found only confirming and so far no non-confirming observations. That's really as far as we can go, isn't it?


message 28: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) I think, Everyman, that's only as far as he is going. I believe he's saying that those observations that are not amenable to confirmation are "speculative" (and therefore not scientific) while those that are able to be confirmed are somehow more "real," therefore scientific. If I understand him correctly.


message 29: by Tyler (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Everyman --

The best we can say is that for certain conditions, within the limits of our present knowledge and ability to observe, we have found only confirming and so far no non-confirming observations. That's really as far as we can go, isn't it?

Yes, and to that extent a theory would be scientifically supported. Science makes sense of a contingent world, so theories will vary in the extent of the evidence supporting them.


message 30: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Which philosophers of science are you getting this definition of science from, Tyler?


message 31: by Tyler (last edited Nov 14, 2010 09:18AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi John --

You're saying ...

I’m not sure how “possessing explanatory power” is necessarily “evidence of something” (presumably that something exists/works the way that a scientist claims that it does).

... and also ...

Scientists don’t accept or dismiss ideas on the basis of their ability to be empirically verified or not, but rather on their explanatory power.

All I meant was that I partly agree with your second statement, although I took it for granted that evidence has explanatory power.

When you say that philosophy [...] is “integrative,” you commit the same mistake Hawking made [...] You give it a special place, when it’s no more valid than any other epistemic pursuit.

I'll have to pursue this a little further, but let me point out that examples as far apart as physics and "psychoanalysis" (by which I meant psychiatry and psychology) are indeed invoked to make claims about determinism. I'm not saying I agree, or that it isn't silly to do that; only that it happens all the time in public discourse.

With reference to your pragmatism and to Kuhn, I take it that you're using the pragmatic theory of truth while I'm arguing from correspondence theory. I don't agree with the Kuhnian notion that a paradigm shift gets us no closer the truth about an ultimate reality than the previous paradigm, and since you referred to Kuhn's paradigms as "old fashioned" I missed where you were coming from.

Now, as to the tu quoque, I disagree, precisely because of the need for integrated thinking. Philosophy has always been that integrating endeavor. Physics, no.

As to why we need an integrated view of the world, the answer is clear. Without it we'd be in the position of newborn babes, for whom every new perception is unique and unprecedented, or children whose ideas are disconnected magical thinking. Such a concrete-bound mind in an adult would scarcely qualify as human.

Every human has an broad, general idea of what reality is, right or wrong. All adults philosophize whether they think so or not. The only question is whether the world view they put together in their minds is going to be a junk heap of unwarranted assertions and idiocy, or something more sublime.

It is this need for a world view that gives philosophy precedence. Physics is not a world view; it is a specialized area. It doesn't subsume philosophy, but philosphy subsumes it because that's philosophy's function. Physics will never give us an integrated view of the world. Philosophy can. Philosophy is qualified to talk not only about what we know, but about what we don't. In that regard it is critically important to a view of reality.

Hawking's nerve is touched by what physics doesn't know. Your post is concerned with my calling theoretical physics "speculative." But I've said that that doesn't mean I don't think it has validity, and physicists certainly are the ones qualified to speculate on physical reality - no argument from authority there.

I'm saying only that physics becomes speculative when it no longer meets scientific criteria. A ball on an incline, that's science. But the hypotheses, or speculations, propounded about a possible Theory of Everything are not even in principle falsifiable, so they cannot be scientific, at least according to the criteria of a sound theory put forth by Popper. I don't think any theorical physicist would ever say his work qualified as science in this ordinarily understood sense.

edited for spelling


message 32: by Desgreene (last edited Nov 23, 2010 10:28AM) (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments I think I understand where Stephen Hawking is coming from when he asserts that philosophy is dead. He in fact is saying that philosophy as we know it is dead because it has not (and perhaps cannot, due to the ever increasing complexity of modern scientific thought)kept apace of developments in our understanding of the cosmos or of Planck scale reality.

I have just read a paper by Frank Wilczek in which he describes the modern ideas around concepts of matter and energy. It has taken me over five years to get to a level of understanding whereby I can read such a paper and glean the wonderful insights therein. I try to bring these insights into my philosophical deliberations and relate them to what current philosophy is at. I struggle as I find modern philosophy trapped in a personal world where each philosopher creates a language to tease out his solipsistic world.

Such noble efforts strain under the limitations of language yet there exists in modern science a complex common language that allows the strange world of reality to emerge for all.

In that sense philosophy as we know it is dying - a philosophy based on the person and his ideas/concepts.


message 33: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) "I struggle as I find modern philosophy trapped in a personal world where each philosopher creates a language to tease out his solipsistic world." I'm afraid statements like this belie the idea that you might have a broad overview of the history of western philosophy.

What would it even mean for "philosophy to keep apace of developments in our understanding of the cosmos"? Should we erase something in Plato and fill in the blank every time we make a new discovery?


message 34: by Rhonda (new)

Rhonda (rhondak) | 47 comments There is an old riddle which begins “As I was going to St Ives" in which, it is intimated, that a large number must be calculated in order to discover the answer. I believe that Hawking is expressing such a riddle in which the answers of philosophy ought, in his opinion, to discuss the latest advances in the sciences. While I see nothing preventing this from happening, I do not see that this is the proper course for philosophy because it yields very little of substance.
In many ways during the last century, and it is amazing how generally impoverished we were as scientific thinkers only a century ago, at least several schools of philosophy have followed into the mathematical and scientific studies looking for answer. Approaches were applied to scientific interpretation and language and almost every conceivable issue with, to be kind, inconsistent results.
Indeed Nietzsche as a prophet was predicting that man would fall further into the abyss of mediocrity, losing the spirit or Geisteshaltung which separates man from mere things. Indeed he has done so, despite the warning. Although intentional philosophy is nothing new, it seems in many ways to have become eclipsed by what many feel are the more important issues of our age, including not only the natural sciences but others such as psychology. Dehumanized as we have fundamentally become, perhaps this is a wake up call for philosophers to focus on that which is inherent in our own spirit. It is our own experience with phenomena which ought rightly to be studied, even in the natural sciences. Our trouble and Hawking’s observation, seems to emanate from removing the human components from the equation.


message 35: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers. A lot of what Plato expounds is nonsense to modern minds.

Sure it is necessary to be aware of Plato and his successors but modern thought has moved on (as it undoubtedly should).

Hawking, and the many great minds of the 20th century, have led us onto a new level of discourse about our sense of being.


message 36: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments Rhonda wrote: "There is an old riddle which begins “As I was going to St Ives" in which, it is intimated, that a large number must be calculated in order to discover the answer. I believe that Hawking is express..."

Quite the contrary, quantum theory has placed humanity at the vanguard of reality by making the observer the agent that breaks the inevitable deterministic wave function of the universe.


message 37: by John (last edited Nov 24, 2010 04:16PM) (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Desgreene wrote: "Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers. A lot of what Plato expounds is nonsense to modern minds.

Sur..."


"Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers." Again, you're showing your ignorance. Whitehead made his comment about Plato and the history of western philosophy for a reason - because it's true.

You say that you write literary fiction with a emphases in philosophy and science. Do you have an advanced degree in either one? Just curious.


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Rhonda wrote: "I believe that Hawking is expressing such a riddle in which the answers of philosophy ought, in his opinion, to discuss the latest advances in the sciences. While I see nothing preventing this from happening, I do not see that this is the proper course for philosophy because it yields very little of substance. "

Excellent point. The issue of what constitutes moral or ethical behavior has very little to do with the state of technology or science. Similarly, what constitutes logical or illogical thought has little to do with the state of technology or science. And for a third, the best way to organize a polis...

Those questions were at the heart of philosophy 2,500 years ago, and they remain, or at least should remain, at the heart of philosophy. They remain today without clear answers, and remain relevant philosophical questions for those willing to be open to thinking seriously about and discussing them.


message 39: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Desgreene wrote: "Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers. A lot of what Plato expounds is nonsense to modern minds."

Some of the answers he proposed are, you're right, not currently accepted. That doesn't, of course, make them wrong. But the questions he asked are still highly relevant and are, or at least should be, of immense interest to modern thinkers.

Unless you already have the absolute truth about, for example, how a Republic should be governed, what it means to live a good life, how the young should be educated. If you have the absolute final truth about those questions, please share the answers with us. If not, then engaging with Plato as to how to find the best answers is still a highly relevant activity.


message 40: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments John wrote: "Desgreene wrote: "Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers. A lot of what Plato expounds is nonsense to ..."

Hi John,

I'd prefer that my ideas rather than my academic status be challenged.
I do have an advanced degree but it is in Engineering and have led a full professional life in that discipline.
Having had the opportunity to move on from my engineering career, I have spent the last five years in full time writing and study/research into modern science (general relativity, quantum theory, cosmology, astronomy, string theory, advanced mathematics, history of philosophy, modern philosophy of science, etc.)
My goal (however rash) was to arrive at an ontological interpretation of quantum theory that could serve as a basis of a new philosophical paradigm.
There are alas no advanced courses covering this broad spectrum of knowledge. If I studied science I would be trapped in a net where I had to cover issues of no great interest to me. The same applies to philosophy where I would have to cover the vast output of historical philosophers.

While I cannot display high academic laurels (other than those of engineering) I do not feel that this should preclude my input into the areas for which I have developed special knowledge and awareness.

Science and philosophy would be much the poorer if this became the necessary requirement for participation in their affairs.


message 41: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments Everyman wrote: "Desgreene wrote: "Plato was of his time but Platonic philosophy, like religion, is more of interest to historians of philosophy than to modern thinkers. A lot of what Plato expounds is nonsense to ..."
Certainly I do not have the definitive answers to how a Republic should be governed but I do know that the ideas proposed by Plato were of his time and knowledge and thus of little relevance to modern society (built as it is around the open nation state rather than the closed city state).

Plato's ideas on the good moral life happily encompassed slavery and other evils that modern life abhors. His ideas on education would find little support in the modern world with perhaps the exception of North Korea.


message 42: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments John wrote: ""I struggle as I find modern philosophy trapped in a personal world where each philosopher creates a language to tease out his solipsistic world." I'm afraid statements like this belie the idea th..."

I got my initial overview of Western Philosophy from Bertrand Russell - this I'm sure you'll agree provides a good overview up to the beginning of the 20th century.

On the cosmos issue, Plato's world view was of his time. He had no idea of the place of the earth in the universe spacetime. The modern concepts of a spacetime universe and perhaps an infinitude of spacetimes makes the human existential mystery much more stark. Plato had a world localised around city states and local gods. This paradigm has no resonance for the modern mind.


message 43: by Quincunx (new)

Quincunx I believe philosophy has always been 'dead', in the sense that Hawking intends: 'Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.' Philosophy does not progress at all. Authentic philosophy functions only to provide frameworks through which to analyse and understand phenomena or existence. Philosophical theories or positions are unfalsifiable, and as such, there can be no real philosophical progress. A philosophical position may be elaborated upon, or taken in another direction, but never proven. An authentic philosophical position is the theoretical background against which the distinction between truth and falsity makes sense.


message 44: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 140 comments Desgreene wrote: "Certainly I do not have the definitive answers to how a Republic should be governed but I do know that the ideas proposed by Plato were of his time and knowledge and thus of little relevance to modern society (built as it is around the open nation state rather than the closed city state)."

I actually think that his ideas are more relevant today than you give him credit for, but let that pass.

I don't consider his answers as important as the questions he asks and the way he approaches answering them. I think any thoughtful scientist (I don't know whether as an engineer you consider yourself a scientist or not, and it really doesn't matter) would agree that the defining attribute of science is not the answers it comes up with at any given time and place, but its devotion to questioning and to the manner of seeking answers to those questions. Ptolemy's view of the universe is no longer the accepted one, but his writing is still important (and still read by scientists) because his approach to the questions he addressed and the way in which he, given the knowledge and instrumentation of his time, addressed them is still worth understanding. Ditto many of the breakthrough scientists and mathematicians -- Harvey, Descartes, Bacon, Newton, and on and on.

Neither science nor philosophy come out of nothing. They are both (as are mathematics, medicine, engineering, and many other disciplines) the current conclusions of a long line of thinkers whose ideas may no longer be considered correct but whose contributions to the process of developing current understandings are vital. And I have no doubt that many of the ideas which we hold as truths today in science, in mathematics, in engineering, in biology, in philosophy, will be discarded and replaced by new ideas over future centuries just as they have over past centuries. But that does not mean that the thinking and findings of today's scientists, mathematicians, biologists, engineers, and philosophers are meaningless or worthless.

You say that Plato's answers are wrong for our time, and some of them certainly are (though in my view not, as you seem to suggest, all). But the same is true for many other thinkers in many other disciplines through the centuries. Do you consider that that makes them all irrelevant or not worth the time to read today? Or are they worth studying for the contributions they made to the progress of knowledge, for the truths they discovered which have remained accepted as well as those which have been superseded, for the questions they asked and for what we can learn about the way in which they tried, using the best information, tools, and ideas available to them, to answer those questions?


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman wrote: "Desgreene wrote: "Certainly I do not have the definitive answers to how a Republic should be governed but I do know that the ideas proposed by Plato were of his time and knowledge and thus of littl..."

Enjoyed reading your comment. There seems to a similar debate relating to the importance of reading history.


message 46: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Desgreene wrote: "John wrote: ""I struggle as I find modern philosophy trapped in a personal world where each philosopher creates a language to tease out his solipsistic world." I'm afraid statements like this beli..."

Yes, Bertie Russell is a great place to start feeling around to get an overall thrust of the history of Western philosophical thought. His biases and weaknesses are much more apparent than he would have liked them to be. I assume you've read more than just one sweeping history on the subject.

Desgreene, you're sort of missing the forest for the trees. To point out that "Plato's worldview was of his time" is to point out something simultaneously true and meaningless. (Whose thought wasn't "of their own time"?) Isaac Newton was "of his time," yet he had no idea of Einstein's general theory of relativity theory. Yet we still teach kinematics equations and the theory of gravitation to physics freshmen, even though they're not strictly true. Why do you think we do this?


message 47: by John (new)

John David (nicholasofautrecourt) Stephen wrote: "I believe philosophy has always been 'dead', in the sense that Hawking intends: 'Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bea..."

This isn't, strictly speaking, true. Many linguists have convincingly made the case that some form of philosophical rationalism (as opposed to Locke's tabula rasa) is true, especially in the light of Chomsky's universal grammar.

Also, the only "philosophical theories" that are unfalsifiable as such seem to be metaphysical ones. But there's much more to philosophy than just metaphysics.


message 48: by Tyler (last edited Nov 26, 2010 08:58AM) (new)

Tyler  (tyler-d) | 444 comments Hi Stephen --

I believe philosophy has always been 'dead', in the sense that Hawking intends: 'Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.

I don't think Hawkings intended to restrict his comment to one of science versus philosophy. Here's what he said:


Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time.
Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.


Considering his preamble, he clearly indicts philosophy as such, not just a particular branch of it such as the philosophy of science.

Even if we look only at the last two sentences, it's not clear what he's talking about. What does it mean to "keep up" with developments in physics? Is that statement even true of philosophers? Are the world's top physicists the only people qualified to think about what currently lies beyond the scope of their theories? And exactly what does that scope include?

His final sentence is equally vague because it's not clear what he means by knowledge. I've never heard a definition of knowledge that doesn't rely on philosophy. Without philosophy, he couldn't even make that statement coherently.

Hawkings broaches the idea of a world that is by turns kind and cruel. This aspect of the world isn't amenable to anything but philosophy. That's because it pertains largely to human agency. I suppose we could reduce consciousness to matter or deterministic principles (and thence to physics) the way materialists have proposed, but such a reduction will never adequately account for the phenomenon of human consciousness.

Nor will physics or any other branch of study outside philosophy answer the question, What should man do? It can, at best, declare such a question irrelevant or dead. But it cannot address it.


message 49: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments Stephen wrote: "I believe philosophy has always been 'dead', in the sense that Hawking intends: 'Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bea..."

John wrote: "Desgreene wrote: "John wrote: ""I struggle as I find modern philosophy trapped in a personal world where each philosopher creates a language to tease out his solipsistic world." I'm afraid stateme..."

If the Popperian criterion of 'falsifiability' were applied to philosophical hypotheses then not one would pass through the net.


message 50: by Desgreene (new)

Desgreene | 19 comments Everyman wrote: "Desgreene wrote: "Certainly I do not have the definitive answers to how a Republic should be governed but I do know that the ideas proposed by Plato were of his time and knowledge and thus of littl..."

I guess I have given the wrong impression of my thoughts on Plato - by all means he is worth reading and studying. In fact his writing is quite enjoyable even for modern tastes. What I feel however is that we shouldn't place him on a pedestal as a guide to modern thought which has moved onward (thankfully) in the breadth and scope of its vista.


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