Philosophy is “useful” to science no more than mycology is “useful” to fungi


Second, after David’s review came out, Lawrence took the regrettable tack of lashing out at “moronic philosophers” and the discipline as a whole, rather than taking the high road and sticking to a substantive discussion of the issues. In the Atlantic interview especially, he takes numerous potshots that are just kind of silly. Like most scientists, Lawrence doesn’t get a lot out of the philosophy of science. That’s okay; the point of philosophy is not to be “useful” to science, any more than the point of mycology is to be “useful” to fungi. Philosophers of science aren’t trying to do science, they are trying to understand how science works, and how it should work, and to tease out the logic and standards underlying scientific argumentation, and to situate scientific knowledge within a broader epistemological context, and a bunch of other things that can be perfectly interesting without pretending to be science itself. And if you’re not interested, that’s fine. But trying to undermine the legitimacy of the field through a series of wisecracks is kind of lame, and ultimately anti-intellectual — it represents exactly the kind of unwillingness to engage respectfully with careful scholarship in another discipline that we so rightly deplore when people feel that way about science. It’s a shame when smart people who agree about most important things can’t disagree about some other things without throwing around insults. We should strive to be better than that.

via A Universe from Nothing? : Cosmic Variance.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the relationship between science and philosophy. Some scientists refer to philosophers as “moronic” and believe that philosophers have no authority to define things for scientists.  Others go as far as to say that “philosophy is dead” (i.e. has been replaced by science).

I, personally, like Sean Carroll’s view on relationship between science and philosophy.  IMO, science cannot replace philosophy and science cannot replace religion much like one cannot use trousers instead of a jacket or a screwdriver to drive nails.  This, by the way, applies to relationship between science and religion.  Scientists who make claims about the existence of God, clearly, step out of their scientific shoes.

Edited 1/18/2014.  A quote from Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

What’s wrong with this story? Well, for starters it’s internally incoherent. You can’t argue for science making philosophy obsolete without indulging in philosophical arguments. You’re going to need to argue, for example, for a clear criterion for distinguishing between scientific and non-scientific theories of the world. When pressed for an answer to the so-called demarcation problem, scientists almost automatically reach for the notion of “falsifiability” first proposed by Karl Popper. His profession? Philosophy. But whatever criterion you offer, its defense is going to implicate you in philosophy.

Here is another good analogy about relationship between science and philosophy which I read on this site:

Philosophers do conceptual tidying up, among other things, but scientists are the ones making all the sawdust in the workshop, and they need not be so tidy. And no cleaner should tell any professional (other than cleaners) how it ought to be done. Creationists who say, “evolution is not like what Popper said science should be, so it isn’t science” are like the janitor who says that teachers don’t keep their classrooms clean enough, so they aren’t teachers.

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7 thoughts on “Philosophy is “useful” to science no more than mycology is “useful” to fungi

  1. Science and philosophy are really two parts of a whole – that of ordered thinking about ourselves and about our world. You could view science as a subset of philosophy or as a child of philosophy, or suchlike, but in doing so you are doing philosophy of science.
    It’s a two-way process – quantum physics has demonstrated that simple logical statements are a product of our experience of the world. We think that the ball is spinning clockwise OR the ball is spinning anti-clockwise. Quantum physics gives us the notion that the electron is spinning clockwise AND the ball is spinning anti-clockwise! The interplay between science and philosophy is interesting and rich, and who knows exactly where it will lead?
    As you say, they are like trousers and a jacket – it would be foolish to go anywhere without both.

    • Your example about the direction of spinning is interesting. A left wheel of a car spins counter-clockwise, and a right wheel spins clockwise. Yet, they both spin in the same direction. The difference is in the side from which we look. To have a meaningful discussion, even on simplest matters, people need to use the same frame of reference. People rarely bother to do that assuming that others use the same frame as they do. This creates problems.

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