The battle of Ages ….


Philosophy has not progressed in two thousand years – School of Athens

Well, atleast the counterpart has something to show if it comes down to ‘The battle’  ——   Science vs Philosophy

It isn’t really a battle anymore, is it ? !!!!  ……

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4 thoughts on “The battle of Ages ….

  1. Philosophy has progressed many, many times in the past 2000 years. Indeed, the only one’s who could deny it are those ignorant of philosophy and its history. To take just one of the most obvious examples, the two most dominant theories of ethics at present didn’t even exist 500 years ago (let alone 2000 years ago). Science was way behind here, with Kohlberg trying to give a bizarre psychological defense of sorts to Kantianism in 1958 and Sam Harris trying to give a quasi-scientific defense of utilitarianism today. And that’s without even mentioning the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions upon which all of science rests. In the end, this “battle” is absurd. The earliest philosophers were scientists as well, and neither discipline can exist without the other. Everyone treating this as a fight should really just grow up already.

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    • Let me start by quoting Feynman on the age old debate — “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” Now, I will not deny the fact that Philosophy has progressed for many years and has a longer history of collective contribution individually than science, but it has contributed not as close to what science has for many centuries.
      Now to say neither can exist without each other is similar to signing a prenuptial agreement keeping in mind the impending divorce. Certainly, they are independent disciplines – One exploits the logical space only and other uses certain type of logic (Mathematics) along with empirical tests to explore the nature of the Nature ! The very fact that many people like to take shots at each other – Philosophers and Scientists all considered is because the advancement of human civilization started with exploring nature with the help of original thoughts and ideas – both central to the underlying disciplines. Indeed, they did have a clear distinction in an early developmental stage does not mean philosophy has advanced more. On the contrary, Science and applied science (technology) are singlehandedly responsible for increasing the human development index in our society since human and ape ancestors left caves and Philosophy hasn’t.

      Note :Theory of Justice and Ethics may have stemmed from some thoughts and ideas which might be intersecting with certain schools of Philosophy but nonetheless they are part of an experiment in social conduct of a society – a civilized discourse in social science. No one school of thought has provided us with all the dicta of Law.

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  2. Ah, Feynman. Now there is a scientist who, like many other scientists, often failed to realize how heavily he dabbled in philosophy. Indeed, much of what makes him such a respected thinker is his willingness to get philosophical about science. And yet he denies his own reliance on the discipline by thinking that so-called “philosophy of science” is the only philosophy that might be relevant to science. It is not, however, for the issues that most concern philosophers of science tend to come up after science has been done. The areas I mentioned, on the other hand, come before (or are at least logically prior). Without epistemology, for instance, there is no reason to think that science tells us anything at all or that the scientific method produces reliable results. Without metaphysics, scientists are left to fall back on a refrain I have heard many, many times: “as long as the mathematics works out, it doesn’t matter what’s really underneath it all.” Yet this is to abandon any right to use science as a corrective (for correction requires taking a stance on “what’s really underneath it all”).

    I also worry that you have chosen the “ignorant of philosophy and its history” path when you suggest that philosophy is concerned only with exploiting logical space. This is clearly not the case, as anyone familiar with the actual discipline could tell you. There are certainly philosophers who confine themselves to such a task, and branches of philosophy that are concerned only with it, but that is insufficient for a claim that philosophy as such is so limited. Philosophy is lived, as thinkers as diverse as Socrates, Hume, Nietzsche, and Singer would all tell you. That some confine their professional activities to logic chopping in no way changes the way in which philosophy can affect everyday life.

    You are also quite mistaken about the role of philosophy with regard to the human development index. Leaving aside the fact that the very notion and structure of such an index requires philosophy and philosophical justification, science has only provided the means for the changes you mention. The means are quite important, of course, but we have the means to do both good and bad. Distinguishing one from the other is essentially a philosophical task, even if in some cases it is a simple one. It is political philosophy that has brought about many of the changes by being the impetus for creating and spreading the means science has produced, and for increasing our understanding of which of the many ends to which our science can be aimed we ought bring about.

    As for your note, it clearly commits both a fallacy of composition and a definist fallacy (specifically, the persuasive definition fallacy). Furthermore, the notion of schools is irrelevant. All of the various schools of thought here are engaged in the broader pursuit known as ethics, which is itself a branch of philosophy. Nor does the fact that we test our ethical ideas in the real world change the fact that the notions we are testing are philosophical. Philosophy has always engaged in experiments. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental mistakes that people engaged in the battle you so unfortunately take seriously make to think that “experimental” is synonymous with “scientific” in a sense that rules out or is in contrast to “philosophical.” The very notion of scientific experiments and the scientific method is, after all, modeled on the experiments and methods of philosophers. Again, this is something that is bound to be missed by those ignorant of philosophy and its history.

    You opened with Feynman, so let me close with a quote commonly attributed, though without a source, to him: “Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” The word “philosophy” could be easily substituted for “physics” in that statement. So while you already conceded the main point in your reply when you admitted that philosophy progresses, the question of progress may be irrelevant. Philosophy and physics are not in conflict in all because they are ultimately expressions of a single drive. This drive was summed up by Aristotle in the first line of his Metaphysics: “All human beings by nature desire to know.” The Metaphysics was, of course, a follow up to Aristotle’s Physics. Aristotle was a man who, raised in a house of science, understood the necessity of philosophy. He was also a man who, having dedicated his life to philosophy, understood the necessity of science. The two do not come apart. Some people just like to pretend they do.

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    • You said: Ah, Feynman. Now there is a scientist who, like many other scientists, often failed to realize how heavily he dabbled in philosophy. Indeed, much of what makes him such a respected thinker is his willingness to get philosophical about science. And yet he denies his own reliance on the discipline by thinking that so-called “philosophy of science” is the only philosophy that might be relevant to science. It is not, however, for the issues that most concern philosophers of science tend to come up after science has been done. The areas I mentioned, on the other hand, come before (or are at least logically prior). Without epistemology, for instance, there is no reason to think that science tells us anything at all or that the scientific method produces reliable results. Without metaphysics, scientists are left to fall back on a refrain I have heard many, many times: “as long as the mathematics works out, it doesn’t matter what’s really underneath it all.” Yet this is to abandon any right to use science as a corrective (for correction requires taking a stance on “what’s really underneath it all”).

      Me: I think, I don’t have to reply to your remarks about Feynman, as your little understanding of why he was an original thinker may take a book or two to read and lectures to ponder upon. However, respected thinkers do not become “respected” because of their willingness to utter anything about philosophy. This is unfruitful when someone is questioned over their right to contribute in original thinking and also over their might in a field which requires specialized training. “Shut up and calculate” way of interpreting things is not a mainstream or an widely accepted way of going on about the observable facts about science (FYI, that is a small class to the discussion ‘interpretation of Quantum Mechanics’ ). I reckon you have not been to any ‘Evolutionary Biology’ class or ‘Quantum entanglement’ seminar for that matter. I would strongly yet humbly suggest you should. I am not an expert myself in above two subjects, but those are among the best things to know about our understanding of the surrounding and the universe for that matter. Also, these two subjects come closest if we pick out the things Theologians and Philosophers ponder about and care to comment about in a general sense. However important mathematical framework in Physics may have been to make advancements, the collection of inferences drawn from the experiments which make calculus different from the structural mechanics is the very gist of its usage and its interpretation in everyday use. Again, an integral part of Science.

      You said : I also worry that you have chosen the “ignorant of philosophy and its history” path when you suggest that philosophy is concerned only with exploiting logical space. This is clearly not the case, as anyone familiar with the actual discipline could tell you. There are certainly philosophers who confine themselves to such a task, and branches of philosophy that are concerned only with it, but that is insufficient for a claim that philosophy as such is so limited. Philosophy is lived, as thinkers as diverse as Socrates, Hume, Nietzsche, and Singer would all tell you. That some confine their professional activities to logic chopping in no way changes the way in which philosophy can affect everyday life.

      Me: I purposefully chose not to comment on the other aspects of Philosophy but only chose the logic. Language, Law, Mind, Religion and Science ! So these are the realms of Philosophy – Rational arguments about Reality, Existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language. For me (belonging to the school of thought ‘Naturalism’) , I count language, law, mind and therefore nature as a part of scientific enquiry. Religion is a manifestation of long held beliefs which are without evidence. Every time there has been a new understanding or a progress in the interpretation of scientific facts, problems in philosophy, religion and other fields tend to subtract themselves from those to move on and therefore are rightly called ‘ever receding pockets of ignorance’ which are purely exploiting the logical space of our human mind without the method of experiments to correct them.

      Theories of Morality and Ethics are definitely the fruitful gifts came out of it over the years, no one is denying that. Discussion was about the progress made since Athenian Philosophy. I agree with you Nietzsche, and Singer are indeed among the best known additions to what we can call progress! (A caveat – Singer definitely has been referencing the Darwinian Evolution when he draws his observations from human nature ! Reference – Peter Singer interview with Richard Dawkins )

      You said: You are also quite mistaken about the role of philosophy with regard to the human development index. Leaving aside the fact that the very notion and structure of such an index requires philosophy and philosophical justification, science has only provided the means for the changes you mention. The means are quite important, of course, but we have the means to do both good and bad. Distinguishing one from the other is essentially a philosophical task, even if in some cases it is a simple one. It is political philosophy that has brought about many of the changes by being the impetus for creating and spreading the means science has produced, and for increasing our understanding of which of the many ends to which our science can be aimed we ought bring about. As for your note, it clearly commits both a fallacy of composition and a definist fallacy (specifically, the persuasive definition fallacy). Furthermore, the notion of schools is irrelevant. All of the various schools of thought here are engaged in the broader pursuit known as ethics, which is itself a branch of philosophy. Nor does the fact that we test our ethical ideas in the real world change the fact that the notions we are testing are philosophical. Philosophy has always engaged in experiments. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental mistakes that people engaged in the battle you so unfortunately take seriously make to think that “experimental” is synonymous with “scientific” in a sense that rules out or is in contrast to “philosophical.” The very notion of scientific experiments and the scientific method is, after all, modeled on the experiments and methods of philosophers. Again, this is something that is bound to be missed by those ignorant of philosophy and its history.

      Me: Your definition of Economics seems to be – Treat statistics as science and the idea and the structure of analysis is Philosophy. I think you are confusing what I meant when I brought the HDI discussion through. This is a particular way of solving problem which is a fundamental virtue of science. It would be wrong to put any part of this under philosophy, and even diminishing to call science just a tool. Now, whether the HDI is a valid way of representing the human progress or not is debatable, but let’s go with the mainstream view here. You are free to claim the scientific way as a Philosophical school of approaching a problem. It is the only way of thinking known to us to understand the Nature as it is – that is scientific way.

      Our ability to understand what is good and bad might be an evolutionary misfiring or a particular stage in the development of the social structure of Civilization. The question is definitely not settled yet, but a valid case can be made. I absolutely agree with you that the Political Philosophy has been the major area of progress. But, it is not even close when it comes to the discussion we are having – The comparative development in Philosophy and Science in the betterment of Human civilization. We are still a very barbaric species in nature . The federation of united countries have not solved all the problems which were there in Athenian and later in Colonial times also. Politics has progressed but without upholding the exceptionally praiseworthy developments to show for in this regard. We just had the bloodiest century in the history of humankind. The destructive and corrupt ways of thinking ( other than compassion and social harmony ) always make way in our society. Progress in the Philosophy of law has little to say about that. I am not discussing this to show the disapproval of the progress, but to point out that merely incremental progress in Philosophy of Law and Politics has not been sufficient to stop the ill doings in a society so far. We are in need of the big leaps in understanding of the dynamics and inner workings of the peaceful civilization to co-habit the Earth and possibly other planet in the future. Our scientific understanding in Natural sciences is outpacing the progress of Politics, Law and in turn ethics.

      You also mentioned that philosophers gave us the tool of experimentation. Science was called the Natural philosophy before development of modern science. Back then, it was very hard to distinguish between a philosopher and a scientist and it is not very hard to analyze the reasons. When the knowledge quotient of a civilization is primitive, individual can contribute significantly. The perimeter of knowledge was being violated and re-established very frequently. To take into consideration the fact that Physics was in a ‘table top’ state of understanding. Many philosopher, thinkers, social activist and even poets contributed to what we now call Physics. Currently, Physics has outgrown superficial conclusions of the fallible senses of Humans. From the discovery of Cosmic rays to the mapping of human genome, our theoretical and experimental ways of improving the understanding have long surpassed the mere logical/argumentative way of thinking. Now, it is in the scale of billionth of an inch smaller and maybe even smaller, and billionth times an inch bigger and even more bigger. The ‘table top’ scale in which our limited minds have intuition for is no longer the frontier for science. This is precisely why we have to make a distinction. Do not count the counter arguments based on completely opposite assumptions/postulates as a way of “experimenting” and coming to the conclusion merely on the logical reasoning. They happened to have the same word in the history of philosophy scriptures. Time and time again, Natural sciences (P,C and B) have shown us that our way of thinking is an integral part of who we are as biological systems in the universe and therefore have been proven to be wrong most of the times if relied upon the perception and intuition of our minds. The classification of Scientific way of thinking as one of many philosophical ways of thinking is acceptable. I have no objection to that. The comparison is a mere childish play on words – ofcourse they have to move hand-in hand to make a collective progress to explore the nature of Nature. But, the fun part is to know how less the progress has been in Philosophy, since science has made an enormous progress. In return, giving us the delicate boundaries which are present in these traditional sister branches !

      You said : You opened with Feynman, so let me close with a quote commonly attributed, though without a source, to him: “Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” The word “philosophy” could be easily substituted for “physics” in that statement. So while you already conceded the main point in your reply when you admitted that philosophy progresses, the question of progress may be irrelevant. Philosophy and physics are not in conflict in all because they are ultimately expressions of a single drive. This drive was summed up by Aristotle in the first line of his Metaphysics: “All human beings by nature desire to know.” The Metaphysics was, of course, a follow up to Aristotle’s Physics. Aristotle was a man who, raised in a house of science, understood the necessity of philosophy. He was also a man who, having dedicated his life to philosophy, understood the necessity of science. The two do not come apart. Some people just like to pretend they do.

      Me: Yes, as you quoted Feynman, it (The ‘word’) easily can be replaced. You are taking it wrongly, I never questioned the need to make progress or why we have this need to make progress. This is a redundant argument. We all know, how important is to make progress in these. I never said philosophy ‘never’ progressed. This is what I perceive – Philosophy has shown little progress as compared to Science. The quote of the Feynman, I used, “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” is to show that the usefulness of Philosophy in general or in broad term has been very limited since the Science has been taking massive leaps in digging up the cosmos and our place in it.

      I know, this can go on and on, but I have above mentioned particular notion because the cyclic arguments about the origin of the universe and other bigger problems are being handled very poorly by philosophers, so far has been no or little contribution to the way of approaching the problem and the general consensus of scientists. I am not saying they should go and start working in the Department of Philosophy just to help Physicists explore many more ideas. But, I would love to know more about the new and exciting philosophical ideas expanding our knowledge base in any possible way. The comparison was a playfulness on my part. I respect your zeal in opining your defense of the Philosphers, thanks for contributing.

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