Science and Philosophy: And Other Essays

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Accordingly, he states that "philosophers of science. One wonders, however, if this is really so: on which basis do or should philosophers of science formulate their judgments? Why should they, in particular, be in charge of telling what counts as metaphysics?

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More importantly, it could be plausibly contended that, well-known problems with demarcation notwithstanding, in the case at hand one should at least try to say more. After all, it is probably borderline cases that are the most interesting for philosophers and, more generally, it seems hard to say anything truly interesting about the relationship between x and y without assuming some definition debatable as it might be of x and y that goes beyond the identification of putatively unproblematic instances. Be this as it may, let us now have a look at the essays contained in the collection -- which, as mentioned, are best evaluated separately.

Katherine Brading discusses Newton's work in the Principia , and argues that it represents a turning point in the history of metaphysics. In particular, says Brading, Newton's distinctions between absolute and relative, true and apparent, and mathematical and common time are instrumental to his project of defining a 'system of the world' on a scientific basis. And this entails that they are empirically grounded and never operate at a purely abstract level, disconnected from the actual world that scientists -- as well as laymen -- interact with.

The foregoing leads Brading to regard the Principia as the earliest example of what she calls 'empiricist metaphysics. Yet, a much more explicit account of the key concepts, and especially of the interplay between the empirical and the non-empirical, would have helped. Brading explicitly states, for instance, that "Newton stipulates that time 'flows equably'" p. While this lends support to her distinction between space and time based on the fact that "all rulers are perfect rulers.

Michael Strevens presents a fascinating argument against the 'wedding cake' compositional model of reality, according to which the world is essentially like a Lego building. Strevens claims that such a model is unable to handle complexity, and puts forward an alternative: so-called 'enion probability analysis' - a view whereby the focus is not on interacting individuals 'enions' , but rather on probabilities corresponding to "aggregate properties of populations" p.

Enion probability analysis allegedly steers clear of problems with complexity, as the relevant probabilities do not track individual behaviours and interactions explicitly and are mutually independent, so allowing one to always stay within the boundaries of a manageable calculus. In view of this, says Strevens, enion probability analysis should at least be regarded as a complement to traditional compositional views, and the same holds for all 'distributed ontologies' of this sort.

The proposal is intriguing, but one would like to hear more about its precise metaphysical import. If probabilities, and the basic items of distributed ontologies more generally, are dependent on actual systems that 'bear' them, does this not mean that the latter, and consequently the compositional model of reality, remain 'ontologically dominant'? If they are basic, are we supposed to reify probabilities or, say, the superposition of different wave frequencies p.

Next, Slater makes the compelling claim that metaphysics cannot simply be extracted from science, as whatever lesson we may learn from actual science is to be determined on grounds that are partly non-empirical. The thesis that species are extended composite objects qualifying as individuals, for example, appears compatible with what we know of the biological domain.

However, it leads to the acceptance of objective indeterminacy in the world, a conclusion that cannot be evaluated on a purely empirical basis. Something similar happens, says Slater, in the case of the homeostatic property cluster view of species, which is no doubt explanatorily powerful but might be and has been rejected on the basis of the empirically underdetermined hypothesis that higher taxa are monophyletic.

Slater's conclusion is that there is no simple recipe for naturalizing metaphysics, and "progressively naturalistic metaphysics [should be regarded] as a regulative ideal" p. Not surprisingly, Slater distances himself from the more radically naturalistic view presented in James Ladyman and Don Ross's well-known Every Thing Must Go see also Ladyman's contribution to this volume. This sounds very sensible, and it is hoped that the claims and suggestions contained in this essay will be developed into a more systematic view in the future.

Kenneth Waters argues for the bold conclusion that reality has no general ontological structure spanning all scales. He first rejects the primacy given to physics by many authors including Ladyman , and then looks at the philosophy of biology, and, in particular, at the history of the concept of gene. He notes that hypothetical science-oriented metaphysicians living in the s would have concluded from an assessment of the best science available to them that the gene exists and is the fundamental unit of heredity the 'classical gene'.

Since we have now abandoned this view, replacing it with a much more flexible 'molecular gene' concept that plays several functions and lacks a precise fundamental structure, Waters concludes that i there is no unitary concept of gene to be found, corresponding to allegedly objective 'joints of nature'; and ii generalizing, one may conjecture that there is no general structure of reality.

Waters is certainly right that philosophers, including those doing metaphysics, should not look at science in the abstract, but rather consider it in its practice and historical development. Doing so no doubt fosters awareness of the fact that putative fundamental facts, levels, entities or what have you are hard to find, even from a science-informed perspective. Abstract objects, if they exist, are somehow not in the physical universe cf.

Plato , bks. Ridge ; and of abstract objects cf. Loux ch. Metaphysics is largely about necessary truths and abstract objects Loux Epistemology is about the arguably normative question of who is justified in believing what, and who knows what BonJour ch.

Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists: And Other Essays by Louis Althusser

Huemer ch. Papineau That just means that this theory is a naturalism about philosophy itself, not merely about some philosophical issue or topic.

And the word gives us a clue about what the theory says: it says that there is some strong connection between philosophy and the natural sciences. If we accept something like naturalism, then it will be more difficult to define philosophy simply by contrasting it with science. Where the metaphilosophical rationalist believes that some area of study or thought is characteristically philosophical, the metaphilosophical naturalist can at least agree that historically, it has as a matter of fact been associated more with philosophy.

Naturalists believe that we should use science to investigate traditionally philosophical questions, but most would admit that their position is relatively new on the scene Papineau Indeed, this is one of the most lively and prominent disputes in current philosophy. But we can at least see that the sorts of topics one will study in a philosophy classroom are definable, in general, by contrast with the sorts of topics that the natural sciences study most centrally.

Armstrong, D. A Materialist Theory of the Mind. In it Stenger and co-authors address the latest eruption of a long-standing historic feud, an argument between physicists and philosophers about the nature of their disciplines and the limits of science. Can instruments and experiments or pure reason and theoretical models ever reveal the ultimate nature of reality? Does the modern triumph of physics make philosophy obsolete? What philosophy, if any, could modern theoretical physicists be said to possess?

Stenger and his co-authors introduce and address all these profound questions in this thoughtful essay and seek to mend the growing schism between these two great schools of thought. When physicists make claims about the universe, Stenger writes, they are also engaging in a grand philosophical tradition that dates back thousands of years.

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Inescapably, physicists are philosophers, too. Later that year Krauss had a friendly discussion with philosopher Julian Baggini in The Observer , an online magazine from The Guardian. I cannot see how mere facts could ever settle the issue of what is morally right or wrong, for example. Krauss does not see it quite that way. Krauss is not alone among physicists in his disdain for philosophy.

In September physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow published a shot heard round the world—and not just the academic world. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The questions that philosophy is no longer capable of handling if it ever was include: How does the universe behave?

Why I am so very unFrench, and other essays

What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? According to Hawking and Mlodinow, only scientists—not philosophers—can provide the answers.


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Famous astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson has joined the debate. Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning? Needless to say, Tyson also has been heavily criticized for his views. His position can be greatly clarified by viewing the video of his appearance in a forum at Howard University in , where he was on the stage with biologist Richard Dawkins. Tyson's argument is straightforward and is the same as expressed by Krauss: Philosophers from the time of Plato and Aristotle have claimed that knowledge about the world can be obtained by pure thought alone.

As Tyson explained, such knowledge cannot be obtained by someone sitting back in an armchair. It can only be gained by observation and experiment. What we are seeing here is not a recent phenomenon. Weinberg does not dismiss all of philosophy, just the philosophy of science, noting that its arcane discussions interest few scientists. He points out the problems with the philosophy of positivism, although he agrees that it played a role in the early development of both relativity and quantum mechanics. Perhaps the most influential positivist was late 19th-century philosopher and physicist Ernst Mach, who refused to accept the atomic model of matter because he could not see atoms.

Today we can see atoms with a scanning tunneling microscope but our models still contain unseen objects such as quarks. Philosophers as well as physicists no longer take positivism seriously, and so it has no remaining influence on physics, good or bad. Nevertheless, most physicists would agree with Krauss and Tyson that observation is the only reliable source of knowledge about the natural world.

Some, but not all, incline toward instrumentalism, in which theories are merely conceptual tools for classifying, systematizing and predicting observational statements. Those conceptual tools may include nonobservable objects such as quarks. Until very recently in history no distinction was made between physics and natural philosophy. Thales of Miletus circa — B. He sought natural explanations for phenomena that made no reference to mythology. For example, he explained earthquakes to be the result of Earth resting on water and being rocked by waves. He reasoned this from observation, not pure thought: Land is surrounded by water and boats on water are seen to rock.

Thales is famous for predicting an eclipse of the sun that modern astronomers calculate occurred over Asia Minor on May 28, B.

Expertise. Insights. Illumination.

Most historians today, however, doubt the truth of this tale. Thales and other Ionian philosophers who followed espoused a view of reality now called material monism in which everything is matter and nothing else.