A subject we have discussed here before has raised its head yet again. In January, theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, Lawrence Krauss, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that purports to explain how something — the universe — could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory. When actress/singer Miley Cyrus (yes, Miley Cyrus plays a part in this story) came under fire for tweeting a quote from Krauss that some Christians found offensive, Krauss’ book quickly became a bestseller, drawing raves from the likes of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Despite being praised early on, Krauss’s book more recently has been picked apart by David Albert in the New York Times:

“The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields… they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.”

Krauss understandably doesn’t like the criticism, and has responded.

“Every time there’s a leap in physics, it encroaches on these areas that philosophers have carefully sequestered away to themselves, and so then you have this natural resentment on the part of philosophers.”

At one point, he actually referred to Albert as a “moronic philosopher”.

Physicists like Steven Weinberg and Stephen Hawking have also famously dismissed philosophy as passe, causinng a stir amongst intellectuals. New York City skeptic and philosophy professor, Massimo Pigliucci answers Krauss (and the others) here, on behalf of philosophy.

But . . .

What do you think? Who is right? Scientists? Philosophers? Is philosophy dead? Has science all but made it unnecessary? What exactly do we get from philosophy? Does it do anything to progress the human experience? Is this just a case of apples and oranges?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3pm ET.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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50 Comments

  1. Profile photo of James Fox
    May 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm —

    I’m sure Krauss would like to think ethics and moral philosophy would be better quantified by physicists.

    • Profile photo of mrmisconception
      May 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm —

      Exactly, and I’m sure his friend Jeffrey Epstein would love to give him a grant so he can think some more on those ethics and moral philosophy.

    • Profile photo of slayersaves89
      May 3, 2012 at 6:50 pm —

      Bit of a cheap shot no? Nowhere in his complaints did I read Krauss as criticizing ethics as moving in on the turf of physics, or even saying that might happen at some point.

      I certainly don’t agree with him in what he does say. I tend to side with Sean Carroll there. But your comment seems off base from what Krauss was trying to say.

      • Profile photo of James Fox
        May 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm —

        Cheap does not in any way imply inaccurate in my opinion. Sometimes you get what you deserve in life and sometimes no matter what you say people will filter it through your past words or actions. I’ll take victims over physicists any fucking day of any fucking week.

  2. Profile photo of Bjornar
    May 3, 2012 at 3:33 pm —

    I think I’m woefully underqualified to opine on philosophy or quantum physics, not to mention their intersection, but I’m going to do so anyway.

    I think they both have a point. I doubt it’s possible to terminate the line of why’s that start with “Why is there a desk in front of me.”. On the other hand it’s my impression that plenty of philosophers have claimed to answer such questions definitely, so Krauss probably could be said to have demolished some philosophers.

    I do think that the philosophies of ethics, morals and science offer useful tools to examine and discuss important issues that quantum physics is inadequate to deal with.

  3. Profile photo of Improbable Joe
    May 3, 2012 at 3:43 pm —

    I don’t see a purpose for any philosophy that doesn’t map to something in reality. And once science has an answer for a question, it pushes moronic philosophers out of the way. :)

    And how exactly do you tell the difference between a smart philosopher and a dumb one? By what standard can we judge? I’d rather have dumb-but-correct over clever-but-wrong, but I’m not sure philosophers would necessarily agree with me.

  4. Profile photo of Loree
    May 3, 2012 at 3:53 pm —

    I think you made an error… “the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory” is not something Krauss said. As far as I can tell, that phrase was written by Ross Andersen… the free lance author of an article in The Atlantic interviewing Krauss.

    Here’s what Krauss actually says in that article:

    “By the way it’s a nebulous term to say that something is a quantum vacuum in this way. That’s another term that these theologians and philosophers have started using because they don’t know what the hell it is, but it makes them sound like they know what they’re talking about. When I talk about empty space, I am talking about a quantum vacuum, but when I’m talking about no space whatsoever, I don’t see how you can call it a quantum vacuum. It’s true that I’m applying the laws of quantum mechanics to it, but I’m applying it to nothing, to literally nothing. No space, no time, nothing.”

    As you see he is not defining “nothing” as particular to some quantum idea… that’s being done by his critics and is a misrepresentation of his argument… an actual strawman.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      May 5, 2012 at 12:53 pm —

      Some parts of philosophy, theistic philosophy in particular, do have a bit of a “God of the gaps” problem. Some solve this by ignoring scientific progress much like creationists do.

      The “who made the fields” approach is an infinite regress problem. There is no reason to think anyone made them. Multiverse theories, speculative as it is, are more in line with how our universe works than any sort of teleological argument I’ve ever seen.

  5. Profile photo of davew
    May 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm —

    I always took philosophy to be fuzzy subset of logic. Indeed in my first philosophy class we started with propositional logic (which I also had again in a CS class and yet again in a math class). I say fuzzy because I can’t determine exactly what parts of logic are not properly philosophy. Science consists of logic and data so it wouldn’t be too wrong to say that science consists of philosophy and data. To the extent that scientists speculate on things that have no data I say they are indulging in philosophy whether they want to admit it or not. Perhaps the only dividing line would be philosophy generally discusses topics for which there will never be data, whereas science discusses topics for which we at least hope there will someday be data.

  6. Profile photo of deviladv
    May 3, 2012 at 4:07 pm —

    Philosophy is dead as a grand leader in science. Philosophy is a great class to start getting people to think critically, but it’s now only a tool. The height of philosophy now is a college professor teaching students to use their brains to better think about the rest of their studies. Science has become increasingly more specialized. I’m sure the best scientists have studied up on great philosophy, but Philosophy itself isn’t advancing science any more. It’s the specialists discovering the new frontiers.

    Even in social circles, it’s supposed to be one of many tools you use in Economics, Politics, Public Relations, Community organization. Maybe someone will come along and prove me wrong, but we are so specialized now and Philosophy is too general and we need more than existentialism to find the higgs boson.

  7. Profile photo of Philosotroll
    May 3, 2012 at 4:19 pm —

    As a philosopher, I’m of the view that everyone has overstepped on this issue. Krauss certainly oversteps in the title of his book, as the broad issue that the title characterizes is not one that Krauss actually tries to answer; of course, Krauss seems to be more or less aware of that from the commentary I’ve read on the book (though I haven’t read the book yet; it’ll have to wait until after finals).

    Albert dramatically oversteps when writes: “they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story.”

    Really, David? Do you really believe that physicists have *nothing* to say about where quantum fields come from? Or the nature of those fields? If he actually buys that, then he’s not a “moronic philosopher” as much as just a moron.

    Folks like Pigliucci seem to have misread Krauss as being unilaterally anti-philosophy, which I don’t think he is. Folks like Hawking have dramatically overstepped as well. There really is nobody here who looks good after this, since they’re all just throwing provocative claims out there.

    • Profile photo of Joe Kilmarnock
      May 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm —

      Krauss pulls a bit of a bait and switch, with the book title, which I think is what started this. He essentially admits this in the book but says it is unimportant.

      Then he overreacted to criticism. But yeah, bad all around.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      May 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm —

      I’m a physicist and not a philosopher, and I see the same thing as you here.

      I do appreciate philosophy. As a humanist, philosophy is an important foundation for my views on ethics. As a scientist philosophy is an important foundation too. But philosophy is a lot of things. The parts of it that speculate far beyond the reach of empirical science can be interesting, but many of it’s practitioners seem to have too much of a sense of their own importance. They play with logic rather than reality and sometimes lose track of where they are.

  8. Profile photo of hodor
    May 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm —

    davew has it about right, although I’d say that philosophy is a superset of logic.

    To me, the idea that one can improve ones understanding of the world by:
    1) Keep an open mind to the idea that you might be wrong
    2) Continually seek evidence that you are wrong
    3) Change your understanding when you find evidence that you are wrong
    Comes directly from philosophy. And it doesn’t just apply to science – it also applies to math, logic, and philosophy itself. So science is dependent on philosophy. Questions such as “does empiricism work?” and “how can we better use empiricism?” cannot be addressed with the empirical tools of science (something about circular logic). We need something else for that – philosophy. And progress in this area continues – see Massimo Pigliucci’s “Nonsense on Stilts” book for an example.

    On the other hand, our ability to use science to address questions continually improves, and science can begin to address areas formerly thought to be out of science’s reach. See Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape” for an example.

  9. Profile photo of davew
    May 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm —

    “although I’d say that philosophy is a superset of logic”

    Good point. I was all set to argue, but then I realized that you are right.

  10. Profile photo of portokali
    May 3, 2012 at 4:36 pm —

    I suppose a case can be made for metaphysics being dispensable – the question what kind of universe this is used to be a sub-discipline of philosophy back when philosophy and science were the same thing. Now these questions belong in the realm of physics.

    But other branches of philosophy are far from dead. The most important one is probably the whole field of moral philosophy. What we should or shouldn’t do can rarely be found out by observation. Most of the time, it has to be figured out by thinking about it, and the discipline that covers these kinds of questions is moral philosophy.

    For us as sceptics, philosophy is doubly important. We often complain about the monopoly on morals that religious groups are considered to have. Well, we’ve got to offer something better! What we can offer is good work in philosophy, especially in the field of applied ethics. And the only way good philosophy can be done is in cooperation with scientists. As long as physicists keep telling the world not to bother with philosophy, people will continue to turn to religion for moral guidance.

    • Profile photo of Jack99
      May 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm —

      I strongly agree with all this.

      I would suggest that the Law has a major contribution to make there, perhaps more so than science, when it comes to applied ethics.

      For a start the Law is rigorous about definition and is subject to a vigorous peer review process.

      I think we ignore the Law at our peril when we attempt to offer something better.

  11. Profile photo of benbradley
    May 3, 2012 at 4:43 pm —

    Science has indeed expanded greatly, hugely in recent centuries, encroaching on religion and philosophy. And why not? Science has had amazing, incredible successes in answering innumerable questions from “why is the sky blue” to how to go to the Moon and back. What have religion and philosophy added to human knowledge or understanding in the same time? I think little or nothing.

    I’ve seen a definition of philosophy as being the study of questions that science can’t yet answer (or that we don’t yet know if science will ever be applicable), and in that sense philosophy has value (see the book “The Mind’s I” by Dennett and Hofstadter for what might be an overlap between scientific and philosophical questions).

    Some have attempted to put a dividing line between science and the metaphysical (which might or might not include philosophy, so this might be a derail or irrelevant), such as Steven Jay Gould’s “Non-overlapping Magisteria” in which he attempted to placate both religious leaders and scientists. He may have succeeded to some extent in doing that, but he failed to convince me that it’s a good or workable idea other than for diplomacy:
    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_noma.html

    • Profile photo of portokali
      May 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm —

      You seem to see philosophy as a discipline that attempts to explain the unexplainable and has to retreat every time a new explanation is found in science (i. e. the non-religious equivalent of the “God of the gaps”). Of course that depends on the branch of philosophy, and metaphysics might well be described that way, but I don’t think the same is true for moral philosophy. In my view, philosophy and science cover different but complementary questions: while science tells us what we’re facing in this universe, what can do with it and how, philosophy tries to figure out to what extend and to what purpose those discoveries should be used.

      As to what philosophy has ever brought to the world, I think that especially political philosophy can be credited with quite a couple of achievements we wouldn’t want to miss, like the concepts personal freedom and human rights.

  12. Profile photo of annabolic
    May 3, 2012 at 4:57 pm —

    I majored in philosophy at UC Berkeley in 2000. Maybe it has changed since, but at the time I found the department to be incredibly hostile toward science and deeply mired in debunked assumptions about the human mind. I bitterly finished my major requirements, but definitely formed the opinion that philosophy was almost useless. We were debating questions that had been answered much more satisfactorily by science.

    However, I do think it can be useful in a few areas — namely ethics, as well as an epistemology informed by the cognitive sciences. If it were open to becoming more interdisciplinary, it would be an interesting place for synthesizing knowledge from various fields and making connections between them.

  13. Profile photo of James Fox
    May 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm —

    It would seem to me that if you’re going to say that philosophy is dead you will have to also ask if belief is useless, as well as asking if knowledge has any value. It seems to me that belief is often very practical and many beliefs have a basis in philosophy. However I think I can also safely say knowledge in and of itself has little value when separated from a particular belief. In other words knowledge (such as physics) is only valuable because of the beliefs of certain people. We skeptics rail against the anti science bent of many conservatives only because we place a high value on the results of the scientific process. So to more specifically answer Sam’s question I’d say that it’s not so much an apples and oranges question as it is a chicken or egg one. And while many people say that philosophy accomplishes nothing, the same can be said of poetry, music and wine. And who really wants to say that?

  14. Profile photo of selfawarepatterns
    May 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm —

    I think philosophy is a valid pursuit but the profession tolerates too many kooks. It may be that the philosophers who accept empirical evidence as the arbiter of truth will eventually need to break off, much as the astronomers did from the astrologers, and the chemists did from the alchemists.

    Some theoretical physicists may feel the need to differentiate themselves from philosophers because what they’re doing sounds perilously close to the same thing, using logic and mathematics to go well beyond what can currently be established empirically and judging theories by their elegance.

  15. Profile photo of Lukas
    May 3, 2012 at 5:46 pm —

    Philosophy has been largely irrelevant for a really, really long time. That’s why philosophers that lived 1000 years ago typically aren’t more or less right about the topics they tackle than today’s philosophers. There’s no progress; we aren’t learning anything from philosophy.

    The reason for this is that philosophy tries to find the truth by thinking about things. However, the last century’s scientific advances have clearly shown that reality doesn’t make any sense that we can directly discern, and thus truth typically can’t be reasoned out by thinking about things. Worse, our brain is biased in such a way that it actively prevents us from perceiving reality as it really is.

    As a result, philosophy is a fundamentally flawed, unsound endeavor.

    • Profile photo of Daniel Schealler
      May 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm —

      How do you know that your argument is valid?

      • Profile photo of Lukas
        May 4, 2012 at 2:36 am —

        I don’t, but science provides very good evidence that it is.

        • Profile photo of Daniel Schealler
          May 4, 2012 at 7:23 pm —

          How do you know that good evidence is sufficient grounds to prove something correct?

          Note that I’m not disagreeing with you. I agree that good evidence is required to back up an argument.

          I am trying to find out why you hold this position.

  16. Profile photo of Daniel Schealler
    May 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm —

    What do you think? Who is right? Scientists? Philosophers?

    I think Sean Carroll is right.

    Krauss and his critics have been talking past each other.

    Krauss answers the question: How could a vaccuum in space, or even a lack of space, produce something?

    Krauss does not answer: Why is it the case that this can happen?

    The critics demand the second answer, and Krauss calls them idiots because he already gave them first answer – I man, geez, can’t you guys read or something?!

    Personally, I think that the second question is a silly question. In my books Krauss answered the only question of the two that was worth asking in the first place. But that’s just my little opinion – I’m hardly an authority on the subject.

    But at the same time, Caroll’s observation should have occurred to both Krauss and his philosopher critics. Krauss because it’s his damn book and he should have a vested interest in understanding criticisms thereof properly before dismissing them, and the philosopher-critics because philosophers should be better critics than that – getting caught up in a semantic did-not/did-too isn’t good criticism, it isn’t engaging with your opponent’s views… It’s simply a bad argument.

    Also to the point: Isn’t science just the contemporary name for natural philosophy?

    I don’t buy into the notion that science and philosophy are distinct entities. I think science is a kind of philosophy.

    So if a natural philosopher (scientist) is going to talk about identity, it would be sensible for them to draw some research from the field of the philosophy of identity before committing themselves.

    Similarly, if philosophers that specialize in other areas – say, ontology – are going to talk about the natural world, it would be sensible for them to draw some research from fhe field of the philosophy of nature (science) before comitting themselves as well.

    This isn’t science vs. philosophy.

    This is philosophers of different schools and specializations bickering among themselves. Which I thought was pretty much the equilibrium state for philosophy anyway, right?

    A door burst open down the street and there was the cracking noise of a quite large wine amphora being broken over someone’s head.

    A skinny old man in a toga picked himself up from the cobbles where he had landed, and glared at the doorway. “I’m telling you, listen, a finite intellect, right, cannot by means of comparison reach the absolute truth of things, because being by nature indivisible, truth excludes the concepts of “more” or “less” so that nothing but truth itself can be the exact measure of truth. You bastards,” he said.

    Someone from inside the building said, “Oh yeah? Sez you.”

    The old man ignored Brutha but, with great difficulty, pulled a cobblestone loose and hefted it in his hand. Then he dived back through the doorway. There was a distant scream of rage.

    “Ah. Philosophy,” said Om.

    - Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

  17. Profile photo of slayersaves89
    May 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm —

    I’m sure that everyone here realizes that logic and critical thinking are both parts of philosophy. Therefore much of what occurs on this site is philosophy.

    Having complaints about what some philosophers say, or even most philosophers say, does not in any sense invalidate philosophy as a practice.

    If a large number of evolutionary biologists decided that creationism was a great idea after all, would biology become “useless”?
    Maybe the Biology those people practice, but not all biology for all time.

    If you want to throw out philosophy in general then I suggest you pause and think about that the next time you accuse someone of committing a logical fallacy.

  18. Profile photo of portokali
    May 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm —

    It seems like some of the commenters are under the impression that philosophy deals with exactly the same questions as science, but in a non-evidence based way. The idea that philosophers might say “Let’s *think* about whether there is life on other planets instead of exploring the scientific evidence!” seems to be widespread. If that was true, philosophy would certainly be exactly the flawed endeavour some people have described. But how many philosophers do that?
    A modern philosopher is much more likely to consider the evidence and ask the questions that are unlikely to be answered in any way but by thinking, like “If there is life on other planets, how should we treat it? Do we have the right to interfere with it? What rights and duties do we have towards it? Is it permissible for us to judge the status of extraterrestrial life forms by our own moral standards?” and so on.

    To dismiss philosophy as a whole (not only metaphysics) means to be confident that science can either answer every single moral issue that might arise from it by observation and testing, or that answers to those questions aren’t needed.

  19. Profile photo of Will
    May 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm —

    I always find these conversations fascinating because of the people that come into threads on this topic and philosophize about the uselessness of philosophy.

    It’s weird that many members of a community built on ideals such as critical thinking and skeptical inquiry are so hostile to philosophy. That befuddles me.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      May 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm —

      Maybe because many parallel philosophy with religion? True, they do overlap. Philosophy overlap with a lot of fields – if not the quantum ones.

      Philosophy is also a very important foundation for atheism and secularism, for the scientific principle, for logic and critical thinking and so on …

      Dismissing philosophy altogether is more than anything an act of ignorance.

  20. Profile photo of scribe999
    May 3, 2012 at 8:33 pm —

    I majored in English Lit…so I hope everyone here is adhering closely to Strunk and White…

  21. Profile photo of rjblaskiewicz
    May 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm —

    Where does Krauss think that critical thinking is being taught? Jeez.

    We’re working on it, Will. :)

    RJB

  22. Profile photo of jjg.denis.robert
    May 4, 2012 at 7:26 am —

    I’ve been of the opinion for quite some time that Philosophy has been reduced to two aspects:

    1. A less rigorous exposition of Logic, which is far better described in Mathematics. Philosophy adds absolutely nothing of value here, except that it makes people who are afraid of squigglies feel better about themselves.

    2. Defining terms, and disagreeing on the definition of terms (which is precisely what the whole Krauss thing is about). Major philosophical battles seem to revolve entirely over the specific meaning given to the word “is”. So Bill Clinton was a philosopher, after all.

    The rest of philosophy amounts to the circular defense of one’s own pet prejudices.

    So no. I no longer have any time for philosophers, unless they are also competent in some field of science. Their science side has a chance of keeping the smug self-important philosophical side in check.

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      May 4, 2012 at 9:08 am —

      Meh, everyone here is debating over semantics.

      The definitions I have found are:

      //1. Love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline.
      2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.
      3. A system of thought based on or involving such inquiry: the philosophy of Hume.
      4. The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.
      5. The disciplines presented in university curriculums of science and the liberal arts, except medicine, law, and theology.
      6. The discipline comprising logic, ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, and epistemology.
      7. A set of ideas or beliefs relating to a particular field or activity; an underlying theory: an original philosophy of advertising.
      8. A system of values by which one lives: has an unusual philosophy of life.
      9. The critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a discipline//

      So I suppose it depends on your definition. By some scientists are philosophers. By another, philosophy is speculation of problems without observational evidence.

      Let’s examine the various definitions
      //2. Investigation of the nature, causes, or principles of reality, knowledge, or values, based on logical reasoning rather than empirical methods.//
      This could be bullshit, or it could be string theory. A lot of theoretical physics cannot be tested empirically, so it’s a lot of philosophy according to this definition.

      //4. The critical analysis of fundamental assumptions or beliefs.//
      This could be useful in any field.

      //9. The critical study of the basic principles and concepts of a discipline//
      A lot of computer science advancements come through this line of thought.

      So baseline is, philosophy is a loosely defined term, so debating it’s usefulness depends on what definition you’re using.

    • Profile photo of Will
      May 4, 2012 at 10:38 am —

      “So no. I no longer have any time for philosophers, unless they are also competent in some field of science.”

      But philosophy isn’t a science (science is a philosophy). Do you feel the same way about history? English?

      By the way, both logic and mathematics are subsets of philosophy. You saying that philosophy adds nothing to them is like saying science adds nothing to biology.

      And again, the use of philosophy to bash philosophy is just astounding.

      “Their science side has a chance of keeping the smug self-important philosophical side in check.”

      What, as opposed to the philosophical side of science keeping the smug, self-important experimental side in check? Do you think smug, self-important people are unique to philosophy? Judging from Krauss’s comments, I’d say that’s clearly not the case. And why do you think any amount of smug self-important people makes it acceptable to dismiss an entire discipline?

      • Profile photo of Sam Ogden
        May 4, 2012 at 1:25 pm —

        “But philosophy isn’t a science (science is a philosophy). Do you feel the same way about history? English?

        By the way, both logic and mathematics are subsets of philosophy. You saying that philosophy adds nothing to them is like saying science adds nothing to biology.”

        I think this idea is great example of why one could argue that philosophy is dead. If not dead, at least not useful. Your point demonstates that areas of thought are now specialized, and are becoming more specialized all the time. I would say an umbrella “discipline” called philosophy can be trimmed away with a certain razor. It’s not particularly useful, nor is it necessary.

        “And again, the use of philosophy to bash philosophy is just astounding.”

        When you define philosophy so braodly, it’s not astounding at all. All you’re saying is “the use of thinking to bash thinking is just astounding”.

        What else would one use to bash (or otherwise discuss)the topic?

        Perhaps it might be more usefull to ask if Philosophy (with a capital “P”, as in the academic sense) is worth pursuing.

        • Profile photo of Will
          May 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm —

          I think this idea is great example of why one could argue that philosophy is dead. If not dead, at least not useful. Your point demonstates that areas of thought are now specialized, and are becoming more specialized all the time. I would say an umbrella “discipline” called philosophy can be trimmed away with a certain razor. It’s not particularly useful, nor is it necessary.

          This is true of any discipline. Academics always specialize within disciplines. There is no possible way to be a generalist in an academic field–especially one as old as philosophy.

          So, does the fact that there are subsets of biology mean “biology can be trimmed away with a certain razor”? I could ask the same about my own discipline: anthropology. We have four major subdisciplines, and within each of those are topical subdisciplines, and within each of those are specializations, etc. Does that mean anthropology as a discipline is useless?

          When you define philosophy so broadly, it’s not astounding at all. All you’re saying is “the use of thinking to bash thinking is just astounding”.

          No, I’m not really defining it so broadly. I’m working within a couple of more narrow definitions than “thinking.” For example: “the study of the theoretical basis of a particular branch of knowledge or experience.” I would say that many people here are engaging in this in a way (a non-disciplined way)–a philosophy of philosophy. People here are proposing theoretical explanations for why philosophy is or is not dead. They aren’t “just thinking” about it–they are philosophizing about it.

          Also, the way I use philosophize fits into both (non-broad) definitions I’ve found:

          verb [ no obj. ]
          speculate or theorize about fundamental or serious issues, esp. in a tedious or pompous way: he paused for a while to philosophize on racial equality.
          • [ with obj. ] explain or argue (a point or idea) in terms of one’s philosophical theories.

          At a time when academic departments are being cut and defunded, I’m not sure it’s such a great idea to call for the dissolving of entire disciplines. Philosophy is useful both as an academic department (housing logic, classics, ethics, etc.) and as a discipline (bioethics immediately comes to mind, but also teaching people critical thinking, logic, etc.). As someone who is entrenched in academia and is involved in teaching, I can say with great confidence that there is no where near enough critical thinking being taught on university and college campuses. Where else do you think students will be taught this skill if not in classes that engage with philosophy? They certainly aren’t getting it from their biology or chemistry courses.

          • Profile photo of Sam Ogden
            May 4, 2012 at 4:22 pm

            “So, does the fact that there are subsets of biology mean “biology can be trimmed away with a certain razor”?”

            No, because they are subsets. They are not entirely separate disciplines that sprang from or are at best now merely informed by biology, the way science and math are entirely separate disciplines from philosophy. Science and math may be informed by philosophy and/or philosophical thinking, but they are no longer subsets of philosophy (if they ever technically were).

            “I could ask the same about my own discipline: anthropology. We have four major subdisciplines, and within each of those are topical subdisciplines, and within each of those are specializations, etc. Does that mean anthropology as a discipline is useless?”

            No again. For the same reason.

            I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a college course guide, but I’d be very surprised if math and science classes were offered under the heading of “Philosophy”. I would not be surprised, however, to see Molecular Biology or Genomics offered under the heading of “Biology”, nor would I be surprised to see the various subsets of anthropology you mentioned offered under “Anthropology”.

            The question is, since philosophy is, to a certain extent, inherent in these various fields of study, is an entirely separate discipline necessary, or is it superfluous?

        • Profile photo of emio
          May 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm —

          It’s really unfortunate that you have such an incredibly simplistic view of philosophy Sam. First of all it doesn’t make sense to say that philosophy isn’t necessary when the knowledge that scientific specializations (or science in general) are based upon presuppose a philosophy about the nature of knowledge to begin with. (e.g. knowledge is derived from experiential observation.) Thus any statement you make to be scientific knowledge implies a philosophical framework.

          Also you’re not “just thinking” when you criticize philosophy, you’re applying value judgements as to what makes something useful or important, and thus you’re implying a philosophy of meaning and value. You can’t escape philosophy because we all make fundamental “assumptions” about the nature of things, that implies our philosophical perspectives and that is philosophizing.

          Open up a Math textbook and carefully examine the language in it, it’s colored with philosophical language. Math is far more closely related to philosophy than it is to science, which is because mathematics is a subset of philosophy. Take for example how math textbooks always say “if and only if” instead of just “if”, why is that? Well we can start with Modal Logic, which the statement was formulated in, in fact Modal Logic itself is a product of philosophy.

          I can’t believe anyone would attack philosophy itself, it’s like shooting yourself in the foot.

          • Profile photo of Sam Ogden
            May 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm

            “It’s really unfortunate that you have such an incredibly simplistic view of philosophy Sam.”

            If you say so.

  23. Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
    May 4, 2012 at 8:48 am —

    Meh, this is debate over something loosely defined, so let’s try to define more rigorously. The most common definitions I read in dictionaries say something roughly like:

    //Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.//

    So this means, whoever is studying fundamental problems is philosophizing. Which means we’re all philosophers at some point.

    A lot of current useful science fields & engineering innovations have been born out of a mix of useful evidence and thought experiments.

    For instance
    *General Relativity*: Born by people philosophizing & observing that the current fundamental assumptions of physics were wrong and an exploration of what would happen if light moved at a constant speed.
    *Object oriented programming*: Birthed by people philosophizing about an information model that would make programming more powerful & flexible.
    *Genetics*: Born by those who noticed inherited traits and philosophized about what the root causes were.

    So yes philosophy is still valid, according to its definition, it is simply the study of basic problems, thus science is a philosophical discipline. And so are many many other things. People put philosophy to use with great efficacy in many fields daily.

    However, is somebody who has no idea about the basics of a specific field qualified to study the general and fundamental problems within it? Probably not.

    The end.

    • Profile photo of emio
      May 4, 2012 at 12:53 pm —

      “However, is somebody who has no idea about the basics of a specific field qualified to study the general and fundamental problems within it?”

      The point is not that some professional philosophers aren’t qualified to answer scientific problems, the point is that any answer given would be a part of a philosophy.

      Will presented the problem perfectly when he said “I always find it fascinating to see people philosophize about the uselessness of philosophy.” Science never left philosophy, all it did was assume the philosophy of empiricism and logical positivism as it’s foundation.

      • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
        May 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm —

        //Science never left philosophy, all it did was assume the philosophy of empiricism and logical positivism as it’s foundation.//

        Yeah, this was kinda my point. People in various fields philosophize about (i.e. study the foundational principles of) stuff all the time and create positive results. Philosophy is something people do daily, it’s human nature.

  24. Profile photo of Gene
    May 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm —

    Philosophy is in no way dead. The sciences have only been superficially separated. Since the 19th century scientists have tried to distance themselves from philosophy as much as they could because they consider less than “scientific.” Despite this we still do philosophy, just in a different way with a differentiated understand of what is “science” and what is “philosophy.”

  25. Profile photo of Joe Kilmarnock
    May 4, 2012 at 1:13 pm —

    Philosophy is not dead, it is: the love of wisdom

    Science is really just a fusion of empiricism(knowledge gained through observation) and rationalism (knowledge gained through the rational application of logic)

    Science used to be called ‘natural philosophy’, but its been very successful and due to the large amount of knowledge, which no one person could study in a lifetime, let alone master, it ended up getting its own category in higher learning.

    The categories are pretty arbitrary. Mathematics is another discipline that stood up on its own. It is essentially just an application of deductive logic (rationalism) but again a very successful one.

    Academic philosophy departments tend to teach something better described as the history of philosophy.

    TL/DR; Science is philosophy.

  26. Profile photo of kagehi
    May 5, 2012 at 1:35 am —

    As someone pointed out in another thread on this very subject, there is the “philosophy of science”, there is the semi-fact base philosophy that stems from, “Ok, here are the facts, more or less, so what should we do about them?”, and then there is the “philosophy philosophy”, which is about wandering around in complete delusions, nonsense, denial of facts, and/or rehashing stuff that some other person said better 3,000 years ago.”

    The first one is science, the second one is useful, if you are willing to actually reach any sort of conclusions at all, while the last one is what 99% of the public, and far too many “philosophers” wave around, and tell us all will ‘change paradigms’, alter reality as we know it, let people walk on their tongues, swim in space, or survive on sunlight, etc. I.e., absolute, useless, gibberish.

    To progress on must recognize when a philosophical point either bares no resemblance to reality, or provides no useful parameters to discover anything. People that don’t like reality, don’t believe in how it works, want to change the rules, or just flat out don’t care if something is at all useful (or who only care if its useful socially/politically, as a lever to shove others down a path they like, damn the consequences), are not interested in progress, or knowledge, or understanding. They just want other people, or reality, to conform to their paradigm, in what ever way is easiest for them (even if the easiest method is simply to convince themselves that reality is lying, and everything is exactly as they argue it must be).

    As best, this is useless, at worst, it can be self induced insanity, and outright dangerous. But, I would argue it is also the easiest to understand, for those who either don’t comprehend, don’t want to, or are being paid not to, logic and reason.

    So, no. Science is a “branch” of philosophy. But, like the real world, there are at least as many Disney Lands, and Ark Parks in philosophy as there are museums and science exhibits, and, sadly, more people buy tickets to visit theme parks, circuses, magician acts, and the latest “Bigfoot Museum”, than probably do *most* real museums, or science exhibits. So, yeah, given the vast wasteland of total BS, in which some useful philosophy can be found, I would have to ‘provisionally’ side with Krauss on this one.

    • Profile photo of dr. dr. professor
      May 5, 2012 at 2:38 am —

      Interdasting. Say, is that a drawing of a furry in your avatar picture?

      • Profile photo of kagehi
        May 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm —

        Yeah. Its kind of been my persona for a while now, where/if I can upload an image. That, and I play as a Kitsune in Second Life. I suppose if it hadn’t been that, it would have been something from some other game, like Halo, or something. lol The original was character art called Kathnee for someone else, unfortunately, but the artist vanished into the intertubes and I never have found even the original, never mind anything else by them. Which kind of annoys me (since strictly speaking using it isn’t entirely legit, and finding someone that could make a similar image to replace it..)

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