Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is Philosophy Science?

I’ll just post some impressions of tonight’s seminar. I’ll not mention Chris Hughes since he was being too reasonable to warrant comment.

Wilfried made some beautiful statements that I found myself agreeing with. There is no know how/ know that distinction, if knowledge doesn’t have an application then it fails to be right or wrong and there is no criteria for truth. There is no criteria for correctness in philosophy so philosophy is like singing.
But I wasn’t convinced that this made philosophy any different from science. Wilfried also said that in science you stand on the shoulders of giants, whereas in philosophy you bring the giants to their knees. There is a one to one relationship between philosophers and theories. Science created his pen and was the fact that his TV didn’t work. I doubt that the TV repair man is anymore of a scientist than a philosopher, nor that the beautiful fountain pen relied on any scientific principles that weren’t around in Archimedes time.
David Papineau made a couple of interesting outrageous comments: That philosophy did not involve conceptual analysis and that philosophy was unlike science when it concerned itself with modality, but that modality was only peripheral to philosophy anyway.
Of course in a room full of philosophers there was a lot of singing going on about what philosophy was, and a lot of agreement in this regard. But there was no clear idea of what science was.
Science is exclusively modal (I polemically claim) Science tells us what is possible, what is necessary and what is impossible. Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. A modal claim. It is impossible to travel faster than the speed of light. A modal claim. Scientific laws extend to counterfactual cases, so any statement of scientific law is a statement about what might be, what can be, what can’t be and what couldn’t have been.
Science is not directly practical. Very little technology is developed by scientists. It is true that a good bridge builder, or pen manufacturer will use principles that have been worked out at some point by scientists. But they will also use aesthetic principles and operate within a political environment that has been shaped by ideas of a softer kind. The pen that Wilfried Ostended was as much a product of Bentham and Marx as it was of any science. Einstein, the archetypal scientist, was not a scientist because of Hiroshoma, he wasn’t even a scientist because of the motion of Mercury. If his theory had been proven false he may not have been so famous, but he would still have been doing science. Science without application is not thereby philosophy and philosophy with application is not thereby science.

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