Philosophy and Science in the NYT

By: Nick Hedlund-de Witt

Re-posted from Adam Robert over at Knowledge Ecology (a highly recommended blog):

A great article HERE. The article argues for a distinction to be made between practices of science and practices of philosophy. It may seem a rather pedestrian comment to state that philosophy is not science, though in today’s intellectual landscape the trend in philosophy towards scientism — of more or less seeing itself as the handmaiden of the sciences — is, I think, a complete misstep. Philosophy and science should remain distinct activities, not because the one should operate in ignorance of the other but because both perform their functions much more successfully when the one doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

 

I’ve long been a proponent of postdisciplinary research practices (i.e., those that coordinate research teams between mono-, inter-, multi-, and transdiscplinary approaches). But essential to such a practice is that each particular discipline involved develops according to its own standards and attends to its own objects of study. Thus philosophy is done best when it attends to its traditional domains of inquiry: ontology, ethics, epistemology, or politics without pretending that it has the tools to do proper scientific research (and vice versa: we should not be led to believe that scientific research alone can provide us with a robust ontological, political, or ethical systems, this is a task particularly suited to philosophical thinking).

 

Now, of course this does not mean that philosophers are given the right to make claims that contradict the findings of the sciences. This is a separate question that can only be taken up through postdisciplinary practices. What it does mean is that both the sciences and philosophy tend to suffer when the the aims and methods of the two become blurred (If you’re a philosopher making claims about the origins of prokaryotic organisms, you better consult the empirical data first; but, this is a task of coordinating amongst disciplines rather than collapsing two distinct disciplines into one another).

 

If philosophy has lost respect in academia over the past century it’s not because philosophy has lost validity in comparison with the sciences, but because philosophy has departed from its core area of study and tried to model itself after the sciences, which, of course, it has no hope of competing with since philosophy is not a system developed to answer the kinds of questions scientists are trained to answer.

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