A narrative essay by – Heather Spoonheim

In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and fellow physicist/co-author Leonard Mlodinow declare that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with modern developments in science. Ironically, they then proceed to outlay a philosophical proof of their audacious claim. It seems, for the most part, that they feel quantum physics has developed sufficiently to warrant the putting to bed of metaphysics. To this end I would agree, although I have very strong atheistic views that I have yet to defend ubiquitously against philosophical arguments.

I would like to assert here, philosophically, that philosophy is certainly not dead but that it is, rather, alive and well – and perhaps more vital than ever. Science is certainly an essential tool for acquiring knowledge, although an understanding of what exactly constitutes knowledge remains firmly rooted in the realm of epistemology – a branch of philosophy, not science. For most people, including me, epistemology may often seem like a bunch of fart-sniffing navel gazing, but even I cannot refute the necessity of at least a cursory ponderance of epistemology in establishing a basis for evaluating one’s own beliefs.

The evaluation of one’s own beliefs must be a central tenet of any form of skepticism espousing itself to be free of hypocrisy. Such evaluations, and skepticism itself, rely on critical thinking skills that are firmly rooted in philosophy. Whether or not the skeptic embraces ontology, the skeptic’s demand for evidence relies on ontological evaluations of empiricism and rationalism as a basis for evaluating what constitutes evidence at all.

Indeed, in the absence of philosophy scientists become nothing more than technicians left unable even to determine what knowledge they should seek. Where science seeks answers, philosophy posed the question. Where science seeks truth, philosophy establishes our motivation for seeking in the first place. Where science establishes proof, philosophy finds meaning in that proof.

It is a scientific certainty that all of man’s folly will come to an end. Timespace is finite leaving entropy to erode all flesh and, with it, all knowledge. Nothing that man can learn will prevent our ultimate demise and so we must ask: what, if anything, can be gained by our intellectual pursuits? This very question and any answers to it are the very essence of philosophy, which, more than ever, is alive and well.

Views: 44

Comment by Albert Bakker on May 19, 2011 at 2:47pm
That piece of Thagard you linked to is a nice piece too. Many others have weighed in on this weird pronouncement. No worries, philosophy stays alive, remains crucially important and is a very rewarding activity to engage in on all levels.
Comment by Albert Bakker on May 19, 2011 at 2:54pm
(Very much like mathematics.)
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 19, 2011 at 5:16pm
I think you are right, Joseph.  It seems like many scientists fail to recognize the philosophical component of their quest - and losing sight of that could be potentially devastating.
Comment by IEatDinosaurMeat on May 19, 2011 at 7:38pm
If burger king makes better food, mcdonalds is dead
burger king makes better food
mcdonalds is dead.

Yep, it's logical.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 19, 2011 at 8:00pm
Not quite the quest I was imagining - but ok.
Comment by oneinfinity on May 20, 2011 at 6:45pm
well said, and totally agree ^_^
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 20, 2011 at 6:50pm
Thanks.  I'm starting to get more of a sense of the spite with which some people view philosophy in the other thread.  It seems to me that once people put all their eggs in one basket, even if that basket is science, they have just recreated theism.
Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on May 20, 2011 at 7:42pm
This is a much better thread. I like the second to last paragraph a lot.
Comment by Heather Spoonheim on May 21, 2011 at 12:24am
Thanks Reg.  That second paragraph is why the dogmatic duo in the other thread will never amount to much more than techs.
Comment by Albert Bakker on May 21, 2011 at 1:16am
Like I said in the other thread The Grand Design is as much a philosophy book as it is about physics, (cosmology, astrophysics, particle physics etc.) It stands squarely with both feet in the dead philosophical tradition of logical positivism that underlies the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics for example. They call their vision model dependent realism.

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