Hello Fellow Student Philosophers!
(Note: After a multitude of delays with other posts, I finally have come back to this. Hopefully, such delays won’t be as frequent in the future.)
One of the things that I loved about Thomas Reid, a philosopher from the Modern Period, was the so-called “skeptic’s toolkit” that he essentially criticized, all in an attempt to find a way to discredit some, if not all, of Hume’s findings. If you think about it, it is really easy to play the skeptic’s card and downplay everything someone says as either being circular, contradictory, or unjustified (by means of having no real facts).
Now whether or not Reid succeeded with his philosophy isn’t what I want to focus on. Rather, this is something that I’m reminded of when I think about another phenomena that seems to be occurring in Philosophy these days. As such, I’m dedicating this post to my thoughts on this phenomena in its relationship to what I call “Meta-Philosophy.” Given that I’ve already posted Acts I and II already, what will follow will be Act III in this special series of posts on this topic.
One word of warning, though: if you find Science to be the absolute B&B of life, with everything having to conform to it to the “T,” then you might not like what I’m about to say. Physicalists will probably loathe what I will mention also, so if you’re in that camp you might want to steer clear, too. Otherwise, feel free to continue reading on my thoughts on the role of science in Philosophy!
I’m pretty sure most of you who have engaged in philosophical argumentation have had something like the following happen to you: you give an argument, outlining it step by step, painstakingly making sure to outline possible arguments against your view, with your listener or listeners understanding what you’re saying. And then, when you’re in that moment of glory (of having just given what you though was a good argument), one of your listeners brings up some point about what you’ve said not being in line with Science (or some fact about science) which makes what you say go contrary to it, which thus makes your argument absurd, which means you’ve just been yapping for nothing (or next to nothing).
Now that’s probably one of the most frustrating things that’s ever happened to me (and probably to you) when it comes to presenting philosophical views. These days, it almost seems like one can easily defeat a view by playing the “science card” and showing how some position isn’t in line with some scientific principle which makes some major facet of the view absurd, thus killing the view.
Religion is, perhaps, the best example of this. The biggest complaint I’ve heard of from people against religion or certain religious views had to do with its incompatibility with science. And it (science) seems to be a major factor in some lines of thought against pro-choice views in the abortion debate (in addition with, ironically enough, religion).
Yet is that really something that I, as a person presenting a view should be worried about? Perhaps if the view I present breaks some super fundamental law of physics or chemistry, then yes. But otherwise, I’m not that sure that one should give an affirmative answer.
Necessitating science as a pre-req to the soundness of a philosophical view seems to me to be a big hinderance on philosophy itself. It’s almost like philosophy (except for philosophy of science, perhaps) would be useless to the degree that if science were to dictate the plausibility of philosophy, then why not just abandon the latter and keep the former???
Another thing that absolutely puzzles me is the way by which some stand by science as the holy grail of everything that exists. It isn’t perfect (as everything isn’t perfect), changes constantly (to a point where, in history, certain major scientific views have taken 180s), and still cannot explain most of the phenomena in the universe!
I guess I like to lean towards something George Berkeley hinted at when he talked about science and metaphysics: the former has more of a utility-function, the latter more of a meaning-function.
In other words, science (natural science) is probably better geared off as a way of being about to find useful ways of organizing what is around us even if the concepts used are absolutely meaningless. Metaphysics is probably better geared off (with the help of Philosophy of Language) in finding the underlying meaning and purpose of what is around us even if the concepts used have no utility. Essentially, the two are meant to play off each other, but not hinder one another nor let each other go unchecked.
The “science card,” as I see it, spins the system off of its course by actually hindering philosophy in places where it should probably leave it be (and, sometimes, the same can be said for philosophy). It’s also way too easy to utilize and succeed with, similarly to the “skeptic’s toolbox” that Reid commented on.
Perhaps we need to try — at least try — to keep science on its leash for a change and prevent it from muddling up what otherwise could be interesting pieces of work. Of course, there are some things where science, I think, find an interesting way of advancing itself philosophically, like in Ethics (and the role evolution probably plays in it).
But in others, there are times when I just wish it didn’t even peep a word from its mouth. Except in Philosophy of Science, of course (for we wouldn’t have it otherwise).
In the end, I think that by looking at things from the “Meta-Philosophy” standpoint — that its, stepping back for a sec and looking at things third-person — I think we need to be a bit more careful of how much we allow science to influence our decisions on the validity of philosophical arguments. The tools in this proverbial “toolbox” deserve more care and attention than just hashing them out at every opportunity available like they’re some cure-all or do-all of some sort.
And the need for some education in science’s limits wouldn’t be that bad, either, now that I think about it . . . . . . .
George (“The Meager Weakling”)