Re: Science and Philosophy

Brian Manning Delaney (
Mon, 06 Sep 1999 17:23:05 -0700

> Brian Manning Delaney <>
>> "J. R. Molloy"

>>> If not, I suggest you stop making
>>> this claim [that science is a subset of
>>> philosophy].

>> I have grounds: philosophy is about truth (some
>> would put even more broadly), by definition. Sci.
>> is about only _empirical_ truth (by definition, >> yours in fact).


Thanks for your comments (below). A few quick replies (though I think this is not a topic that interests most Extropians, so letting it die is fine by me).

> If philosophy defines the terms used in science
> what, then, is the means by which these
> philosophical arguments are made?

(Actually, philosophy doesn't define the terms used in science -- it explores, among other things, sci's own self-definition.)

"Philosophy" covers an extremely wide range of modes of thought. Some systems begin with doubt (Descartes, for example), and then build up from whatever can't be doubted. Some start with the fact of synthetic nature of our thought (Kant -- similar, though not the same as, Descartes), and go from there. Some start with the ~necessarily questioning nature of our minds (Hegel, sort of; Plato, [very] sort of), and go from there. And there's more.

For me, on the issue at hand, I just start with the definition that scientists themselves (ourselves) give of science: ~a system of empirically verified truths, and a means for continuing to generate empirically verifiable truths.

There are thus several assumptions/notions, etc. whose truth obviously cannot be verified by science itself (like empiricism). The question of whether or not it's worth it to verify them, or to try to verify them, is a different question (also a philosophical question).

> It seems that all philosophical questions
> ultimately become translated into
> scientific ones.

This is true about some questions that were considered by some people to be philosophical, yes. (But this doesn't mean that it's right that they were so translated -- though for many questions I think it probably is right.)

> This is readily apparent if one looks at the
> philosophy of mind literature today.

Yes indeed. The Churchlands, for example, are doing fascinating work. Myself, though, I wouldn't call it (much of it, at least) philosophy: more like neuroscience, a bit of cognitive science, etc. Very important, very exciting stuff. But not philosophy, or not interesting philosophically (but FASCINATING scientifically).

> But what is the argument that this is not
> happening or will not happen to that more
> general truth-searching or -defining
> sector of philosophy?

It's a long story, which I don't have time to get into at the momnt (and, again, I do suspect this is not an appropriate topic for this list). But, in my response to your claim here, I can perhaps suggest something of what I've been driving at --

> That, too, is translatable into empirical terms.

How does one translate into empirical terms the question of the validity of empiricism? (Important: "validity" is not the same as "utility," or so I would [separately] argue.)

> If you want to know the conditions of
> truth you have to know what the knower of truth
> knows. So you have to know the construction of
> the knower. For philosophy to judge the
> foundations of logic it must use some formal
> system. Which logic does it use?

But what if philosophy (or some philosophers) is (are) trying, at bottom, to assess precisely this: the validity of formal systems? If so, then it would seem that your statement about the need for philosophy to use a formal system is not at all true, or, at a minimum, is something worth thinking about....

I think I'll sign off on this topic. Thanks for your thoughts, though.