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Quora Answer : Is it common among scientists to scorn philosophy?

Nov 9, 2015

It seems that way.

Philosophy is necessarily "meta" to science. It asks (and tries to answer) questions about what science is, what its boundaries and limits are, why science should be trusted etc.

That's nothing specific to science. It's just the nature of philosophy ... it's meta to everything.

Or, to turn it around, once you start asking questions that are meta to a field, you lose the ability to invoke the resources of the field itself when answering them.

For example, once you start asking questions that are meta to religion, like why we should trust scripture, you can't invoke scripture to answer them. Similarly, you can't do mathematical proofs about why mathematical proof works the way it does. And you can't use empirical observation to explain the value of empirical observation.

Once you go meta-enough, you lose all these specific resources, and all you are left with is a kind of freeform, poetical, unconstrained argument. And that's what philosophy is. (For people like me from a programming background, it's like the void* in C or the Object Class in Java. The thing which can become anything else because it's the most generic, least constrained thing there is. Philosophy is at the top of the type-hierarchy of "disciplines of enquiry" precisely because it has fewest rules. Anything that has more rules and constraints is automatically a subclass of it.)

This is an ironic field where Plato, who hates poets, can try to motivate our understanding that mathematical objects are the ultimate reality, through a bizarre poetic parable of people chained up in a cave. Where practitioners can write in any style, from aphorisms, to fake letters to formal outlines of principles to puns. It's the (in)discipline were EVERYTHING is up for grabs, even fundamentals of logic, and "necessity" and "causation" etc. etc.

Now many scientists are perfectly sensible and understand this. But it does seem - just by looking at discussions on Quora - that quite a lot feel irritated and maybe oppressed by it. Perhaps they're used to thinking of themselves as being at the top of the hierarchy ... able to look down on and analyze and pontificate about everything else below them (human psychology, culture, economics etc. etc.) but they dislike discovering that there's someone above them, looking down and analyzing them. (No one likes being observed and classified ...)

Perhaps they are so committed to the constraints of their discipline that they've lost the ability to even imagine that it could be different. That there may not be a law of the excluded middle or that the universe may not be 100% law-like. To them its inconceivable that these axioms of their discipline could be other than they are, so people who ask about the constraints sound like they're idiots or troublemakers.

I'm sure most scientists who feel aggrieved at philosophy will probably attempt to explain themselves like this : "we don't feel oppressed and we don't lack imagination to see that things could be different, it's just that it's useless to ask questions outside these constraints". At which point, they simply reveal that they've defined "useful" in terms of their discipline. The theologian defines useful as what brings him closer to spiritual grace. The mathematician defines useful as something that can be formalized sufficiently to operate on. The scientist defines useful as something which can lead to further observations etc. Useful is another term loaded with value from the discipline.

Quora Answer : Are philosophers as equally appreciated as scientists, or less?

Jan 17, 2018

Everyone is taught a bit of science from early school. Most people are expected to have some scientific understanding. They'll have had to do lab work to get a feel for what it means and how it's done. They will have had the virtues of the scientific method and its rigour lauded to them by their teachers. They will have seen plenty of TV shows that portray scientists in a somewhat flattering light; not always, there are terrible nerd stereotypes too, but somewhat.

OTOH, most people have very little contact with philosophy. They won't have been taught it at school. They won't have seen so many TV shows with philosophy as a central theme or philosophers as protagonists. They won't have been told what its virtues are. They won't have practised doing philosophy.

In America, their most likely contact with philosophy will be in a religious context where it's appealed to in theology or apologetics. Often when the religion needs to bring in some serious fire-power to challenge scientific assumptions. Many people will therefore get the idea that philosophy and religion are the same, or at least close allies in the war against science. And they will orientate themselves towards philosophy based on their religious stance. What they won't necessarily see is the degree to which philosophy can be, and is, a challenge to religious faith and religious life.

Another place they'll come across philosophy is in the context of politics, political science, and a whole swathe of modern humanities. Here again, philosophy will appear to be partisan. Philosophers will either be invoked as "great thinkers of the past who endorse our righteous struggle" or look like they are providing a smokescreen of intellectual cover for despised political foes.

What will be lost, again, is a sense of philosophy as a neutral method which can be invoked as arbitrator, able to identify common points of agreement between, and correct the errors within, different political camps.

Finally, philosophy is often presented to people as an absurdity. Counter-intuitive propositions are held up for instant ridicule rather than considered seriously.

A man who is happy to hear that space-time is, in fact, curved and bendable; and flatters himself to be in on this sophisticated knowledge, considering himself above the fool who believes the simplistic story that his eyes tell him of an absolute space; is nevertheless outraged by the suggestion that the universe is made purely of ideas and contains no physical matter at all. This, is self-evidently poppycock, he reassures himself. And the possibility can be safely dismissed or ignored.

Why this asymmetry? Why is counter-intuitive physics celebrated, but counter-intuitive philosophy abhorred? Again, it's simply lack of exposure and experience. Most people aren't practised in the kinds of thinking that philosophers do or the questions they ask, and so have no ability to confront them. They assume that such questions are therefore meaningless or pointless.

Understandably, seen through all these lenses, philosophy doesn't inspire much respect.

Quora Answer : Why is philosophy considered to be a substandard way of thinking?

Mar 12, 2016

You can find someone to hate on everything. So having a few critics doesn't mean much.

Anything beyond this is probably :

a) philosophy is perceived as not delivering "practical results". Though this raises the question of what a practical result is. Or what kinds of results we want to get. The job of lawyers (in principle) is to produce "justice". Is justice a practical result? What if society ran more efficiently and effectively by tolerating a certain amount of injustice? Should law then be dismissed as not producing practical results?

b) like lawyers, philosophers are professionally trained to construct arguments and know how to work with them. Unlike lawyers, they are not so focused on winning arguments. But philosophers know how to argue. How to argue both sides of a case. And their desire is often to keep the argument open. To prevent you fixing on a simple "solution". If you get into an argument with a philosopher, hoping for a quick win or a quick conclusion, you'll get frustrated.

Worse, it will seem like the philosopher is "moving the goal posts", changing the terms of engagement. Of course, the philosopher IS doing this. But THAT is the point. The job of the philosopher is to keep opening up new avenues of enquiry by looking again at things that appeared settled and starting to question them again.

c) finally, philosophical suggestions can be "counter-intuitive". They go against the norms of common-sense. For some people, this is a negative in itself. But to be honest, science is also pretty anti-commonsensical these days. A person who dismisses philosophy because "obviously" the world is made of material rather than ideas, is hardly different from someone who dismisses Einstein because "obviously" relativity is bunk.

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