FtBCon 2: Philosophy for Everyone

At 10am PST today (noon Central) I’ll be hosting the panel Philosophy for Everyone. Please tune in and watch. (The link to the video feed is the “Official Session Page,” down the right margin of the Lanyrd event page.) Questions can be directed to us by using the Pharyngula chatroom during the show. If you have questions that don’t make it into the program, post them here if you want to hear my reply–or if you want to ask a question of one of the other panelists that didn’t get answered on the show, follow the links in their bios to find their websites or twitter addresses. Please be polite and productive in your queries!

Of relevance to the subject of this panel is the talk I gave for Skepticon just last year, “Is Philosophy Stupid?” To delve even deeper into philosophy, see my recommended readings (especially, for beginners, the first page). Check that out for more on what philosophy is and why it’s important (and how academic philosophers are often doing it wrong). After the show, if the panelists have suggestions for further reading or additional resources, I will also add them here.


  1. says

    I understand the value of the basics of philosophy–logical fallacies, the laws of logic, and so on. And I have no problem with problems at the frontier of science or math being called (in some cases) philosophical problems. Maybe Heisenberg or Godel or North/Whitehead were doing philosophy when they produced their most famous work, say.

    What I have an issue with is the idea that philosophers today are contributing anything of substantial value to the pursuit of science. *Scientists* are; not philosophers.

    Let me quickly admit that I’ve been annoyed to no end by Christian philosophers like Craig who bring pop philosophical common sense (“Something can’t come from nothing, y’know!” or “Everything that has a beginning has a cause! :-)”) to the study of actual problems in cosmology, for example. Maybe there’s actually some value there but it’s been shouted down by the blatherings of these Christian philosophers.

    Your thoughts?

    • says

      What I have an issue with is the idea that philosophers today are contributing anything of substantial value to the pursuit of science. *Scientists* are; not philosophers.

      I think this statement commits two errors, which I already have explained (with examples and analysis proving the point) in my talk “Is Philosophy Stupid?“. In short…

      (1) A lot of what scientists claim is science, is actually philosophy (in fact all of science is philosophy, just philosophy with better data, as I also explain in that same talk, but I assume you are bracketing the “better data” part as a separate thing and mean by “philosophy” the rest of what we do to get answers to things). Case in point: Superstring Theory is philosophy (it is speculative, not scientifically proven, entirely conceptual but constrained by empirical data, and operating on ontological and metaphysical premises to reach ontological and metaphysical conclusions–that’s philosophy). So unless you think all scientific speculation (like work on Superstring Theory) “contributes nothing of substantial value” to science, your claim that philosophy doesn’t do that is false. (This becomes all the more obvious when we realize all of mathematics is philosophy, being purely conceptual analysis that is found to have applications in understanding the world; now think of how much advances in mathematics have radically transformed science, e.g. Game Theory. Which is philosophy.)

      (2) Science is absolutely dependent on philosophy and is continually transformed by it and takes premises from it. Not just in the obvious ways (epistemology: science would not even exist and could never improve in its reliability and methodology in the complete absence of any philosophy of science; ethics: scientific research is governed and constrained by conclusions in moral philosophy; politics: scientific funding and laws governing it derive ultimately from conclusions people make in political philosophy; metaphysics: science operates on metaphysical assumptions that themselves have not been scientifically proven in any peer reviewed journal, e.g. methodological naturalism and the prioritization of hypotheses consistent with physicalism). But in numerous other ways. Most recently, in cognitive science (conceptual analysis of free will and qualia governs, guides, inspires, and constrains scientific research in neuroscience). In my talk I give the example of how recent philosophy of causality has actually and significantly transformed several sciences, and then show how that fits into the context of a number of advances in philosophy that now govern all of science, but which we simply take for granted–forgetting they actually came from philosophy, not science per se.

      So I say let the claim that philosophy does not contribute anything of substantial value to science never be uttered again.