Sunday, 26 January 2014

Territorial demarcation and the meaning of science

Larry Moran of Sandwalk says that Massimo Pigliucci has nothing to tell him and is on a mere quest for respect when he argues here that the new atheists don't have enough time for philosophy. Moran asks "What "intellectual" or "experiential" way of acquiring knowledge does Pigliucci think will add to the lack of evidence for gods and support of atheism?"

Isn't this just rationalism versus empricism all over again? It sounds rather like Moran is trying to claim that empiricism is all we need. But many people have shown that no pure empiricist strategy is possible. Quine and Kuhn give the arguments viewed as most conclusive. Empirical evidence, observation, data, whatever you want to call it.....these can never inform us about normative questions such as 'what is rational?' We can only do science with the help of rationalist principles concerning what we OUGHT to believe, what extra-empirical properties a GOOD theory should have, what are good norms of reasoning when we choose which part of a theory to take some evidence as having confirmed, and so on. Science is in the business of hypothesizing counterfactuals - 'what would happen if i were to do this or that...' and to make sense of these, of what it means for something to follow necessarily......there is no way that empirical evidence can ever help us understand necessity, lawfulness.

Lots of philosophy does a bad job of explaining why non-philosophers should care about it, because they spend all their time talking only to other philosophers and developing lots of cliquey jargon. But 'there is no such thing as science without philosophy', as Daniel Dennett once said -' only science whose philosophical assumptions have not been spelled out'.

1 comment:

rachaelbean said...

*like* and thanks for the Dennett quote... I shall use it in my class tomorrow :-)