At Philosophy Now, Christopher Norris offers more evidence that Stephen Hawking should either take courses in philosophy or refrain from commenting on its supposed uselessness:
Stephen Hawking recently fluttered the academic dovecotes by writing in his new book The Grand Design – and repeating to an eager company of interviewers and journalists – that philosophy as practised nowadays is a waste of time and philosophers a waste of space. More precisely, he wrote that philosophy is ‘dead’ since it hasn’t kept up with the latest developments in science, especially theoretical physics.
[ … ]Predictably enough the journalists went off to find themselves media-friendly philosophers – not hard to do nowadays – who would argue the contrary case in a suitably vigorous way. On the whole the responses, or those that I came across, seemed overly anxious to strike a conciliatory note, or to grant Hawking’s thesis some measure of truth as judged by the standards of the natural science community while tactfully dissenting with regard to philosophy and the human sciences.
After that, Norris goes absolutely out of on a limb and suggests that inference to the best explanation is a useful regulatory principle:
No doubt there is a fair amount of ill-informed, obtuse, or ideologically angled philosophy that either refuses or tries but fails to engage with the concerns of present-day science. One can understand Hawking’s impatience – or downright exasperation – with some of the half-baked notions put around by refuseniks and would-be engageniks alike. All the same he would do well to consider the historically attested and nowadays more vital than ever role of philosophy as a critical discipline. It continues to offer the sorts of argument that science requires in order to dispel not only the illusions of na ïve sense-certainty or intuitive self-evidence but also the confusions that speculative thought runs into when decoupled from any restraining appeal to regulative principles such as that of inference to the best explanation. To adapt a quotation by Kant in a different though related context: philosophy of science without scientific input is empty, while science without philosophical guidance is blind. At any rate it is rendered perilously apt to mistake the seductions of pure hypothetical invention for the business of formulating rationally warranted, metaphysically coherent, and – if only in the fullness of time – empirically testable conjectures.
But who today will take seriously a mere philosopher who thinks that evidence has any relevance to fashionable cosmologies. You’d have better luck Frodo the Hobbit.