Philosophy Science

Philosophers used to lean toward science – and what’s happened since?, philosopher asks

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In The New York Times (May 22, 2011), Justin E. H. Smith raises for discussion, “The Flight of Curiosity” from philosophy, noting that today’s budding philosopher may not even find curiosity an asset, compared to showing colleagues how perfectly focused she has been in graduate school,” and how little she knows of anything “that does not fall within the current boundaries of the discipline.” A far cry, he says, from the days when science was called, for good reason, “natural philosophy”:

… tellingly, among the articles in the Philosophical Transactions of 1666, the first year of the journal’s publication, we find titles such as “Of a Considerable Load-Stone Digged Out of the Ground in Devonshire,” and “Observations Concerning Emmets or Ants, Their Eggs, Production, Progress, Coming to Maturity, Use, &c.” Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, researchers studying the properties of magnetism continued to refer to their area of interest as “the magnetical philosophy,” and as late as 1808 John Dalton published “A New System of Chemical Philosophy.” A year later Jean-Baptiste Lamarck brought out his “Philosophie zoologique.” Yet by the early 20th century, this usage of the word philosophy had entirely vanished. What happened?

Smith had the misfortune to be dismissed as a “post-modernist” because he was writing about a false theory of medicine – and someone at the journal must have assumed that he could only be writing about it if he thought it was true or that everything is true or that nothing is. His defense, as readers will see, is that what’s true is that the man believed it and that fact had consequences. Perhaps that isn’t a truth for these censorial times.

4 Replies to “Philosophers used to lean toward science – and what’s happened since?, philosopher asks

  1. 1
    MedsRex says:

    How about certain loud voices in the materialistic scientific community declaring the death and irrelevance of philosophy? What is going on here?

  2. 2
    Ilion says:

    Anyone who writes “she” when English grammar calls for “he,” as Mr Smith does, cannot be taken seriously on the matter he seeks to address. Or, on very many other matters, for that matter.

  3. 3
    allanius says:

    Well, now, here’s a how-de-do. A regular dust-up in philosophy circles. Very brave, invoking Plato. Do we really need to be reminded of how far philosophy has fallen?

    When philosophy still meant something, it was about the pursuit of the good of happiness. But guess what? There is no such thing as “the good” once the philosophers decide to side with the materialists and abandon God. You know, “beyond good and evil” and all that.

    Curiosity? Fine, but why call it philosophy? Why call attention to ourselves as keepers of the sacred flame of knowledge? I think we know why. I think we also know why the flame has gone out. Philosophers can still make us tremble, perhaps, and earn tenure, but no takes them seriously anymore.

    And why should they? Justin wants to pat himself on the back for pointing out that someone from the deep past who might have been known as a “natural philosopher” in fact believed something that was wrong. What is the point of such an exercise? Are we supposed to admire it for its courageousness? Its obscurity? Its adorable hipness? Its triviality? What?

    There was a time, at the beginning of the modern era and the new science , when men like Descartes and Locke could stir strong emotions and entire cultural movements by linking “philosophy” to the mind of God and thus to happiness. That time has passed and may never come again.

    It is not the “loss of curiosity” that has created the “widespread perception that philosophy has become out of touch with the interests of the broader society.” If God is dead, then philosophy is dead, and Justin’s article shows just why.

  4. 4
    Barb says:

    Philosophy is out of touch with most of society because, as a result of postmodernist thinking and moral relativism, we value stupidity over intelligence. We watch reality television instead of documentaries about nature. We pander to the lowest common denominator in almost all forms of entertainment and then we wonder why it’s gotten as bad as it is.

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