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Scientist turned philosopher warns against new radical empiricism

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Which often results in attacks on “philosophy” of the sort that we are accustomed to hearing from people who flunked it in high school. The philosopher is someone we cover here now and then,  Massimo Pigliucci, and he has this to say at Scientia Salon:

Radical empiricists’ moves in logical space, and why they don’t work

My, by now, extensive readings of and conversations with radical empiricists have unearthed a number of standard moves they tend to make. I will briefly discuss six of them. Two obvious moves are (i) the use of an over-extensive definition of science and the assertion that other valuable disciplines — particularly (ii) logic and math — are “ultimately based” on empirical facts. Since radical empiricists do not seem to value (except for some degree of forced lip service when challenged) any other kind of inquiry or method of understanding (say, philosophy, literature, or the arts), it then follows that science really is all we should care about. It is as if they collapsed Hume’s already narrow distinction above between relations of ideas and matters of facts, arguing that the former are really a version of the latter anyway.

The concept of science, of course, has changed over time. The term did not actually exist as indicating a particular approach to knowledge of the world until recently [8]. Arguably, Aristotle (but not Plato!) was doing science, and so were some of the pre-Socratic philosophers, particularly the atomists. After the Renaissance, “natural philosophy” began to separate itself from philosophy more broadly construed, and finally a number of individual sciences became independent during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries (most recently psychology, which was still a branch of philosophy until about the time of William James).

But modern defenders of radical empiricism don’t get to help themselves to the fact that what we understand by science has changed over the centuries, because if they did they might have to concede that, really, historically speaking it’s all philosophy.

Another common move employed by radical empiricists is to (iii) deny the existence of a priori knowledge. It cannot exist, because otherwise they’d have to admit that science (understood as an essentially empirical enterprise) isn’t the source of all knowledge. The most sophisticated of the new wave of radical empiricists sooner or later will cite W.V.O. Quine’s famous rejection of the difference between analytic (a priori, by reasoning) / synthetic (a posteriori, by observation) truths in his paper, “Two dogmas of empiricism” [10]. But I bet that a good number of them have not actually read it, and even more likely that they are not aware of the criticism it got and of the significant amount of backtracking Quine himself had to do throughout the rest of his career. More.

Much valuable material here. One can only imagine the number of opinionated neuro-midgets this guy has had to listen to.

See also: William Lane Craig on Tyson’s (of Cosmos remake fame) dismissal of philosophy: Science and philosophy are a far better fit than science and show business.

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Mr. Pigliucci doesn't like the consequences of the new scientism in part because it threatens his turf as a philosopher. Why bother with philosophy when everything can be explained by physics? He doesn't answer that but just claims that "science isn't everything".
The aggressiveness of radical empiricists and their dismissal of non-scientific fields exacerbates this problem, and in my mind, therefore contributes to undermining the very fabric of our democracy and to decreasing the quality of our life. This may sound like “defending the turf,” and in a sense it is. But some turfs are worth defending against an all-encompassing cultural imperialism that risks to flatten the intellectual landscape in the name of Science (notice the capital S).
For the empiricists, flattening the landscape is just one of the effects of telling the truth. Bemoaning the necessary consequences of atheism in the name of quality of life won't do much to stop it.
And no, I’m not at all coming at this from the point of view of mystical or theological woo
According to him, mysticism and theology is "woo". But he's worried that science is going to ruin human culture and the "fabric of democracy". I guess we need to prevent atheistic science from making it impossible to teach atheistic philosophy. Let's face it, Mr. Pigliucci's philosophical world is already flattened, he's just riding on the legacy of a Christian worldview that built the culture that he fears will be lost. Sowing the wind - reaping the whirlwind. Silver Asiatic

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