Is Philosophy Dead?

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who quoted various scientists that proclaimed “philosophy is dead.” Here are some of the quotes:

Stephen Hawking

“Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson on the futility of philosophy in an interview

dGT: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?

Now aside from the irony of some scientists attempting to use a philosophical argument in order to argue that philosophy is dead it also shows they have a very poor grasp of what philosophy even is.

According to Wikipedia Philosophy (from Greek φιλοσοφία, philosophia, literally “love of wisdom”[1][2][3][4]) is the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.[5][6]

It should be apparent that in order for philosophy to be dead one must literally be incapable of thinking.

Here’s the conversation between a member and I on an atheist message board that I frequent on Facebook:

Person A is the one arguing against philosophy and I am person B arguing in favor of philosophy.

Person A

“Philosophy requires no real world justifications, only inferences. Evidence and testing have no place in philosophy. Philosophy has never factually justified any claim. Philosophy, as any first year student could tell you, deals only deals in what is true, not what is factual. Science deals only in facts, which is all that truly matters in the real world, ‘truth’ matters very little. If philosophical arguments mattered at all, there would be no argument, they’d simply be facts, and facts aren’t debatable.”

Person B

Philosophy is a clear and concise way of thinking. In order to develop an argument you need to develop a thought first. In order for your thoughts to be sound you need to be capable of understanding. If philosophy is dead (as many unqualified people have said) then there’s no need for clear and concise thinking. You can see by your very argument against philosophy you actually must use philosophy. If you can’t create a coherent argument it is because you have not created a coherent thought. Thus as a result you are literally brain dead. In order for philosophy to be dead you must stop thinking. It doesn’t sound to me like you are capable of doing that.

Science and philosophy must work hand in hand. The issue is apologists (theistic philosophers)have tainted philosophy with magical thinking. Don’t let them ruin what philosophy really is. Moreover the scientists you quote have a poor understanding of philosophy. Though they still apply albeit poorly.

Do yourself a favor and read on the philosophy of science: https://www.britannica.com/topic/philosophy-of-science

Person A

“Oh I’ve read plenty, and still don’t consider philosophy anything other than a waste of time, especially theist philosophy and apologetics, which isn’t even real philosophy, it’s a social science. Most scientists of any merit consider philosophy a waste of time and an empty pursuit as well.”

Person B

Perhaps you and I may have a different understanding as to what philosophy is. Can you please explain to me (without copy/paste) as to what explicitly philosophy is?

Person A

“Which kind? Theist apologetics or classical philosophy? Aristotle was an atheist you know.”

Person B

Well there’s a variety of philosophers. For example Aristotle made some powerful contributions with the art of rhetoric. Though his physiological understanding of the human body didn’t make much sense. He thought the human brain was only for cooling the blood and that the “soul” or “life” of a man resides in the heart.

David Hume made some powerful contributions to skepticism, empiricism, and naturalism. However Hume also founded the “is-ought” problem which many philosophically as well as scientifically argue against. Sam Harris’ book THE MORAL LAND SCAPE does this as well as Michael Shermer’s THE SCIENCE OF GOOD&EVIL.

So you see there’s a variety of philosophers with various ways of thinking. That’s what philosophy is-a way of thinking. Rational inquiry is the foundation of philosophy. Sounds like it would be a pretty important component to science if you ask me.

Apologetics do use philosophy albeit poorly in my opinion. The scientific method is contingent on minds. Minds are formulated by thoughts. Thoughts are formulated by various judgements based upon understanding. In order to have clear and concise thoughts we must be capable of thinking things through clearly. Science is merely a method and philosophy is a way of thinking and the exploration of other thoughts. Without philosophy the scientific method would not have rational inquiry and in effect shoot itself in the foot. Philosophy also needs science to ground it into the fundamental understanding of the nature of the universe. I’m sure you have heard the old saying”don’t be so open mined that your brain falls out.” Apologetics regularly make this error.

It sounds to me that your objections aren’t as clear and concise as you would like them to be. Perhaps you might want to read a bit more about philosophy to sharpen those skills. Moreover there were and are many atheistic philosophers today. If you wish to toss out their arguments then you aren’t left with a rational approach (philosophical grounding) to atheism. If there’s no rational ground for atheists to stand upon then we are no better than the apologists. Apologist’s castles are built upon sand and as the old Chinese proverb goes; if you sit long enough on the banks of the river, you will see the corpses of your enemies float by.

Person A

“Atheism requires no philosophical grounding. Atheism is the status quo before theists start telling lies.”

Person B

Well it’s become clearer and clearer to me that you:

1) Don’t know what philosophy is.

2) Are incapable of formulating any coherent argument against philosophy, mainly because you don’t even know what it is.

3) You haven’t presented any type of original thought of your own on the subject.

4) You won’t change your mind because *ahem* of your philosophical perspective.

Person A

“Well then you are just moronically wrong.”

That’s where the conversation ended. As you can see most who oppose philosophy tend to have a very poor understanding as to what philosophy even is. Science is a powerful tool to use but I also think a rational mind is just as important.

What do you think?

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7 Comments

    1. I’m not quite sure what exactly you mean Jonathan? First off the arguments presented in this post are formulated by me. The debate between the person and I happened on a Facebook group titled Atheist vs Theist-Theist great debate. As for my sources for the comments made by scientists: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/8520033/Stephen-Hawking-tells-Google-philosophy-is-dead.html

      http://io9.gizmodo.com/neil-degrasse-tyson-slammed-for-dismissing-philosophy-a-1575178224

      Aside from those you’ll have to clarify your question further.

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  1. //David Hume made some powerful contributions to skepticism, empiricism, and naturalism. However Hume also founded the “is-ought” problem which many philosophically as well as scientifically argue against. Sam Harris’ book THE MORAL LAND SCAPE does this as well as Michael Shermer’s THE SCIENCE OF GOOD&EVIL.

    So you see there’s a variety of philosophers with various ways of thinking. //

    Did you mean to imply that Harris and Shermer are philosophers?

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    1. Michael Shermer is an evolutionary psychologist and prefers to be called a skeptic over the title atheist or agnostic-though his line of thought is inline with atheism. As you know skepticism deals with doubt and questioning things. Such questioning is rooted in philosophy. After all philosophy is about questioning and thinking about things. I know you’re familiar with this Jonathan but for anyone curious about how skepticism and philosophy work you can visit here: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/skepticism/

      Sam Harris is a neuroscientist but he also has a B.A. in philosophy from Stanford. He has more credit to being a philosopher than Michael Shermer in my opinion. Sam Harris has said in interviews and on his podcast that he considers himself as more of a philosopher than anything.

      Philosophy in general is inescapable when you’re dealing with the questions about the fundamental nature of reality. So I would say to some extent we are all philosophers. Perhaps not professional philosophers but philosophy is an integral part of life.

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