“As science advances, there is more, not less, for philosophy to do”


In a recent interview, Scott Soames, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, offers up a description of philosophy. It’s a version of one in his recent book, The World Philosophy Made.

Here’s the version from the book:

Philosophy never advances against a background of rank ignorance. It flourishes when enough is known about some domain to make great progress conceivable, even though it remains incompletely realized because new methods are needed. Philosophers help by giving us new concepts, reinterpreting old truths, and reconceptualizing questions to expand their solution spaces. Sometimes philosophers do this when sciences are born, but they also do it as disciplines mature. As science advances, there is more, not less, for philosophy to do. Our knowledge of the universe and ourselves grows like an expanding sphere of light from a point of illumination. As light travels in all directions away from the source, the volume of the sphere, representing our secure knowledge, grows exponentially. But so does the surface area of the sphere, representing the border where knowledge blurs into doubt, bringing back methodological uncertainty. Philosophy monitors the border, ready to help plot our next move.

In the interview, at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?, interviewer Clifford Sosis asks what views in philosophy are considered controversial that shouldn’t be. Professor Soames replies, “The view that philosophy makes progress. Of course it does.”

The interview covers Professor Soames’ life, education, work, philosophical views, and politics. You can read the whole thing here.

Art: animated gif by Étienne Jacob 

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