Needed: A Philosophy Cheat Sheet for Scientists

Needed: A Philosophy Cheat Sheet for Scientists


What is the name of the phenomenon by which someone who is an acknowledged expert in one area is led to be overconfident about his or her knowledge in other areas? It’s a specific version of illusory superiority, and it may be related to the Dunning-Kruger effect (a product of the correlation of overconfidence and lack of skill), but I’m wondering if it has its own name. If it doesn’t, perhaps we can call it Nyeasma.

I ask because of the latest episode in the series of science guys attempting to speak with authority about philosophy. We’ve heard silly things from Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and Stephen Hawking. Now adding to this list is science popularizer Bill Nye (aka “The Science Guy”) with an appearance at the website, Big Think. A philosophy major asks Nye what he thinks about the subject, and what follows is the most cringe-inducing, ignorant, incoherent ramblings I’ve seen in the genre so far. If you have three and a half minutes to feel angry, you can watch:

Now take a deep breath and think peaceful thoughts. If that doesn’t work, allow me to steal shamelessly from John Oliver and present you with a bucket of baby sloths:


When I first saw the Nye video the other day, I was hoping that someone at Big Think would realize what they’ve done to their reputation and remove it. Alas, that did not happen. In the meanwhile, Dan Linford, a philosopher who teaches at Christopher Newport University and at Thomas Nelson Community College, has published a very good response at Philosophical Percolations. Thank you, Mr. Linford!

I think what we need, though, is something different: a cheat sheet for scientists. A very brief document that will prevent them from saying really stupid things about philosophy. I’m talking one page, bullet points, posted widely over the Internet, sent by the American Philosophical Association and other professional philosophical groups to scientists and science educators the world over.

If we were to have a 10 point philosophy cheat sheet for scientists, with each point just a sentence or two, what should be on it?

Easton - lists

(image: from “More To Do” by Melissa Easton)

guest
53 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Flavius Id
Flavius Id
5 years ago

How about: The word ‘scientist’ was coined in the 1800s. Galileo and Newton considered themselves natural philosophers.Report

Liz Pinkerton
Liz Pinkerton
Reply to  Flavius Id
5 years ago

(Y)Report

Alo
Alo
5 years ago

A common theme is to see philosophy and science conflated, such as whether:
1. Is Science and Philosophy Incompatible?
2. The scientific method can answer what philosophy cannot.,Report

Aaron
Aaron
5 years ago

Talk to a philosopher.Report

Felipe
Felipe
5 years ago

1) There are presuppositions everywhere, and it’s not a bad thing to try to be clear about what they are, and further, to be able to give reasons to assent to them or reject them.
2) That it seems to me to be so doesn’t mean that it is so (from Wittgenstein)
3) There are good (but not decisive) reasons to think that the meaningfulness of questions doesn’t ultimately reduce into the meaningfulness of empirical questions, so there seems to be a meaningful question as to what counts as a meaningful question.
4) There are good (but not decisive) reasons to think that the normative and descriptive domains are separate, so there is a meaningful question as to how those are related.
5) When you deal with any of those issues, you are doing philosophy.
6) Philosophy as an historical discipline has dealt with those issues for so long, it is pigheaded to think you can deal with those questions without having some contact with the discussions within the discipline.
7) Yes, we have tried that strategy, it doesn’t work.Report

CAM
CAM
5 years ago

They don’t need a reasonable response. Nor do they need a cheat sheet. Both strategies assume they’re willing to be instructed regarding their philosophical errors. They have shown that they are not. What they need is either to be ignored altogether, or to be mercilessly mocked and derided and made fun of.Report

David.
David.
5 years ago

Add this: There is not normal philosophy similar to normal science. You cannot judge all the discipline only considering one or two perspectives/discourses.Report

Kevin
Kevin
5 years ago

“The scientist rigorously defends his right to be ignorant of almost everything except his specialty.”
-Marshall McLuhanReport

Kevin
Kevin
Reply to  Kevin
5 years ago

Ignoring the blatant sexism, an astute point nonetheless.Report

SomeGuy
SomeGuy
Reply to  Kevin
5 years ago

“Bollocks.”
-Malcolm McLarenReport

Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

Some things I wish everyone know about philosophy:

(1) Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” does not imply that your existence depends upon your thinking. It is merely intended to show that a thinker cannot coherently doubt their own existence.

(2) People are often quite bad at reasoning. Logic, a component of philosophy, can help with this. (We appreciate that supplementing this with an understanding of statistical and probabilistic reasoning is still important, though!)

(3) When philosophers raise outlandish-seeming questions (“What is your basis for expecting the sun to rise tomorrow? Or for expecting the future to resemble the past?”) it is generally not because we think them unanswerable, or that we think the outlandish possibilities being hinted at are credible, but rather that consideration of the question can give rise to important insights, e.g. into the nature of our everyday knowledge. So to mock philosophers for their thought experiments is as silly as mocking Einstein for (allegedly) thinking that you could ride on a ray of light. It merely reveals that you have missed the point.

(4) Many important intellectual questions (including, e.g., fundamental moral and epistemological issues) do not concern empirical happenstance, and so cannot be answered by the methods of science. Different methods are needed if we are to make any progress in thinking about them. This sort of thinking is what philosophy is all about. If you dismiss it, you are effectively giving up on rational thought about non-empirical matters.

(5) Philosophy is inescapable, in the sense that wholesale dismissals of it tend to be self-defeating. If you dismiss it as worthless, you’re making a claim in ethics or value theory, which are sub-fields of philosophy. If you think it’s an unreliable source of knowledge, that’s epistemology. Either way, you must engage in philosophical reasoning and argument in order to (non-dogmatically) assess the value of philosophy.

(6) While philosophy is difficult, and often controversial, it does not follow that it is “all just a matter of opinion”. Some opinions are more reasonable, or better grounded, than others. Even if it turns out that there are multiple internally-coherent ways to think about the world, given the evidence available to us, our initial thoughts on a topic tend to be so riddled by implicit inconsistencies that philosophical thinking can allow us, individually, to make a great deal of progress in improving the coherence of our world views.

(7) Philosophy, as a collective enterprise and academic discipline, makes progress by identifying and resolving common inconsistencies, clarifying what the implications of various positions really are, or which claims do (or don’t) rationally support each other.Report

Matthew Rothstein
Matthew Rothstein
Reply to  Richard Yetter Chappell
5 years ago

Very well said on all counts. I especially like #5 – it seems that the most common criticism of philosophy (other than its poor marketability) is that it has no tangible value to human welfare, and that most of these critics don’t realize the irony that they are, in making such criticism, committing philosophy. One question I would raise is whether the ‘non-dogmatic’ qualification is necessary; i.e., even dogmatism is philosophical reasoning (done poorly), isn’t it? There was a NYT opinion piece recently which made a great point about the contrast between science and philosophy – what matters most, in terms of increasing human welfare, is not the average person’s proficiency in science, but the advancement of scientific knowledge and the cutting edge achievements of leaders in the field, whereas the opposite is true of philosophy – the newest and greatest theories of professional philosophers don’t make any difference in the lives of ordinary people, but what does make a big difference is the average individual’s philosophical competence. We don’t need, for example, the average citizen to understand the science of global warming, but we do need them to have a basic grasp of the philosophy of science which informs us of what it means to have a scientific consensus.Report

Ian Olasov
5 years ago

Here are some recent contributions that philosophers have made to science:
– The falsifiability criterion and Bayesian models of rationality in the philosophy of science
– The concept of modularity and the distinction between creature, state, and phenomenal consciousness in cognitive science
– The ideas of illocutionary force, implicature, presupposition, possible worlds, the intension/extension distinction, and truth-conditions in linguistics

Here are some philosophical questions on which we have not yet reached a scientific consensus:
– Can we reconcile the perspectives on the world that we get from physics, psychology, sociology, and non-scientific common sense? Does scientific psychology, for example, entail that our non-scientific common sense psychological beliefs are wrong? Does the anthropology of morality entail moral relativism?
– What is consciousness? What creatures have conscious experiences?
– What is the meaning of a word?
– What makes creationism and climate change denial non-scientific beliefs? Is string theory in its current forms scientific?
– When should a scientific theory be treated as a mere model or tool for making predictions, and when as a factual description of the world?
– Should recent discoveries about top-down influences on perception and the reconstructive nature of memory undermine our confidence in our own perception and memory, and to what extent?
– Is it morally permissible to eat meat, imprison people, break a promise made to someone on their deathbed, laugh at jokes based on racial stereotypes, have children…?
– What is the best form of government?
– What is a mental illness?
– What sorts of epistemic virtues do we want in knowledge-creating and -disseminating institutions like Wikipedia, Google, newspapers, and universities? For example, should journalism be objective? Can it be objective?
– When should somebody be treated as an expert on a topic? What should a layperson believe when purported experts on a topic disagree?

Here are some things philosophers do to try and answer those questions:
– Look for plausible interpretations of the questions on which they become empirically testable, and then conduct those tests, or appeal to relevant tests that have already been conducted
– Clarify the questions by developing definitions of the key concepts they contain – definitions that explain how we use those concepts in everyday life or in scientific theorizing, and that we can test against data from actual usage and judgements about whether possible usages are acceptable or anomalous
– Reflective equilibrium
– Identify assumptions that are implicit in or presupposed by our other beliefs and practices, and articulate the inferential connections between those assumptions and the philosophical question at handReport

Marcus
Marcus
Reply to  Ian Olasov
5 years ago

It’s less clear to me that possible worlds is a contribution philosophy made to science and not the other way around. I could be wrong here, but I think Everett was talking about that long before it was mainstream in philosophy.Report

Matthew Tirrigan
Matthew Tirrigan
5 years ago

Ultracrepidarianism: the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters outside of one’s knowledge.Report

Sylvia
5 years ago

This is an interesting suggestion! To introduce a cheat sheet, a motivational letter could be useful too: tell them first why it may be relevant for them. This is my (incomplete) proposal for such a letter.

Dear Scientist,

You belong to a respected profession, that is nevertheless not very well-known by the general public. You may have wondered how to counter stereotypes like the “mad professor” or how to prevent common misconceptions about your particular field of research.

In Philosophy, we have a very similar situation: to people outside our field, it is typically not clear what we do. In addition, unlike Science, Philosophy is often mocked for being pointless, outdated, or worse. You may have similar opinions. However, as a scientist, you are probably open to falsification of your own prior ideas. Ask yourself how you came to this position. Maybe you heard it from your teachers or colleagues, but do you think they really delved into it themselves, or could this just be a myth that is being passed on? Or maybe you read a philosophy book once and really did not like it, but surely this body of evidence is too small for a general dismission of an entire field of research.

It would be nice if you refrained from dismissing Philosophy in public, but there is more: learning more about Philosophy might actually help you with your own mission.

(1) Philosophy, science, and art have a rich and intertwined history. Read up on it! Being a curious person you will find it fascinating. Textbooks on science tend to distort the history of the discipline due to the brevity with which the topic is discussed and because they copy each other rather than returning to the primary sources. Prepare to be amazed by what you will learn about your own field. 🙂
(2) If you draw a Venn diagram of famous philosophers and famous scientists, you will find that the intersections contains many elements. Think about Pythagoras, Descartes, Newton, and Galilei, to name a few. Einstein was well-versed in philosophy, too. Maybe it is time for a reunion.
(3) Scientists are typically not trained to reason about science as a whole, its role in society, and the relation between science and other human endeavors (including philosophy). If you do want to address such meta-questions in a meaningful way, it will pay off to educate yourself about the philosophy, history, psychology, sociology, … of your field. As a scientist, you do not need to do this to be good at your work, but as a curious human being, you will probably enjoy it. In addition, it will improve your teaching and communication with a wider audience. So it may be worthwhile to look into it, if you engage in either of these.
(4) A lot of contemporary philosophy is analytic philosophy. It is more similar to science than to literature. It relies on formal models, such as logic and probability theory. Some of the logics (yes, plural) used by philosophers may not be relevant to your work, and that is fine. Yet, some parts of analytic philosophy address questions directly relevant to very active research fields in science. You might enjoy learning more about this.

Sincerely,
a Philosopher of ScienceReport

Michael Bench-Capon
5 years ago

The questioner definitely said “Stephen Hawking”, not “Richard Dawkins”.Report

Erik
5 years ago

You can’t win. You point out that russell, leibniz, others contributed to science and others, goedel made discoveries that crossed over into philosophy. Then an arbitrary line is drawn so that some of this stuff gets called science and the rest philosophy. The philosophy is useless crap and the science is the good stuff. How can this line even be drawn? Where does goedel or leibniz cease to be a scientist and become a philosopher. I challenge anyone to do it. Btw I teach with a physicist and we get along great. It is only the popularizers like Neil de grasse Tyson and others who get it wrong.Report

Glyn Hughes
5 years ago

Who’s this Bill Nye fellow? Why does anyone think his opinion is important?Report

Kevin
Kevin
Reply to  Glyn Hughes
5 years ago

Popular children’s science educator on television in the US. He’s had a bit of a renaissance since his target audience has hit their 20s.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Kevin
5 years ago

Some of us are in our 30’s now!Report

Thomas Brouwer
Thomas Brouwer
5 years ago

Boy, I really needed that bucket of sloths after watching that.Report

beerpatzer
beerpatzer
5 years ago

Questioning the merits of philosophy is itself a philosophical act, which meant that dismissing as unnecessary is self-contradictory and ironic.Report

Stephen Crowley
Stephen Crowley
5 years ago

I find the following ideas plausible- but I’d be happy to be talked out of any or all of them –
1. Philosophers are less powerful than scientists
2. Given 1. Condescending rhetorical strategies like lists of bullet points are unlikely to receive much uptake and so are unlikely to alter the epistemic situation of the more powerful community.
3. As we consider our options as a community given 2 – I hope we are led to a greater understanding of and appreciation for the epistemic situation of (relative) epistemic disempowerment.
4. Shout out to the work on epistemic injustice – Fricker, Dotson etc – for providing a way to think about why scientific ignorance of philosophy is so bloody irritating!Report

Eric Sotnak
Eric Sotnak
5 years ago

Suppose someone were to say, “Scientists are guys who just want to turn everything into numbers and equations.” Richard Dawkins (correctly) dispelled this view of science in his book “Unweaving the Rainbow”. Too bad people like Nye seem intent on holding the same blinkered view of philosophy.Report

Patrick Armstrong
Patrick Armstrong
5 years ago

I mean, ya know, like reality, like that’s real, eh? I mean, if you smell something that’s really something that smells. Um. Like. Duh. Like ya can’t prove it really, but, um, it’s really real. Like.Report

George Gale
George Gale
5 years ago

Science, like football, is a rule-governed activity. Football players are players, not rules committees. Scientists, as players, are not rules committees. Rules committees for football and science frequently contain ex-players, but the players don’t get to make the rules. Which makes perfect sense. Interestingly enough, some of the members of science’s rules committee are philosophers and historians and sociologists. Scientists: suck it up and get used to it. That’s the way the game works.Report

Timothy Stock
Timothy Stock
5 years ago

I have only one entry to the cheat-sheet.

Science is concerned with measurement as a means to relating observations. That means that any set of scientific observations is schematized, and deliberately, so that said observations can be made equivalent by way of their relevant measurements. The mere schematability of the measurements is the only necessary goal of scientific observation. The hidden premise here is that the mere relation of measurements (in either simple or complex ways) can or should approximate the actual character of observations, but also only (notes the philosopher) by way of derived characteristics of the schematism that allows for the measurements to be reasonably considered equivalent in the first place.

Consequently: All science ought to frame its discoveries not merely in terms of the equivalences drawn by way of the comparison of measurements, but also with a critical appreciation of the ways in which the proposed schematism upon which said measurements depend may be insufficient to fully represent the reality the proposed observations are meant to elaborate.

The theoretical corollary of this is that the mere capability to create a schematic equivalence of measurements is insufficient to establish the reality of the observation or the truth of any derived proposition.

The practical corollary of this would be something like: scientists would more realistically constrain the scope of their claims were they to be required to engage in some serious reading of Kant and Leibniz.

The personal corollary is that Bill Nye the Science guy, along with the often unsung “Mr. Wizard”, were early intellectual heroes of mine, and it saddens me to see such paragons fall to earth.Report

No Labels!
No Labels!
Reply to  Timothy Stock
5 years ago

I’m sorry, but this is over-jargoned drivel. Take your foot out of your mouth and rephrase your point so that someone who’s had one modest cocktail and a glass of cheap Malbec can take it in without having to scratch what remains of his (or her) hair out. Signed: a scientist (labels: person with a science problem) with considerable sympathy for philosophy.Report

Ben Almassi
Ben Almassi
5 years ago

For what it’s worth, I like to call this phenomenon “hyperextended expertise.”

Relatedly, Miranda Fricker offers the label “credibility excess” for when we give speakers more credibility than their actual rational authority in that domain warrants.Report

Felipe
Felipe
5 years ago

Please, don’t judge us all because of a few of our more outspoken colleagues. Well, outspoken is a kind way of putting it. These individuals you mention really like running their mouths about almost any subject (I would add Michio Kaku to that list). In fact I have heard some science popularizers say stupid things about science itself. Most scientists are not like this.
That said, I feel like science and philosophy are intimately connected. To me they are the two main argumentative human endeavours to understand the world. That is why I feel that so many scientists actually like to talk about philosophy. Unfortunately, most of them have little training in it. Given the intertwined histories of philosophy and science, I do not understand why there isn’t more philosophy required for science majors (or more philosophy in schools to be honest ). I also think that philosophers might benefit from knowing more science, because so much of what we know about our world, at least in modern times, comes from science.
Somehow these two disciplines have become too separate, and I think this holds them both back. At least I can be sure that science is held back by this. An example. I am a theoretician, and very often theoretical science is dismissed by experimentalists because we “only have models”, whereas they measure “the actual facts”. If they knew the first thing about philosophy of science and epistemology they would realize that there are no absolute observations of facts that are completely independent of a theoretical framework. In fact, whenever they perform a measurement in an experiment they don’t realize they are using simple theoretical models that they have internalized in their heads. By dismissing more complex (or just different) models so easily, they miss the opportunity to learn so much more from their experiments.Report

Felipe
Felipe
Reply to  Felipe
5 years ago

Oh, let me add something. I didn’t know much about Bill Nye before watching his offensive video. From a quick google research I found out that Bill Nye is not a scientists. He is a mechanical engineer and was never, as far as I can tell, actually involved in fundamental scientific research!Report

George Gale
George Gale
Reply to  Felipe
5 years ago

Good points Felipe, thank you.
Re: theory v. observation. We must never forget Eddington’s admonition: “Never accept an observation until it’s been verified by theory.” He was NOT joking. Too many scientists don’t understand how and why his admonition is so important. Which means that they don’t truly understand how science works. Which means that we philosophers have failed in one of our main tasks: working with scientists.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

These replies may be too complex for the average scientist/engineer to grasp. They seem to be in need of something more along the lines of the ‘Ladybird Book of Philosophy’, using short words and simple concepts. I see no point in making a serious list as suggested,. If they were interested they could make the list themselves. As it is they seem more interested in making fools of themselves as publicly as possible. In recent years it has become an epidemic, like it’s a competition to see who can fail to understand philosophical issues most completely and most effectively mislead the maximum number of readers.

The extent to which scientists understand philosophy, even as to what it is, looks like an academic scandal from here. There are exceptions to prove the rule, of course, (I would mention Paul Davies as a prominent exception), but they should not be exceptions. Earlier generations of scientists seem to have had the benefit of a much better education. Few scientists even seem to grok the basic stuff – that materialism is a refutable metaphysical conjecture, that ex nihilo creation is an absurd contradiction, etc.

To be fair, one could turn this around if one were a scientist one could blame philosophers for the state of philosophy in the sciences. No?Report

George Gale
George Gale
Reply to  PeterJ
5 years ago

PeteJ—exactly: most of the responses above are philosophers giving responses suitable for other philosophers. If we’re to effectively respond to ignorance such as that exhibited by Nye, de Grasse Tyson, etc. we need to be simple and direct. Take a look at my response above. You’re also bang on point about the lack of interaction between the two groups of practitioners. It’s intellectually dangerous. Long ago and far away, in an article in Nature, I tried to address some of this. Nicely enough, over the years it has generated a bit of dialogue between me and some awfully open and congenial scientists. It’s here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v312/n5994/abs/312491a0.html Communication *is* possible!Report

lawless
lawless
Reply to  PeterJ
5 years ago

I’m not a philosopher. I’m a retired lawyer with a Twitter friend whose husband is a philosopher who tweeted a link to this, and I haven’t had trouble following this discussion. So no, you aren’t writing above the heads of reasonably intelligent people.

Full disclosure: I did briefly consider majoring in philosophy and took two philosophy courses, one of them logic, a prerequisite for a major.Report

Samir Chopra
5 years ago

I wrote the following post on a related topic and was gratified to note Sean Carroll respond sympathetically – the bit about teaching History and Philosophy of Science together is, I think, especially relevant: https://samirchopra.com/2015/02/05/the-philosophical-education-of-scientists/Report

Ex philosopher
Ex philosopher
5 years ago

I’m really not sure what is so offensive about this video. It’s not really news, is it, that science doesn’t find philosophy terribly useful? And why should it; science and philosophy are orthogonal pursuits. Science is data driven, and consists (if I may simplify significantly) in creating and fitting models to data (and then perhaps studying interesting properties of that process for its own sake, e.g. measure theory). Philosophy is unmoored from data and consists in scratching a certain, quite peculiar intellectual itch, one that most people don’t have. Why is that not enough? Why must philosophy also be useful?

I do admit that Nye’s characterization of philosophical questions is a bit simplistic, but his questions and far more sophisticated questions discussed by actual philosophers share something crucial: none of them are data driven. Therefore useless to science.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
5 years ago

It’s a good thing that philosophers never make serious mistakes about science. Otherwise, some of this conversation would risk coming across as a little smug.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

Actually I agree with the OP. I’m responding to some of the comments (and to the generalisation that scientists *as a rule* don’t understand philosophy). I said “some of this conversation” advisedly.

I also think that when you push at famous physicists’ hostility to philosophy (physicists are the ones I most often notice, for obvious reasons), you often find that really it’s hostility to *metaphysics*, and I’m afraid that 20th and 21st century metaphysics does quite often display enormous ignorance of science (and indeed the Dunning-Kruger style ignorance of ignorance you mention in the OP). Not all of it, by any means, so that those physicists overreach; but then not all scientists, by any means, display ignorance of philosophy.

(And, as Felipe mentioned above, Nye isn’t a scientist, he’s a populariser of science.)Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

David – I take your point. It may have been me who caused it. On reflection perhaps I’m looking at it in the wrong way. You say this…

“Actually I agree with the OP. I’m responding to some of the comments (and to the generalisation that scientists *as a rule* don’t understand philosophy). I said “some of this conversation” advisedly.”

I think it is obvious that scientists do not understand philosophy. This, however, I now see, is not the real issue, The real issue is that they think this gives them the right to hold strong opinions and peddle them to the public. The source of problem may be Philosophy, its failure to keep up with empirical Sciences, and even today QM seems to have been hardly noticed, but there is also the issue that scientists will know that until they abolish metaphysics they cannot construct a fundamental theory, so there is some motivation for pretending that metaphysical problems do not exist or are not completely crucial to any such theory. Or, they will if they can do any philosophy. .

You go on to say…

“…I also think that when you push at famous physicists’ hostility to philosophy (physicists are the ones I most often notice, for obvious reasons), you often find that really it’s hostility to *metaphysics*, and I’m afraid that 20th and 21st century metaphysics does quite often display enormous ignorance of science (and indeed the Dunning-Kruger style ignorance of ignorance you mention in the OP). Not all of it, by any means, so that those physicists overreach; but then not all scientists, by any means, display ignorance of philosophy.”

As you say, it is astonishing the metaphysics has failed to respond to modern physics. It is almost implausible. To be fair, however, 21st century physics likewise often displays an enormous ignorance of metaphysics, which I would consider this to be the whole of philosophy, the part on which everything else depends. Their dismissal of metaphysics is perhaps the most obvious sign of the failure of the physicists to engage with the issues and protect their imagined overall dominion . This would be why I mentioned Paul Davies as an exception to the rule, that he understands and respects metaphysics as a constraint on physical theories and recognises that theoretical physics and metaphysics must become the same thing in the end.

These criticisms of philosophy would be important, however, and the objections have to be met. It would be very difficult to conclude that academic metaphysics has not lost its way and must be be making have a big mistake somewhere in its calculations. It is surely telling that the perennial philosophy is rejected by all the parties in this dispute and would render the dispute unnecessary.

.Report

Ada Ludenow
5 years ago

“Drop the hammer on your foot and see if you don’t notice it.” *sigh* I hope Bill actually knows about Samuel Johnson’s “refutation” of David Hume. Somehow I doubt it.Report

Phil
Phil
Reply to  Ada Ludenow
5 years ago

Berkeley, not Hume.Report

Ada Ludenow
Reply to  Phil
5 years ago

God that was a long time ago… There was a lot of Kant through Wittgenstein that occurred after Berkeley and Hume in undergrad. I’m lucky I wasn’t alluding to Masters and Johnson.Report

Eric Godoy
5 years ago

I think there have been some really great comments on this entry. Here are my additions/seconds:
1) I discourage the argument that I often hear among philosophers that “science (et al.) came from philosophy” which usually reads as arrogant and teeters on some version of genetic fallacy. Arrogance will just further isolate philosophy. 2) My colleagues in the hard sciences remind me that scientists frequently find themselves under attack in public discourse (for instance, in debates on climate change), which is also dangerous. The goal should be to convince both scientists AND the public that the perspectives gained from disciplines (the sciences, philosophy, literature, etc.) are all valuable and not in a way that competes. I think the beginning of Sylvia’s letter speaks to this task well. Competition encourages those struggling for air to hold down others underwater to breath. 3) But speaking of struggle, the material conditions under which different disciplines are practices is not insignificant to this discussion. Stephen Crowley points to epistemic power, but keep in mind also, the competition for funding and the profitability of certain epistemic endeavors over others. Competition is often real, though we should find ways, with other disciplines, to resist this. Refusing to engage in trash talk about colleagues is one such way to do this. 4) lol, “Nyeasma”.Report

Ed
Ed
5 years ago

1. Math is not empirical; astrology is.
2. Falsification doesn’t work as a demarcation criteria.
3. I’d love to chat; here’s my email

Should fit on a business card, I think.Report

Marcus
Marcus
5 years ago

Why do we always take these as issues with others rather than with ourselves. Setting aside the issues pointed out nicely above about misunderstanding Descartes and the point of philosophical questioning, why not consider the possibility that part of what is going on in the public disparity of philosophy points to a problem with how we practice it rather than how they see it?Report

John Turri
5 years ago

Some of what Bill Nye says here is inaccurate or insufficiently informed, and for that he can be rightfully faulted.

But some of the basic sentiments behind his remarks cannot be due to ignorance, because they are a familiar theme in philosophy itself. Some of the sharpest minds in the history of the discipline, and many leading contemporary philosophers, have expressed similar sentiments toward some (but not all) ways of doing philosophy.

For example, consider the disdain for radical skeptical doubts about sensory information or the suggestion that we cannot reasonably draw conclusions about unobserved matters of fact. Thomas Reid criticized such claims as “justly ridiculous,” as deserving the “contempt and ridicule of sensible” people, for which he “apologized” on behalf of philosophy. More generally, Reid claimed that the rampant “fancy” and “imagination” of “castlebuilders” — who viewed their inquiry as above the “drudges in science” — had no place in serious inquiry but should instead be confined to romance and literature.

So, at the end of the day, while a “cheat sheet for scientists” might stop some scientists from expressing this basic negative sentiment in uninformed or inarticulate ways, it will not address the underlying cause. We can always find easy reasons to dismiss people, but that will not vanquish their suspicions about certain ways of conducting inquiry.

If we’re looking to create a rhetorically effective document that will help combat negative perceptions of philosophers among scientists, I suggest looking at some of the many actual examples of fruitful research collaboration between philosophers and scientists. A series of case studies might reveal clear lessons. Or one could ask some of the scientists involved something like, “In retrospect, what was your biggest misimpression of philosophy going into this?” or “How did your collaborator’s philosophical training help improve the research?”Report

Steph Rennick
Steph Rennick
5 years ago

I’ve heard the term ‘domain strain’ to describe the phenomenon. It’s always seemed fitting.Report

Lurker
Lurker
5 years ago

The use of the term “cheat sheet” is itself worth consideration. When I try to get colleagues to substitute “resource sheet” for “cheat sheet,” they often look at me as if I have lost my mind. Perhaps I have…Report

Asadullah Ali
Asadullah Ali
5 years ago

No need for 10. Just 1:

“Shut up and go back to the lab. Yours in support,

– Humanity”Report