“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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Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
1 year ago

Asked, “How do you feel about Trump’s performance so far?”, he replies, “Very good on judges, good on foreign affairs, largely good on the economy”.Report

Nicole
Nicole
Reply to  Christopher Gauker
1 year ago

Well… that weirdness aside, he’s still right about science and philosophy, IMO.

Even the best philosophers of X, Y, and Z are prone to illogic about A, B, and C.Report

A. Dod
A. Dod
Reply to  Christopher Gauker
1 year ago

Well, he is right about judges. Gorsuch has been great!Report

David Thurman
David Thurman
1 year ago

What’s he going to say philosophy is a neccesity for morons till they discover it’s moronic and realize it’s neccesity?

He postulated a theory that what ever is current determines reality, which really is just Asperger’s functioning at a sea anenome level reacting to touch. Stupid intellectualizing.Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
Reply to  David Thurman
1 year ago

Exactly.Report

David Macauley
David Macauley
1 year ago

No criticisms of Trump strike you as fair? Thoughts on impeachment?

Of course some criticisms are fair, as would true of any leader. But Trump is more sinned against than sinning. His enemies have been looking for ways to remove him, or to cripple his ability to govern, since before his inauguration. He had to fight back with equal intensity. I see no valid grounds for impeachment.

Wow, this guy is politically clueless. It’s good he doesn’t work in Political Philosophy.Report

Matt
Reply to  David Macauley
1 year ago

Most of the comments about politics in earlier periods were also…not well grounded or reasoned. I don’t even necessarily mean, say, not liking Carter or the like, but only that the reasons given for holding particular views are bad ones, not well tied to reality. That’s clearly true of the remarks about Trump, but it’s equally true with pretty much every other statement about politics in the piece. In some ways this should be humbling for us – Soames is obviously enough a smart guy and a good philosopher in his core areas. But, that’s compatible with some truly ill-informed and simplistic, emotive, views in other areas. Probably we should all worry about how far this sort of thing applies to the rest of us, too, even when we feel very strongly about an issue.Report

Allen Robinson
Allen Robinson
1 year ago

All the above is based on the stored value of our memories as determined by our sources of information, which are mostly bias. Our philosophies are based on word associative memories which have been corrupted by emphasized manipulated content. The strength of our beliefs are based on the values of our stored memories and these stored values trigger our emotional reactions to these posts.Report