philosophy science


1a (or ‘1’). How should it be defined?

1b (or ‘2’). Is ‘science’ inherently ‘naturalistic’?  If so why?

1c (or ‘3’). What is the relationship between philosophy and science?

12 replies on “science”

Science is defined by perception, everything is inherently naturalistic in that we abide by the laws of nature and while philosophy is the study of what ought to be, science is a study of what appears to be/ wham bam who’s up to sing sam?

1. Science is (and should be defined as) knowledge. What we do conscientiously, we do knowingly or with (con) knowledge (science). Science is always factual. Theories are not science until they are proven.

2. Science is inherently naturalistic (when it deals with nature). We generally think of science as it relates to the natural world so this fits.

3. Philosophy is a school of thought and should not be confused with science. We certainly have philosophies about science, but philosophy is always debatable.

In my opinion:

1. Science is the rigorous process of understanding how the universe works.

2. Science is inherently naturalistic because the supernatural is not amenable to “how” questions by definition. Anything that we can answer the “how” for ceases to be supernatural and just becomes natural.

3. Philosophy is the largely subjective and mostly meaningless process of trying to understand why the world works. Why and how are often mistakingly conflated which is usually when science and philosophy are confused as being connected. The main connection is that they deal with the same subjects, but they are asking a totally different question so the connection is very weak.

Science is based on a particular philosophical (metaphysical) understanding from beginning to end. Does science not first have to determine what, where, when, and how before it can even start to describe ‘cold, hard facts’? And science does the same at the other end of the process in it’s conclusions. And that interpretation of the ‘cold, hard facts’ is called scientific knowledge. Such knowledge is limited to a particular methodology. None of it is detached from philosophy.

Interesting responses – Thanks!
It’s interesting how even the most ‘stable’ or ‘predictable’ things in nature are described via an interpretation of observed phenomena/events.

Does science not first have to determine what, where, when, and how before it can even start to describe ‘cold, hard facts’?

To use your phrasing I would say that science takes the what, where and when (aka “cold hard facts”)and develops theories to explain how the “what” occurred “when” and “where” it did. I don’t think “how” will ever constitute a “cold hard fact”.

I think philosophy is not well equipped to answer “how” questions and doesn’t spend much time trying. In that sense it operates in quite a different sphere of enquiry to science.

1: Should? But usefully science includes facts (fossil record, genetic evidence) theories (natural selection, standard model of particle physics) and speculations or ideas (some ideas in string ‘theory’ etc., etc.).

2: Modern science is not. It is realistic in that it investigates and seeks to understand reality (it doesn’t divide that into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural.’ I believe the term natural is currently being used in an opportunist/political sense as a defense against current attacks on science. Working scientists don’t make that distinction in their work.

3: Philosophy has been called the mother of sciences. Obviously true in the sense that it was once all philosophy – as fields of enquiry became more evidence based and able to understand aspects of reality the different science ‘left home’ and became established in their own right.
There is, of course, implicit philosophy (small P) in the actual doing of science. But there is a strong resistance to introduction of Philosophy (large P) into science today. Bad experiences with Stalin/Lysenko, Mao, etc. Today there are attempts to introduce hostile Philosophies through redefinition of science (Wedge attacks) etc., which does lead to a hostile attitude from working scientists.
That said there is probably always an inevitable active involvement of philosophy at the forefront of scientific discovery, and in the result remnants of scientific theory. There are big philosophical differences in interpretation of quantum mechanics which divided scientists and have lead to popular misconceptions.

There are big philosophical differences in interpretation of quantum mechanics which divided scientists and have lead to popular misconceptions.

Are they philosophical differences or scientific differences? I’d suggest the latter because interpretations deal with how it works. There are of course significant implications for philosophical discourse due to accepting various interpretations but the actual interpretation itself is a scientific matter isn’t it?

I think the two get mixed up. Einstein argued that QM was not a complete theory, that it would eventually be replaced by something better – with the same impressive explanatory power but without the problems the orthodox QM presented to him. This was partly the question of faster-than light ‘spooky action at a distance’. But also the conclusion that any ultimate reality was beyond access. I think he was arguing for an objective realist philosophy whereas Bohr’s position was, at best, an instrumental realist approach, maybe even a non-realist approach, where we are stuck with quantum appearance, we can never go any deeper.

While Einstein’s suggested experiments always seemed to end up with results opposing his position I don’t think they ruled out his philosophical position of objective realism – although that is a popular conception.

I get the impression that Bohr’s less-than-realist position is what comes though in the popular conception of QM, and its practical scientific use takes an instrumental approach. But ongoing research into the fundamental nature of matter implies, I think, acceptance of an objective realist philosophy.

Those are different interpretations that scientist ‘get by’ on. I don’t think this leads to arguments over experimental facts but subtle philosophical difference may underly interpretation, especially when it comes to advancing new theories.

Wow Ken – your comment (#10) is loaded with philosophical terms (‘objective realist’, ‘instrumental realist’, ‘non-realist’), and seems to underline the ‘mixing’ of science and philosophy! :D

Sorry, it seems my statement (post 4) was vague, but the point I was trying to make was that philosophy is used to lay out the reasons behind the way scientists do science, the ‘what, where, when, and how’ of the methodology, not the ‘what’ science describes as happening in naturalistic terms.
Of course philosophy does not describe the ‘what’ of how things work, rather it forms the framework on which scientists use ‘what, where, when, and how’ terminology in the language of their observations. These descriptions in turn form the ‘cold, hard facts’.
Even, then, as Ken rightly points out, there can be philosophical differences between scientists, in the interpretation of these ‘cold, hard facts’.

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