QA 52. The real world keeps us honest

Still thinking about the need for a new mode of thinking… What is the proper relation between philosophy and science now?

Last year, citing Stephen (Philosophy-is-Dead) Hawking and Martin Heidegger, I wrote about “the end of philosophy” in the triumph of science. Given the massive productivity of scientific theory and technology and a world in turmoil, social-order thinking put its faith in scientific standards of evidence, objectivity and rationality. But it’s no good. Science can’t tell us about the meaning of life, precisely because meaning belongs to another order of thought: call it “ethics” or “wisdom”. Pascal knew that the heart has its reasons, but we don’t give the heart much credit. And so it seems that the new task for thinking is to return to the beginnings of philosophy, to inquire into the nature of subjectivity and how to live well with others.

With this division of labour, I effectively left science to its own devices and carried on with my own business. (After all, it is hard to relate to someone who gloats about leaving you in the dust.) Happily, it seems that my judgement was premature. A reconciliation, under new terms, may be on the cards.

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QA 36. Sept 2012. Knowledge vs wisdom: which leads?

Someone recently pointed me to Philosophy v science: which can answer the big questions of life? (The Observer, 9 Sept 2012), a conversation between Julian Baggini, philosopher, and Lawrence Krauss, physicist, both well known for accessible writing on complex topics.

As philosophy’s champion, Baggini concedes far too much ground. His basic position is that “it is an ineliminable feature of human life that we are confronted with many issues that are not scientifically tractable, but we can grapple with them, understand them as best we can and we can do this with some rigour and seriousness of mind.” I agree, but I would change the emphasis: the grounds, aims and conduct of science are among those issues that empirical knowledge can’t satisfy.

When the two express surprise at how much they agree with each other, it’s not that surprising: they share an astonishingly optimistic and uncritical view of science which tends to flatten and impoverish our understanding of our lives.

Continue reading QA 36. Sept 2012. Knowledge vs wisdom: which leads?