PhiloMadrid - Pub Philosophy Meetings in Madrid

Friday, June 14, 2013

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Is philosophy fiction?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Is philosophy fiction?

Ruel has prepared an essay for us and at the end of this email I have a
few ideas about the subject I'd like to share with you.

HI Lawrence,
Am sending you the link to the essay I wrote on the topic for Sunday´s
See you. Ruel
Programme of Visits, British Cemetery, Madrid
Redacto el presente mensaje tanto en español como en inglés con el
objeto de comunicarles el programa de visitas guiadas al Cementerio
Británico, los sábados por la mañana a las 11.00 horas - el punto de
encuentro es la entrada del Cementerio
sábado, día 15 de junio cuando daré las explicaciones en español
sábado, día 22 de junio cuando daré las explicaciones en inglés
Si prefiere hacer la visita en una fecha no programada y siempre que
formen un grupo de un mínimo de 8 personas, avíseme a <>
se pone la dirección.
I am writing this note in both Spanish and in English to provide the
programme of Saturday morning guided visits to the British Cemetery, all
of which take place at 11.00 a.m - we meet at the Cemetery entrance
Saturday, 15th June : the visit will be in Spanish
Saturday, 22nd June : the visit will be in English
If you would like a visit on a different date and you can form a group
of 8 persons or more, let me know at <>
details of location.

Best Lawrence

Lawrence: 606081813
PhiloMadrid Meeting - Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14 - 28010 Madrid
914457935 - Metro: Bilbao

Thursday's Open Tertulia in English
Important Notice: From December 1st, the Tertulia will take place at
O'Donnells (ex-Moore's) Irish
Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal)


Is philosophy fiction?

Way back around 2011 Hawking created a controversy when he argued at a
Google's Zeitgeist Conference: Unified Theory - Stephen Hawking at
European Zeitgeist 2011 (1) that "…. almost all of us must sometimes
wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are
questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not
kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

The debate is also sometimes presented by others with the claim that
philosophy is redundant and sometime whether philosophy is fiction. We
can start by getting rid of the white noise or fuzzy thinking and say
that it is true that many philosophers have not kept up to date on
matters of physics, but I am also sure that many scientists have not
kept up to date with matters of physics. Moreover, some academic
philosophers do not help themselves when they team up with such
disciplines as the theology department or faculties of religion. You
don't get the biology department teaming up with the ballet department
so I don't see why the philosophy departments should have these Punch
and Judy shows.

Basically, the last time I checked, there was no natural law or law of
physics that states that only philosophers can do science; believe it or
not even scientists can do science. Indeed, the question whether
philosophy is redundant is quite a complex one and most important of
all, it is an empirical question which is best answered by looking at
the evidence.

Some philosophy is fiction, in the cynical meaning of fiction. As for
whether philosophy is redundant or dead I haven't seen any empirical
studies that discuss the question nor throw any light on the issue.
Basically, the question can only be answered by applying some science to
it: look at the evidence, collect the data and then analyze it.

However, what is a universal truth is that philosophy is not the
philosopher and science is not the scientist. But what makes something
philosophy and what makes something science is the methodology plus a
few other conditions.

Unfortunately, given today's culture of the superstar hero and
management by results - also known to some as the bottom line- we only
look at the result or the conclusion. Is he guilty or not, can we turn
off the life saving machine, does her plane go faster or not?

In this culture it is very easy for people to mistake results with
science and conclusions with philosophy. Today it will be difficult for
a scientist to get any funding unless they can demonstrate that their
results will produce some so called "good" to the community. And block
busting philosophy books are usually always the ones that people use to
self massage their ego! What today we call science was once called
technology, and what today passes as popular philosophy was once called
character building books.

So if the results or conclusions are not the objective, then what is?
The first, as I said, is methodology and the second is scope of the
discipline. It would be impossible to give a detailed account of the
methodology philosophy requires. Let alone an account of what science
requires. However, there are certain principles that seem to be required
by both.

The most fundamental of these principles is that any proposition,
conjecture or hypothesis has to be tested for its veracity and nothing
can be claimed to be true or false without such test. This means that
every conjecture has the potential of being verified or falsified. This
explains why conjectures based on dogma cannot be philosophy or science
because they are accepted to be true before they are tested to be true.
Therefore, since everything has to be put to the methodological test,
then it follows that even conclusions and results must be put to the
test again and again. We might not get better outcomes, and might not be
worthwhile, but the principle is still valid.

The second most important aspect of philosophy and science, and every
other discipline, is the scope of the discipline. What can qualify as
something that can be investigated philosophically, and what cannot -
what can we include in the set of valid philosophy issues and what is
not included. The same applies for science.

This is a key point for claims that philosophy is redundant. What
criteria is being used to establish what is philosophy, what methodology
is one using to verify the claim and what do you mean by fiction or

Going back to Hawking's questions, Why are we here? Where do we come
from? I would say that these two questions do not even qualify anymore
of being philosophical or scientific questions. This language (see
below) is now redundant and we'd have to ask something like: Why are
biological systems on the Earth? What evolutionary processes could end
up being a live biological system on Earth? Traditionally, we stuck to
traditions; we now ought to stick only to facts!

An equally important principle is what tools do we use to carry out our
philosophy or science?

Philosophy is done by using natural language to gather ideas from fellow
human beings and then use meaning to assess and analyze this body of
beliefs, ideas, truths and falsehoods. Finally, our conclusions and
conjectures are presented within a framework of one of the logics
available to us e.g. inductive logic, formal logic etc and at the same
time avoiding a myriad of fallacies.

Not surprising science requires observation, an array of instruments,
that are used to collect and analyze the data and finally the results
are couched in the framework of mathematics.

The tools themselves are subject to the rigors of science or philosophy.
So tools not only have to conform to the test criteria (nothing is
immune from being investigated) but also to the validity test (is it
true or false). The tools themselves do not guarantee valid philosophy,
but without the tools it wouldn't be valid philosophy.

So far I have been using philosophy and science in the same sentence
which might be stressful to some people. For those who are familiar with
both disciplines they wouldn't have any issues with the connection.

Indeed, whilst philosophy investigates our ideas about us and the world
around us, science investigates how we and the world around us function.
Both depend on our ability to learn from experience, process information
and hypothesis about our ideas and how future events will turnout. But
most important of all, science gives rise to philosophical questions and
philosophy gave rise to scientific questions; things are still done this

So, before we can pass any value judgments whether philosophy is or is
not fiction or redundant we have to process the conjecture through the
science grinding mill. It is however very sad that a scientist would
claim that philosophy is fiction or redundant without applying the
scientific method to arrive at this opinion.

Who, therefore, can be a philosopher or a scientist? Of course, anyone
can try and swim with the sharks, meaning that anyone can try their hand
at philosophy or science and many have tried. Indeed the poster boy of
Science, Einstein, discovered and published his science when he was
still working at the patent office and nowhere near a professorship
chair; and he is not the only success story. But swimming with the
sharks does not make you a shark! The starting point is indeed to act
like a shark!.

For our purposes, and the purposes of science and philosophy, one of the
things that matters is peer review. Peer review is not a cabal of the
elite but a process of equals whose only purpose is to assess the works
of their peers. This does not mean that they have to agree with the
conclusions but it does mean that they, like the author of the work they
are reviewing, have enough knowledge about the subject to decide whether
the scientific method or the philosophical process has been applied and
that the science is sound or that the philosophy is valid. Peer review
is supposed to guarantee that science and philosophy are about the
message and not the messenger.

So sure some philosophy is fiction and certainly redundant and not all
philosophers follow the philosophical process. Likewise, some science is
quackery and even more science is not done by following the scientific
method. The reality is that a lot of exciting philosophy is being done
both at the academic level and the secular level (i.e. you and me). So
people who really care about these things should today look for
philosophy not only in the quiet corridors of some medieval college but
also on cancer wards of a busy hospital, the desk of a nuclear
physicist, a blog on the internet, the tent of a protest group, and
certainly at the Centro Segoviano.

Unified Theory - Stephen Hawking at European Zeitgeist 2011

from Lawrence, Sunday PhiloMadrid meeting: Is philosophy fiction?

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