Saturday, April 7, 2012

[HIST 2297] Is philosophy a science?

Julian Friedland argues that philosophy is not a science. He sums up his argument as follows:  
In sum, philosophy is not science. For it employs the rational tools of logical analysis and conceptual clarification in lieu of empirical measurement. And this approach, when carefully carried out, can yield knowledge at times more reliable and enduring than science, strictly speaking. For scientific measurement is in principle always subject to at least some degree of readjustment based on future observation. Yet sound philosophical argument achieves a measure of immortality.
He seems to think that philosophy is not a science because
  1. Philosophy is essentially rational inquiry (i.e., based on logical and conceptual analysis).
  2. Science is essentially empirical inquiry (i.e., based on empirical measurement). 
[So, philosophy is not a science.]

Do you think that these premises are true? Is it the case that scientists do not use logical analysis and clarify concepts? Friedland himself gives the example of theoretical physics. Arguably, some theoretical physicists try to clarify concepts, such as space, time, and causality. If Friedland is right, then it seems we would have to say that theoretical physicists are philosophers, not scientists. Does it seem correct to say that theoretical physics is philosophy rather than science? Moreover, some professional philosophers use empirical methods. If Friedland is right, then it seems we would have to say that these philosophers are actually scientists. Does it seem correct to say that these people are really scientists rather than philosophers?

Friedland has another argument for the claim that philosophy is not a science: 
  1. Philosophical knowledge is reliable and enduring.
  2. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change.  
[So, philosophy is not a science.]

Do you think that these premises are true? Friedland seems to think that philosophical knowledge is reliable and enduring because it is based on logical deductions and "logical deductions are timeless." But logical deductions are as good as the premises on which they are based. For example:
  1. If light bends when it passes around a massive object, then light follows the curvature of spacetime.
  2. Light bends when it passes around a massive object.
  3. Therefore, lights follows the curvature of spacetime.
This is a valid deductive argument (modus ponens). In that sense, it is "timeless." But how do we know that the premises are actually true? Also, without these observations of a gravitational lens that lend support to the theory of relativity, would it be correct to say that the theory of relativity counts as "scientific knowledge"?

Finally, what should we make of the claim that scientific knowledge is always subject to change? Here's a piece of scientific knowledge: "human beings and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor." Is it likely to change?


  1. I do agree with Julian Friedland’s argument that philosophy is not a science. I believe that science is only concerned with tangible evidence that can be used to make a conclusion or prove an argument. Philosophy seeks to find explanations for these conclusions. A scientist can conduct an experiment and deliver great results. A philosopher will look at these results and ask “why and how?”

    Questions of science and philosophy are very different in nature. Questions of science are based on what is measurable. Philosophical questions are both highly general and highly fundamental in nature. Philosophical questions are general because they address issues as a whole. By taking a general view, we take all factors into account and we can be open-minded. Philosophical questions are also fundamental, meaning that they have important consequences for our beliefs about the nature of moral obligation. All philosophical discussions and arguments serve a great purpose that can help us become better human beings.

    Philosophy also offers three values that science does not. These three values are clarity, reasonableness, and consistency. Philosophical thinking implores us to achieve these three values, without being satisfied with anything less. We do so by probing deeply, like the dialogue on page 9 of the reading. By pressing further, we can uncover the root of an argument and develop a highly general and highly fundamental way of thinking.

    I also do agree with Friedland’s second claim that philosophy is not a science:

    1. Philosophical knowledge is reliable and enduring.
    2. Scientific knowledge is always subject to change.

    Philosophical knowledge can be attained if we take a logical viewpoint. However, philosophy is not to be studied for the sake of definite answers to its questions. “It is studied for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation.” Regarding the theory of relativity, I do believe that it is a scientific theory. Albert Einstein was able to produce tangible evidence that the speed of light didn't change as the Earth swung around the Sun.

    One characteristic about scientific knowledge is that it is always subject to change. As time passes, we continue to progress as a society. For example, scientists have made tremendous progress in treating diseases such as HIV/AIDS over the past thirty years. In the future, there is a hope that a cure for cancer will be developed. With an extraordinary amount of change possible, our human ancestors may in fact change in the future. I have full confidence that we will continue to see changes in scientific knowledge going forward.

  2. Personally, I find that Julian Friedland’s premises are not true concerning philosophy and science. In regards to his first premise that philosophers base their findings on logical and conceptual analysis, scientists utilize this manner of thinking as well when determining what their empirical findings truly mean. For the second premise, I am personally unsure whether or not philosophers tend to use empirical data, but if a statistic shows that 95% of people do not enjoy eating broccoli, what is to keep a philosopher from using that data to prove his point concerning the need to change society’s perspective when it comes to health issues. This statistic can be used as a premise for an argument. For the second set of premises, I find this even more difficult to see as black and white. Knowledge, in general, has the possibility to change over time. Philosophers have discussed afterlife and the separate and togetherness of the mind and body. Furthermore, philosophers may have differing views, whether they are from the same time period or centuries apart. Although scientific knowledge tends to change frequently over the years, some facts are relatively stagnant. The colors observed in the world are the absorption of all of the other colors, leaving the last to be reflected back to our optical nerves.
    Lastly, I do not believe a definitive line exists between philosophy and science. The original Greek meaning of philosophy translates to “love of wisdom.” Individuals, in the later years of their education, often attempt to receive their PhD, a Doctor of Philosophy, in their preferred subject. The two seemingly separate fields intertwine as the pursuit of knowledge continues.

  3. I do not think that Philosophy is a science. In science, formulas, dates, rules, and procedures need to be memorized while in philosophy nothing needs to be memorized. Science deals with facts while philosophy deals with more common knowledge and logical information. Philosophical questions are highly general and arise out of the “…thinking we do when we ask ourselves whether something that we believe is reasonable to believe” (Cahn 3). Although science may tell us how something works, philosophy looks into science and the people involved and examines how they came up with the thought process to formulate and answer the “how” behind that thought process. As mentioned in the post, Friedland says that philosophy is rational inquiry and science is empirical inquiry. Rational inquiry can coincide with the fact that philosophical questions are timeless because it is based on logical deductions; for example: 1) People who break the law are criminals 2) Murderers are violators of the law 3) Therefore murderers are criminals, this statement will always be true. Scientific knowledge, although it is empirical is subject to change. For example “In the 1890s, Marie and Pierre Curie's studies of radiation were carried out without any environmental or safety precautions” but today scholars wishing to study off of their notes must sign a risk waiver because of the radioactivity that still lingers on their work (Modern science: What’s changing?). This shows that back when Marie and Pierre were doing their research they did not know about the harm of radioactivity and how much damage it could do, but years later scientists have figured out the actual harm of radioactivity and know that precaution needs to be taken. The original thought and fact has been changed unlike in philosophy where the original thought remains unchanged. So to answer that last question about the human beings being related to chimpanzees changing, yes I do think that answer could change in the future if further evidence is found about our past. There is a little catch with my perspective. I do not think that philosophy is a science but I do think that science came to be because of philosophy. Philosophy means “the love of wisdom” (Cahn 3) while the latin word “scientia” means knowledge ( The wisdom led to the knowledge. The historical and logical premises of science certainly had to derive from philosophy.

    Works Cited
    Cahn, Steven M. Exploring Philosophy: An Introductory Anthology. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
    "Modern Science: What's Changing?" Modern Science: What's Changing?Berkeley, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. .

    "scientia." Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 29 Jan. 2015. .

  4. As a Biology and Chemistry major, I have yet attended a class where my logical and conceptual analysis was not needed. Without logical analysis, how would one interpret empirical measurement? With new empirical measurement, new ideas are formed resulting in a need for more conceptual analysis. Science cannot exist without all these tools. I can understand what Friedland was trying to say, but as a Science student, I really have to disagree.

  5. I believe philosophy is the base of all sciences and that is where our “natural science” as we call has been born from. If the science we know as empirical and developing is the result of philosophy, it does not necessarily mean philosophy is the result of science. One can argue that both philosophy and science have one concurrent goal: to reveal the absolute truth. Methods may be different, but results have similar meaning, so are they not in the same category? However, without philosophy, we probably would not have questioned the physical and chemical aspects of life which forms the science we understand today. It is similar to the idea of a chicken and egg and which came first. Without the chicken, the egg could not have came, however the chicken was once an egg as well. Maybe in previous times philosophy was considered science, but with our developing knowledge and with our new meaning of science, philosophy may not be a science.

  6. Philosophy is not a science. As the reading suggests, Philosophy like all other studies including science aims primarily at knowledge, however unlike other studies Philosophy does not stop once we get a clear answer, in fact philosophy relies on constant questioning of all possibilities, which leads to an essential rational inquiry. Nevertheless I don't agree that philosophy only fits in this category, an example of this is that some professional philosopher use empirical measurements or that scientist use logical analysis and clarify concepts but what really makes philosophy from this area of study is that philosophy is unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to questions, because it continues to dig down to other many possibilities that only enlarge our thoughts.

    For the second pair of premises, i believe philosophy does have a reliable and enduring knowledge however the questions is how to get there and what to consider the definite answer, since it cannot be maintained that philosophy offer definite answers.

    In order to obtain a scientific answer, we need to refer to the empirical data that will allow to guarantee specific answer, which means that wit observations and conclusion it wouldn't be considered anything else than a hypothesis which is only one step of the scientific process.

    At last I do believe scientific knowledge is subject to change according to its conditions. More when it come to the early steps of driving a scientific process.


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