Notes on philosophy so far as it’s not science

– Philosophers make no “progress” and resolve no disputes because we don’t want to. To be more precise about it, we’re attached to a good that makes such progress impossible. The disputes are all insights into the fundamental principles, i.e. the logically axiomatic / achetypes/ Platonic forms / intuitive, or whatever they are.  What would I do with a total and absolute refutation of, say, Kantianism (or whatever)? I would still want to teach and study Kant for the for the amount of illumination that comes from the refutation.

-If science acted like philosophy, physics textbooks would spend extensive amounts of time detailing the accounts of geocentrism, natural place, the four elements, the causative power of the moist and dry, etc. The reason science doesn’t do so is not merely because these ideas are false, but because their refutation does not throw light on the subject.

-What would a philosopher do in the world of far-distant conclusions, in a world where the first things are crowded out for the sake of progress? What thrill could a scientist find in another dialectical twist of possibility in his first principle or in all the new ways of looking at a first stage of inquiry which crowd out the ability to lose oneself in the facts?

-Philosophy is self-reflective. Less flatteringly, it continually folds back in on itself and likes to do so. Science reflects on itself only when forced to at gunpoint.

-Progress in learning can mean two things: one can either take the first things for granted, move on, and return to them only in moments of crisis or revolution (science), or to live perpetually in that place of revolution.

-I become more and more convinced that the difference between science and philosophy is one of temperament, in some finer-grained breakdown of the Meyers-Briggs “ST” and “NT” types.

-The distinction between a priori and a posteriori or the logical and the empiricallike the one between nature and nurture, has an initial plausibility that breaks down or becomes more or less qualified whenever one wants it to solve something of consequence.

-The abstract and possible can be seen as a mere denuding or evacuation of the concrete and factual, and the concrete can be seen as a mere instance of the abstract reality. Someone like William James, Hume, Nietzsche, Daniel Dennett etc. see things in the first way; someone like Plato, Descartes, Hegel, Alvin Plantinga  see things in the second way. 

-“But then those are extremes, and we need to find a middle way!” Maybe. But this still won’t overcome the limitations on time and the intrinsic fascination and interest with either the abstract/ possible/ fundamental or the concrete/factual/ progressive. Tot homines, quot sententiae. So many men, so many minds – and this is not to appeal to relativism but to difference of temperament and the necessity of learning being collective and social.



  1. JM said,

    June 17, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I have a slight quibble with this assertion about science: “The reason science doesn’t do so is not merely because these ideas are false, but because their refutation does not throw light on the subject.”

    I learned immensely by reading through the histories of the Ptolemaic/Tychonic/Copernican models of the solar system, as I did through studying Planck’s derivation of black body radiation (did you know it wasn’t sound? Einstein fixes it.) and the history of Maxwell’s engagement with electromagnetism (not valid as originally formulated in special relativity regimes).

    Meanwhile, there are many equally valid models of classical mechanics – Newtonian force, Lagrangian/Hamiltonian mechanics, etc. – whose study is of great profit to the aspiring scientist.

    I’d draw a distinction between studying the natural sciences as a “collection of facts and abstractions related to the observed world” – in which case we are speaking of something “concrete/factual/progressive” and the study of the natural sciences as the application of a particular investigative method (which is what actually matters if you want to do science).

    Since I studied the natural sciences with an eye toward the practice of science, I think that you can – and should – take instances of “incorrect” theories when they’re brilliant examples of the application of scientific method.

    I think your characterization holds as far as science-in-the-public-imagination is concerned, and I think your sweeping characterizations (perpetual revolution/take for granted, move on) are right-on. So this comment functions mostly as a kind of rebuke to science/scientists, especially as discovered in the public square.

  2. One said,

    June 18, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Interestingly enough ,Nietzsche was actually INTJ. While he did appreciate the scientific method, unlike many today, he was well aware of its shortcomings and did not shy away from criticizing them.
    I’ve unable to find a direct link to the quote ,however ,it’s section 14 (they are numbered).

    While he was strongly anti-dualist, considering all forms of dualism a devaluation of the ‘here and now’ ,preventing us from being effective in this life by dreaming of ‘the hereafter’ ,his monism was essentially one of will and not one of matter.

    Scientists are great instrumentalists, and so their theories, as a posteriori approximations of the world, are invaluable for practical purposes and should progressively improve with time (although every paradigm that has intrinsic contradictions will, eventually, be caught up by them. The difficulties they have now are mainly conceptual.Two theories that work separately for the very large and the very small, and no visible way of reconciling them) .However, for the vast majority of them ,it’s tragic-comical to see them ham-fistedly try to extend their gasp beyond the instrumental and into the explanatory. As Nietzsche said, ‘ “smallest possible force” and the greatest possible stupidity’ .

%d bloggers like this: