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From philosophy professor Kathleen Stock’s Substack:

Cocooning Philosophers

Kathleen Stock
Apr 4

Back when I was a graduate student in the 90s, first at St Andrews University and then at Leeds, philosophy departments were terrifying places. Seminar rooms often felt like amphitheatres.

Every week, the same ritual would unfold in the senior research seminar. First, a visiting speaker from another University would spend an hour explaining the details of his new theory to an ostentatiously bored and listless audience. Grimacing through the faint applause, he would brace himself for what we all knew was to follow.

Previously slouched, comatose-looking figures in the audience would ominously stir into life. Hands would shoot up. The objections would start. Frank accusations of confusion, question-begging, inconsistency, and contradiction would be made, against which the stammering speaker would defend himself as best he could. Tenacious questioners would follow up on their original objections and follow up again, to be stopped only when the speaker eventually muttered the shaming words, equivalent to a “give-up” signal in judo: “I’ll have to think a bit more about that”. Victory achieved, the questioner would fall back in his chair, visibly satisfied to an almost post-coital degree.

The speaker’s immediate ordeal over, he would be dragged to the pub and force-fed copious amounts of alcohol, then on to some probably awful restaurant, where colleagues who were particularly socially unaware (which, let’s face it, was most of them) would continue explaining to him precisely why he was completely and utterly wrong, with huge enthusiasm, late into the night.

When I was a Masters student at St Andrews, the stated aim of some faculty members was to humiliate visiting speakers, with a “win” for the “home” department declared afterwards. A distinguished Professor from Australia once told me that, years later, he still woke up in the night sweating, reliving how badly his paper at St Andrews had gone. At Leeds during my PhD, there were still a couple of Wittgenstein’s original acolytes knocking about. Apparently first learnt at the feet of the master, the habit had spread amongst some staff there of theatrically wrinkling and striking the forehead in an exaggeratedly contemptuous manner when they heard something they didn’t like, in full view of the visiting speaker. Sometimes they would wheel round, sneeringly turn their backs on the speaker, and hold their heads in their hands.

Frankly, these places scared the bejesus out of me. At St Andrews, I think I only ever spoke twice in class. The second time, I was scoffed at by the teacher so effectively that I didn’t speak in class again there, ever. In Leeds, I used to shake with anxiety walking down the endless departmental corridor. Towards the end of my time there, I finally dared to put up my hand to ask a question at a research seminar, and thought I must be having a heart attack, so loudly was my heart banging in my chest.

Most places back then were like this, I think. Academic philosophers were nearly all men, and many (most?) of them were eccentric, obsessive, grumpy men with minds like steel traps. Philosophy departments were places where derision, incredulity, and scorn were manifested on a daily basis without any attempt to hide it.

You probably expect me to say how terrible this all was. Actually, I wonder if it wasn’t the best of all possible worlds in comparison to what came next.

She goes on to recount the history of how the British philosophy profession attempted to neuter microaggressions in the seminar room to make women philosophers feel less challenged, with the ironic result that hyper-aggressive ex-men and testosterone mainlining ex-women took over and pushed women’s concerns to the margins.

 
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  1. The most heat comes from the dimmest bulbs.

    She’s saying cogitators with no goal posts are likely to be irritably eccentric. Her description sounds a lot similar to the old wino hang-outs at my little town when the winos were still all-white. They were harmless, cranky, and often got us to thinking along interesting lines.

    • LOL: PhysicistDave
  2. These will be the Good Old Days soon. The biggest story remains the rapid growth in the Sub Saharan African population.

    New book about it appears to be good on the basic facts but of course the author pulls his punches on the likely disaster this will be for the rest of the human race:

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/13/africa-century-economic-growth/

    Of course, forecasting decades into the future is a speculative business. But if we take the United Nations’ central forecast as our collective best guess, we should expect the population of Africa by 2100 to exceed 4.2 billion, at which point Africans will constitute as much as 40 percent of the world’s population. That would be far short of Asia’s 60 percent share today, but it would constitute a revolution, nevertheless.

    This probably spells the end of Europe as we know it, since these people will not stay in the environmentally devastated continent they were born in.

    Meanwhile Russia and Ukraine keep killing off the few young white males they still have. Hard to see a bright future here.

    • Agree: bomag, Polistra
    • Replies: @Erik Sieven
    @Peter Akuleyev

    4 billion is only likely if TFR plummets there beginning next year. But this has been expected for decades, yet it didn't happen. Much more than 4 billion is more likely.

    Replies: @Thea, @bomag

    , @Prester John
    @Peter Akuleyev

    First Africa...then Europe...then You Know Where.

    , @Mr. Grey
    @Peter Akuleyev

    War kills off young men, but the survivors are met with a surplus of women.

  3. This many words about St Andrew’s, and Steve never once mentions golf, let alone golfitecture. I’m impressed by his restraint!

    • LOL: Matthew Kelly
    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
    @Reg Cæsar


    This many words about St Andrew’s, and Steve never once mentions golf, let alone golfitecture. I’m impressed by his restraint!

     

    A knight of letters!
  4. Anonymous[361] • Disclaimer says:

    But to get back to the main point: by 2017, when junior philosopher Rebecca Tuvel published her article in the journal Hypatia arguing that if transwomen are women, “trans-racial” people like Rachel Dolezal must be black, the groundwork for a debacle of carnivalesque proportions was already prepared. Though Tuvel was earnestly treating her argument as a modus ponens (i.e. since the premises about transwomen seemed true, the conclusion about trans-racialism and Dolezal must also be true), it was obvious to most readers that equally, her argument could work as a modus tollens (i.e. since the conclusion about trans-racialism and Dolezal seems obviously false, there must be something wrong with the premise about transwom.. OH SHIT HELP LOOK OVER THERE!).

    Haha! What a clown show!

    • Agree: JimDandy
    • Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom
    @Anonymous

    it's gets worse the deeper you look.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_transracialism_controversy

    Rebecca Tuvel lays out the assumptions for the argument. That the argument is valid does not mean it is sound, i.e. that the assumptions are true. The controversy exposes the degree to which dogma is like water to the fish.

    Replies: @Anonymous

  5. What Kathleen Stock does get is that this thinking business – when done properly – is cruel too. Knightly. A matter of respect, aggression, – the willingness to fight (= willing to lose ( = showing honor by accepting the defeat)). – Robert M. Pirsig in his novel The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance caught that aspect of philosophical debates as fights in disguse, so to speak, very well too. 

    There is a mostly overlooked little paragraph in GWF Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit that emphasizes why wokism is the wrong way to go (why it is absolutely non-philosophical):

    [MORE]

    My translation of Hegel’s remark about the the sentimental edificationist (= the woke liberal) – : –

    ” …by referring to his inner oracle – his feelings – he is done with his opponent; he just has to explain that he does not have to say anything to the one who does not share his inner findings and  feelings with him; – in other words, he steps on the roots of humanity with his feet. Because it is the nature (of humanity, dk), to urge for agreements with others, (a longing, dk) which doesn’t exist but in the things we agree upon rationally. The counter-human, the bestial part of such a (woke, dk) mindset is to rest with the feelings and restraint communication to this field.”

        „Indem jener (gemeint: der Vertreter einer sentimentalen Erbauungsphilosophie, dk) sich auf das Gefühl, sein inwendiges Orakel, beruft, ist er gegen den, der nicht übereinstimmt, fertig; er muss erklären, dass er dem weiter nichts zu sagen habe, der nicht dasselbe in sich finde und fühle; – mit anderen Worten, er tritt die Wurzel der Humanität mit Füßen. Denn die Natur dieser ist, auf die Übereinkunft mit anderen zu dringen, und ihre Existenz nur in der zustande gebrachten Gemeinsamkeit der Bewusstsein[e]. Das Widermenschliche, das Tierische besteht darin, im Gefühle stehenzubleiben und nur durch dieses sich mitteilen zu können.“ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831): Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hamburg, o. J., S. 78.

    • Thanks: Right_On
    • Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom
    @Dieter Kief

    Which is to say, that reliance upon inner feelings or (self identity) defines a personal reality that moots social construction. This is rather the opposite of a social construction in that it imposes self regarding beliefs upon society. That is, the woke belief is both local (and thus limited and inaccessible to others) and non-local thus global.

    Sounds insane.

    , @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)
    @Dieter Kief

    Thanks, D.K., for stating this passage both languages. In the last sentence, shouldn't "restraint" be "restrain" or "restrict"?
    My literalistic translation: The counter-human, the bestial part, lies in remaining with one's feeling and being able to communicate only through one's emotions.

    Replies: @Dieter Kief

  6. @Reg Cæsar
    This many words about St Andrew's, and Steve never once mentions golf, let alone golfitecture. I'm impressed by his restraint!

    Replies: @Dieter Kief

    This many words about St Andrew’s, and Steve never once mentions golf, let alone golfitecture. I’m impressed by his restraint!

    A knight of letters!

  7. I sat in one of those seminar rooms in the ‘90s, with some visiting British philosopher talking about Aristotle, and Rutgers faculty members reading along in the original Greek and arguing with him. I recall the visitor’s shirt was soaked with sweat in the “saddle bags” pattern Tom Wolfe coined in A Man in Full, but I assumed that was just because it was hot.

    Instead of dinner afterwards there was pizza and Yeungling on site.

  8. Isn’t this what all of academia should be like, provided order and decorum are maintained? Respect, proper use of terminology, and ruthless interrogation of what might be wrong with the new thing?

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    @J.Ross

    Yes.

    Replies: @J.Ross

    , @The Alarmist
    @J.Ross


    Isn’t this what all of academia should be like, provided order and decorum are maintained? Respect, proper use of terminology, and ruthless interrogation of what might be wrong with the new thing?
     
    Yes, but parading and shouting outside the venue, with a few signs and a lot of burning and pillaging until the speaker’s engagement is cancelled is so much more cathartic.
  9. I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    • LOL: PhysicistDave
    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    @James Speaks

    "My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so"

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle's ideas than is physics.

    Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican, @James Speaks, @Anonymous, @PhysicistDave

    , @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    , @Hypnotoad666
    @James Speaks

    To me, Philososophy is basically definable as the domain in between science and religion -- its practice thus consists of logical inquiry into areas with no objectively verifiable logical answers. That means, however, that it will inevitably be the the province of circular and partial reasoning.

    It can be insightful to see how very smart people purport to solve insoluable problems in this domain. But nobody should go into it expecting real "answers."

    , @Fghjjjjfc
    @James Speaks

    Thus spake James.

    , @Ian M.
    @James Speaks

    Of course, the foundations of physics presuppose certain philosophical claims, so the claims of physics can never be more certain than the more basic philosophical claims upon which they rest.

  10. @J.Ross
    Isn't this what all of academia should be like, provided order and decorum are maintained? Respect, proper use of terminology, and ruthless interrogation of what might be wrong with the new thing?

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Alarmist

    Yes.

    • Agree: Polistra
    • Replies: @J.Ross
    @Steve Sailer

    By the way, over the coming days, as the lyingpress creates an image of noxious yet paradoxically impotent virgin klansmen, remember that that's what 4chan was. That untrammeled flow of information was what enabled 4chan to be relevant in 2016 and what even amid all the government shilling keeps it useful. If you recognize the glowies and newcomers, and dig through the unpoliced rule-violating spam, you can get to exactly what the lyingpress is trying to memory hole.

  11. @James Speaks
    I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Germ Theory of Disease, @Hypnotoad666, @Fghjjjjfc, @Ian M.

    “My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so”

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.

    • Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican
    @Steve Sailer


    respectful of Aristotle’s ideas
     
    Not everyone’s a fan…

    https://youtu.be/jUUB96c6EpY?t=126
    , @James Speaks
    @Steve Sailer

    Aristotle maintained that if one were to drop a weight from the top of a mast on a ship sailing, say due north, that the weight would fall straight down and land some distance behind the mast*, as if it started to fall with zero horizontal velocity. Great thinkers were so respectful of Aristotle that no one challenged this notion for almost two thousand years.

    *In the inertial frame of the ship, it does fall straight down but it lands at the base of the mast.

    Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom

    , @Anonymous
    @Steve Sailer


    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.
     
    Not British "analytic philosophy", which tends to be ahistorical and not interested in the history of philosophy as such. Analytic philosophy might take up some technical aspects or arguments of Aristotle's work, but it generally tries to ape math and the formal sciences.
    , @PhysicistDave
    @Steve Sailer

    Steve Sailer wrote to James Speaks:


    [James] “My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so”

    [Steve] Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.
     
    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle's views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation -- e.g., Ed Feser and Dave Oderberg. I've interacted with Feser on the Web: he seems to be a nice fellow, though we have some serious areas of disagreement (although we do agree in being critical of naive materialism).

    Interest in Aristotle's views on ethics, however, seem to be undergoing a resurgence -- specifically, in terms of "virtue ethics."

    The classic example of philosophers' wild swings in perspective is from British empiricism (Mill, Hume, et al.) in mid-nineteenth century Britain to "absolute idealism" in later nineteenth-century Britain to analytic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century in Britain. It was quite a wild and bizarre ride.

    Dave Stove has a pretty funny description of the idealist episode in his "Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story (Parts One and Two)," in his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies . Stove, by the way, was a grumpy, cranky old fellow who had some goofy ideas on, among other things, evolution. But he wrote well, and he really knew how to skewer the idiocies of his fellow philosophers.

    Replies: @Ian M.

  12. @James Speaks
    I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Germ Theory of Disease, @Hypnotoad666, @Fghjjjjfc, @Ian M.

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy — logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought — never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with “What It Is Like to be a Thermostat.” Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche… who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    • Replies: @James Speaks
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    I rest my case.

    , @Foreign Expert
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    Actually, the “language” philosophers had very little to say about language (syntax) and were only interested in words.

    , @epebble
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    If one wants to listen to what good philosophical arguments sounds like, I can recommend Philosophy Talk - A radio program produced in San Francisco with the help of Stanford University. I always found it interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking. It can make you see familiar facts in new light.

    https://www.philosophytalk.org/

    , @PhysicistDave
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    The Germ Theory of Disease wrote:


    Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with “What It Is Like to be a Thermostat.”
     
    Actually, Nagel is one of the sanest of the famous philosophers of the last century: his essays are fairly clear and readable, and he tends to refrain from the equivalent of nose-sniffing to "prove" his point.

    I'm not claiming he is right about everything, merely that his work is comprehensible and realtively free of intellectual bullying. (A dead giveaway that someone is a bullshitter: "We wouldn't want to say..." to which I am always inclined to yell back, "Well, actually I would want to say...")

    Replies: @Steve Sailer

    , @Ian M.
    @The Germ Theory of Disease


    Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat...
     
    Except his purpose was to call attention to the irreducibly subjective aspects of consciousness, a point which refutes most versions of modern materialism, and therefore a worthwhile endeavor. His example of "what it's like to be a bat" is a useful illustration of this point.

    Of course, modern materialism is itself absurd, so the fact that arguments such as Nagel's are required to refute it is itself evidence of the poor state of much of what passes for modern philosophy.
  13. @Steve Sailer
    @J.Ross

    Yes.

    Replies: @J.Ross

    By the way, over the coming days, as the lyingpress creates an image of noxious yet paradoxically impotent virgin klansmen, remember that that’s what 4chan was. That untrammeled flow of information was what enabled 4chan to be relevant in 2016 and what even amid all the government shilling keeps it useful. If you recognize the glowies and newcomers, and dig through the unpoliced rule-violating spam, you can get to exactly what the lyingpress is trying to memory hole.

  14. @Anonymous

    But to get back to the main point: by 2017, when junior philosopher Rebecca Tuvel published her article in the journal Hypatia arguing that if transwomen are women, “trans-racial” people like Rachel Dolezal must be black, the groundwork for a debacle of carnivalesque proportions was already prepared. Though Tuvel was earnestly treating her argument as a modus ponens (i.e. since the premises about transwomen seemed true, the conclusion about trans-racialism and Dolezal must also be true), it was obvious to most readers that equally, her argument could work as a modus tollens (i.e. since the conclusion about trans-racialism and Dolezal seems obviously false, there must be something wrong with the premise about transwom.. OH SHIT HELP LOOK OVER THERE!).
     
    Haha! What a clown show!

    Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom

    it’s gets worse the deeper you look.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_transracialism_controversy

    Rebecca Tuvel lays out the assumptions for the argument. That the argument is valid does not mean it is sound, i.e. that the assumptions are true. The controversy exposes the degree to which dogma is like water to the fish.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    @Dr. DoomNGloom

    My goodness! The Inquisition has nothing on these loons!

  15. @Steve Sailer
    @James Speaks

    "My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so"

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle's ideas than is physics.

    Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican, @James Speaks, @Anonymous, @PhysicistDave

    respectful of Aristotle’s ideas

    Not everyone’s a fan…

  16. @Peter Akuleyev
    These will be the Good Old Days soon. The biggest story remains the rapid growth in the Sub Saharan African population.

    New book about it appears to be good on the basic facts but of course the author pulls his punches on the likely disaster this will be for the rest of the human race:

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/13/africa-century-economic-growth/

    Of course, forecasting decades into the future is a speculative business. But if we take the United Nations’ central forecast as our collective best guess, we should expect the population of Africa by 2100 to exceed 4.2 billion, at which point Africans will constitute as much as 40 percent of the world’s population. That would be far short of Asia’s 60 percent share today, but it would constitute a revolution, nevertheless.
     
    This probably spells the end of Europe as we know it, since these people will not stay in the environmentally devastated continent they were born in.

    Meanwhile Russia and Ukraine keep killing off the few young white males they still have. Hard to see a bright future here.

    Replies: @Erik Sieven, @Prester John, @Mr. Grey

    4 billion is only likely if TFR plummets there beginning next year. But this has been expected for decades, yet it didn’t happen. Much more than 4 billion is more likely.

    • Replies: @Thea
    @Erik Sieven

    If they don’t have outsiders( ngo’s and other charities that nice white liberal ladies staff) helping keep infant mortality low, the population will plummet.

    Fewer nice white ladies= fewer sub-Saharans.

    Once we go, the rest of the world does as well.

    , @bomag
    @Erik Sieven

    Yes, the population predictions for Africa have been a moving target upwards.

    Someday they will be right, if there is anyone remaining who can publish.

  17. @Dieter Kief
    What Kathleen Stock does get is that this thinking business - when done properly - is cruel too. Knightly. A matter of respect, aggression, - the willingness to fight (= willing to lose ( = showing honor by accepting the defeat)). - Robert M. Pirsig in his novel The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance caught that aspect of philosophical debates as fights in disguse, so to speak, very well too. 

    There is a mostly overlooked little paragraph in GWF Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit that emphasizes why wokism is the wrong way to go (why it is absolutely non-philosophical):

    My translation of Hegel's remark about the the sentimental edificationist (= the woke liberal) - : -

    " ...by referring to his inner oracle - his feelings - he is done with his opponent; he just has to explain that he does not have to say anything to the one who does not share his inner findings and  feelings with him; - in other words, he steps on the roots of humanity with his feet. Because it is the nature (of humanity, dk), to urge for agreements with others, (a longing, dk) which doesn't exist but in the things we agree upon rationally. The counter-human, the bestial part of such a (woke, dk) mindset is to rest with the feelings and restraint communication to this field."

        „Indem jener (gemeint: der Vertreter einer sentimentalen Erbauungsphilosophie, dk) sich auf das Gefühl, sein inwendiges Orakel, beruft, ist er gegen den, der nicht übereinstimmt, fertig; er muss erklären, dass er dem weiter nichts zu sagen habe, der nicht dasselbe in sich finde und fühle; – mit anderen Worten, er tritt die Wurzel der Humanität mit Füßen. Denn die Natur dieser ist, auf die Übereinkunft mit anderen zu dringen, und ihre Existenz nur in der zustande gebrachten Gemeinsamkeit der Bewusstsein[e]. Das Widermenschliche, das Tierische besteht darin, im Gefühle stehenzubleiben und nur durch dieses sich mitteilen zu können.“ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831): Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hamburg, o. J., S. 78.

    Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom, @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    Which is to say, that reliance upon inner feelings or (self identity) defines a personal reality that moots social construction. This is rather the opposite of a social construction in that it imposes self regarding beliefs upon society. That is, the woke belief is both local (and thus limited and inaccessible to others) and non-local thus global.

    Sounds insane.

  18. Anonymous[306] • Disclaimer says:

    The unreality of written text, the deviation of sense from ritual signifier to increasingly institutionalised signified, is the basis upon which I construct my life, although I would never use “constructed” in less than its technical sense.

  19. @Steve Sailer
    @James Speaks

    "My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so"

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle's ideas than is physics.

    Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican, @James Speaks, @Anonymous, @PhysicistDave

    Aristotle maintained that if one were to drop a weight from the top of a mast on a ship sailing, say due north, that the weight would fall straight down and land some distance behind the mast*, as if it started to fall with zero horizontal velocity. Great thinkers were so respectful of Aristotle that no one challenged this notion for almost two thousand years.

    *In the inertial frame of the ship, it does fall straight down but it lands at the base of the mast.

    • Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom
    @James Speaks


    *In the inertial frame of the ship, it does fall straight down but it lands at the base of the mast.
     
    This is not quite true, because the ship sails upon a rotating object.
    https://hepweb.ucsd.edu/ph110b/110b_notes/node14.html It's a small enough effect that it won't noticeably affect a routine fly ball, but it will have to be factored into artillery tables.

    I don't believe Aristotle understood what was going on, and am pretty sure he had something else in mind (once the object is released, the ship no longer provides force and air resistance slows that object), But despite advances by the likes of Galileo, dynamics were not adequately explained until Newton.

    Quite a bit of basic physics is counterintuitive and philosophers untrained in physics are often flummoxed. They have the essential skills for reasoning, but lack the correct observations or model construction to make use of a sound chain of reason.

  20. Anonymous[361] • Disclaimer says:
    @Dr. DoomNGloom
    @Anonymous

    it's gets worse the deeper you look.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia_transracialism_controversy

    Rebecca Tuvel lays out the assumptions for the argument. That the argument is valid does not mean it is sound, i.e. that the assumptions are true. The controversy exposes the degree to which dogma is like water to the fish.

    Replies: @Anonymous

    My goodness! The Inquisition has nothing on these loons!

  21. @J.Ross
    Isn't this what all of academia should be like, provided order and decorum are maintained? Respect, proper use of terminology, and ruthless interrogation of what might be wrong with the new thing?

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Alarmist

    Isn’t this what all of academia should be like, provided order and decorum are maintained? Respect, proper use of terminology, and ruthless interrogation of what might be wrong with the new thing?

    Yes, but parading and shouting outside the venue, with a few signs and a lot of burning and pillaging until the speaker’s engagement is cancelled is so much more cathartic.

  22. Interestingy, Britain had once a reputation of polite clapping to speeches, even in philosophy. It has been said that Austrian Karl Popper – when he had his first speech before a British philosophical audience in the 1930s – mistook the clapping as positive enthusiasm for his ideas …

  23. Kathleen Stock is the lesbian professor driven out of Sussex Uni for not believing that a man can be a woman.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-59084446

    A professor accused of transphobia for her views on gender identity is quitting her post at the University of Sussex.

    Philosophy professor Kathleen Stock, who rejects the claim, said she would be leaving after “a horrible time” and “difficult few years”.

    Earlier this month an anonymous group launched a campaign to get her sacked.

    • Thanks: Emil Nikola Richard
  24. @Erik Sieven
    @Peter Akuleyev

    4 billion is only likely if TFR plummets there beginning next year. But this has been expected for decades, yet it didn't happen. Much more than 4 billion is more likely.

    Replies: @Thea, @bomag

    If they don’t have outsiders( ngo’s and other charities that nice white liberal ladies staff) helping keep infant mortality low, the population will plummet.

    Fewer nice white ladies= fewer sub-Saharans.

    Once we go, the rest of the world does as well.

  25. @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    I rest my case.

  26. @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    Actually, the “language” philosophers had very little to say about language (syntax) and were only interested in words.

  27. The seminars that Ms. Stock is describing remind me of the discussions that occur in iSteve’s comment section whenever the war in Ukraine is mentioned.

  28. @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    If one wants to listen to what good philosophical arguments sounds like, I can recommend Philosophy Talk – A radio program produced in San Francisco with the help of Stanford University. I always found it interesting, enjoyable and thought provoking. It can make you see familiar facts in new light.

    https://www.philosophytalk.org/

  29. @James Speaks
    I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Germ Theory of Disease, @Hypnotoad666, @Fghjjjjfc, @Ian M.

    To me, Philososophy is basically definable as the domain in between science and religion — its practice thus consists of logical inquiry into areas with no objectively verifiable logical answers. That means, however, that it will inevitably be the the province of circular and partial reasoning.

    It can be insightful to see how very smart people purport to solve insoluable problems in this domain. But nobody should go into it expecting real “answers.”

  30. Anonymous[427] • Disclaimer says:
    @Steve Sailer
    @James Speaks

    "My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so"

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle's ideas than is physics.

    Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican, @James Speaks, @Anonymous, @PhysicistDave

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.

    Not British “analytic philosophy”, which tends to be ahistorical and not interested in the history of philosophy as such. Analytic philosophy might take up some technical aspects or arguments of Aristotle’s work, but it generally tries to ape math and the formal sciences.

  31. @Erik Sieven
    @Peter Akuleyev

    4 billion is only likely if TFR plummets there beginning next year. But this has been expected for decades, yet it didn't happen. Much more than 4 billion is more likely.

    Replies: @Thea, @bomag

    Yes, the population predictions for Africa have been a moving target upwards.

    Someday they will be right, if there is anyone remaining who can publish.

  32. Anonymous[381] • Disclaimer says:

    The above is an example of Anglo analytic philosophy, not real philosophy. Analytic philosophy resigned itself to science, logic, and maths and engages in sterile debates over semantics and linguistics.

  33. in a general sense, yeah it’s a big problem how this stuff is spreading to all of STEM. to the specific field, it doesn’t matter. philosophers don’t contribute to anything now and are not relevant to important thought anymore. they haven’t been important contributors to human thinking for maybe 100 years or so. it doesn’t matter what happens to that field in 2022. philosophy today is a field for mediocre thinkers who can’t do math. it’s been that way for at least 70 years.

    guys like Habermas have been writing down a bunch of nothing for 50 years. it’s just some not very smart guy blathering his not insightful, not relevant observations about life. literally dozens of anonymous twitter personalities are smarter than any university tenured philosopher today and post more insightful commentary using numbers. the pandemic revealed this to an eye opening degree – the authorities in many fields were less intelligent than random smart alecs on the internet, and leftists target them for censoring because they make the credentialed mediocre people look bad.

    a good rule of thumb is that if an academic uses no numbers at all, they should be ignored. they aren’t musicians. they aren’t writers. they aren’t artists. modern academic work requires numbers, period. philosophers blathering on and on for 1000 pages with no math at all are just mediocre thinkers writing down nothing. there was a time for that, but smarter men figured out all the discoverable great truths using that method, hundreds of years ago. further exploration of thought and the universe pushing beyond those levels requires math.

    • Agree: Kratoklastes, Mark G.
  34. A group of my friends and me majored in Philosophy as undergraduates. Perhaps not a wise decision but two achieved tenured professorships at lessor Universities (a pretty nice life) and I found it good background for law.

    One got frustrated after a few semesters of study and told his professor advisor: “you don’t have the answers to anything.” To which the professor answered: “Yes but I have all the good questions.”

    • Replies: @Ralph L
    @scrivener3


    A group of my friends and me majored in Philosophy
     
    Just as well it wasn't English.

    Replies: @silviosilver

  35. @James Speaks
    I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Germ Theory of Disease, @Hypnotoad666, @Fghjjjjfc, @Ian M.

    Thus spake James.

  36. Nothing good ever came from philosophy.

    • Replies: @SunBakedSuburb
    @Fghjjjjfc

    "Nothing good ever came from philosophy."

    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp. Maybe this is due to the art of translation. From Wittgenstein to present day it's a mental jumble made even more dense through the use of opaque terminology. I'm not sure if Nietzsche is considered a Modern but his imprint on thought, culturally and politically, is evident.

    Modern philosophers are best represented by the Slovenian Slavoj Zizek. Get a load of his act if you want a good laugh. He's easy to find on YT.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  37. @Dieter Kief
    What Kathleen Stock does get is that this thinking business - when done properly - is cruel too. Knightly. A matter of respect, aggression, - the willingness to fight (= willing to lose ( = showing honor by accepting the defeat)). - Robert M. Pirsig in his novel The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance caught that aspect of philosophical debates as fights in disguse, so to speak, very well too. 

    There is a mostly overlooked little paragraph in GWF Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit that emphasizes why wokism is the wrong way to go (why it is absolutely non-philosophical):

    My translation of Hegel's remark about the the sentimental edificationist (= the woke liberal) - : -

    " ...by referring to his inner oracle - his feelings - he is done with his opponent; he just has to explain that he does not have to say anything to the one who does not share his inner findings and  feelings with him; - in other words, he steps on the roots of humanity with his feet. Because it is the nature (of humanity, dk), to urge for agreements with others, (a longing, dk) which doesn't exist but in the things we agree upon rationally. The counter-human, the bestial part of such a (woke, dk) mindset is to rest with the feelings and restraint communication to this field."

        „Indem jener (gemeint: der Vertreter einer sentimentalen Erbauungsphilosophie, dk) sich auf das Gefühl, sein inwendiges Orakel, beruft, ist er gegen den, der nicht übereinstimmt, fertig; er muss erklären, dass er dem weiter nichts zu sagen habe, der nicht dasselbe in sich finde und fühle; – mit anderen Worten, er tritt die Wurzel der Humanität mit Füßen. Denn die Natur dieser ist, auf die Übereinkunft mit anderen zu dringen, und ihre Existenz nur in der zustande gebrachten Gemeinsamkeit der Bewusstsein[e]. Das Widermenschliche, das Tierische besteht darin, im Gefühle stehenzubleiben und nur durch dieses sich mitteilen zu können.“ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831): Phänomenologie des Geistes, Hamburg, o. J., S. 78.

    Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom, @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    Thanks, D.K., for stating this passage both languages. In the last sentence, shouldn’t “restraint” be “restrain” or “restrict”?
    My literalistic translation: The counter-human, the bestial part, lies in remaining with one’s feeling and being able to communicate only through one’s emotions.

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
    @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    Hegel about wokism in your translation, Mark Spahn:


    "The counter-human, the bestial part, lies in remaining with one’s feeling and being able to communicate only through one’s emotions."

     

    Your translation of the last sentence of GWF Hegel's fierce attack on the feels first (=woke) mindset is right 'n' good!

    I chose a little different path to get Hegel's fierceness here - and his sarcastic playfulness too. - My Hegel is the one who loved to read Jean Paul - and all kinds of satirists and humorist's - and whose transfixed and admiring student was the super-playful Heinrich Heine...
    Thus I chose to end on a rather light note in explaining the limitations of this new form of self-centeredness called wokism by simply identifying it as a form of restaint (=something regressive). So my eye was a little bit more on the context. And on the take-away idea: That wokism is indeed a form of self-restriction. Btw. - being retained in German (beschränkt) means also - being dumb - and incarcerated, so to speak, in its own rather insufficient state of mind). I had thought of that too with reagard to wokism, I have to admit.

    Btw.: As not that seldom, Hegel's prose is quite sloppy here. This is a reflection of the Swebian mentality which is tinted by pietism and abhorrs to pay too much attention to those who - are obviously failling already. A kind of grumpyness which dominates this little paragraph alltogether and which is reflected by the grammatical inconsistencies too.
    - These are things that you don't get if you don't - hear - such lines as read out loud by this Swebian master - in all his - playful/grumpy sloppiness, not least. - So: This Hegel-quote above is a true gem, for the - happy few not least, I might conclude with some reason...

  38. @Fghjjjjfc
    Nothing good ever came from philosophy.

    Replies: @SunBakedSuburb

    “Nothing good ever came from philosophy.”

    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp. Maybe this is due to the art of translation. From Wittgenstein to present day it’s a mental jumble made even more dense through the use of opaque terminology. I’m not sure if Nietzsche is considered a Modern but his imprint on thought, culturally and politically, is evident.

    Modern philosophers are best represented by the Slovenian Slavoj Zizek. Get a load of his act if you want a good laugh. He’s easy to find on YT.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @SunBakedSuburb

    SunBakedSuburb wrote:


    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp.
     
    The problem is that they were simply wrong about a lot of things -- notably physical science.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    Now, if we could resurrect the old boy, I think he would just shrug and say that of course later generations would figure out more than he had figured out.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    They are wrong. Nature is what it is, and it happens not to be what Aristotle guessed.

    Replies: @anonymous, @John Pepple, @Ian M.

  39. @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    The Germ Theory of Disease wrote:

    Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with “What It Is Like to be a Thermostat.”

    Actually, Nagel is one of the sanest of the famous philosophers of the last century: his essays are fairly clear and readable, and he tends to refrain from the equivalent of nose-sniffing to “prove” his point.

    I’m not claiming he is right about everything, merely that his work is comprehensible and realtively free of intellectual bullying. (A dead giveaway that someone is a bullshitter: “We wouldn’t want to say…” to which I am always inclined to yell back, “Well, actually I would want to say…”)

    • Replies: @Steve Sailer
    @PhysicistDave

    Nagel is good.

    Replies: @The Germ Theory of Disease

  40. @SunBakedSuburb
    @Fghjjjjfc

    "Nothing good ever came from philosophy."

    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp. Maybe this is due to the art of translation. From Wittgenstein to present day it's a mental jumble made even more dense through the use of opaque terminology. I'm not sure if Nietzsche is considered a Modern but his imprint on thought, culturally and politically, is evident.

    Modern philosophers are best represented by the Slovenian Slavoj Zizek. Get a load of his act if you want a good laugh. He's easy to find on YT.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    SunBakedSuburb wrote:

    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp.

    The problem is that they were simply wrong about a lot of things — notably physical science.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    Now, if we could resurrect the old boy, I think he would just shrug and say that of course later generations would figure out more than he had figured out.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    They are wrong. Nature is what it is, and it happens not to be what Aristotle guessed.

    • Thanks: James Speaks
    • Replies: @anonymous
    @PhysicistDave

    Aristotle's observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest. Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    , @John Pepple
    @PhysicistDave


    There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.
     
    Who is it you are thinking of here? I read somewhere that in the early nineteenth century, universities in Austria were still clinging to the old Aristotelian physics, but that was two hundred years ago.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    , @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.
     
    I don't see how Darwin's work superseded Aristotle's teleological approach to biology. They were addressing different things. To say that Darwin's work superseded Aristotle's is a category error.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.
     
    The Aristotelian approach to nature has never been refuted and indeed, any empirical science must implicitly presuppose key tenets of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature. For example, the theory of act and potency is required to account for the intelligibility of the world, we could not make sense of cause and effect if natural phenomena were not teleological (i.e., exhibit final causality), we cannot do without the notion of substance, etc.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  41. Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”

    For some who might like to catch up with that lively event, and its implied contentions on the nature of philosophy, consider Wittgenstein’s Poker, by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, or check this review, with links to other reviews:

    https://www.complete-review.com/reviews/wittgenl/wspoker.htm#ours

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote:


    Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”
     
    I assume you know that there is a debate as to what really happened: i.e,., whether Wittgenstein was really being threatening.

    There is no question that Wittgenstein was an extremely weird figure: personally, I am doubtful that he contributed much to Western philosophy. I am inclined to agree with Popper that there are real problems in philosophy; to name two that Popper wrote books about: the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the question of how consciousness fits into physics.

    However, if such problems are ever solved, I expect the solutions to come from natural science, not philosophy The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    Replies: @Dube, @Steve Sailer, @Ian M.

  42. @Peter Akuleyev
    These will be the Good Old Days soon. The biggest story remains the rapid growth in the Sub Saharan African population.

    New book about it appears to be good on the basic facts but of course the author pulls his punches on the likely disaster this will be for the rest of the human race:

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/13/africa-century-economic-growth/

    Of course, forecasting decades into the future is a speculative business. But if we take the United Nations’ central forecast as our collective best guess, we should expect the population of Africa by 2100 to exceed 4.2 billion, at which point Africans will constitute as much as 40 percent of the world’s population. That would be far short of Asia’s 60 percent share today, but it would constitute a revolution, nevertheless.
     
    This probably spells the end of Europe as we know it, since these people will not stay in the environmentally devastated continent they were born in.

    Meanwhile Russia and Ukraine keep killing off the few young white males they still have. Hard to see a bright future here.

    Replies: @Erik Sieven, @Prester John, @Mr. Grey

    First Africa…then Europe…then You Know Where.

  43. anonymous[377] • Disclaimer says:
    @PhysicistDave
    @SunBakedSuburb

    SunBakedSuburb wrote:


    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp.
     
    The problem is that they were simply wrong about a lot of things -- notably physical science.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    Now, if we could resurrect the old boy, I think he would just shrug and say that of course later generations would figure out more than he had figured out.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    They are wrong. Nature is what it is, and it happens not to be what Aristotle guessed.

    Replies: @anonymous, @John Pepple, @Ian M.

    Aristotle’s observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest. Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @anonymous

    anonymous[377] wrote to me:


    Aristotle’s observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest.
     
    Well... in the field in which I got my Ph.D., elementary-particle physics, we think of the vacuum as a complicated structure -- the Higgs particle, for example, which provides mass to the other elementary particle, has a non-zero "vacuum expectation value."

    I don't think, though, that Aristotle's ideas had any impact on that work.

    anonymous also wrote:

    Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.
     
    Aristotle was of course a genius who actually made some significant observations in biology. But, yeah, we have just moved on way beyond him, and his views on natural science are now only of historical interest.

    His views on ethics, on the other hand, continue to be seriously discussed and debated. Humans, after all, are still humans.

    Replies: @middle-aged vet

  44. @anonymous
    @PhysicistDave

    Aristotle's observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest. Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    anonymous[377] wrote to me:

    Aristotle’s observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest.

    Well… in the field in which I got my Ph.D., elementary-particle physics, we think of the vacuum as a complicated structure — the Higgs particle, for example, which provides mass to the other elementary particle, has a non-zero “vacuum expectation value.”

    I don’t think, though, that Aristotle’s ideas had any impact on that work.

    anonymous also wrote:

    Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.

    Aristotle was of course a genius who actually made some significant observations in biology. But, yeah, we have just moved on way beyond him, and his views on natural science are now only of historical interest.

    His views on ethics, on the other hand, continue to be seriously discussed and debated. Humans, after all, are still humans.

    • Replies: @middle-aged vet
    @PhysicistDave

    Agreed, but people who know more about it than me have said that his passages describing the vacuum are not without interest, assuming that one extrapolates for his lack of knowledge of later experiments - while his passages describing force, and matter, and the universe at a large scale and a small scale are now more or less worthless.

    I was not proposing a mystical theory where Aristotle had pre-cognition of modern experiments that provided useful information on the vacuum.

    A good recent novel about Aristotle's theory of the soul is Ravelstein, by Bellow. Very funny, with lots of references to classical scholarship. Nothing to say about the exact sciences, though.

  45. @Dube
    Bertrand Russell: "Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!" That's a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, "Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker."

    For some who might like to catch up with that lively event, and its implied contentions on the nature of philosophy, consider Wittgenstein's Poker, by David Edmonds and John Eidinow, or check this review, with links to other reviews:

    https://www.complete-review.com/reviews/wittgenl/wspoker.htm#ours

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Dube wrote:

    Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”

    I assume you know that there is a debate as to what really happened: i.e,., whether Wittgenstein was really being threatening.

    There is no question that Wittgenstein was an extremely weird figure: personally, I am doubtful that he contributed much to Western philosophy. I am inclined to agree with Popper that there are real problems in philosophy; to name two that Popper wrote books about: the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the question of how consciousness fits into physics.

    However, if such problems are ever solved, I expect the solutions to come from natural science, not philosophy The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    • Replies: @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    Dave, philosophy discloses and examines presuppositions. If you are disclosing and examining presuppositions, you are doing philosophy.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    , @Steve Sailer
    @PhysicistDave

    Philosophy is what philosophers can't agree upon. Topics that they do make progress upon stop being philosophy.

    , @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.
     
    The problem of consciousness is an artifact of Descartes's radical dualism. Consciousness was not a problem for the mainstream classical philosophical tradition before that.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  46. @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote:


    Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”
     
    I assume you know that there is a debate as to what really happened: i.e,., whether Wittgenstein was really being threatening.

    There is no question that Wittgenstein was an extremely weird figure: personally, I am doubtful that he contributed much to Western philosophy. I am inclined to agree with Popper that there are real problems in philosophy; to name two that Popper wrote books about: the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the question of how consciousness fits into physics.

    However, if such problems are ever solved, I expect the solutions to come from natural science, not philosophy The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    Replies: @Dube, @Steve Sailer, @Ian M.

    Dave, philosophy discloses and examines presuppositions. If you are disclosing and examining presuppositions, you are doing philosophy.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    Dave, philosophy discloses and examines presuppositions. If you are disclosing and examining presuppositions, you are doing philosophy.
     
    Well... I am not sure Aristotle or Plato would agree with you. Perhaps Hume and Socrates would, though.

    Anyway, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!
  47. @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote:


    Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”
     
    I assume you know that there is a debate as to what really happened: i.e,., whether Wittgenstein was really being threatening.

    There is no question that Wittgenstein was an extremely weird figure: personally, I am doubtful that he contributed much to Western philosophy. I am inclined to agree with Popper that there are real problems in philosophy; to name two that Popper wrote books about: the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the question of how consciousness fits into physics.

    However, if such problems are ever solved, I expect the solutions to come from natural science, not philosophy The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    Replies: @Dube, @Steve Sailer, @Ian M.

    Philosophy is what philosophers can’t agree upon. Topics that they do make progress upon stop being philosophy.

    • Agree: PhysicistDave, Dube
  48. @PhysicistDave
    @The Germ Theory of Disease

    The Germ Theory of Disease wrote:


    Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with “What It Is Like to be a Thermostat.”
     
    Actually, Nagel is one of the sanest of the famous philosophers of the last century: his essays are fairly clear and readable, and he tends to refrain from the equivalent of nose-sniffing to "prove" his point.

    I'm not claiming he is right about everything, merely that his work is comprehensible and realtively free of intellectual bullying. (A dead giveaway that someone is a bullshitter: "We wouldn't want to say..." to which I am always inclined to yell back, "Well, actually I would want to say...")

    Replies: @Steve Sailer

    Nagel is good.

    • Thanks: PhysicistDave
    • Replies: @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @Steve Sailer

    I used to know Nagel; I mean, I wasn't his student, I just knew him. He was a good guy, and quite amusing: he smoked great big cigars, and talked like a cartoon character.

  49. @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)
    @Dieter Kief

    Thanks, D.K., for stating this passage both languages. In the last sentence, shouldn't "restraint" be "restrain" or "restrict"?
    My literalistic translation: The counter-human, the bestial part, lies in remaining with one's feeling and being able to communicate only through one's emotions.

    Replies: @Dieter Kief

    Hegel about wokism in your translation, Mark Spahn:

    “The counter-human, the bestial part, lies in remaining with one’s feeling and being able to communicate only through one’s emotions.”

    Your translation of the last sentence of GWF Hegel’s fierce attack on the feels first (=woke) mindset is right ‘n’ good!

    I chose a little different path to get Hegel’s fierceness here – and his sarcastic playfulness too. – My Hegel is the one who loved to read Jean Paul – and all kinds of satirists and humorist’s – and whose transfixed and admiring student was the super-playful Heinrich Heine…
    Thus I chose to end on a rather light note in explaining the limitations of this new form of self-centeredness called wokism by simply identifying it as a form of restaint (=something regressive). So my eye was a little bit more on the context. And on the take-away idea: That wokism is indeed a form of self-restriction. Btw. – being retained in German (beschränkt) means also – being dumb – and incarcerated, so to speak, in its own rather insufficient state of mind). I had thought of that too with reagard to wokism, I have to admit.

    Btw.: As not that seldom, Hegel’s prose is quite sloppy here. This is a reflection of the Swebian mentality which is tinted by pietism and abhorrs to pay too much attention to those who – are obviously failling already. A kind of grumpyness which dominates this little paragraph alltogether and which is reflected by the grammatical inconsistencies too.
    – These are things that you don’t get if you don’t – hear – such lines as read out loud by this Swebian master – in all his – playful/grumpy sloppiness, not least. – So: This Hegel-quote above is a true gem, for the – happy few not least, I might conclude with some reason…

  50. @Steve Sailer
    @PhysicistDave

    Nagel is good.

    Replies: @The Germ Theory of Disease

    I used to know Nagel; I mean, I wasn’t his student, I just knew him. He was a good guy, and quite amusing: he smoked great big cigars, and talked like a cartoon character.

  51. @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    Dave, philosophy discloses and examines presuppositions. If you are disclosing and examining presuppositions, you are doing philosophy.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Dube wrote to me:

    Dave, philosophy discloses and examines presuppositions. If you are disclosing and examining presuppositions, you are doing philosophy.

    Well… I am not sure Aristotle or Plato would agree with you. Perhaps Hume and Socrates would, though.

    Anyway, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

  52. @Steve Sailer
    @James Speaks

    "My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so"

    Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle's ideas than is physics.

    Replies: @Jenner Ickham Errican, @James Speaks, @Anonymous, @PhysicistDave

    Steve Sailer wrote to James Speaks:

    [James] “My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so”

    [Steve] Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.

    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle’s views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation — e.g., Ed Feser and Dave Oderberg. I’ve interacted with Feser on the Web: he seems to be a nice fellow, though we have some serious areas of disagreement (although we do agree in being critical of naive materialism).

    Interest in Aristotle’s views on ethics, however, seem to be undergoing a resurgence — specifically, in terms of “virtue ethics.”

    The classic example of philosophers’ wild swings in perspective is from British empiricism (Mill, Hume, et al.) in mid-nineteenth century Britain to “absolute idealism” in later nineteenth-century Britain to analytic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century in Britain. It was quite a wild and bizarre ride.

    Dave Stove has a pretty funny description of the idealist episode in his “Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story (Parts One and Two),” in his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies . Stove, by the way, was a grumpy, cranky old fellow who had some goofy ideas on, among other things, evolution. But he wrote well, and he really knew how to skewer the idiocies of his fellow philosophers.

    • Replies: @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle’s views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation...
     
    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature, and I'm not aware that any of them is/was Catholic. Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

    The appeal to categorical and dispositional properties in modern analytic philosophy also appears to be something of a (perhaps unconscious) return to the Aristotelian theory of act and potency, causal powers, etc.

    I can't ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation. At any rate, it's pretty clear that defending transubstantiation is not his motivation for defending Aristotelian metaphysics.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  53. Are the audience objections genuine, or facetious so to harass the speaker?

  54. @James Speaks
    @Steve Sailer

    Aristotle maintained that if one were to drop a weight from the top of a mast on a ship sailing, say due north, that the weight would fall straight down and land some distance behind the mast*, as if it started to fall with zero horizontal velocity. Great thinkers were so respectful of Aristotle that no one challenged this notion for almost two thousand years.

    *In the inertial frame of the ship, it does fall straight down but it lands at the base of the mast.

    Replies: @Dr. DoomNGloom

    *In the inertial frame of the ship, it does fall straight down but it lands at the base of the mast.

    This is not quite true, because the ship sails upon a rotating object.
    https://hepweb.ucsd.edu/ph110b/110b_notes/node14.html It’s a small enough effect that it won’t noticeably affect a routine fly ball, but it will have to be factored into artillery tables.

    I don’t believe Aristotle understood what was going on, and am pretty sure he had something else in mind (once the object is released, the ship no longer provides force and air resistance slows that object), But despite advances by the likes of Galileo, dynamics were not adequately explained until Newton.

    Quite a bit of basic physics is counterintuitive and philosophers untrained in physics are often flummoxed. They have the essential skills for reasoning, but lack the correct observations or model construction to make use of a sound chain of reason.

  55. @PhysicistDave
    @SunBakedSuburb

    SunBakedSuburb wrote:


    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp.
     
    The problem is that they were simply wrong about a lot of things -- notably physical science.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    Now, if we could resurrect the old boy, I think he would just shrug and say that of course later generations would figure out more than he had figured out.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    They are wrong. Nature is what it is, and it happens not to be what Aristotle guessed.

    Replies: @anonymous, @John Pepple, @Ian M.

    There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    Who is it you are thinking of here? I read somewhere that in the early nineteenth century, universities in Austria were still clinging to the old Aristotelian physics, but that was two hundred years ago.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @John Pepple

    John, sorry for the delay in replying.

    Of course, no one today is trying to revive Aristotelian physics as such.

    But Oderberg, Feser, et al. would like to revive Aristotelianism in a broader sense as a philosophy of nature.

    See my exchanges with Ian M. above for further discussions of this and a link to a relevant post by Feser a few years ago on his blog.

    Feser does grasp the basic issues, though I think his attempt to revive an Aristotelian philosophy of nature fails.

  56. Victory achieved, the questioner would fall back in his chair, visibly satisfied to an almost post-coital degree.

    Who writes like this?

    • Replies: @middle-aged vet
    @Ian M.

    Who writes like this?

    My guess is 90 percent of academics would read that and think "Dude what a cool thing to say!"

  57. @James Speaks
    I once gave a talk (in a salon setting) to a group of non-STEM thinkers on the difference between philosophy and physics. My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so, it is pseudo-intellectual mush. I think Derrida was involved somehow along with a nice chardonnay. I alluded to the fact that physics builds on foundations hundreds of years old that are refined periodically but never rejected wholesale, unlike the cargo-cult of liberal arts.

    My talk was not well received.

    Replies: @Steve Sailer, @The Germ Theory of Disease, @Hypnotoad666, @Fghjjjjfc, @Ian M.

    Of course, the foundations of physics presuppose certain philosophical claims, so the claims of physics can never be more certain than the more basic philosophical claims upon which they rest.

  58. I’ve had the privilege of attending many highest-level philosophy seminars and workshops.

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.

    One refreshing aspect of such events is the absence of ad hominem and other vulgar fallacies. Sure, you can try, but your implicit standing goes down.

    Another is that, because getting it right is hard and everyone has erred, the typical interlocutor is modest, tentative, even apologetic in expressing their criticisms of the main presenter. Those who are nastily aggressive also are disdained.

    It’s the polar opposite of the twitter discourse of left or right.

    To a person of limited intellect, the vigor of the contest might seem intimidating. But it’s like a boxing match, where everyone is incented to stick by the strict rules, and you shake hands and hug and have a few after the match.

    Those not interested in that sort of thing should attend quilt or drum circles.

    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @New Dealer

    New Dealer wrote:


    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).
     
    I take it you are not a STEM person?

    It is nice that Nozick was a nice person (though I have heard from others who knew him that he had a bit of a cult with his grad students). However, I remember some time ago reading an essay by Nozick on the "Ship of Theseus" problem -- the issue of whether it is really the same ship if it has been gradually repaired over a long time so that no original peace of lumber in still in the ship.

    As a STEM person, I found this bizarre: the way the problem is set up, it is clear what is happening. The later ship has the same shape as the earlier ship but is made up of different atoms.

    That's it. Nothing more to be said.

    You know of the rather fierce debate over the ontological status of "possible worlds"? Just bizarre. They are called "possible" worlds because they are not actual worlds. Humans often find it entertaining or even useful to imagine things that are not (or at least not yet) real.

    That's it.

    (What about the quantum multiverse in my own field of physics? First, I will tell you as a physicist that there are severe technical problems -- it does not work. And if anyone ever does surmount those technical problems, the theory would become an issue of physical science, not verbal philosophical debate.)

    Or "mereology." I'll let anyone who cares google it. I'll just say that whether a rabbit is a whole or merely an assemblage of a rabbit tail, two rabbit ears, etc. is not a problem that interests biologists!

    New Dealer also wrote:

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.
     
    But, but... during the last five centuries, we have learned, through actual experience, what sort of reasoning actually does lead to progress in understanding reality:

    - Come up with theories that are as clear, as simple, as general, and as definite as possible in their predictions, formulated if possible in mathematics.

    - Make sure those proposed theories agree with known empirical facts and with other well-tested theories.

    - Make novel observations that try to prove that the proposed theories are wrong.

    - If a proposed theory survives such tests, it is probably largely true.

    Philosophers almost never do this (if they did, we would call them not philosophers, but scientists).

    Instead they play word games: "We wouldn't want to say..." "It is reasonable to think..." and on and and on and on. Yes, I know they come up with counter-examples and contrasting cases and supposed "knock-down" arguments.

    Except that almost none of what you call "fair argumentation" is at all convincing by the standards of math or natural science. I have always been amused by the so-called "knock-down arguments," which never are.

    What actually happens is that, at any given point of time, in any particular country or school of philosophical thought, certain forms of verbiage are taken seriously, others not so much.

    And so you get these wild swings from British empiricism to absolute idealism to linguistic analysis to post-modernism and on and on.

    And how do we know that the scientific approach I sketched above actually works? What is my knock-down argument in defense of my alternative to the philosophical method?

    Cell phones. Antibiotics. Plastics. Jet aircraft.

    That does not convince you? Then please stop using cell phones, antibiotics, plastics, and jet aircraft.

    Do you disagree with what I have described?

    Can you give any examples at all of "progress" in philosophy, resulting, in your words, "from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation" -- progress on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Do you see how and why STEM people tend to view philosophy with a certain lack of respect?

    Please note: I am not saying all philosophers are idiots or have nothing interesting to say. I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    Nullius in verba.

    Replies: @New Dealer, @Dube

  59. @The Germ Theory of Disease
    @James Speaks

    The big problem with modern philosophy is that guys like Wittgenstein and JL Austin basically turned it into a minor sub-branch of linguistics, and then after that, even more annoying guys like Derrida and Ricuoer turned the sub-linguistics into incomprehensible mush. They privileged hermeneutics over actual original meaning. Wittgenstein is an interesting and important thinker, but not important enough to be the foundational cornerstone of anything. Russell should have poisoned his tea and taken things along different lines.

    The fundamentals of philosophy -- logic, ethics, rhetoric, metaphysics, philology, political thought -- never go out of style, but they bear no similarity whatsoever to STEM thinking. They are a category of humane thought, not a category of scientific thought. There is no reason to compare them, and little to be gained by doing so. The problem for an academic is that it is very hard to generate something new and original in say logic, and in a publish-or-perish environment, this inspires kookiness, like Tom Nagel's absurd essay about what it's like to be a bat (then some stupid philosophy of mind guy topped him with "What It Is Like to be a Thermostat." Total clown show.) Professional philosophers should get out of the academia business altogether, and use basic skills in logic, ethics and rhetoric as consultants to government and business, providing clarity and depth of thought to people who have little of same.

    What philosophy needs to do is chuck most of the twentieth century and start over again with Nietzsche... who by the way, in my opinion at least, was not really a positive philosopher, more like an extremely interesting critic. But a solid place to build from.

    Replies: @James Speaks, @Foreign Expert, @epebble, @PhysicistDave, @Ian M.

    Tom Nagel’s absurd essay about what it’s like to be a bat…

    Except his purpose was to call attention to the irreducibly subjective aspects of consciousness, a point which refutes most versions of modern materialism, and therefore a worthwhile endeavor. His example of “what it’s like to be a bat” is a useful illustration of this point.

    Of course, modern materialism is itself absurd, so the fact that arguments such as Nagel’s are required to refute it is itself evidence of the poor state of much of what passes for modern philosophy.

    • Agree: PhysicistDave
  60. @PhysicistDave
    @anonymous

    anonymous[377] wrote to me:


    Aristotle’s observations on the concept of the vacuum are still of some interest.
     
    Well... in the field in which I got my Ph.D., elementary-particle physics, we think of the vacuum as a complicated structure -- the Higgs particle, for example, which provides mass to the other elementary particle, has a non-zero "vacuum expectation value."

    I don't think, though, that Aristotle's ideas had any impact on that work.

    anonymous also wrote:

    Otherwise, his observations on questions of physics or biology that can be answered by observation are only of historical or lexicological interest.
     
    Aristotle was of course a genius who actually made some significant observations in biology. But, yeah, we have just moved on way beyond him, and his views on natural science are now only of historical interest.

    His views on ethics, on the other hand, continue to be seriously discussed and debated. Humans, after all, are still humans.

    Replies: @middle-aged vet

    Agreed, but people who know more about it than me have said that his passages describing the vacuum are not without interest, assuming that one extrapolates for his lack of knowledge of later experiments – while his passages describing force, and matter, and the universe at a large scale and a small scale are now more or less worthless.

    I was not proposing a mystical theory where Aristotle had pre-cognition of modern experiments that provided useful information on the vacuum.

    A good recent novel about Aristotle’s theory of the soul is Ravelstein, by Bellow. Very funny, with lots of references to classical scholarship. Nothing to say about the exact sciences, though.

  61. @Ian M.

    Victory achieved, the questioner would fall back in his chair, visibly satisfied to an almost post-coital degree.
     
    Who writes like this?

    Replies: @middle-aged vet

    Who writes like this?

    My guess is 90 percent of academics would read that and think “Dude what a cool thing to say!”

    • LOL: PhysicistDave
  62. @PhysicistDave
    @SunBakedSuburb

    SunBakedSuburb wrote:


    Good stuff was bequeathed by the Ancients: Aristotle, Plato, Seneca. The Ancients are surprisingly easy reading though sometimes it takes a second or third read to achieve a full grasp.
     
    The problem is that they were simply wrong about a lot of things -- notably physical science.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    Now, if we could resurrect the old boy, I think he would just shrug and say that of course later generations would figure out more than he had figured out.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    They are wrong. Nature is what it is, and it happens not to be what Aristotle guessed.

    Replies: @anonymous, @John Pepple, @Ian M.

    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.

    I don’t see how Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s teleological approach to biology. They were addressing different things. To say that Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s is a category error.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.

    The Aristotelian approach to nature has never been refuted and indeed, any empirical science must implicitly presuppose key tenets of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature. For example, the theory of act and potency is required to account for the intelligibility of the world, we could not make sense of cause and effect if natural phenomena were not teleological (i.e., exhibit final causality), we cannot do without the notion of substance, etc.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    I don’t see how Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s teleological approach to biology. They were addressing different things. To say that Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s is a category error.
     
    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the "purpose"of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun "rises" and "sets" -- convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real "purpose" involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality -- random chance and differential reproduction.

    Just as the sun does not really "rise" or "set" but rather the earth turns.

    No harm in the convenient ways of speaking as long as we keep in mind what really happens.

    Ian also wrote:

    For example, the theory of act and potency is required to account for the intelligibility of the world, we could not make sense of cause and effect if natural phenomena were not teleological (i.e., exhibit final causality)
     
    Well... I do not know of any physicist who makes any use at all of the concept of "final causality" in his work in physics!

    Perhaps you can give an example?
  63. @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote:


    Bertrand Russell: “Wittgenstein, put down that poker immediately!” That’s a fraught imperative from a famous row between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper, with Popper asserting, as a moral principle, “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with a poker.”
     
    I assume you know that there is a debate as to what really happened: i.e,., whether Wittgenstein was really being threatening.

    There is no question that Wittgenstein was an extremely weird figure: personally, I am doubtful that he contributed much to Western philosophy. I am inclined to agree with Popper that there are real problems in philosophy; to name two that Popper wrote books about: the weirdness of quantum mechanics and the question of how consciousness fits into physics.

    However, if such problems are ever solved, I expect the solutions to come from natural science, not philosophy The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    Replies: @Dube, @Steve Sailer, @Ian M.

    The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    The problem of consciousness is an artifact of Descartes’s radical dualism. Consciousness was not a problem for the mainstream classical philosophical tradition before that.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    [Dave] The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    [Ian] The problem of consciousness is an artifact of Descartes’s radical dualism. Consciousness was not a problem for the mainstream classical philosophical tradition before that.
     
    Well... Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the "soul." Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the "problem of consciousness."

    What is true is that the stark distinction between matter and consciousness seems to go back to the seventeenth century. It's not just Descartes, though. The distinction between "primary" and "secondary" qualities and the emphasis by early modern scientists on mechanism and corpuscularianism really did lead to a situation in which it was hard to see how consciousness fits in with an understanding of nature based on natural science.

    Philip Goff's recent book Galileo's Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness lays this out in detail (as a physicist, I already knew the basic story before reading his book -- Goff's history is correct). By the way, Goff does not really think Galileo made an error in this respect: Goff thinks it was a wise methodological move in terms of developing physical science historically.
  64. @PhysicistDave
    @Steve Sailer

    Steve Sailer wrote to James Speaks:


    [James] “My conclusion was that since philosophy has to change all of its precepts every dozen years or so”

    [Steve] Does it really? My impression is that philosophy is more respectful of Aristotle’s ideas than is physics.
     
    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle's views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation -- e.g., Ed Feser and Dave Oderberg. I've interacted with Feser on the Web: he seems to be a nice fellow, though we have some serious areas of disagreement (although we do agree in being critical of naive materialism).

    Interest in Aristotle's views on ethics, however, seem to be undergoing a resurgence -- specifically, in terms of "virtue ethics."

    The classic example of philosophers' wild swings in perspective is from British empiricism (Mill, Hume, et al.) in mid-nineteenth century Britain to "absolute idealism" in later nineteenth-century Britain to analytic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century in Britain. It was quite a wild and bizarre ride.

    Dave Stove has a pretty funny description of the idealist episode in his "Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story (Parts One and Two)," in his book The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies . Stove, by the way, was a grumpy, cranky old fellow who had some goofy ideas on, among other things, evolution. But he wrote well, and he really knew how to skewer the idiocies of his fellow philosophers.

    Replies: @Ian M.

    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle’s views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation…

    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature, and I’m not aware that any of them is/was Catholic. Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

    The appeal to categorical and dispositional properties in modern analytic philosophy also appears to be something of a (perhaps unconscious) return to the Aristotelian theory of act and potency, causal powers, etc.

    I can’t ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation. At any rate, it’s pretty clear that defending transubstantiation is not his motivation for defending Aristotelian metaphysics.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    I can’t ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation.
     
    Here is an example from Ed's blog. Note his final paragraph:

    Perhaps such problems [in squaring transubstantiation with non-Thomist philosophies] could be solved, though I am doubtful. Anyway, the issue illustrates the unexpected implications that philosophical assumptions can have for theology. (And thus the caution that any Catholic ought to exercise before embracing philosophical novelties. The Scholastics knew what they were doing.)
     
    I think that does at least suggest that Ed views the possibility of defending the doctrine of transubstantiation as a positive reason for supporting "hylemorphism" (his term for his Aristotelian/Thomist approach).

    I'm not claiming this is Ed's or Oderberg's only motive, but, at least to an outsider, it is pretty significant (and pretty surprising!) when a philosopher gives the defense of transubstantiation as a positive reason for his views!

    Ian also wrote:

    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature...
     
    I've heard of Cartwright because of her writing on physics. "Neo-Aristotelian" is a pretty broad term: since I have some sympathy for Aristotle's ethical approach, I am, in a sense, a "neo-Aristotelian." But of course not in the sense you and I are discussing here.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework? I'm genuinely curious about this, by the way.

    Ian also wrote:

    Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.
     
    Well, I think only in the broadest sense. He seems to have been a bit of a Cartesian dualist, which is not exactly Aristotelian (though perhaps consistent with Thomism). And towards the end of his life, Nagel seems to have been considering the idea that final ends really exist in nature (very few scientists would agree). But is there any sign that Nagel went in for substance/accidents (or matter/form) analysis?

    By the way, Feser's essay that I linked to above makes fairly clear how and why natural scientists generally reject a neo-Aristotelian/neo-Thomist approach. In his writings, though, Ed tends to get confused about some details of modern science, which may be why he thinks he can square science with his metaphysics, even though he knows most scientists do not agree.

    Take care.

    Replies: @Ian M., @Ian M.

  65. @scrivener3
    A group of my friends and me majored in Philosophy as undergraduates. Perhaps not a wise decision but two achieved tenured professorships at lessor Universities (a pretty nice life) and I found it good background for law.

    One got frustrated after a few semesters of study and told his professor advisor: "you don't have the answers to anything." To which the professor answered: "Yes but I have all the good questions."

    Replies: @Ralph L

    A group of my friends and me majored in Philosophy

    Just as well it wasn’t English.

    • LOL: PhysicistDave, Truth
    • Replies: @silviosilver
    @Ralph L

    He also had tenured professorships at lessor Universities .

    And he calls himself "scrivener," hmph.

    Or perhaps he was just being a good sport and affording us the opportunity to scoff in the very spirit of thread's topic. (Ya gotta be as sharp to get one past the eagle-eyed commentariat at isteve as to earn a warm reception for your phil paper at St. Andrews.)

  66. @Ralph L
    @scrivener3


    A group of my friends and me majored in Philosophy
     
    Just as well it wasn't English.

    Replies: @silviosilver

    He also had tenured professorships at lessor Universities .

    And he calls himself “scrivener,” hmph.

    Or perhaps he was just being a good sport and affording us the opportunity to scoff in the very spirit of thread’s topic. (Ya gotta be as sharp to get one past the eagle-eyed commentariat at isteve as to earn a warm reception for your phil paper at St. Andrews.)

  67. @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Steve, only a fairly small minority of philosophers take Aristotle’s views on metaphysics seriously nowadays, and they seem to be mainly Roman Catholic philosophers who are trying to defend transubstantiation...
     
    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature, and I'm not aware that any of them is/was Catholic. Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

    The appeal to categorical and dispositional properties in modern analytic philosophy also appears to be something of a (perhaps unconscious) return to the Aristotelian theory of act and potency, causal powers, etc.

    I can't ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation. At any rate, it's pretty clear that defending transubstantiation is not his motivation for defending Aristotelian metaphysics.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Ian M. wrote to me:

    I can’t ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation.

    Here is an example from Ed’s blog. Note his final paragraph:

    Perhaps such problems [in squaring transubstantiation with non-Thomist philosophies] could be solved, though I am doubtful. Anyway, the issue illustrates the unexpected implications that philosophical assumptions can have for theology. (And thus the caution that any Catholic ought to exercise before embracing philosophical novelties. The Scholastics knew what they were doing.)

    I think that does at least suggest that Ed views the possibility of defending the doctrine of transubstantiation as a positive reason for supporting “hylemorphism” (his term for his Aristotelian/Thomist approach).

    I’m not claiming this is Ed’s or Oderberg’s only motive, but, at least to an outsider, it is pretty significant (and pretty surprising!) when a philosopher gives the defense of transubstantiation as a positive reason for his views!

    Ian also wrote:

    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature…

    I’ve heard of Cartwright because of her writing on physics. “Neo-Aristotelian” is a pretty broad term: since I have some sympathy for Aristotle’s ethical approach, I am, in a sense, a “neo-Aristotelian.” But of course not in the sense you and I are discussing here.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework? I’m genuinely curious about this, by the way.

    Ian also wrote:

    Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.

    Well, I think only in the broadest sense. He seems to have been a bit of a Cartesian dualist, which is not exactly Aristotelian (though perhaps consistent with Thomism). And towards the end of his life, Nagel seems to have been considering the idea that final ends really exist in nature (very few scientists would agree). But is there any sign that Nagel went in for substance/accidents (or matter/form) analysis?

    By the way, Feser’s essay that I linked to above makes fairly clear how and why natural scientists generally reject a neo-Aristotelian/neo-Thomist approach. In his writings, though, Ed tends to get confused about some details of modern science, which may be why he thinks he can square science with his metaphysics, even though he knows most scientists do not agree.

    Take care.

    • Replies: @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?
     
    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nautre: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.

    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”
     

    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance - did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.
     

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level - say at the level of fundamental particles - one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that a cause points to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser's work, I may just be telling you things you've already heard before.

    , @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?
     
    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.


    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”
     
    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

     

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that causes point to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser’s work, I may just be telling you things you’ve already heard before.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave, @PhysicistDave

  68. @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.
     
    The problem of consciousness is an artifact of Descartes's radical dualism. Consciousness was not a problem for the mainstream classical philosophical tradition before that.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Ian M. wrote to me:

    [Dave] The philosophers have, after all, been mulling over the problem of consciousness for more than two millennia and have not yet reached a resolution that a majority of philosophers can agree on.

    [Ian] The problem of consciousness is an artifact of Descartes’s radical dualism. Consciousness was not a problem for the mainstream classical philosophical tradition before that.

    Well… Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”

    What is true is that the stark distinction between matter and consciousness seems to go back to the seventeenth century. It’s not just Descartes, though. The distinction between “primary” and “secondary” qualities and the emphasis by early modern scientists on mechanism and corpuscularianism really did lead to a situation in which it was hard to see how consciousness fits in with an understanding of nature based on natural science.

    Philip Goff’s recent book Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness lays this out in detail (as a physicist, I already knew the basic story before reading his book — Goff’s history is correct). By the way, Goff does not really think Galileo made an error in this respect: Goff thinks it was a wise methodological move in terms of developing physical science historically.

  69. @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Aristotle, in particular, took the teleological approach that seems to work in biology (though it is superseded by Darwin) and tried to apply it where it certainly does not work.
     
    I don't see how Darwin's work superseded Aristotle's teleological approach to biology. They were addressing different things. To say that Darwin's work superseded Aristotle's is a category error.

    But, unfortunately, some people in those later generations failed to grasp that. There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.
     
    The Aristotelian approach to nature has never been refuted and indeed, any empirical science must implicitly presuppose key tenets of the Aristotelian philosophy of nature. For example, the theory of act and potency is required to account for the intelligibility of the world, we could not make sense of cause and effect if natural phenomena were not teleological (i.e., exhibit final causality), we cannot do without the notion of substance, etc.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Ian M. wrote to me:

    I don’t see how Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s teleological approach to biology. They were addressing different things. To say that Darwin’s work superseded Aristotle’s is a category error.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

    Just as the sun does not really “rise” or “set” but rather the earth turns.

    No harm in the convenient ways of speaking as long as we keep in mind what really happens.

    Ian also wrote:

    For example, the theory of act and potency is required to account for the intelligibility of the world, we could not make sense of cause and effect if natural phenomena were not teleological (i.e., exhibit final causality)

    Well… I do not know of any physicist who makes any use at all of the concept of “final causality” in his work in physics!

    Perhaps you can give an example?

  70. @New Dealer
    I’ve had the privilege of attending many highest-level philosophy seminars and workshops.

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.

    One refreshing aspect of such events is the absence of ad hominem and other vulgar fallacies. Sure, you can try, but your implicit standing goes down.

    Another is that, because getting it right is hard and everyone has erred, the typical interlocutor is modest, tentative, even apologetic in expressing their criticisms of the main presenter. Those who are nastily aggressive also are disdained.

    It’s the polar opposite of the twitter discourse of left or right.

    To a person of limited intellect, the vigor of the contest might seem intimidating. But it’s like a boxing match, where everyone is incented to stick by the strict rules, and you shake hands and hug and have a few after the match.

    Those not interested in that sort of thing should attend quilt or drum circles.

    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    New Dealer wrote:

    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).

    I take it you are not a STEM person?

    It is nice that Nozick was a nice person (though I have heard from others who knew him that he had a bit of a cult with his grad students). However, I remember some time ago reading an essay by Nozick on the “Ship of Theseus” problem — the issue of whether it is really the same ship if it has been gradually repaired over a long time so that no original peace of lumber in still in the ship.

    As a STEM person, I found this bizarre: the way the problem is set up, it is clear what is happening. The later ship has the same shape as the earlier ship but is made up of different atoms.

    That’s it. Nothing more to be said.

    You know of the rather fierce debate over the ontological status of “possible worlds”? Just bizarre. They are called “possible” worlds because they are not actual worlds. Humans often find it entertaining or even useful to imagine things that are not (or at least not yet) real.

    That’s it.

    (What about the quantum multiverse in my own field of physics? First, I will tell you as a physicist that there are severe technical problems — it does not work. And if anyone ever does surmount those technical problems, the theory would become an issue of physical science, not verbal philosophical debate.)

    Or “mereology.” I’ll let anyone who cares google it. I’ll just say that whether a rabbit is a whole or merely an assemblage of a rabbit tail, two rabbit ears, etc. is not a problem that interests biologists!

    New Dealer also wrote:

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.

    But, but… during the last five centuries, we have learned, through actual experience, what sort of reasoning actually does lead to progress in understanding reality:

    – Come up with theories that are as clear, as simple, as general, and as definite as possible in their predictions, formulated if possible in mathematics.

    – Make sure those proposed theories agree with known empirical facts and with other well-tested theories.

    – Make novel observations that try to prove that the proposed theories are wrong.

    – If a proposed theory survives such tests, it is probably largely true.

    Philosophers almost never do this (if they did, we would call them not philosophers, but scientists).

    Instead they play word games: “We wouldn’t want to say…” “It is reasonable to think…” and on and and on and on. Yes, I know they come up with counter-examples and contrasting cases and supposed “knock-down” arguments.

    Except that almost none of what you call “fair argumentation” is at all convincing by the standards of math or natural science. I have always been amused by the so-called “knock-down arguments,” which never are.

    What actually happens is that, at any given point of time, in any particular country or school of philosophical thought, certain forms of verbiage are taken seriously, others not so much.

    And so you get these wild swings from British empiricism to absolute idealism to linguistic analysis to post-modernism and on and on.

    And how do we know that the scientific approach I sketched above actually works? What is my knock-down argument in defense of my alternative to the philosophical method?

    Cell phones. Antibiotics. Plastics. Jet aircraft.

    That does not convince you? Then please stop using cell phones, antibiotics, plastics, and jet aircraft.

    Do you disagree with what I have described?

    Can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy, resulting, in your words, “from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation” — progress on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Do you see how and why STEM people tend to view philosophy with a certain lack of respect?

    Please note: I am not saying all philosophers are idiots or have nothing interesting to say. I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    Nullius in verba.

    • Replies: @New Dealer
    @PhysicistDave

    Thanks. I love the practice of science and its virtues as you describe them. The combination of mathematical formulation, exploratory experiment, and abduction is potent. Our well-being may owe more to Ptolemy in Alexandria than to Plato in Athens. And you do say that some philosophy is interesting. We are not far apart.

    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.

    Philosophers more in the analytic tradition specialize and excel in conceptual analysis. On some vexing questions they hit a brick wall where contesting positions endure. Along the way, however, they eliminate a great deal of nonsense. Of course, there is plenty of mediocre and useless philosophy, just as there is in natural science, history, the arts, and other endeavors.

    I’m more engaged in politics and ethics. Take the U.S. Bill of Rights (or some more perfect set of rights). Was it the result of STEM? Of RCTs? Is it worthy of approval and compliance? Why? Because of tradition? Religion? It was once contrary to both. Justified because it feels good? Because most people agree with it? Because it is right? If so, why is it right? How do we decide? Even if we cannot reach point solutions in politics, we can reach range solutions morally acceptable to many.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    , @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    What is the enterprise of philosophy?

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  71. @Peter Akuleyev
    These will be the Good Old Days soon. The biggest story remains the rapid growth in the Sub Saharan African population.

    New book about it appears to be good on the basic facts but of course the author pulls his punches on the likely disaster this will be for the rest of the human race:

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/13/africa-century-economic-growth/

    Of course, forecasting decades into the future is a speculative business. But if we take the United Nations’ central forecast as our collective best guess, we should expect the population of Africa by 2100 to exceed 4.2 billion, at which point Africans will constitute as much as 40 percent of the world’s population. That would be far short of Asia’s 60 percent share today, but it would constitute a revolution, nevertheless.
     
    This probably spells the end of Europe as we know it, since these people will not stay in the environmentally devastated continent they were born in.

    Meanwhile Russia and Ukraine keep killing off the few young white males they still have. Hard to see a bright future here.

    Replies: @Erik Sieven, @Prester John, @Mr. Grey

    War kills off young men, but the survivors are met with a surplus of women.

  72. @PhysicistDave
    @New Dealer

    New Dealer wrote:


    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).
     
    I take it you are not a STEM person?

    It is nice that Nozick was a nice person (though I have heard from others who knew him that he had a bit of a cult with his grad students). However, I remember some time ago reading an essay by Nozick on the "Ship of Theseus" problem -- the issue of whether it is really the same ship if it has been gradually repaired over a long time so that no original peace of lumber in still in the ship.

    As a STEM person, I found this bizarre: the way the problem is set up, it is clear what is happening. The later ship has the same shape as the earlier ship but is made up of different atoms.

    That's it. Nothing more to be said.

    You know of the rather fierce debate over the ontological status of "possible worlds"? Just bizarre. They are called "possible" worlds because they are not actual worlds. Humans often find it entertaining or even useful to imagine things that are not (or at least not yet) real.

    That's it.

    (What about the quantum multiverse in my own field of physics? First, I will tell you as a physicist that there are severe technical problems -- it does not work. And if anyone ever does surmount those technical problems, the theory would become an issue of physical science, not verbal philosophical debate.)

    Or "mereology." I'll let anyone who cares google it. I'll just say that whether a rabbit is a whole or merely an assemblage of a rabbit tail, two rabbit ears, etc. is not a problem that interests biologists!

    New Dealer also wrote:

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.
     
    But, but... during the last five centuries, we have learned, through actual experience, what sort of reasoning actually does lead to progress in understanding reality:

    - Come up with theories that are as clear, as simple, as general, and as definite as possible in their predictions, formulated if possible in mathematics.

    - Make sure those proposed theories agree with known empirical facts and with other well-tested theories.

    - Make novel observations that try to prove that the proposed theories are wrong.

    - If a proposed theory survives such tests, it is probably largely true.

    Philosophers almost never do this (if they did, we would call them not philosophers, but scientists).

    Instead they play word games: "We wouldn't want to say..." "It is reasonable to think..." and on and and on and on. Yes, I know they come up with counter-examples and contrasting cases and supposed "knock-down" arguments.

    Except that almost none of what you call "fair argumentation" is at all convincing by the standards of math or natural science. I have always been amused by the so-called "knock-down arguments," which never are.

    What actually happens is that, at any given point of time, in any particular country or school of philosophical thought, certain forms of verbiage are taken seriously, others not so much.

    And so you get these wild swings from British empiricism to absolute idealism to linguistic analysis to post-modernism and on and on.

    And how do we know that the scientific approach I sketched above actually works? What is my knock-down argument in defense of my alternative to the philosophical method?

    Cell phones. Antibiotics. Plastics. Jet aircraft.

    That does not convince you? Then please stop using cell phones, antibiotics, plastics, and jet aircraft.

    Do you disagree with what I have described?

    Can you give any examples at all of "progress" in philosophy, resulting, in your words, "from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation" -- progress on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Do you see how and why STEM people tend to view philosophy with a certain lack of respect?

    Please note: I am not saying all philosophers are idiots or have nothing interesting to say. I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    Nullius in verba.

    Replies: @New Dealer, @Dube

    Thanks. I love the practice of science and its virtues as you describe them. The combination of mathematical formulation, exploratory experiment, and abduction is potent. Our well-being may owe more to Ptolemy in Alexandria than to Plato in Athens. And you do say that some philosophy is interesting. We are not far apart.

    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.

    Philosophers more in the analytic tradition specialize and excel in conceptual analysis. On some vexing questions they hit a brick wall where contesting positions endure. Along the way, however, they eliminate a great deal of nonsense. Of course, there is plenty of mediocre and useless philosophy, just as there is in natural science, history, the arts, and other endeavors.

    I’m more engaged in politics and ethics. Take the U.S. Bill of Rights (or some more perfect set of rights). Was it the result of STEM? Of RCTs? Is it worthy of approval and compliance? Why? Because of tradition? Religion? It was once contrary to both. Justified because it feels good? Because most people agree with it? Because it is right? If so, why is it right? How do we decide? Even if we cannot reach point solutions in politics, we can reach range solutions morally acceptable to many.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @New Dealer

    New Dealer wrote to me:


    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.
     
    That's not really true, is it?

    Not all discussion is philosophy: if it were; when my wife and I discuss whether to go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, we would be philosophizing!

    Okay, you could define "philosophize" so that that is philosophizing. But then you are trivializing the word.

    And when I point out that everyone does indeed accept that physical science is basically correct as shown by their actions, I am surely not engaging in the type of discussion typical of philosophers. Indeed, if we had to categorize that observation, I suppose it is more sociologizing than philosophizing.

    You said, "You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized." That is not what is happening, is it? No one has yet challenged my claim that everyone now believes in physical science, and if anyone does, I will just repeat my request that they stop using cell phones, jet aircraft, antibiotics, etc.

    Not exactly philosophical analysis!

    You said, "Science does not, from nothing, justify itself." But, actually, it does, doesn't it? When natural science arose as a new way of trying to discover the nature of reality in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were attempts to justify it philosophically, and those attempts were challenged.

    But no one seriously does that anymore, do they? The stunning results of natural science -- and, more than anything, the amazing success of science-based technology -- are such that, yes, science really does justify itself.

    If a Muslim gets sick, he may pray to Allah; if a Hindu gets sick, she may pray to Vishnu or Shiva.

    But they all believe in antibiotics.

    As a simple matter of fact, yes, science has justified itself.

    You said, "I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics," and you correctly picked up that that was what I was really referring to. Especially with regard to metaphysics, no one really takes philosophy seriously nowadays in the way they do science.

    You also said, "I’m more engaged in politics and ethics." I'll grant you that philosophical ways of thinking and arguing are a bit more relevant there.

    But even in politics and ethics, I think that even thoughtful people pay more attention to economics, history, and common sense than to the musings of philosophers. How many people really had their views on politics or ethics changed by John Rawls? I hope the number is very small, since the logic of his thinking is totalitarian!

    And indeed Aristotle pointed out that whether a man behaves ethically or not depends less on his philosophical studies than on how his upbringing and experience developed his character. That is pretty clearly true.

    Again, lots of philosophers are thoughtful people with high IQs, and intelligent people who think about things will sometimes come up with interesting things to say. The same is true for bright journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    But taken as a while, it is really hard, I think, to seriously claim that philosophy has advanced our understanding aside from the fact that some individual philosophers have occasionally had something interesting to say, just as is true of some individual journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I'm still waiting.

    Replies: @Dube

  73. @PhysicistDave
    @New Dealer

    New Dealer wrote:


    I recall a meeting of Robert Nozick (I’m not a follower) with graduate students long ago. I asserted something that I knew within seconds was plain stupid. Nozick didn’t crush me, as he easily could have done. He asked me a series of friendly questions, intended to show me how to reason (not intended to make me share his views).
     
    I take it you are not a STEM person?

    It is nice that Nozick was a nice person (though I have heard from others who knew him that he had a bit of a cult with his grad students). However, I remember some time ago reading an essay by Nozick on the "Ship of Theseus" problem -- the issue of whether it is really the same ship if it has been gradually repaired over a long time so that no original peace of lumber in still in the ship.

    As a STEM person, I found this bizarre: the way the problem is set up, it is clear what is happening. The later ship has the same shape as the earlier ship but is made up of different atoms.

    That's it. Nothing more to be said.

    You know of the rather fierce debate over the ontological status of "possible worlds"? Just bizarre. They are called "possible" worlds because they are not actual worlds. Humans often find it entertaining or even useful to imagine things that are not (or at least not yet) real.

    That's it.

    (What about the quantum multiverse in my own field of physics? First, I will tell you as a physicist that there are severe technical problems -- it does not work. And if anyone ever does surmount those technical problems, the theory would become an issue of physical science, not verbal philosophical debate.)

    Or "mereology." I'll let anyone who cares google it. I'll just say that whether a rabbit is a whole or merely an assemblage of a rabbit tail, two rabbit ears, etc. is not a problem that interests biologists!

    New Dealer also wrote:

    Reasoning correctly is hard, and it is easy to make mistakes. Progress results from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation.
     
    But, but... during the last five centuries, we have learned, through actual experience, what sort of reasoning actually does lead to progress in understanding reality:

    - Come up with theories that are as clear, as simple, as general, and as definite as possible in their predictions, formulated if possible in mathematics.

    - Make sure those proposed theories agree with known empirical facts and with other well-tested theories.

    - Make novel observations that try to prove that the proposed theories are wrong.

    - If a proposed theory survives such tests, it is probably largely true.

    Philosophers almost never do this (if they did, we would call them not philosophers, but scientists).

    Instead they play word games: "We wouldn't want to say..." "It is reasonable to think..." and on and and on and on. Yes, I know they come up with counter-examples and contrasting cases and supposed "knock-down" arguments.

    Except that almost none of what you call "fair argumentation" is at all convincing by the standards of math or natural science. I have always been amused by the so-called "knock-down arguments," which never are.

    What actually happens is that, at any given point of time, in any particular country or school of philosophical thought, certain forms of verbiage are taken seriously, others not so much.

    And so you get these wild swings from British empiricism to absolute idealism to linguistic analysis to post-modernism and on and on.

    And how do we know that the scientific approach I sketched above actually works? What is my knock-down argument in defense of my alternative to the philosophical method?

    Cell phones. Antibiotics. Plastics. Jet aircraft.

    That does not convince you? Then please stop using cell phones, antibiotics, plastics, and jet aircraft.

    Do you disagree with what I have described?

    Can you give any examples at all of "progress" in philosophy, resulting, in your words, "from people vigorously contesting one another with fair argumentation" -- progress on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Do you see how and why STEM people tend to view philosophy with a certain lack of respect?

    Please note: I am not saying all philosophers are idiots or have nothing interesting to say. I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    Nullius in verba.

    Replies: @New Dealer, @Dube

    I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    What is the enterprise of philosophy?

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    [Dave] I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    [Dube] What is the enterprise of philosophy?
     
    Whatever philosophers do.

    That answer is often given facetiously, but I don't mean it that way.

    No one, even a person who understands nothing about engineering, really doubts that whatever it is that engineers do when they design bridges or jet aircraft does pretty much work. Most bridges do not collapse; most jet airplanes do fly. And no one really believes that some guy with zero knowledge of structural engineering or aerospace engineering could build a large suspension bridge that stands up or a jet aircraft that flies.

    The same cannot be said of philosophy. I once knew a young philosopher online who hired herself out as a philosophical consultant. To put it diplomatically, the business plan was not a success!

    I know that it is philosophically unsophisticated to point out that the reason that everyone -- Hindus in India, Muslims in Iran, atheists in America, you name it! -- all "believe" in the same physical science and science--based engineering is simply because they work.

    But it is quite obviously true. No one refrains from buying a cell phone until he has satisfied himself that the epistemological foundations of the physics that made the cell phone possible are sound!

    And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    So, whatever it is that philosophers do, it has not garnered the confidence of their fellow human beings or, truth be told, even of their fellow philosophers.
  74. @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    What is the enterprise of philosophy?

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Dube wrote to me:

    [Dave] I am merely saying that the enterprise of philosophy has and has always had some very deep problems.

    [Dube] What is the enterprise of philosophy?

    Whatever philosophers do.

    That answer is often given facetiously, but I don’t mean it that way.

    No one, even a person who understands nothing about engineering, really doubts that whatever it is that engineers do when they design bridges or jet aircraft does pretty much work. Most bridges do not collapse; most jet airplanes do fly. And no one really believes that some guy with zero knowledge of structural engineering or aerospace engineering could build a large suspension bridge that stands up or a jet aircraft that flies.

    The same cannot be said of philosophy. I once knew a young philosopher online who hired herself out as a philosophical consultant. To put it diplomatically, the business plan was not a success!

    I know that it is philosophically unsophisticated to point out that the reason that everyone — Hindus in India, Muslims in Iran, atheists in America, you name it! — all “believe” in the same physical science and science–based engineering is simply because they work.

    But it is quite obviously true. No one refrains from buying a cell phone until he has satisfied himself that the epistemological foundations of the physics that made the cell phone possible are sound!

    And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    So, whatever it is that philosophers do, it has not garnered the confidence of their fellow human beings or, truth be told, even of their fellow philosophers.

  75. @New Dealer
    @PhysicistDave

    Thanks. I love the practice of science and its virtues as you describe them. The combination of mathematical formulation, exploratory experiment, and abduction is potent. Our well-being may owe more to Ptolemy in Alexandria than to Plato in Athens. And you do say that some philosophy is interesting. We are not far apart.

    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.

    Philosophers more in the analytic tradition specialize and excel in conceptual analysis. On some vexing questions they hit a brick wall where contesting positions endure. Along the way, however, they eliminate a great deal of nonsense. Of course, there is plenty of mediocre and useless philosophy, just as there is in natural science, history, the arts, and other endeavors.

    I’m more engaged in politics and ethics. Take the U.S. Bill of Rights (or some more perfect set of rights). Was it the result of STEM? Of RCTs? Is it worthy of approval and compliance? Why? Because of tradition? Religion? It was once contrary to both. Justified because it feels good? Because most people agree with it? Because it is right? If so, why is it right? How do we decide? Even if we cannot reach point solutions in politics, we can reach range solutions morally acceptable to many.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    New Dealer wrote to me:

    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.

    That’s not really true, is it?

    Not all discussion is philosophy: if it were; when my wife and I discuss whether to go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, we would be philosophizing!

    Okay, you could define “philosophize” so that that is philosophizing. But then you are trivializing the word.

    And when I point out that everyone does indeed accept that physical science is basically correct as shown by their actions, I am surely not engaging in the type of discussion typical of philosophers. Indeed, if we had to categorize that observation, I suppose it is more sociologizing than philosophizing.

    You said, “You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized.” That is not what is happening, is it? No one has yet challenged my claim that everyone now believes in physical science, and if anyone does, I will just repeat my request that they stop using cell phones, jet aircraft, antibiotics, etc.

    Not exactly philosophical analysis!

    You said, “Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.” But, actually, it does, doesn’t it? When natural science arose as a new way of trying to discover the nature of reality in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were attempts to justify it philosophically, and those attempts were challenged.

    But no one seriously does that anymore, do they? The stunning results of natural science — and, more than anything, the amazing success of science-based technology — are such that, yes, science really does justify itself.

    If a Muslim gets sick, he may pray to Allah; if a Hindu gets sick, she may pray to Vishnu or Shiva.

    But they all believe in antibiotics.

    As a simple matter of fact, yes, science has justified itself.

    You said, “I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics,” and you correctly picked up that that was what I was really referring to. Especially with regard to metaphysics, no one really takes philosophy seriously nowadays in the way they do science.

    You also said, “I’m more engaged in politics and ethics.” I’ll grant you that philosophical ways of thinking and arguing are a bit more relevant there.

    But even in politics and ethics, I think that even thoughtful people pay more attention to economics, history, and common sense than to the musings of philosophers. How many people really had their views on politics or ethics changed by John Rawls? I hope the number is very small, since the logic of his thinking is totalitarian!

    And indeed Aristotle pointed out that whether a man behaves ethically or not depends less on his philosophical studies than on how his upbringing and experience developed his character. That is pretty clearly true.

    Again, lots of philosophers are thoughtful people with high IQs, and intelligent people who think about things will sometimes come up with interesting things to say. The same is true for bright journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    But taken as a while, it is really hard, I think, to seriously claim that philosophy has advanced our understanding aside from the fact that some individual philosophers have occasionally had something interesting to say, just as is true of some individual journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I’m still waiting.

    • Thanks: James Speaks
    • Replies: @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I’m still waiting.

    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don't want to waste their time. So, you do the work; it's pretty easy. Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

  76. And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    Faith in philosophy? Surely you are not joking.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    [Dave] And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    [Dube] Faith in philosophy? Surely you are not joking.
     
    Nope, not joking.

    I myself don't have faith in science because I do not need to: I actually know an enormous amount about how and why science works.

    For example, what is the compelling evidence that Copernicus was right and why did he himself think he was right without that compelling evidence? I have known the answer for a very long time, but I have found that almost no non-scientists know the answer.

    Most non-scientists simply have faith in science, more faith than they actually have in religion.

    And that is a rational faith: faith in science is almost always vindicated when that faith is invested in cell phones, antibiotics, jet aircraft, and so much more. But as everyone knows, faith in religion is often not vindicated: God or Allah or Vishnu or whoever very often does not answer prayers.

    The reverse of what is true for science is of course true for philosophy: even philosophers themselves exhibit little confidence that philosophy delivers the goods in telling us truths about reality.

    All philosophy really delivers is a steady paycheck -- and that only to those philosophers who manage to get tenure.

    I know it's considered a bit gauche to be blunt about all this, but the truth is that the Ayatollahs may claim to have faith in Allah, but they most assuredly do have faith in nuclear physics!

    Replies: @nebulafox

  77. @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    I can’t ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation.
     
    Here is an example from Ed's blog. Note his final paragraph:

    Perhaps such problems [in squaring transubstantiation with non-Thomist philosophies] could be solved, though I am doubtful. Anyway, the issue illustrates the unexpected implications that philosophical assumptions can have for theology. (And thus the caution that any Catholic ought to exercise before embracing philosophical novelties. The Scholastics knew what they were doing.)
     
    I think that does at least suggest that Ed views the possibility of defending the doctrine of transubstantiation as a positive reason for supporting "hylemorphism" (his term for his Aristotelian/Thomist approach).

    I'm not claiming this is Ed's or Oderberg's only motive, but, at least to an outsider, it is pretty significant (and pretty surprising!) when a philosopher gives the defense of transubstantiation as a positive reason for his views!

    Ian also wrote:

    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature...
     
    I've heard of Cartwright because of her writing on physics. "Neo-Aristotelian" is a pretty broad term: since I have some sympathy for Aristotle's ethical approach, I am, in a sense, a "neo-Aristotelian." But of course not in the sense you and I are discussing here.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework? I'm genuinely curious about this, by the way.

    Ian also wrote:

    Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.
     
    Well, I think only in the broadest sense. He seems to have been a bit of a Cartesian dualist, which is not exactly Aristotelian (though perhaps consistent with Thomism). And towards the end of his life, Nagel seems to have been considering the idea that final ends really exist in nature (very few scientists would agree). But is there any sign that Nagel went in for substance/accidents (or matter/form) analysis?

    By the way, Feser's essay that I linked to above makes fairly clear how and why natural scientists generally reject a neo-Aristotelian/neo-Thomist approach. In his writings, though, Ed tends to get confused about some details of modern science, which may be why he thinks he can square science with his metaphysics, even though he knows most scientists do not agree.

    Take care.

    Replies: @Ian M., @Ian M.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?

    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nautre: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.

    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”

    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that a cause points to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser’s work, I may just be telling you things you’ve already heard before.

  78. @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    I can’t ever remember Feser writing on transubstantiation.
     
    Here is an example from Ed's blog. Note his final paragraph:

    Perhaps such problems [in squaring transubstantiation with non-Thomist philosophies] could be solved, though I am doubtful. Anyway, the issue illustrates the unexpected implications that philosophical assumptions can have for theology. (And thus the caution that any Catholic ought to exercise before embracing philosophical novelties. The Scholastics knew what they were doing.)
     
    I think that does at least suggest that Ed views the possibility of defending the doctrine of transubstantiation as a positive reason for supporting "hylemorphism" (his term for his Aristotelian/Thomist approach).

    I'm not claiming this is Ed's or Oderberg's only motive, but, at least to an outsider, it is pretty significant (and pretty surprising!) when a philosopher gives the defense of transubstantiation as a positive reason for his views!

    Ian also wrote:

    The Aristotelian revival is quite a bit broader than that, though it is certainly true that they constitute only a minority of the broader philosophical community. For example, Nancy Cartwright, Brian Ellis, and E.J. Lowe are a few names that come to mind who take a neo-Aristotelian position on metaphysics or philosophy of nature...
     
    I've heard of Cartwright because of her writing on physics. "Neo-Aristotelian" is a pretty broad term: since I have some sympathy for Aristotle's ethical approach, I am, in a sense, a "neo-Aristotelian." But of course not in the sense you and I are discussing here.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework? I'm genuinely curious about this, by the way.

    Ian also wrote:

    Nagel himself could be said to have adopted a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of nature.
     
    Well, I think only in the broadest sense. He seems to have been a bit of a Cartesian dualist, which is not exactly Aristotelian (though perhaps consistent with Thomism). And towards the end of his life, Nagel seems to have been considering the idea that final ends really exist in nature (very few scientists would agree). But is there any sign that Nagel went in for substance/accidents (or matter/form) analysis?

    By the way, Feser's essay that I linked to above makes fairly clear how and why natural scientists generally reject a neo-Aristotelian/neo-Thomist approach. In his writings, though, Ed tends to get confused about some details of modern science, which may be why he thinks he can square science with his metaphysics, even though he knows most scientists do not agree.

    Take care.

    Replies: @Ian M., @Ian M.

    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?

    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.

    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”

    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that causes point to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser’s work, I may just be telling you things you’ve already heard before.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian M. wrote to me:


    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise
     
    Well, it could not have arisen in the current form, since the current form -- the so-called mind-body problem -- hinges on the fact that we have physical laws that we understand pretty well that explain how the body (e.g., neurons in the brain) work, but no one has been able to explain how, from these physical facts about the brain, consciousness arises.

    I.e., the current form of the mind-body problem could only arise with the rise of physics.

    Descartes had a sense of a mechanistic physics, so that he could see the mind-body problem, even though of course he did not know all of modern physics.

    Nonetheless, if you had asked Plato or Augustine how consciousness arose from the dead matter (food, air, and water) that ultimately came to compose the human body, I think they would have grasped that there was a real question here. Of course, Augustine at least did think that question did require a non-physical answer.

    I have discussed the mind-body problem with Feser, who does seem to agree with me basically on that issue.

    Ian also wrote:

    When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality.
     
    That is not what people (or Aristotle) usually mean by final causality: what you are describing is efficient causality.

    The idea of final causality is usually illustrated by the idea that stones fall downwards because they are trying to achieve their natural end state of being as low as possible. The opposite for fire moving upwards.

    No physicist would of course agree with either of those two examples. In fact, I know of no example within physical science where physicists accept final causality.

    It's hard to explain final causality to modern people because, at least as applied to inanimate nature, it is so alien to modern science.

    Final causality does seem more natural to many modern people who are not trained in science when applied to living organisms: it seems to many non-scientists that an acorn is somehow trying to reach its final state of becoming an oak tree or that plants grow upwards trying to reach the sun. But that is not how modern biology views such matters: the atoms in the acorn are simply banging into each other, bonding with each other, etc. according to blind mechanistic laws with no goal in sight. It is ultimately just random chance and mechanistic processes -- random mutation and passing on of mutations via natural selection -- that cause acorns to become oak trees.

    Most modern people can accept that stones do not fall downwards (and fire move upwards) because they are trying to achieve their final state.

    But it is harder for most non-scientists to grasp that the growth of an acorn is just as mechanistic. But that is in fact the view of modern biology.

    Ian also wrote:

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.
     
    Well, you may not be able to see how we can avoid doing that, but we simply do not. Look at any modern textbook in physical science used in top 30 universities and you simply will not find any appeal or mention to teleology.

    You may think it is secretly there, somehow, just as I may secretly claim that you are really a materialist atheist.

    But if there is no evidence that you are a materialist atheist and if you strongly deny that you are... well, then probably you are not.

    The same applies to physical scientists: if we never appeal to teleology and in fact make clear that we do not do so, probably we are not doing so.

    By the way, guys like Ed Feser (not to mention a huge number of historians of philosophy and science!) are well aware that modern physical scientists avoid teleological explanations, which is why Feser et al. have to go to a good deal of effort to argue that such explanations are appropriate, even though that is not the perspective of physical scientists.

    I do not know of any physical scientist who thinks Feser et al. have succeeded.

    If physical scientists were in fact constantly appealing to teleological explanations, Feser et al. could simply say: look at page 3-10, 5-7, etc. of the Feynman lectures or chapter 7 of Halliday and Resnick or chapter 10 of Karplus and Porter, or pp. 100-110 of Kittel, etc.

    But Feser et al. do not do that, because there are no such examples.

    Sorry, but there just are not.
    , @PhysicistDave
    @Ian M.

    Ian, here is a post by Feser that covers some of the issues we are discussing: you will see that I participated in the comments section, and that Ed and I partially agreed. I.e., Ed accepts that modern physics is mechanistic and non-teleological, and he and I agree that the approach of modern physics is not sufficient to account for all of reality. We disagree about biology, and, of course, he is a theist and I am not.

    You'll also see why I think Ed is an okay guy.

  79. Dube says:
    @PhysicistDave
    @New Dealer

    New Dealer wrote to me:


    I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics. But your arguments in defense of science fall into that arena. You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized. Science does not, from nothing, justify itself.
     
    That's not really true, is it?

    Not all discussion is philosophy: if it were; when my wife and I discuss whether to go to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant, we would be philosophizing!

    Okay, you could define "philosophize" so that that is philosophizing. But then you are trivializing the word.

    And when I point out that everyone does indeed accept that physical science is basically correct as shown by their actions, I am surely not engaging in the type of discussion typical of philosophers. Indeed, if we had to categorize that observation, I suppose it is more sociologizing than philosophizing.

    You said, "You argue, others contest, you defend, errors in reasoning are scrutinized." That is not what is happening, is it? No one has yet challenged my claim that everyone now believes in physical science, and if anyone does, I will just repeat my request that they stop using cell phones, jet aircraft, antibiotics, etc.

    Not exactly philosophical analysis!

    You said, "Science does not, from nothing, justify itself." But, actually, it does, doesn't it? When natural science arose as a new way of trying to discover the nature of reality in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were attempts to justify it philosophically, and those attempts were challenged.

    But no one seriously does that anymore, do they? The stunning results of natural science -- and, more than anything, the amazing success of science-based technology -- are such that, yes, science really does justify itself.

    If a Muslim gets sick, he may pray to Allah; if a Hindu gets sick, she may pray to Vishnu or Shiva.

    But they all believe in antibiotics.

    As a simple matter of fact, yes, science has justified itself.

    You said, "I’m not engaged with epistemology and metaphysics," and you correctly picked up that that was what I was really referring to. Especially with regard to metaphysics, no one really takes philosophy seriously nowadays in the way they do science.

    You also said, "I’m more engaged in politics and ethics." I'll grant you that philosophical ways of thinking and arguing are a bit more relevant there.

    But even in politics and ethics, I think that even thoughtful people pay more attention to economics, history, and common sense than to the musings of philosophers. How many people really had their views on politics or ethics changed by John Rawls? I hope the number is very small, since the logic of his thinking is totalitarian!

    And indeed Aristotle pointed out that whether a man behaves ethically or not depends less on his philosophical studies than on how his upbringing and experience developed his character. That is pretty clearly true.

    Again, lots of philosophers are thoughtful people with high IQs, and intelligent people who think about things will sometimes come up with interesting things to say. The same is true for bright journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    But taken as a while, it is really hard, I think, to seriously claim that philosophy has advanced our understanding aside from the fact that some individual philosophers have occasionally had something interesting to say, just as is true of some individual journalists, historians, novelists, etc.

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I'm still waiting.

    Replies: @Dube

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I’m still waiting.

    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don’t want to waste their time. So, you do the work; it’s pretty easy. Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.

    • Replies: @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don’t want to waste their time.
     
    Oh no, they have tried to give answers, but in the end it became clear that their answers did not meet what I had asked for: for example, they sometimes pointed out that most philosophers agree that some long-dead philosopher was wrong. True enough, but that is why I always carefully ask for "positive" results rather than negative ones.

    The success of physics, after all, does not consist primarily of the fact that we can all agree on the negative proposition that Aristotle's physics was wildly wrong. We have a whole string of positive results -- from Galileo's discover of the uniform acceleration of gravity to Einstein's discovery of relativity -- that pretty much all physicists agree are true and that are certainly highly surprising, positive results.

    There's just nothing like that in philosophy, as I think you know.

    But if you disagree, you yourself can easily prove I am wrong by giving an example. Unless, of course, you have a chip on your shoulder.

    Let's be serious: everyone knows there is no positive answer to the question I have posed. You and I have both read a lot of philosophy: if there were a positive answer, it would have been pretty obvious. And philosophers would have a strong incentive to publicize it from the rooftops!

    Dube also wrote to me:

    Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.
     
    You seem to be assuming that "evaluation" is necessarily part of philosophy? You can define terms that way if you wish, but it is not how the word "philosophy" is usually used.

    You also seem to think that Thales and Democritus have something to do with modern science.

    Sorry, but I do not think you will find their views taught as being true in any modern physical science textbook.

    Ancient atomic theory has pretty much nothing to do with modern science: for example, modern atomic theory hinges on the existence of dozens of different chemical elements, not to mention the internal structure of atoms. Thales' and Democritus' did not.

    Replies: @nebulafox

  80. @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?
     
    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.


    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”
     
    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

     

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that causes point to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser’s work, I may just be telling you things you’ve already heard before.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave, @PhysicistDave

    Ian M. wrote to me:

    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise

    Well, it could not have arisen in the current form, since the current form — the so-called mind-body problem — hinges on the fact that we have physical laws that we understand pretty well that explain how the body (e.g., neurons in the brain) work, but no one has been able to explain how, from these physical facts about the brain, consciousness arises.

    I.e., the current form of the mind-body problem could only arise with the rise of physics.

    Descartes had a sense of a mechanistic physics, so that he could see the mind-body problem, even though of course he did not know all of modern physics.

    Nonetheless, if you had asked Plato or Augustine how consciousness arose from the dead matter (food, air, and water) that ultimately came to compose the human body, I think they would have grasped that there was a real question here. Of course, Augustine at least did think that question did require a non-physical answer.

    I have discussed the mind-body problem with Feser, who does seem to agree with me basically on that issue.

    Ian also wrote:

    When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality.

    That is not what people (or Aristotle) usually mean by final causality: what you are describing is efficient causality.

    The idea of final causality is usually illustrated by the idea that stones fall downwards because they are trying to achieve their natural end state of being as low as possible. The opposite for fire moving upwards.

    No physicist would of course agree with either of those two examples. In fact, I know of no example within physical science where physicists accept final causality.

    It’s hard to explain final causality to modern people because, at least as applied to inanimate nature, it is so alien to modern science.

    Final causality does seem more natural to many modern people who are not trained in science when applied to living organisms: it seems to many non-scientists that an acorn is somehow trying to reach its final state of becoming an oak tree or that plants grow upwards trying to reach the sun. But that is not how modern biology views such matters: the atoms in the acorn are simply banging into each other, bonding with each other, etc. according to blind mechanistic laws with no goal in sight. It is ultimately just random chance and mechanistic processes — random mutation and passing on of mutations via natural selection — that cause acorns to become oak trees.

    Most modern people can accept that stones do not fall downwards (and fire move upwards) because they are trying to achieve their final state.

    But it is harder for most non-scientists to grasp that the growth of an acorn is just as mechanistic. But that is in fact the view of modern biology.

    Ian also wrote:

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    Well, you may not be able to see how we can avoid doing that, but we simply do not. Look at any modern textbook in physical science used in top 30 universities and you simply will not find any appeal or mention to teleology.

    You may think it is secretly there, somehow, just as I may secretly claim that you are really a materialist atheist.

    But if there is no evidence that you are a materialist atheist and if you strongly deny that you are… well, then probably you are not.

    The same applies to physical scientists: if we never appeal to teleology and in fact make clear that we do not do so, probably we are not doing so.

    By the way, guys like Ed Feser (not to mention a huge number of historians of philosophy and science!) are well aware that modern physical scientists avoid teleological explanations, which is why Feser et al. have to go to a good deal of effort to argue that such explanations are appropriate, even though that is not the perspective of physical scientists.

    I do not know of any physical scientist who thinks Feser et al. have succeeded.

    If physical scientists were in fact constantly appealing to teleological explanations, Feser et al. could simply say: look at page 3-10, 5-7, etc. of the Feynman lectures or chapter 7 of Halliday and Resnick or chapter 10 of Karplus and Porter, or pp. 100-110 of Kittel, etc.

    But Feser et al. do not do that, because there are no such examples.

    Sorry, but there just are not.

  81. @Dube
    And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    Faith in philosophy? Surely you are not joking.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Dube wrote to me:

    [Dave] And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    [Dube] Faith in philosophy? Surely you are not joking.

    Nope, not joking.

    I myself don’t have faith in science because I do not need to: I actually know an enormous amount about how and why science works.

    For example, what is the compelling evidence that Copernicus was right and why did he himself think he was right without that compelling evidence? I have known the answer for a very long time, but I have found that almost no non-scientists know the answer.

    Most non-scientists simply have faith in science, more faith than they actually have in religion.

    And that is a rational faith: faith in science is almost always vindicated when that faith is invested in cell phones, antibiotics, jet aircraft, and so much more. But as everyone knows, faith in religion is often not vindicated: God or Allah or Vishnu or whoever very often does not answer prayers.

    The reverse of what is true for science is of course true for philosophy: even philosophers themselves exhibit little confidence that philosophy delivers the goods in telling us truths about reality.

    All philosophy really delivers is a steady paycheck — and that only to those philosophers who manage to get tenure.

    I know it’s considered a bit gauche to be blunt about all this, but the truth is that the Ayatollahs may claim to have faith in Allah, but they most assuredly do have faith in nuclear physics!

    • Replies: @nebulafox
    @PhysicistDave

    As you probably already know, Iran already had a nuclear program-they were pioneers in the developing world in training female scientists by the 1970s, FWIW-under the Shah. The ideological madness of the 1980s exacerbated by the war with Iraq ruined everything, and as had been the case before, the US was a prime beneficiary of the fleeing scientists and engineers.

    That said, 30 years have passed since then, so it shouldn't shock anybody that Iran's managed to rebuild their ability to train and put native scientists to work again. It's not quite the same with Iranian mothers worried that little Abbas might one day get "invited" to work on the nuclear program and will get picked off by MOSSAD if he's not discreetly shipped to Caltech and stays in the US.

    >I know it’s considered a bit gauche to be blunt about all this, but the truth is that the Ayatollahs may claim to have faith in Allah, but they most assuredly do have faith in nuclear physics!

    I don't claim to know this for sure, since I don't speak Farsi and my knowledge of Iran is limited. But my guess is that the mullahs take the "Salam" line and point out that exploring the universe and seeing the natural beauty behind it is the ultimate religious experience. :)

    Scientists are human beings like everyone else: they want a normal life with stability and order, which in their case, is dedicated to their research. As a result plain 'ol authoritarian regimes don't generally have a problem getting STEM production: the latter day USSR and its satellite states didn't, 1980s East Asian right-wing developmentarian dictatorships didn't, and neither does modern day China or Vietnam. (Pre-1933 and especially pre-1919 Germany wasn't exactly a paragon of republican virtue, if not outright authoritarian, and they won more Nobel Prizes in science than the rest of the world *combined*.) They might be at risk of losing people more than a genuinely free society, but they can still produce.

    Where things run into issues is when state ideology tries to directly contradict empirical reality, with the arrogant assumption that they and they alone have The Truth, and the regime is totalitarian-i.e, it doesn't settle for mere compliance, and demands true belief. Given recent events ("Official Disinformation Board", or whatever the hens in the White House want to call it) combined with the ideology of our elites, I think American really need to be concerned with our own country rather than other ones.

  82. @Dube
    @PhysicistDave

    I have actually asked a number of professional philosophers the question I asked you: can you give any examples at all of “progress” in philosophy on positive, significant matters of substance about which the vast majority of philosophers over an extended period of time (say well over a century) have come to agree?

    Not one has been able to come up with a plausible answer.

    I’m still waiting.

    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don't want to waste their time. So, you do the work; it's pretty easy. Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    Dube wrote to me:

    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don’t want to waste their time.

    Oh no, they have tried to give answers, but in the end it became clear that their answers did not meet what I had asked for: for example, they sometimes pointed out that most philosophers agree that some long-dead philosopher was wrong. True enough, but that is why I always carefully ask for “positive” results rather than negative ones.

    The success of physics, after all, does not consist primarily of the fact that we can all agree on the negative proposition that Aristotle’s physics was wildly wrong. We have a whole string of positive results — from Galileo’s discover of the uniform acceleration of gravity to Einstein’s discovery of relativity — that pretty much all physicists agree are true and that are certainly highly surprising, positive results.

    There’s just nothing like that in philosophy, as I think you know.

    But if you disagree, you yourself can easily prove I am wrong by giving an example. Unless, of course, you have a chip on your shoulder.

    Let’s be serious: everyone knows there is no positive answer to the question I have posed. You and I have both read a lot of philosophy: if there were a positive answer, it would have been pretty obvious. And philosophers would have a strong incentive to publicize it from the rooftops!

    Dube also wrote to me:

    Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.

    You seem to be assuming that “evaluation” is necessarily part of philosophy? You can define terms that way if you wish, but it is not how the word “philosophy” is usually used.

    You also seem to think that Thales and Democritus have something to do with modern science.

    Sorry, but I do not think you will find their views taught as being true in any modern physical science textbook.

    Ancient atomic theory has pretty much nothing to do with modern science: for example, modern atomic theory hinges on the existence of dozens of different chemical elements, not to mention the internal structure of atoms. Thales’ and Democritus’ did not.

    • Replies: @nebulafox
    @PhysicistDave

    People noticed that the experiments didn't line up with the theory and took actions. Not just with atomic theory and QM: special relativity came out of the intellectual revolution surrounding electricity and magnetism in the 1800s. Einstein's focus on that revolved around reconciling that to mechanics. The way I see it, the beginning of modern science was people like Galileo, Copernicus, etc being willing to challenge men like Aristotle. Proving that he and the ancients were fallible, could be wrong: that was what led to the scientific boom.

    But what if the willingness to do so never existed?

    Aristotle's significance in science isn't scientific: it was philosophical. Aristotle's physics was massively wrong and have nothing to do with modern science. But he *was* going out there and doing experiments in the first place. It can be taken for granted in the modern era how significant this was. Instead of waxing philosophic about what justice was abstractly or trusting everything to the gods, he went out to the frog pond, took notes, and came up with his own ideas. They might have been wrong ideas. But they were ideas taken from empirical experience.

    After the 4th Century BC, you didn't see much of that anymore. Mankind became more and more preoccupied with the soul, with abstractions. It wasn't until the 13th Century or so that this began to slowly change, and it took a few more centuries after that for things to consistently shift from focusing on internal subjects-morality, the soul, etc-to the external world surrounding us. Of course, humankind continued to progress in other areas, including engineering, but raw scientific exploration wasn't in fashion anymore. And it wouldn't be again for almost 2000 years. I suppose Aristotle does deserve his due if only for the fact that he helped give people the idea that they could do their own experiments, and to trust that over authority or metaphysics. And that fundamental challenge which would, in the end, overthrow his physics was probably the best decision humanity has ever made. It's like a long lost coach encouraging you to get back to training and eventually kick his ass with superior techniques and skill that you learned yourself, I guess.

    For better and for worse (mass literacy meant people focused on topics most familiar to them, aka, religion, and well... Protestantism and the wars surrounding it. The fact that the Islamic World is at a similar stage with mass literacy and easily printable books is telling.), this coincided with the printing press, the most significant communications tool until the Internet.

  83. @Ian M.
    @PhysicistDave


    Do the three people you mentioned seriously advocate for teleological causation in nature or, most importantly, for the substance/accidents framework?
     
    I couldn’t say for certain: I mentioned those three simply because they are widely regarded as taking a Neo-Aristotelian approach to metaphysics and/or philosophy of nature, but I am not personally well-enough acquainted with their work to say with confidence. Ellis and Cartwright at least seem to be proponents of ‘essentialism’ (Ellis is the author of The Philosophy of Nature: A Guide to the New Essentialism), which would seem to be closely related to the concept of substance. Cartwright, from what I can tell, seems to have a teleological view of nature.


    Socrates and Plato, not to mention the neo-Platonists and Fathers of the Church, were certainly interested in the question of the “soul.” Aristotle perhaps not so much.

    And I think it is fair to say that their musings bear a family resemblance to the “problem of consciousness.”
     
    Yes indeed, Plato and Aristotle and the traditions they inaugurated certainly were interested in the question of the soul. But for these traditions, the characteristic feature of the human soul was that it was rational, not that it was conscious (after all, lower animals exhibited consciousness as well, so consciousness could not be the mark of the human). The ancient and medieval traditions (I am oversimplifying: obviously there were dissenting traditions as well) had a much richer conception of matter compared to the modern conception that included qualitative aspects as well as quantitative aspects. Consciousness was therefore assimilated to matter, and so the ‘problem of consciousness’ – how a separate conscious substance interacted with an inert material substance – did not arise.

    Well, from the perspective of modern biology, to say that the “purpose”of the heart is to pump blood is a bit like saying that the sun “rises” and “sets” — convenient but somewhat inaccurate ways of describing what is happening.

    Properly, we should say that the heart evolved through random mutations and those particular mutations got passed on which made it somewhat more likely that the organisms with those mutations survived.

    Yeah, the heart does pump blood, but no real “purpose” involved. There is no final causality here: just plain old efficient causality — random chance and differential reproduction.

     

    This analysis seems to presuppose a particular metaphysical interpretation, but one that is not set by the physical facts themselves.

    I don’t see how the evolutionary history of how the heart came to be is relevant. We can know what its function is irrespective of how it came to be. But even if one were to deny that the heart exhibits irreducible teleology, at some level – say at the level of fundamental particles – one will have to appeal to teleology, at least implicitly, to make sense of the connection between cause and effect that give rise to the regularities we see in nature.

    You say that no physicist uses the concept of final causality in his work. Sure, but just because they don’t use that term doesn’t mean they don’t help themselves to the idea. I don’t see how physics could even get off the ground if one were to deny the concept of final causality: the very idea of efficient causality presupposes that final causality exists. When we say that such-and-such an effect will occur when such-and-such conditions obtain, we are appealing to final causality. Prediction in physics could only succeed if some sort of final causality exists. Even if physicists deny that things have essences and instead appeal to basic laws or what have you, these laws will have to exhibit final causality for them to be intelligible at all. If this were not so, the relation between cause and effect would be unintelligible: a given cause could have any effect whatsoever. But this is not how scientists treat cause and effect.

    This is why we can say with confidence that a magnetic north pole will repel another magnetic north pole rather than it being totally up in the air what will happen: sometimes repel, sometimes attract, sometimes turns into a turnip, who can say? All final causality says is that causes point to a certain effect or range of effects.

    We can of course take a Humean route and deny that there is any real connection between cause and effect, but at the expense of also having to give up on the intelligibility of the world.

    At any rate though, given that you appear to be familiar with Feser’s work, I may just be telling you things you’ve already heard before.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave, @PhysicistDave

    Ian, here is a post by Feser that covers some of the issues we are discussing: you will see that I participated in the comments section, and that Ed and I partially agreed. I.e., Ed accepts that modern physics is mechanistic and non-teleological, and he and I agree that the approach of modern physics is not sufficient to account for all of reality. We disagree about biology, and, of course, he is a theist and I am not.

    You’ll also see why I think Ed is an okay guy.

  84. @John Pepple
    @PhysicistDave


    There are still philosophers today who try to resurrect the Aristotelian approach to nature.
     
    Who is it you are thinking of here? I read somewhere that in the early nineteenth century, universities in Austria were still clinging to the old Aristotelian physics, but that was two hundred years ago.

    Replies: @PhysicistDave

    John, sorry for the delay in replying.

    Of course, no one today is trying to revive Aristotelian physics as such.

    But Oderberg, Feser, et al. would like to revive Aristotelianism in a broader sense as a philosophy of nature.

    See my exchanges with Ian M. above for further discussions of this and a link to a relevant post by Feser a few years ago on his blog.

    Feser does grasp the basic issues, though I think his attempt to revive an Aristotelian philosophy of nature fails.

  85. @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    Perhaps they see that big chip on your shoulder and don’t want to waste their time.
     
    Oh no, they have tried to give answers, but in the end it became clear that their answers did not meet what I had asked for: for example, they sometimes pointed out that most philosophers agree that some long-dead philosopher was wrong. True enough, but that is why I always carefully ask for "positive" results rather than negative ones.

    The success of physics, after all, does not consist primarily of the fact that we can all agree on the negative proposition that Aristotle's physics was wildly wrong. We have a whole string of positive results -- from Galileo's discover of the uniform acceleration of gravity to Einstein's discovery of relativity -- that pretty much all physicists agree are true and that are certainly highly surprising, positive results.

    There's just nothing like that in philosophy, as I think you know.

    But if you disagree, you yourself can easily prove I am wrong by giving an example. Unless, of course, you have a chip on your shoulder.

    Let's be serious: everyone knows there is no positive answer to the question I have posed. You and I have both read a lot of philosophy: if there were a positive answer, it would have been pretty obvious. And philosophers would have a strong incentive to publicize it from the rooftops!

    Dube also wrote to me:

    Account for the development of atomic theory from Thales to Democritus, without evaluation.
     
    You seem to be assuming that "evaluation" is necessarily part of philosophy? You can define terms that way if you wish, but it is not how the word "philosophy" is usually used.

    You also seem to think that Thales and Democritus have something to do with modern science.

    Sorry, but I do not think you will find their views taught as being true in any modern physical science textbook.

    Ancient atomic theory has pretty much nothing to do with modern science: for example, modern atomic theory hinges on the existence of dozens of different chemical elements, not to mention the internal structure of atoms. Thales' and Democritus' did not.

    Replies: @nebulafox

    People noticed that the experiments didn’t line up with the theory and took actions. Not just with atomic theory and QM: special relativity came out of the intellectual revolution surrounding electricity and magnetism in the 1800s. Einstein’s focus on that revolved around reconciling that to mechanics. The way I see it, the beginning of modern science was people like Galileo, Copernicus, etc being willing to challenge men like Aristotle. Proving that he and the ancients were fallible, could be wrong: that was what led to the scientific boom.

    But what if the willingness to do so never existed?

    Aristotle’s significance in science isn’t scientific: it was philosophical. Aristotle’s physics was massively wrong and have nothing to do with modern science. But he *was* going out there and doing experiments in the first place. It can be taken for granted in the modern era how significant this was. Instead of waxing philosophic about what justice was abstractly or trusting everything to the gods, he went out to the frog pond, took notes, and came up with his own ideas. They might have been wrong ideas. But they were ideas taken from empirical experience.

    After the 4th Century BC, you didn’t see much of that anymore. Mankind became more and more preoccupied with the soul, with abstractions. It wasn’t until the 13th Century or so that this began to slowly change, and it took a few more centuries after that for things to consistently shift from focusing on internal subjects-morality, the soul, etc-to the external world surrounding us. Of course, humankind continued to progress in other areas, including engineering, but raw scientific exploration wasn’t in fashion anymore. And it wouldn’t be again for almost 2000 years. I suppose Aristotle does deserve his due if only for the fact that he helped give people the idea that they could do their own experiments, and to trust that over authority or metaphysics. And that fundamental challenge which would, in the end, overthrow his physics was probably the best decision humanity has ever made. It’s like a long lost coach encouraging you to get back to training and eventually kick his ass with superior techniques and skill that you learned yourself, I guess.

    For better and for worse (mass literacy meant people focused on topics most familiar to them, aka, religion, and well… Protestantism and the wars surrounding it. The fact that the Islamic World is at a similar stage with mass literacy and easily printable books is telling.), this coincided with the printing press, the most significant communications tool until the Internet.

    • Agree: PhysicistDave
  86. @PhysicistDave
    @Dube

    Dube wrote to me:


    [Dave] And no one at all has the same level of faith in philosophy.

    [Dube] Faith in philosophy? Surely you are not joking.
     
    Nope, not joking.

    I myself don't have faith in science because I do not need to: I actually know an enormous amount about how and why science works.

    For example, what is the compelling evidence that Copernicus was right and why did he himself think he was right without that compelling evidence? I have known the answer for a very long time, but I have found that almost no non-scientists know the answer.

    Most non-scientists simply have faith in science, more faith than they actually have in religion.

    And that is a rational faith: faith in science is almost always vindicated when that faith is invested in cell phones, antibiotics, jet aircraft, and so much more. But as everyone knows, faith in religion is often not vindicated: God or Allah or Vishnu or whoever very often does not answer prayers.

    The reverse of what is true for science is of course true for philosophy: even philosophers themselves exhibit little confidence that philosophy delivers the goods in telling us truths about reality.

    All philosophy really delivers is a steady paycheck -- and that only to those philosophers who manage to get tenure.

    I know it's considered a bit gauche to be blunt about all this, but the truth is that the Ayatollahs may claim to have faith in Allah, but they most assuredly do have faith in nuclear physics!

    Replies: @nebulafox

    As you probably already know, Iran already had a nuclear program-they were pioneers in the developing world in training female scientists by the 1970s, FWIW-under the Shah. The ideological madness of the 1980s exacerbated by the war with Iraq ruined everything, and as had been the case before, the US was a prime beneficiary of the fleeing scientists and engineers.

    That said, 30 years have passed since then, so it shouldn’t shock anybody that Iran’s managed to rebuild their ability to train and put native scientists to work again. It’s not quite the same with Iranian mothers worried that little Abbas might one day get “invited” to work on the nuclear program and will get picked off by MOSSAD if he’s not discreetly shipped to Caltech and stays in the US.

    >I know it’s considered a bit gauche to be blunt about all this, but the truth is that the Ayatollahs may claim to have faith in Allah, but they most assuredly do have faith in nuclear physics!

    I don’t claim to know this for sure, since I don’t speak Farsi and my knowledge of Iran is limited. But my guess is that the mullahs take the “Salam” line and point out that exploring the universe and seeing the natural beauty behind it is the ultimate religious experience. 🙂

    Scientists are human beings like everyone else: they want a normal life with stability and order, which in their case, is dedicated to their research. As a result plain ‘ol authoritarian regimes don’t generally have a problem getting STEM production: the latter day USSR and its satellite states didn’t, 1980s East Asian right-wing developmentarian dictatorships didn’t, and neither does modern day China or Vietnam. (Pre-1933 and especially pre-1919 Germany wasn’t exactly a paragon of republican virtue, if not outright authoritarian, and they won more Nobel Prizes in science than the rest of the world *combined*.) They might be at risk of losing people more than a genuinely free society, but they can still produce.

    Where things run into issues is when state ideology tries to directly contradict empirical reality, with the arrogant assumption that they and they alone have The Truth, and the regime is totalitarian-i.e, it doesn’t settle for mere compliance, and demands true belief. Given recent events (“Official Disinformation Board”, or whatever the hens in the White House want to call it) combined with the ideology of our elites, I think American really need to be concerned with our own country rather than other ones.

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