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Monday, November 26, 2018

On Philosophy and Science

Here’s a message that I received from Prof. Douglas B. Rasmussen regarding the nature of philosophy and the difference between philosophy and science:

Philosophy is the attempt to know the fundamental nature of things. It proceeds by the use of common experience (as contrasted to special experience, e.g., a laboratory experiment) and reason (where reason is understood broadly to involve the ability to conceptualize, formulate propositions, and present arguments, theories, hypotheses). Philosophy can be motivated by religious faith, but it does not appeal to faith.

Philosophical inquiry is concerned with questions that require conceptual clarification—what do you mean by X?—and questions that are highly general or abstract and also most basic or foundational—questions not like what is a physical thing, but what is to be a thing or what is it to be. These questions require that one offer an explanation or why—mere assertions will not suffice. Yet, this does not mean that all knowing is discursive or that there may not be self-evident truths that are presupposed by their denials and are themselves directly known—e.g., the principle of non-contradiction. The fundamental areas of philosophy are:

Ontology or metaphysics—what does it mean to be and what are the ultimate kind of beings.

Epistemology—what is it to know? What are the basic ways of knowing?

Ethics—what is inherently good and what ought I to do?

Political Philosophy—what is the purpose of the political legal order and what distinguishes de facto political/legal power from legitimate power?

Aesthetics—what is an aesthetic object? What is beauty? What is the relation of art to other human endeavors?

There can also be philosophy of X—where you examine the fundamental subject matter and methods of particular intellectual disciplines or human activities. For example, philosophy of language, economics, mind. There is also philosophy of human nature, which may be the most important to us:  Who am I, what am I, and what am I for?

The distinction between philosophy and the science ultimately rests on the idea that philosophy proceeds from common experience, ordinary sense perception, and not experience that is arranged by an experiment. There can be general principles of what can be called philosophy of nature that is based just on common experience.  Science gets more involved with the how, and particular measurements.

A philosopher will examine the so-called distinction between the empirical and the conceptual or the perceptual and rational. As an Aristotelian, I do not think they can be neatly divided. This is not unrelated to the analytic-synthetic distinction. I discuss this in some of articles of mine.

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