“Philosophy is dead”…REALLY???

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by Kenneth Justice

~ I’ve definitely struck a chord with my recent articles about science and fundamentalism, the coffee house has been buzzing with conversation about how crazy it is that I would dare question the New Scientists, “Kenneth, you’re not a scientist!” said a dude at coffee yesterday, “You have no right to question the authority of men like Dawkins and Krauss!”

Apparently, I’ve offended the gods of science by suggesting there is a greater meaning to your life and mine. Silly me, I wouldn’t want to offend anyone, so in a grand act of contrition last night I watched an episode of Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design, after all, what better way to demonstrate my remorse than to watch a TV show produced by one of the biggest New Scientists of all; STEPHEN F***ING HAWKING!!!!

So there I was, chilling out in my study, surrounded by 4000 philosophical books in my private collection and not four minutes into the show Godfather Hawking says emphatically, “Philosophy is dead!

What? I thought I heard wrong, perhaps my ears were still ringing from the slew of nasty emails I’d received over the past couple weeks from readers who became offended when I suggested the New Scientists weren’t really practicing good science at all…….so I clicked <REWIND> on my ROKU (and if you don’t have a ROKU I highly recommend this snazzy little device for watching Internet shows on your television) and sure as I have a male organ below my belt I heard Godfather Hawking say it again, “Philosophy is dead”.

According to Godfather Hawking “philosophy is dead” because science has replaced it as the main source of information in the universe. Who needs philosophical theorems like the Law of Non-Contradiction when we can instead listen to men like Richard Dawkins and Godfather Hawking tell us our lives have no meaning and there is no purpose to the universe.

The New Scientists are just like Captain James T. Kirk; they’ve boldly gone to a place nobody has ever gone before; not only do they have the audacity to tells us that our lives have no meaning, now they are telling us that philosophy is dead.

Dammit! I wish I had gotten the memo that philosophy is dead before I forked over my tuition payment for this semester. Stupid ole’ me, here I am working on my graduate degree in philosophy and I wasn’t even aware of the fact that philosophy is dead. So if it’s dead, perhaps I must love dead things? Maybe I should consider getting a job at the morgue where I can really work with dead dudes.

Of course, I don’t want to anger the gods of science again, I’ve done enough of that last week, one reader called my writings, “dribble” another reader said I am an “asshole”, and after reading both of their nasty emails it dawned on me that sometimes dribble comes from asshole’s so perhaps these readers are suggesting my writing is something that comes out of a rear end?

And speaking of diarrhea, if four out of five people suffer from diarrhea does that mean the fifth person enjoys it?

Well, the New Scientists are an interesting lot; philosophy is dead, your life is meaningless, you are insignificant. Wow, for a bunch of cosmological nerdy dudes the New Scientists sound a lot like crazy philosophers rather than scientific academics. I wonder what the Klingons would have thought of Captain Kirk if he had shown up and told them their lives were meaningless…….I’m thinking it wouldn’t have fared very well for Kirk, and it sure as hell didn’t fare very well for the Klingons; they looked human when Kirk met them but holy hell when Picard showed up on the scene they suddenly looked like their faces were run over with a lawn mower!

Okay, I need to finish this coffee before it cools down, and just because I’m feeling a little edgy this morning I’m going to say something that will surely piss off the New Scientists; dear reader, there is a purpose to your life so live it to the best of your ability.

Kenneth



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68 replies

  1. “So if it’s dead, perhaps I must love dead things?” I love dead things too. Latin is a dead language, and I studied it throughout high school up to AP Latin. You are in good company! 😉 P.S. I do not believe philosophy is dead, hence half of my blog posts. 😀

  2. Oh, I love the heavy-dripping sarcasm! 😀

  3. I’m studying Ancient and Medieval Philosophy right now, as well as the Philosophy of Aesthetics…. All the great minds (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Anselm, etc) would have wept. Saying that Philosophy is dead removes any impotus to actually use our minds… Hawking’s comment really does show what we’re working with at this point in the game.

    • Thewisetent, essentially Hawking is preaching his own philosophy but denying it! He wants to convince the reader/listener that science trumps philosophy, but really he’s just spreading his own personal philosophy

  4. Oh don’t worry, The New Scientists live in Philosophy land as well. Dawkins’ more reasonable ally in the axis of atheists,,Daniel Dennett, is there to defend the love of ideas. He is a good read and has a much better demeanor (and reminds you of your kind old grandfather).

  5. Science is the latest sacred cow. They are just allowed to wander everywhere and shit on anything.

  6. What does philosophy say about this question: “Does life has meaning only for humans?”

  7. The scientific method has some clay feet of its own. I thought you might be interested in this article, if you haven’t seen it: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off

    • Carl, that was an awesome article, I read every single sentence. It’s been a number of similar articles like this one that you’ve shared, which I’ve been reading over the course of the past year; and its why I abandoned the fields of psychology. There I was about to start a PhD program which had everything to do with giving people prescription drugs and I was faced with the reality that all these drugs we give people may not be a good thing, and they are supported by research studies which are sketch at best……. and now here I am working in philosophy and hoping to start my PhD in philosophy next year. I think it was a good decision on my part.

  8. “You have no right to question the authority of men like Dawkins and Krauss!”

    When a scientist is viewed as an authority that cannot be questioned, we know that a new religion has started. Atheists like me won’t make a god out of these men.

    “According to Godfather Hawking “philosophy is dead” because science has replaced it as the main source of information in the universe”

    Philosophy is the questions we ask that cause us to look for information.

    “And speaking of diarrhea, if four out of five people suffer from diarrhea does that mean the fifth person enjoys it?”

    This question is scientific proof that philosophy is not dead!

  9. I admit, your blogs against science bugged me a bit because they sounded so much like what we hear from religious fundamentalists. That doesn’t make you right or wrong, but I do think it may cause people to react without thinking. I don’t hear you saying science is a shame, the big bang never happened, dinosaur bones were put in the earth by the devil to fool us or any of the other things I hear religious fundamentalists go on about. I hear you saying a scientist gives us facts but these “fundamentalist scientists” are giving us facts with their opinion on what we should think about those facts.

    I am not a scientist, but the more I watch Cosmos, explore scientific discoveries and look at how the world works, the more I am convinced there is a great spiritual power at work. Maybe that what religions around the world are attempting to honor.atter cannot be created or destroyed. So, either something appeared from nothing or something always was. And if the only thing that always was was a giant rock before the big bang, then maybe that is god. Maybe that has spiritual essence. That is everywhere, in everyone and to that rock we will return when we die. If the theories about the universe contracting are correct, perhaps there is a point in our distant future where all that is will return to that rock. Sure seems like a spiritual idea to me, but also a scientific one.

  10. Thanks for the morning smiles!

  11. Life has beautiful meaning, in fact it’s like the best love story ever written. Some people don’t even believe in love, they try to reduce it to nothing more than little bits of oxytocin in your brain. That’s kind of sad.

    Speaking of having a love for dead things, zombies and vampires are all the rage right now. I think that’s a bit like a peek into the human subconscious. We seem to be going through a necrophilia phase, trying to animate and love dead things, as if they offer something superior to the vast mystery and magic of life. It’s kind of creepy.

    As we enter the age of technology and artificial intelligence, I think our philosophers are going to become vitally important. Even Steven Hawking recently had a bit of an anxiety attack over the thought of AI, like, wait a minute, have we really thought this through??

    • “life has beautiful meaning” agreed!

      “I think our philosophers are going to become vitally important”

      Agreed! And if we’re honest; much of what Hawking is proselytizing is nothing more than his own personal philosophy

  12. Actually in talking to the philosophy professors here at the university they would agree with Hawking. I didn’t see the show, but I imagine what he is talking about is the “new philosophy” rather than “new science” as you call it. As I am sure you know, philosophers historically were actually on the leading edge of scientific research. A person who was a philosopher was expected to be on the forefront of knowledge in fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and natural sciences. This is no longer the case in many philosophy programs at many universities. In the old days a philosopher was probably the smartest person alive. There is a reason why Ph.D.’s stand for Doctor of Philosophy. Many philosophy degrees nowadays don’t emphasize the importance of science, logic, mathematics which are all fundamental to critically thinking about the bigger questions in life and answering questions that are on the forefront of many academic disciplines. The philosophy professors here would say that philosophy is the single most important academic discipline out there, but that as a profession it is dead, because many programs that even produce Ph.D.’s in philosophy are not on the leading edge of anything because they have gone through an education that hasn’t emphasized the scientific side, only the humanities side.

    • Philosophy is the only place to learn critical thinking. You get taught scientific method in science, which means blindly following methodologies and ignoring your instincts and own intuition of truth. I studied sociology and philosophy. To get good marks in the former you show knowledge and application of accepted methods, in the latter you need to show an ability to think independently and critically. This applies now as ever. Positivism tried to kill philosophy in the early 20th century and failed. I read Hawking and see in his philosophy a poorly thought through infantile thing. This is reality, stop worshipping experts and public figures and get a mind of your own, then you can talk to me about philosophy

    • Um…I don’t worship experts. Straw man fallacy? Ad hominem? I don’t even know you and yet you are attacking my intelligence. I am extremely well educated, have a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Scince, and spend a lot of time discussing and reading about philosophy. As I said, the views expressed in this blog and apparently the views you express directly differ with some pretty intelligent philosophy professors at my university. “Intuition of truth”? I don’t even know what that means. I am a determinist and I arrived at this conclusion by studying indeterminism, compatibilism and other schools of thought before reasoning what made the most sense. And sure maybe I’m incorrect but for you to get on here and to make accusations about what I know or don’t know is actually pretty ignorant and to be quite honest sort of proves my point. For that I thank you. So maybe you should take a different approach before you engage someone whose opinion differs from yours. Just because you disagree with experts doesn’t mean you necessarily have a mind of your own. It could also be because you aren’t very bright.

    • Swarn, Much of Hawking’s show was entirely philosophical and not scientific; he was postulating his own ideas and presenting them as though they were fact, that concerns me.

      Carl shared a link which I fully endorse and perhaps would shed light on where I’m coming from, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/13/the-truth-wears-off, I’m getting the vibe that you may be mischaracterizing my position, perhaps I’m wrong, but that link should demonstrate the “scientific” perspective I’m coming from.

      Cheers,

      Kenneth

    • Thank you for the article. I don’t dispute what is said in it at all. But there is a difference between physics and biology or any academic field that tries to do studies on life or living subjects. Life evolves and changes. As we are a function of our society, education, culture which slowly shift over time it is not surprising that even the way the brain perceives things would change from generation to generation. But there is a reason no one has overthrown the first and second law of thermodynamics for over 200 years. Gases expand when heated, this is a repeatable reliable result. Philosophers used to lead the charge in explaining physics, now this is no longer the case. I guess, since Hawking is a physicist, I assumed that this is what he was referring to in his comments about philosophy. But perhaps I am wrong. But measuring the effectiveness of a drug on the human system is a very different thing then explain why light does what it does.

    • Perhaps more accurate way of saying it, then, would have been “philosophy is dying” and I think the question here is whether or not it is dying at the hands of “New Science.”

    • Agreed. I am not sure what New Science is to be quite honest. To me there is only science. It can be either done correctly or incorrectly. lol

    • Professor Gill, isn’t it true that though we are able to achieve replicable results in the area of physics much more reliably than in medical sciences and the like, we are still limited in our understanding of things like the behavior of light as a result of our inability to be certain that we are aware of all variables at play – gravity, etc. While the medical sciences have the advantage of all human systems operating under relatively same conditions, physicists might be able to explain the behavior of light, but they are limited by what is observable, which might tell us little about the actual nature of light, since it exists outside of what we are able to observe. All of this is to say, that Dr. Hawking himself puts very defined limits on human knowledge – we can’t know anything outside the sequence of events precipitated by the Big Bang, etc., so as long as there are such defined limits to science, and there will always be, then there will always be a place for philosophy. The problem I think Kenneth is observing is that the appropriate confines of each field have been blurred so greatly that even Hawking himself can’t seem to identify them.

    • Sure, there is always the possibility of things that are completely unknown that may change what we think we know. But this is still different fundamentally from biology. Because as the article he linked in his response to me shows that the repeatability of results in biology are not so easy to recreate. However in physics this is often not the case. The control variables are easier to identify and the systems themselves are not dynamic and changing which is not true of life, which is constantly changes, constantly varies from individual to individual and a biological system can conceivably have simply many unknown interactions let’s say among different organ systems.

      What the article that was linked here also fails to point out is that those doctors talking about the effects of the drugs, and the scientist talking about his cognitive experiment are doing science. By seeing failings in their theorems they are understanding failings in their methodology for conducting experiments in their particular areas. Science learns and improves. Life sciences and social science will always make slower progress because of the dynamic nature of those systems, because they depend on life. Either at a biological level, or on a human interaction level.

      My point was that there was a time in which philosopher were on the leading edge of physics, mathematics, biology, as well as considering ethical and moral issues. Those scientists who are questioning the lack of repeatability of the effectiveness of anti-psychotic drugs are the ones doing the philosophizing about the nature of the experiments and how they might possibly need to change in the future. Before that was the job of the philosopher. The barometer which measures atmospheric pressure was not built to measure atmospheric pressure but was actually developed to prove the existence of a vacuum which was a philosophical debate at the time. “Could a space exists in which nothing was in it?” To answer such a question knowledge of the atmosphere, chemistry (for understanding the nature of mercury) and engineering was required. But most philosophy programs nowadays will produce a philosopher who knows little about scientific knowledge, mathematics and logic. Scientists do philosophy all the time. So I still submit that Hawking, and the philosophy professors at my university have a point in saying that philosophy as an academic area is dead, because most philosopher might be able to provide critique of science or a guide to science, but they can no longer advance science as they used to.

  13. Well maybe it is the new scientist that will never admit it was Philosophy that triggered science. The idea of maybe and wanting to find it. They may not admit it but they used the same logical step as Philosophy. Thinking what if or what could be. And if it does can we proof it.

    One cannot be without the other. And science may have taken over a lot of that kind of philosophy. What could be, the what if, the maybe so and so. And instead of talking about it they go and do try to proof it or find the answer.

    A scientist will say there is an answer for everything. And for that will keep on searching no matter how weird the theory, being it philosophical or scientific.
    One cannot live with out the other but it takes a philosopher to acknowledge the fact.

    Despite all that even a scientist does not hold truth in their hands as some calculation are still ever changing under the influence of the universe from where ever that may have started to sprout from. It is what we philosophers call life in which may lay a meaning we not know yet.

  14. I heard about this Hawking claim regarding philosophy some years back. It wasn’t even worth the effort of arguing against. It would be like having an argument with a petulant child. Let them believe what they want. It’s their own souls they are destroying and people too dumb to see through their act deserve to be duped

  15. Kenneth, even though I disagree with a generalization against science and the people that dedicate their lives to it, I can’t dismiss the incredible importance of philosophy. Science is pointless without philosophy. But, even philosophy can be hijacked by a demented mind in a charismatic body. It’s the concerto of life that we love, need, desire to hear. Never mind every note can be explained in scientific terms. Math will dissect every note. Biology will explain why we hear each note and experience emotion. Our emotions and everything we are can be broken down by chemistry to its molecular structure. Scientific explanation is meaningless without the interpretation of a thoughtful mind that incorporates this concerto into meaning that sends the emotions to a lofty height or dismal depth. It is the reflective and interpretive mind that sets the senses afire, not a postulation or theorum on the significance of man or the power of suns. Any human- scientist, philosopher, or despot, can strive to focus us on a singular purpose that only serves a self centered truth at the believer’s expense. Ignore the bastards, I say. Listen to the music, the symphony of life and sing along. There is time enough to analyze it, and question it, just don’t ignore it. Science cannot survive without philosophy in the minds of those that desire to understand their significance and to sing along in this concerto of life. Is it philosophy or science that asks the question, why do I feel this way about that or how did it come to this? Perhaps it’s neither.

  16. “And speaking of diarrhea, if four out of five people suffer from diarrhea does that mean the fifth person enjoys it?”

    Dude – you crack me up.

    Keep on writing about anything f*u*c*k*i*n*g thing you want to. That’s the meaning of life. (You notice how I used asterisks to mask the real word I was trying to say so I wouldn’t offend anyone?)

  17. “And speaking of diarrhea, if four out of five people suffer from diarrhea does that mean the fifth person enjoys it?” That’s a bit philosophical, don’t you think? 🙂

    And isn’t Hawking being at bit philosophical when he opines that philosophy is dead? (existential nihilism?)

    Of course, if philosophy includes the study of reason, values and knowledge, I can see why they want it dead. Who would want that in the way of things?

    • Exactly Mel, Hawking and Dawkins are being ENTIRELY philosophical. I’ve noticed this trend among scientists for some time and I think its time for more people to begin objecting to the lack of logic and massive contradiction in their philosophy

  18. New scientists probably thinks they can be gods which is the biggest deception

  19. I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I just wanted to say, I support you wholeheartedly on this series of blog posts!
    All due respect to Hawking and Sagan (though not Dawkins, as I have no respect for him), to say “philosophy is dead” is kinda retarded (proof that smart people can do stupid things too). Laws of logic out the window? Wait, isn’t that what EVERYTHING is based on, science included? And if they were to say, “oh, we didn’t mean THAT,” then at the VERY least, it’s as silly as saying “history is dead.” Uh, well, that’s where we came from, shouldn’t we learn from that?
    Sorry, “gods” of the “new science,” you got it wrong.

  20. this must be a “thing”of Americans, but I do not see the point of this discussion. I follow your blog because I feel I can learn from your writing , you make a very uninteresting subject interesting. Keep up the good work! At least you have critics!

    • Thank you Lucinda, well I do think the discussion is important because I think its important to be aware of where scientists are leading society

    • Ok I was a little to harsh, but I mean that we should always question scientists they are definitely not Gods. I see them as people who try to explain what is and have been already there. Being people they can be right or wrong. So….

  21. Reblogged this on cqpc and commented:
    when scientists get too smart for their own good

  22. I don’t think that’s exactly what it means:) I think not having a designated purpose and having our egos tell us how important we are…gives us freedom to be what we want to be…to go boldly where no woman or man has gone before. LOL What are we comparing our importance to? Each other? The writings of other? The ideas of others? I think we need to think for ourselves and realize that we just ARE. Philosophy is fun (do not yell at me, please) I love to play with ideas and I minored in it, but we are teeny tiny bits of stardust living on a rock, spinning through space. Maybe if we stopped thinking about how important we are (living in a closed system that is intent on killing everything because of their beliefs or lack of them) we could have more fun. I don’t understand what the big deal is. We are here, we are living, uh, what else is there? Why do we have to be, or want to be, special and meaningful. Why isn’t living enough? Seriously. We are locked in, can’t escape this planet. We are all the same, why should we be important? What does important mean? What does meaning, mean? They are ideas, thoughts of others. If everyone is special and everything has meaning then it is meaningless. If some of us are important and some of us have meaning, or more meaning than others, then what does that say about equality and fairness? The thing is…we make it all up. If we stopped playing with words and meanings then perhaps we could live together and stop killing each other over our different beliefs, philosophies and meanings. People die for those things. Doesn’t that tell you something? I don’t know…I think we just have to face the fact that we live and die and we can be friends or enemies, important or not important, life can mean something or just be life…in the end, we leave here and maybe then we will be able to see how silly we all were…fighting over words that didn’t actually change a single thing or make life better for anyone.

    Maybe we need to reinvent philosophy so that it will say something like:

    1. Life is to be lived.
    2. Life is to be enjoyed.
    3. If you find love, count yourself lucky.
    4. Be kind to everyone and everything.
    5. Respect the environment
    6. Respect yourself and others.
    7. Turn away from violence in word and deed.
    8. See the beauty that is everywhere.
    9. Embrace equality.
    10. Be gentle.
    11. Do not seek power.
    12. Do not be greedy.
    13. Rid yourself of hate.
    15. Laugh.
    16 Do not judge others
    17. Be fair in your thoughts and dealings.
    18. Help, when appropriate.
    19. Embrace your creative side.
    20. Recognize your place in the Universe
    21. Never lose your sense of wonder.
    22. Do not allow your heart to harden.
    23. Play.
    24. Stay awake.
    25. Always make up your own mind and follow your own path.
    26. Do not follow others blindly.
    27. Do not believe dogma or those who say they are leaders.
    28. Remember that your beliefs stop where the other person’s begin.
    29. Dance.
    30. Listen to Nature.

    You know, something like that.

  23. Science and philosophy are not exclusive of each other but complementary. Science deals with the physical or material, philosophy with the world of ideas and concepts that extend beyond the physical. The mistake of the last century was to believe that only the physical world and its study was valid. Now some, but not you Kenneth, want to abandon science as well. I agree completely with the premise of the blog: philosophy is not dead and science is no substitute for philosophy.

  24. Wouldn’t it depend on how one defines philosophy?

    I’m reading Josef Pieper’s “Liesure: The Basis of Culture” , and he says philosophy is studying questions that take us out of our normal engagement with the world. How can philosophy ever die?

    On the other hand, if philosophy is outdated answers, modes of thought, or the belief that introspection is enough to discover the truth, then I can understand (and agree) that philosophy is dead.

    “Philosophy” is dead; long live Philosophy!

  25. Sweet! Thanks for sticking to your guns. The truth is, we only get 80 or so years on this earth if we’re lucky, after that we’re all going to know what the reality is, Big old scientist or little old me…Whether we’re ready for it or not.

  26. I believe in science. I also believe in philosophy.. In this, I disagree with Senor HAwking

  27. You don´t do your cause any good by resorting to anger and childish name-calling. Whatever you think of Stephen Hawking, labeling him ‘Godfather’ is to lump him together with criminal organisations that murder, extort, torture and bribe. They also distribute drugs on a world-wide scale, trade arms, prostitutes and traffic in slaves. I know very well, with your deeply held Christian beliefs, you did not intend to accuse Stephen Hawking of any of these things, but you should not allow your popularity to go to your head.

    And I’m speaking as a fan of yours, but I definitely don’t like this new ‘Fox News’ turn you seem to be taking. You are able to get your message across very well without it. Criticize the message, by all means, but please don’t stoop to insulting the messenger. It doesn’t suit you. As a student of philosophy you will know what I mean. Generally, you’re doing a very good job. Don’t spoil it. All the best

  28. I’ve pondered your question on whether philosophy is dead or not, and the very fact that I have the ability to think about it, convinces me that it is alive and well and even pays me a visit, on occasion. 😉

  29. I don’t have much of an opinion on this either way because I’m not sure what topics you disagree on with the scientists you mentioned. But it may be useful to remember that science and philosophy were once one practice, for example natural philosophy, but even prior to that historically. The difference is supposed to be that science is not only philosophy but methodology, i.e., scientific method, which was largely influenced by Bacon. However, science cannot be conducted without theory or theoretical assumptions (as argued by philosophers of science like Sellars, Popper, and Churchland), so that’s philosophy.
    And much of science is theoretical, or borne of educated intuition (as in some of Einstein’s and Darwin’s ideas.) Done right, philosophy usually takes into account scientific findings too. So science and philosophy are still one practice (or should be). This is especially clear concerning topics like phenomenology (read Husserl, or today, Metzinger). But Hawking is still on to something if you understand him right. He’s saying we know a lot more now about the earth, and he thinks, the rest of the universe to replace speculation, he probably means ancient philosophy. Not to say we know everything, he recently changed his view on black holes for instance.

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