Philosophy as Astrology
A comment by hisXmark on one of my recent posts challenged the value of philosophy:
The nature of knowledge is not to be found in philosophy, it is to be found in neuroscience and psychology. All that remains of philosophy is myth and fairy tale. Like its stepchild, theology, philosophy is fantasy that has lost its function.
Unfortunately, hisXmark could not reason his/her way out of a wet paper bag, so that conversation went nowhere. I demanded a reason or argument in support of these strong claims, but got nothing of any value in response from hisXmark.
Perhaps someone might think I was being unfair in demanding an ARGUMENT to support this viewpoint. Isn’t reasoning and argument a philosophy game? If philosophy is just “myth and fairy tale” and if neuroscience and psychology have all the answers we need concerning the nature of knowledge, then shouldn’t I have asked for an EXPERIMENT or some SCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS instead of an ARGUMENT? Was I biasing the outcome by demanding that we play the game of philosophy instead of the game of science?
I don’t think it was unfair to demand an argument in support of these strong claims. First of all, scientists don’t just perform experiments and observations; they formulate REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based upon their experiments and observations. In other words, an experiment is an event, and an observation is an event, and events are not self-interpreting. Someone has to interpret these events; someone has to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for conclusions that are based on or drawn from these events.
It would, I suppose, beg the question to insist that an anti-philosophy point of view be defended or supported by a PHILOSOPHICAL argument. But I did not demand a philosophical argument, I just asked for a reason or argument of some sort, and the argument given to me looked a lot like a philosophical argument; thus, hisXmark immediately undermined his/her own anti-philosophical position by giving me a PHILOSOPHICAL argument, insisting that the argument was a GOOD argument, and concluding that philosophy was completely useless and without any merit.
Although hisXmark was unable to provide any intelligent defense of the anti-philosophical viewpoint, I know that there are more reasonable and intelligent defenders of this viewpoint. The position of hisXmark is simply an extreme version of NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, which has been advocated by Quine and Rorty. I’m not familiar with the debate on this topic, but I do have some thoughts on the subject.
If any readers are familiar with the debate over NATURALIZED EPISTEMOLOGY, please help me out and provide some feedback on my thoughts here.
1. Conceptual Analysis
How in the heck can science perform the task of conceptual analysis?
What experiment will answer this question:
Is knowledge the same thing as justified true belief?
What empirical observations will answer these conceptual questions:
What is a belief?
What is a proposition?
What is the relationship between beliefs and propositions?
2. Normative Epistemological Questions
What experiments or observations will resolve these normative epistemological questions:
What makes some beliefs justified beliefs?
What makes some beliefs true beliefs?
What makes some beliefs rational beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified beliefs?
Do human beings have any true beliefs?
Do human beings have any justified true beliefs?
Do human beings have any knowledge?
Do human beings have any rational beliefs?
3. Theoretical Questions of Epistemology
What experiments or observations will resolve these theoretical questions:
Is internalism true?
Is externalism true?
Is foundationalism true?
Is relativism true?
Are some beliefs properly basic beliefs?
Does naturalism imply that our belief formation is unreliable?
It seems to me that no experiment or observation could ever answer any of these questions. An experiment will not help us to analyze the concept of knowledge. An experiment will not establish any normative principles of epistemology. An experiment is not going to answer the sort of theoretical questions that philosophers have about knowledge.
Perhaps I am myopic and stuck in my ways. Let’s suppose that there are scientific experiments and observations that could answer or resolve some of these questions. It seems to me, however, that as in the case of other ordinary scientific experiments and observations, what we get are some facts and descriptions of events, and that it is up to some scientist to draw the meaning out of those facts and events. Some scientist will need to not only think up an experiment, and conduct the experiment, and describe the experiment, but he or she will also need to present REASONS and ARGUMENTS for some conclusion that is based upon the observations and experiments that were made.
In presenting REASONS and ARGUMENTS based upon some experiment or observations, that scientist will be interpreting certain facts and events in a way that makes those facts and events relevant to some PHILOSOPHICAL issue or claim. I understand that this does not ENTAIL that the reasons and arguments given would be PHILOSOPHICAL reasons and arguments.
However, I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and conceptual analysis conclusions about ‘knowledge’ or ‘belief’ or ‘justification’ could be bridged without engaging in something that will look, smell, feel, and sound like a PHILOSOPHICAL argument. I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and normative epistemological principles could be bridged without engaging in something that will be indistinguishable from PHILOSOPHICAL reasoning. I find it extremely difficult to imagine how the gap between ordinary scientific experiments and observations on the one hand, and answers to theoretical questions of epistemology could be bridged apart from making statements and inferences that will look and sound just like those made in PHILOSOPHICAL discussions about those issues.
Am I missing something here? If so, please enlighten me.