Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?

In my home office
"Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?" The answer to this question is: No.

You could verify this by taking this question into the University of Michigan's powerful, brilliant philosophy department and letting them go at it.

Lawrence Krauss apparently thinks the answer is mostly Yes. Krauss says:

"Philosophy is a field that, unfortunately, reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke, "those that can't do, teach, and those that can't teach, teach gym." And the worst part of philosophy is the philosophy of science; the only people, as far as I can tell, that read work by philosophers of science are other philosophers of science. It has no impact on physics what so ever, and I doubt that other philosophers read it because it's fairly technical. And so it's really hard to understand what justifies it. And so I'd say that this tension occurs because people in philosophy feel threatened, and they have every right to feel threatened, because science progresses and philosophy doesn't."

Gee, I don't sense that, e.g., the U-Mich philosophers act like a threatened species.

For one philosophical response see Columbia U theoretical physicist and philosopher David Albert here.

Note that claims about the veridicality of scientific theories are inexorably philosophical and worldviewish. Therefore philosophy (philosophical reasoning) is needed; there's no such thing as an uninterpreted "fact" (in Kant's language, we can't access the ding an sich).

And remember: physics can tell us NOTHING about ethics; viz., about what we OUGHT to do. For example, physics can describe how to make a nuclear weapon, but it cannot prescribe whether we ought to do so. Ethical questions are important. The realm of ethical discussion has always been philosophy and religion. Physics has in no way rendered them obsolete. Krauss sounds scientistic to me. (Note: even if physics can describe what happens when a person makes an ethical decision, or if science can give us an evolutionary history of ethics, this in no way helps us prescriptively. To think it does is to commit the genetic fallacy.)