In a recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Ruse asks, “How can philosophy be done like a science?” And that’s the question I shall address in this post.
In raising that question, Ruse is expressing some admiration for science. He goes on to say, “I think science whatever its nature is our best way of knowing, so I wanted to be like a scientist (or as we say in the trade, I wanted to take a naturalistic approach).” However, when all is boiled down, I don’t think Ruse really does want philosophy to be all that much more like science. In a more recent post, he states “I respect and admire science. But I am not a scientist. I am a philosopher. And I am and always have been proud to be one.”
So here are my ideas, for what they are worth, on what it would take to make philosophy more like a science:
- Drop Plato. The scientists are happy to overthrow their traditions whenever they can find a better way.
- Drop inductionism and reductionism. These are a bit too much like creation myths. That is to say, they are invented stories that are said to explain how science works. But there is a shortage of demonstrated evidence that science actually works that way.
- Drop the idea that knowledge = justified true belief. Both “justified” and “belief” are far too vague to be useful in a scientific study. And, for that matter, the notion of “truth” is not all that clear either. Science tends to use very precise definitions, and for good reason.
I don’t expect philosophers to jump to follow my suggestions. I am inclined to think that C.P. Snow was onto something with his thesis on The Two Cultures. And most of the people who go into philosophy are more temperamentally suited to the humanities than to the sciences.
What would philosophy look like if it really tried to look more like a science? I don’t think we have to speculate. Just wander down the halls of the academy, until you find the Mathematics department. If philosophy were more like a science, then it would look a lot more like mathematics. And that, I suggest, is why scientists find mathematics to be useful, but many of them see little value in philosophy.