Philosophy’s Revenge on Science (Humor)


Our church has a Senior Seminar that we do each year. The goal is to prepare graduating high school seniors for the next phase in life and to grapple with living out their faith in a complex world. I am teaching the section on philosophy and logic.

Ted Talk: Stephen HawkingIt is always fun to come up with examples that can illustrate various forms of a logical argument. I call this one Philosophy’s Revenge. It is based on a lecture Hawking gave called My Brief History in 2010 in which he made the famous remark ‘philosophy is dead’.

…Why are we here. Where do we come from? Traditionally these are questions for Philosophy, but Philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of the Grand Design is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries. They lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe, and our place in it…

Philosophy is dead.

The laws of science describe how the universe behaves, but to understand the universe at the deepest level, we also need to understand why. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws, and not some other…

In order to illustrate a syllogism (specifically of the form EAE-1) we need to have some propositions. Keep in mind that this example is being done tongue in cheek.

Since Hawking is very smart and has asserted that philosophy is dead it only seemed logical that no scientist is a philosopher.This yields:

No scientists are philosophers

Performing a categorical converse on this statement we get the logically equivalent:

No philosophers are scientists

Philosophers are noted for their wisdom. That is what the term means – “love of wisdom”. Socrates, the classical Greek philosopher, was not considered the wisest man because he had a lot of knowledge or information. He was considered wise because he pursued truth and understood the limitations of knowledge.

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

Socrates developed the Socratic Method. This method consists of asking questions in order to discover truth. The questions sought to expose assumptions, define terms, reveal contradictions, uncover gaps in thinking, and build a robust argument that supports a conclusion. This is the goal of science as well. In fact the Scientific Method is built on the work of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and their formulation of the laws of logic.

These facts provide the basis for the following proposition:

all wise people are philosophers

Notice that we did not propose that all philosophers are wise people. We could all come up with examples to contradict this.

With the two propositions we can propose the following argument:

(E) premise 1 no philosophers are scientists
(A) premise 2 all wise people are philosophers
(E) conclusion no wise people are scientists

Taking the converse of our conclusion we get:

no scientists are wise people

And thus Philosophy has its revenge.

What do you think?

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