jenab6 (jenab6) wrote,
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jenab6

The synergy of philosophy and science, and the limits of philosophy in the absence of science

Quotes below are from Stefan Molyneux.

"Philosophy is the greatest intellectual discipline in the realm of human thought."

So say the philosophers.

"Philosophy can teach you about the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge, the nature of truth."

Nope. Philosophy, uninformed by empirical science, can do none of those things.

For example, not all the philosophy in the world would have revealed to mankind the uncertainty principle, the wave-particle duality of matter, and the nature of the vacuum state. Nor would it have told them the size or age of the universe. Nor would it have allowed them to describe the behavior of living species that they had never observed. Nor would it have empowered them to predict the existence of an iridium-enriched layer of geological strata laid down in Earth's crust millions of years ago.

What philosophy does is concoct logically self-consistent narratives, which might or might not be the truth. Philosophy and science inform each other: philosophy informs science about correct procedure, and science tells philosophy what the discovered facts are and which of its narratives has been disqualified from being truth.

"But you can explore these various disciplines through biology, physics, geology, or any other natural science."

A philosopher who does not engage with science is blind to reality. He forever spins conjectures that he has no way of checking. He gets into arguments with similarly blind other philosophers who insist that their conjectures are superior to his, and none of them really knows what the truth is because none them has indulged in experimental verification. Their arguments are so much hot air.

"Philosophy's core discipline is ethics."

"Mmmm," say I, as a strong gust of wind blows unexpectedly through my living room. Ethics!

I suspect that philosophers know as little, in the absence of science, about ethics than they do about anything else. Rather, the reason philosophers make free, at present, with their ethical pronouncements is the same as the reason the Church made free with its astrodynamical pronouncements in the 17th century. The reason is that science has not yet investigated the subject with rigor.

You know the old saying among atheists: "As science advances, God retreats," meaning that once experiment has revealed the true nature of a part of existence, the older theological explanations quickly seem obsolete — if not outright ridiculous. After three or four hundred years of trying to refute a scientific explanation that is supported at every turn by every test, while at the same time having their increasingly contrived alternatives either disproved or shown to be rather conveniently untestable, the theologians adopt the scientific explanation, grudgingly at first, but after a generation they are pretending that they never thought differently, and as we all know there is no real conflict between religion and science.

Har dee har har.

Ethics is like that. Philosophers may claim to have knowledge about ethics because they believe it to be subject to their choices. Some philosophers believe that they can create ethics by making their preferences known. On the contrary, I say. Those philosophers are wrong. Nature constrains the truth about ethics to the same degree that it constrains the truth about gravity. This truth is something to discover. It isn't something to be decided.

When you discover the truth about ethics, you might not like it. You might wish that it were something else. But it will be the truth, nevertheless. The approval of philosophers isn't required.

"...since that is the one area of study that no other discipline can effectively address."

Wrong. Philosophy doesn't gather facts about reality within itself, whether we are speaking about physics or about ethics. It is as blind for one as it is for the other. Nobody is privileged to choose what is moral. Nature has its own standard for morality, and that standard is survival. What does not exist is worthless. What can't exist for long probably isn't worth much. A moral system that causes its own destruction via that of its practitioners is worse than worthless; like a disease, it has a negative worth.

The survival of its practitioner group is the supreme value in any proper moral system. (And, by the way, that statement gives the sense in which I use the word "proper" here.) The reason is simple and can be stated in several ways. Nothing matters to the dead. Only to something alive may anything else be good. Neither truth, nor justice, nor freedom, nor being nice to children has any value at all to extinct peoples. If anything other than their own survival is given first place of value within a group's moral system, then sooner or later they will encounter circumstances in which their survival is in conflict with whatever that other thing is. When that happens, they will either discard their improper moral system and take up a proper one, or else they will all die off, and their improper moral system will vanish along with them.

Human intelligence has risen to the point at which it can conceive of rightness and of wrongness and codify moral systems in accordance with perceptions regarding right action and wrong action. But humanity remains bound by the laws of nature, and human opinions regarding moral values may be either proper (conducive to survival) or improper (tending toward extinction). That we can err does not mean that our errors have become truth. That we can decide what our opinions regarding ethics shall be does not mean that those opinions are correct.

Now, I personally suspect that justice — for example — is a good thing. I've read the dialogue in The Republic between Socrates' (actually Plato's) defense of justice versus the arguments against justice presented by Thracymachus. But that dialogue didn't give the latter his full due. Thracymachus could have had a point regarding a possible conflict between survival and justice.

Justice requires equality before the law, which is an instance of equality of opportunity. It isn't an equality of outcome. Opportunity is justly offered to all on equal terms. That doesn't mean that everyone will be equally able to meet those terms. Some people will have more ability, more relevant merit, than other people do. When the law treats all persons equally, their life outcomes, their degrees of success, are always unequal. When outcomes are equalized, it always means that the law is unjust, favoring some people above others.

If you watched the video, you heard Stefan Molyneux bow to a number of politically correct shibboleths. He denied having any belief in racial superiority, but he didn't give any context for the word "superiority," which makes his use of it senseless. When you supply a context, such as "suited to living within a technologically advanced society," then it becomes rather clear that some races are indeed superior to other races.

The races of humanity aren't each others' equals. Racial quality and racial equity (what is usually meant by "social justice") are in conflict with each other. You can't have one without sacrificing the other. If we go with quality, we reach the stars. If we go with equity, then we will see the tide recede in the evolution of life on Earth.

First, secure survival, and do it in such a way that our race's prospects for continuing survival are not lessened over time. Then, only then, should you see what can be done for justice.

.

Reprise of the central point
I think that philosophers know as little about ethics, absent any empirical research into it, than they do about anything else. Rather, the reason philosophers make free, at present, with their ethical pronouncements is the same as the reason the Church made free with its astrodynamical pronouncements in the 17th century. The reason is that science has not yet investigated the subject with rigor.

Philosophy doesn't gather the facts of reality within itself, whether we are speaking about physics or about ethics. It is as blind for one as it is for the other. Nobody is privileged to choose what is moral, which is what philosophers are really trying to do, however they might present it as an adventure of discovery through pure reason.

You can't discover anything through pure reason. You might form a self-consistent conjecture that way, but you haven't made a discovery unless you have gathered data from nature via observation or experiment. Even the laws of logic weren't deduced by logic. An attempt to do so would involve an invalid circular argument. Rather, mankind did a lot of informal research, as part of their general life experience, regarding which forms of argument were reliable and which forms of argument were unreliable. That's the empiricism that informed Aristotle, who first codified the laws of logic.

Nature has its own standard for morality, and that standard is survival. What does not exist is worthless. And an improper moral system that causes its own destruction via that of its practitioners is worse than worthless; like a disease, it has a negative worth.

That a purported ethical system sounds good to you, that it pleases you, does not mean that it is true ethics.

What philosophy does is concoct logically self-consistent narratives, which might or might not be the truth. Philosophy and science inform each other: philosophy informs science about correct procedure, about logic, and science tells philosophy what the discovered facts are and which of its narratives has been disqualified from being truth.

A philosopher who does not engage with science is blind to reality. He forever spins conjectures that he has no way of checking. He gets into arguments with similarly blind other philosophers who insist that their conjectures are superior to his, and none of them really knows what the truth is because none of them has indulged in experimental verification. Their arguments are so much hot air.

You know the old saying among atheists: "As science advances, God retreats," meaning that once experiment has revealed the true nature of a part of existence, the older theological explanations quickly seem obsolete — if not outright ridiculous. After three or four hundred years of trying to refute a scientific explanation that is supported at every turn by every test, while at the same time having their increasingly contrived alternatives either disproved or shown to be rather suspiciously untestable, the theologians adopt the scientific explanation, grudgingly at first, but after a generation they are pretending that they had never thought differently. And they go around saying things like "There's no real conflict between science and religion."

Ethics is like that. Philosophers may claim to have knowledge about ethics because they believe it to be subject to their choices. Some philosophers may believe that they can create ethics by making their preferences known. On the contrary, I say. Those philosophers are wrong. Nature constrains the truth about ethics to the same degree that it constrains the truth about gravity. This truth is something to discover. It isn't something to be decided.

When you discover the truth about ethics, you might not like it. You might wish that it were something else. But it will be the truth, nevertheless. The approval of philosophers isn't required.
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