Is science a philosophy? Is philosophy a science?
May 14, 2007 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Is science a philosophy? Is philosophy a science?
posted by hiro to Science & Nature (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
posted by hiro at 6:27 PM on May 14, 2007

Yes and kinda.

Science, as it exists today, happens within the framework of a philosophy. Philosophy, however, is bigger than just science, and is also an art and a discipline.

EB will be here soon— he studies this, if I recall correctly.
posted by klangklangston at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2007

I think you ought to be more precise in your question. I wouldn't consider practice of science to be philosophy, much like trying to figure out why a car isn't working isn't philosophy. However, the historical and logical bedrock of science is certainly based on philosophical thought.
posted by demiurge at 6:51 PM on May 14, 2007

Philo-sophia is the greek "love of wisdom"; sciencia is the latin "knowledge" (the greek equivalent being "episteme"). So are wisdom and knowledge the same? Not exactly, by most accounts anyway, but they're certainly related. Science is trying to get at the details, the facts, the actual information that we can pin down and make use of. Philosophy is trying to look at the larger picture and understand the interrelations, what it all means, the foundation for existence to start with.

Philosophy was once thought to start where natural science ends, and in this sense to be the ultimate "science", in the broad sense (that is, the ultimate "knowledge"). In the modern age, many people presume there is no knowledge beyond the natural sciences, and therefore that either philosophy doesn't exist, or it is just talking about the stuff that science hasn't yet designed machines to investigate, that it's basically the speculative branch of science. This is quite confusing, though, since theoretical physics, eg, is quite speculative itself. Where science ends and philosophy begins there is a matter of some debate (and often agreed to be an issue of semantics as much as anything).

But if you really want to explore this question further, the area to look into is known as "philosophy of science". There's plenty of literature on the topic.
posted by mdn at 6:55 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Karl Popper was a philospher of science. He explored the question of what makes something scientific. His answer was falsifiability; i.e. you can prove through experiment or observation that something is false.

That notion is what makes much of the "intelligent design" movement more of a philosophy than a science.

He is a good place to start with your question.
posted by extrabox at 7:00 PM on May 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I love questions like these.

There's no single answer here. You'd probably get more out of further questions than answers.

The Philosophy of Science is the obvious primary field for the subject. But the broadness of your question might fit more with Epistemology.
posted by ageispolis at 7:05 PM on May 14, 2007

The short answer is no, but that's not the whole story.

At their origin they were close to synonymous. As science became increasingly powerful the fact-value distinction began being made. It is by virtue of this distinction that we consider them separate, but the distinction is not as clean as it may look. Go to wikipedia and look at the fact-value distinction entry, the section called the fact-value problem is, I believe, an unattributed quote from Leo Strauss. Regardless, it makes the point.

If you want to take this a little farther, most bookstores carry _The Philosopher's Handbook_ edited by Stanley Rosen. Read his introduction, it's about 20 pages.
posted by BigSky at 7:29 PM on May 14, 2007

out of pure frustration, i have to agree with falconred.

it would take ten pages to even begin to adequatly assess the modern political implications of the relationship between philosophy and science. not to even review anything outside of the twentieth century.

buy your local philosophy professor dinner and have him/her go over this with you.
posted by phaedon at 7:31 PM on May 14, 2007

I have studied the philosophy of science extensively and I think pointing to Karl "Big" Popper is going to be somewhat misleading. We bring a lot of connotations on what science means and what philosophy means. It is best to throw those out on a question like this, as each phrase is somewhat loaded, and simply look at the history of science and philosophy. I will surely leave things out, and get things wrong, but I believe this is a good, broad framework which should adequately answer your question:

Philosophy and science as we know it were rather intertwined since really the Enlightenment. It is best to start with "the philosopher", Aristotle, and work from there. In his philosophical writings, he touched on many natural phenomena which we would classify as science, as well as knowledge as a whole which, is to say philosophy (or better the study of epistemology, how we can say we know things). To not get things too intertwined, I'll start out with something I researched a bit (as I carried it through as an example in one of my papers). Aristotle believed, more or less, that women were simply vessels and men provided the seed. This was the pinnacle of biology in Socratic times, and while women were important (e.g., you cannot jack off into your hand and your hand will sprout a child), men were the important ones.

Now take this a step further, we get into the middle-ages. Scholastic thought was in. It took Socratic writings, recently discovered, and melded philosophy with theology. It was what you could fairly accurately describe as an induction of the two. Aquinas would quote Socrates, referred to as the Philosopher, on such things like the aforementioned procreation tale. He looked at what was in the Bible, and what other great Christian theologians said, and came to the conclusion that women contain something less than man, they are not really a full person, thus only men can be priests, accurately represent Christ, and so forth. Here is a good summary:
Aquinas’ views on female inferiority were doubtless influenced as well by Aristotle’s reproductive biology, with its understanding of the relation between male and female as one of active (perfect) principle to passive (imperfect) principle. Aristotle saw the sperm as the formative agent; the mother simply supplied raw material to be incorporated into the developing child. He also thought the sperm was directed to producing only male offspring, and that when this did not result it was because something interfered with the active principle within the sperm.

Finally, however, Aquinas does not believe it matters very much whether the particular causes involved in reproduction are to be regarded as failing or not failing when women are engendered. God desires that women be part of the universe, and He orders nature in such a way as to insure that they are produced. (On the question of Aquinas’ biology, see Michael Nolan, "What Aquinas Never Said About Women," FT, November 1998.)
We're really not making scientific progress. You can look at some (what we term now) counter-Enlightenment skeptics of the age and before (cf Sextus Empricus), but they were largely ignored for a variety of reasons -- probably because technology didn't exist to validate them. While they are important, they didn't enter Western thought of philosophy or science like everyone else did. The history of medicine and of science largely correspond, in my opinion, if only because medicine is really a lot more important than say, internal combustion. Society puts a high value on staying healthy. I digress:

I hope not to condescend but we really don't see science as we know it until the Enlightenment-era. Due to a lot of factors, which you probably learned in middle school, information was transferred faster and people began to question the Aristotelian way of thought. People began trying to figure out how we can really "know" something, and for physical phenomena this came to trial-and-error. If thing can be described mathematically and repeated they can be said to be true or not true. This branched into scientific method. Philosophy continued to deal with other, non physical things, and due so in a rhetorical rather than an analytical way (analytical philosophy came much later, but the validity and story of that is beyond this again).

But this cause-and-effect worked great for a long time. As science improved and we were able to do more things with technology some of the basic tenets broke down. Popper promoted empirical falsifiability and struck down the Vienna circle's way of thinking. This is not all academic, as many aspects of emerging scientific fields did not follow intuitive logic, such as quantum physics.

I hope this helps. The modern meaning of science and philosophy has changed since the enlightenment, it is easy to think that one takes place in the classroom and one in the laboratory. Biology and physics and such are all sciences because we have an established frame work for epistemology for physical properties, stemming from the philosophy of science. It really is why we put our trust and belief into biology and not into astrology or intelligent design.
posted by geoff. at 7:35 PM on May 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Read Karl Popper.
posted by phrontist at 7:48 PM on May 14, 2007

Science would prefer not to be a philosophy. Philosophy would hope not to be a science.
posted by longsleeves at 8:30 PM on May 14, 2007

or not
posted by longsleeves at 8:32 PM on May 14, 2007

Oh, and science is very simple: The only things we can know are things which we can test, which is to say come up with a series of circumstances and outcomes, and establish which outcomes confirm and deny our theory.

This depends on many assumptions though. This is not a condemnation - you depend on these assumptions to get yourself through the day. The big one is induction. When I tap my finger on the table, I assume it will make a sound that I hear, because that's generally what happens when things collide. The table could, instead, explode. I would be quite surprised, and would probably question the causality at work - surely me tapping things doesn't make them explode... I tap things all the time and it's only happened once! Pragmatically, this sort of reasoning seems obvious - but there is no reason why that should be. Why does the world around us follow predictable patterns? That's the sort of question philosophy asks.

Most people live by inductive reasoning scientific thinking, and those who don't are typically though of as mentally handicapped or insane. Children do it naturally. Watch a child with some new object... a rubber ball for instance. They will drop it, watch it bounce, and as soon as their parent fetches it, do it again. They may do this hundreds of times. In the process, they learn about things falling and bouncing and that mom will continue to pick the ball up only so many times. Science, no matter how impenetrable it can get for the laymen, is always based around the same basic philosophical underpinnings.
posted by phrontist at 8:35 PM on May 14, 2007

Science is concerned with predicting and describing natural phenomena.

Philosophy is concerned with explaining human value.

The main tool in science is Francis Bacon's scientific method.

The main tool in philosophy is Aristotle’s logic.
posted by ewkpates at 3:38 AM on May 15, 2007

I would say yes and no. Science is a philosophy because it's an organized way of understanding the world. Philosophy isn't a science because it doesn't follow the scientific method.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:11 AM on May 15, 2007

In a crude way, I would say yes. If you consider philosophial matters highly opinionated, then yes, science is all about opinion.

A scientific conclusion is based on a set of circumstances or a backlog of data that is "accepted" as true in order for xyz to be therefore true. The acceptance of that other information is an opinion of the credibility of the source. If you see a ball and it is red, your opinion of your eyes as a credible source is that the ball is, yes, red. However, if you are of the mind that since the color of red may actually be only the certain band of light known as red and that the ball does not absorb red and merely reflects it, you might conclude that the ball is therefore all colors but red.

The imposition to "prove God exists without using the bible" demands use of a different set of evidence outside the standard required evidence from which the conclusion is foremostly drawn, such as demanding that "Prove that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated using only triangles. In Swahili. Yesterday. Aha! You can't!"

If I were to ask you whether 11 plus 11 equaled 22, your response being yes, I would have to call you a nincompoop for not having "correctly" calculated the problem using my unspecified-but-implied condition of the issue being in Base-8. Science is a conclusion based on the opinion of the credibility of the source material backing up the evidence around which the conclusion is contexted.

The scientific method requires assumption/opinion of the credibility of a source in order to be accepted. And the tenet to assign credibility to a given set of scientists/texts/etc is a personal philosophy.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2007

This question is too ambiguous; I don't know what you mean by "science" and I don't know what you mean by "philosophy". This is the main reason why you are getting answers ranging from "yes" to "kinda" to "no" for both questions.

Define your terms. To what do you understand "science" and "philosophy" to refer?
posted by Kwine at 1:20 PM on May 15, 2007

I just finished this and if you're asking this question I think you'll find the course fascinating. Check your local library or email me.
posted by ac at 3:55 AM on May 16, 2007

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