Sunday, January 13, 2013
Comparing Philosophy and Science
Philosophy is the analysis of logical assumptions and underpinnings of a particular subject and/or methodology. Philosophy differs from science in that science uses empirical investigation to gather facts and test current theories in the field of study that are constrained by the empirical discoveries, whereas philosophy may use (though it is not necessary) empirical facts, but the theories constructed are not constrained by facts. For example, a scientific theory is defined as the general law that predicts particular events in the physical world. This is contrasted by the layman use of 'theory' where people define it as a mere guess (this use of the term 'theory' is used by creationist critics of evolution). In physics, Newton's laws of motion are theories in classical mechanics before it was replaced by Einstein's theory of relativity. There is a debate in the philosophy of science (the field that attempts to understand the assumptions of scientific methodology) if Einstein's theory was simply a refinement of Newton's theory or if it was a completely different theory that caused a revolution in our thinking (different terms, theory, methodology, etc.). One reason why many philosophers and scientists see Einstein's theory as a revolution is because, in classical mechanics, Newton's laws must be adjusted at higher speeds. Thus, the theory cannot solve the problem by itself, whereas Einstein's theory can explain motion at all speeds. What is interesting, however, is that Copernicus' theory of celestial movement predicted motion better than Ptolemy's prediction, but Ptolemy's theory was more simplistic and did explain motion at a lower level. It wasn't that Ptolemy's theory couldn't explain motion at higher levels, but rather the tools were not yet developed yet to do so. Thus, Ptolemy's theory was accepted due to elegance and predicting motion at a lower level more simply. This will be looked out in a later post.
Back to Newton's laws of motion. Classical mechanics, again, are the particular events in the physical world. One of the main physical interactions in physics is a force. A force is defined as a push or pull and when two or more forces act on a single point of a body, these forces, found experimentally, act as if a single force was used. This is named a superposition of forces. Furthermore, if two forces are acted upon a body and each force is performed in different directions, the net force may be negative (a force of 5 pounds acted on the body from the right and 7 pounds acted on the body from the left accounts of a net force of -2 pounds and the body is pulled to the left).
Thus, if no net force is acted on a body the velocity will remain constant (even if the force is zero) and no acceleration has occurred. This is Newton's first law. If one or more forces act on a body and result in a net force, then acceleration occurs. This is Newton's second law and may be formulated as (F=m*a). Newton's third law has always been counter intuitive. The third law states that when body A exerts a force on body B body B exerts a force on body A. However, this confusion may be due to the idea that we separate the two forces instead of considering them as the same event, but just acting on different bodies in different directions. Also, the issue may be confusing because we look at the event as a moving object and a stationary object. We think the stationary object cannot possibly produce a force. But the proper way to consider it is to simply look at it as a frame of reference. As said above, one event occurs on different objects in different directions. Just because I intentionally push on the wall and the wall is an inanimate object does not entail that the wall does not push against my hand. When I choose to push against the wall I am pushing against a mass and the wall is acting on a mass, not a conscious actor. It is the third law that determines if the first law or the second law occurs. If no net force occurs, then both objects retain the same velocity. If a net force occurs, then an object is accelerated, but the same amount of force is acted upon on both objects despite the fact that one object moves.
The main point to consider here is that we have gathered the facts of how force, mass, and acceleration relate to one another by the use of experimentation. Despite the counter-intuitiveness of Newton's third law, this third law was a deduction from the first two laws and is verified by experimentation. Granted, not all laws are able to be verified yet, but, just in Galileo's case, the reason for this is because the tools are no developed yet. However, each experiment that scientists' conduct aim to put one missing piece of the puzzle to verify the theory. Sometimes the experiment may seem to be a counter-factual of the theory, however, sometimes the experiment had methodological flaws, sometimes the scientist fails to recognize how the experiment does in fact support the theory, etc. This is why theories are very rarely replaced (and another reason why replacing a theory ought to be considered a revolution).
In contrast, philosophy changes course much more quickly and usually has many competing theories simultaneously. The reason for this is because philosophy deals with methodology (logic, general analysis of objects that cannot be tested, etc) and thus is much easier to refute when new knowledge is acquired. Also, some philosophical theories begin with a first-person account and do not use sophisticated scientific facts. For example, philosophy was dominated for roughly 2000 years between Rationalists or Empiricists philosophers, however, sometimes the two were intermixed. Rationalist philosophies grant that a particular part of existence is rational and that, as special creatures humans can grasp this rational realm (sometimes only certain humans). Plato, for instance, denied that the physical realm was rational, but the logical realm was what is real. This led him to idealism where the real was purely logical forms above individual particular objects. Aristotle, on the other hand, rejected the claim that logic is based solely on universal forms without being abstracted from particular objects. Other rationalists, mainly from the mid-1600s, see only the physical world as rational and that humans, from the gift of God, are rational (again, only certain humans) and that using this rationality we can know everything that exists in the world through deduction if we know certain facts. Rene Descartes, for example, began by questioning the certainty of the senses, but found that what could not be doubted was mathematical certainty and other ideas that are logically necessary, one of which are the properties of God and God itself. From here, Descartes argues that God created humans and could not have created the senses that are capable of misleading us. Thus, only from this framework can we claim that our senses are accurate.
Empiricists, on the other hand, disregarded the idea that we begin from discovering rational laws to trust our senses and to understand the empirical world. Instead, in order to think at all to discover rational laws, there is a causal chain in order to feel, perceive, hear, etc. John Locke developed this philosophy and separated primary and secondary ideas. Primary ideas were the raw material of the world in its simplest form (color, sound, idea), whereas secondary ideas were the combination of primary ideas. George Berkeley argued by reductio ad absurdum that all ideas are secondary and, thus, all existence is an idea. The only way to know that others things exist without perception is that God perceives the same object at the same time. It was not until Immanuel Kant, after David Hume showed that both Rationalism and Empiricism can be reduced to absurdity, that the human mind was seen to be hardwired with logical categories and that the world acts as a stimulus on humans where the hardwired mind makes sense of this data. Kant's philosophy simply states that the world in of itself (the noumenal) cannot be known because our sensory system interacts with the stimulus at a preconceptual level. What is known is the end product (phenomenal) that the mind constructs from the stimulus.
What Kant did was shift the debate. The Rationalists denied the physical world was necessary for knowledge because it had no form or order in of itself (order only came about through God or logic). Empiricists denied the Rationalist position because Rationalists presupposed how we can even think in the first place. Kant escaped the dilemma by simply analyzing the phenomenal world and what we in fact do know without about that world; that is, he bypasses the noumenal world because there is nothing we can know about that world in the first place. Hence, two more groups emerged after Kant - Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenological Philosophy. Analytic Philosophers simply used science to know the world, where philosophy was used to analyze scientific and observable facts. One of the first groups of Analytic Philosophers, the logical positivists, used reductionism as a philosophical tool to analyze scientific statements in its component parts. Furthermore, they rejected the use of natural language because everyday speech created too much ambiguity and this ambiguity created much of our philosophical problems. Rather, all we can know and all that has meaning/truth are the component parts, which ought to be translated into logical form. Instead of rejecting the idea that we can't know the raw material the logical positivists argued that all we know for certainty is the raw material. All other concepts lack truth values, such as metaphysics, religious claims, etc.
Phenomenological Philosophers critique this tradition because Analytic philosophers neglect the precognitive world. This precognitive world occurs before a sophisticated philosophical methodology rises. Phenomenology is not a theory, but rather a technique to restrain ourselves from presupposing a theory. Edmund Husserl, the philosopher who developed phenomenology wanted philosophers to 'return to the things themselves'. Husserl adopted the idea of consciousness as intentionality. Intentionality simply means that consciousness is always directed towards an object. Consciousness is not simply consciousness in the head. Rather it is always directed towards something. I am consciousness-of-the-table; consciousness-of-the-belief-of-God; consciousness-of-consciousness; etc. Phenomenology, then, is the study of the world perceived by humans. All studies that humans undertake are constrained by human abilities (our cognitive abilities, perceptual abilities, etc.). Thus, Phenomenological Philosophers do not deny that the scientific realm is false, but rather they attempt to first analyze how the world appears to us without cognitive processes and then attempt to describe how the scientific methodology develops to further our understand how the world appears by cognitive processes.
Hence, what the Analytic philosophers did was use the scientific evidence that wavelengths, atoms, etc. exist, which create our phenomenal world where the general laws are what we perceived (Kant's phenomenal world). However, this phenomenal world only pertains to a scientific analysis. It is the verification through scientific analysis that only has meaning, whereas, metaphysical, religious, or cultural traditions ought to be disregarded. The Phenomenological Philosophers, on the other hand, argue that we can only begin at the phenomenal world to only begin to question if there is a noumenal world in the first place. Given this, a religious system, all though it may not have the same rigorous methodology as science, still has meaning because, just like science, religion is a cognitive realization. The combinations of both of these philosophies have been coming more apparent. The Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty often used the analysis of language to describe the sociological aspect of human experience. This methodology was developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein (after he completely disregarded his earlier logical positivism) and was called ordinary language theory. Instead of translating natural language into a logical language ordinary language theory analyzes how we use language in everyday life and describe how there are subtle differences in different situations. Analytic Philosophers use Phenomenology by accepting the fact that perceptions are not necessarily influenced by cognitive processes. Rather, perceptions are non-conceptual and must be analyzed independently of cognitive theories.
The reason this post is necessary is because too often political discourse when using historical examples fail to understand the contextual reasons for why a particular actor in a particular circumstance. By properly understanding the historical context and properly analyzing the consistency of the contemporary political arguments that use history we may be able to move beyond the common bickering in political discourse. By having an agreed upon criterion of how one ought to debate properly, forcing individuals to confront their unwarranted assumptions, and understanding the motives of the historical actor many current political problems may be avoided. Also, by understanding how science works we may be able to avoid that silliness of disregarding science based on ideological reasons. However, this can only happen if all sides are willing to commit to a mature political discourse based on facts and logical consistency.
In a later post the philosophical understanding of cognitive science will be discussed. This will be necessary to political discourse if we can understand what it means to be ethical in society. It will help to determine if religion is necessary to be ethical. Why certain policies are better than others by examining what it means to 'believe' and why different political ideologies differ in particular rights that they permit individuals to retain. On a more basic level what kind of government ought we to have since this is not a question for science, but rather the science to why people accept particular beliefs.