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Philosophy vs Science: which can answer the big questions of life?

Meetup type: moderated discussion

Discussion basis: the articles and videos shared below. Attendees are expected to have read/viewed all or most material below before the meetup.

  1. Philosophy v science: which can answer the big questions of life?
    Philosopher Julian Baggini fears that, as we learn more and more about the universe, scientists are becoming increasingly determined to stamp their mark on other disciplines. Here, he challenges theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss over 'mission creep' among his peers.

  2. Neuroscience vs philosophy: Taking aim at free will
    Quote: "The practical effects of demolishing free will are hard to predict. Biological determinism doesn't hold up as a defence in law. Legal scholars aren't ready to ditch the principle of personal responsibility. 'The law has to be based on the idea that people are responsible for their actions, except in exceptional circumstances,' says Nicholas Mackintosh, director of a project on neuroscience and the law run by the Royal Society in London. ... 'Perhaps, denying free will simply provides the ultimate excuse to behave as one likes,' Vohs and Schooler suggested."

  3. Can Physics and Philosophy Get Along?
    Quote: "At every turn, the philosopher concludes, there are laws of nature, and the laws always apply to some physical “stuff” (particles, fields, whatever) that is governed by the laws. In no case, then, does something really come from nothing ... Precisely because science deals with only what can be known, direct or indirectly, by sense experience, it cannot answer the question of whether there is anything — for example, consciousness, morality, beauty or God — that is not entirely knowable by sense experience. To show that there is nothing beyond sense experience, we would need philosophical arguments, not scientific experiments."

  4. Oxford Think Week 2011, Peter Atkins and Stephen Law (and briefly Richard Dawkins) discuss whether science alone can answer our questions. (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Meetup charge: free, but attendees should order something for themselves from the restaurant. You can order from the self-service in the upstairs when you arrive or during our meetup.

Group's policy on RSVPs: Every member is expected to respect their RSVP for each event and keep it up to date. Two instances of non-respect of the RSVP will lead to the member being removed from the group.

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  • Masood

    If anyone here would like a repeat of this meetup, due to whether not having been able to attend or an interest to continue the conversation, they are welcome to let me know; the person will be the Event Host, not me, however.

    It may be necessary that I state that I personally have pursued a career in science, and only have a basic knowledge in other areas, including philosophy. Contrary to other groups, this group has no agenda and is overdosed neither in science nor in philosophy, nor anything else. To arrange meetups, if possible, I pick various materials which present opposing views.

    Although being officially in the "science camp", I go out of my way to show and examine the weaknesses of the Scientific Methods/Claims. In this spirit, I just stumbled upon two recent great TED talks which I invite you to view:

    -John Lloyd: An animated tour of the invisible

    -Ben Goldacre: What doctors don't know about the drugs they prescribe

    October 1, 2012

    • Robert

      Very glad to see the Goldacre talk posted! The 1st TED link was fun too, but the 2nd is valuable and important.

      1 · October 3, 2012

  • Rafi

    I couldn't come either but wish I could have. As I understand it, science has chipped away at philosophical understanding at a variety of areas. The "received wisdom" seems to be that Aristotle's version of the natural world stood until Gallileo, or thereabouts and then "old school" natural philosophy came to be replaced by the scientific method. However, this still left questions like epistemology, morality etc. reliant on the individual's "privileged access" to judgement. (Kant might have been the pinnacle of this.) Now, even those formerly sacrosanct areas have been encroached by science. Dennett famously addresses the illusion of privileged access in "Consciousness Explained" and evolutionary biology/neurology are moving towards "scientizing" moral issues. We haven't yet reached a Clockwork Orange situation in public policy (or maybe we have and I haven't payed enough attention) but I do think the issues involved are serious and discussion-worthy.

    October 1, 2012

  • Carole

    Great subject but I think that we didn't have enough scientists in the group to balance the discussion.

    October 1, 2012

  • Masood

    Nice conversation on a rather difficult topic, on a rainy day. Thanks all for coming! :)

    October 1, 2012

  • Robert

    Summing up my ideas since not able to come... Arrogant of Larry K. to harbor this question and also to answer it the way he wants to. Epistemology, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind, all impact science per se as supportive scaffolding. (This is true without even venturing into 'Continental Philosophy' which Scientism cheerleaders tend to ignore existence of.) The Scientific Method, held up as signpost of rational process within Science, is actually a philosophical artifact. If one violates the boundaries of the Scientific Method, this violation would be noted philosophically, not scientifically. Ironically, Krauss violates this boundary consistently with his own 'science' since none of his pet topics, mutiverse theory, string theory, or something from nothing cosmology features testable experimentation. It is all armchair stuff. Like what he seeks to decry. Finally, Baggini poor example of defender of philosophy; he concedes too much at the outset. Stephen Law is better.

    September 30, 2012

  • Masood

    Fred, sorry to hear you will not attend, hopefully next time! And thanks for sharing your thought on Philosophy vs Science. My impression is that some scientists would beg to differ on that point; they would probably assert that there isn't any role at all for philosophers. Personally, I do not hold a particular view on this topic and will just facilitate the discussion (I'd just play the devil's advocate to anyone leaning one way or another). See you soon! :)

    Robert, the main topic of the day would be Article #1. The rest is there to have enough to chew on, should we run out of steam on the first one. Will be nice to see you again! :)

    September 26, 2012

    • Robert

      Yes, will be pleasant to see you as well. What I meant by my comment was that #1, #3, and #4 seem to jive together well and are closely related. #2 seems more distantly related and itself controversial, so could derail unity of discussion. For me, plenty to chew on. But fair enough!

      1 · September 26, 2012

  • Fred

    Unfortunately, I won't be in town for that meet up. And it is an important question that you will be debating. In a few words, I would say that sciences provide knowledge whereas philosophy questions the relevance and the purpose of each aspect of our knowledge. Something like that:) Have fun!

    September 25, 2012

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