Insecure philosophers, ctd.

by Rose Woodhouse on April 7, 2012

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Apropos of my earlier post on whether philosophy should be a science, Gawker has a solution!

We are solving this entire problem, by revealing the exact order of all academic fields of study, ranked by how real they are. (Completely fake fields of study have been left off the list.) What makes one field more “real” than another? Don’t act like you don’t know. Come on.

Love it. We come off pretty good! Psych gets a little bit of a bad rap, though. That can totally be real.

{ 8 comments }

1 Murali April 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

Philosophy is less real than physics but more real than biology or chemistry? I’m not sure about what they’re talking about. To whit, if I were to rank philosophy among the various fields, physics, chemistry, biology etc would all be on one side of it. I migh even put it on the far right.

2 Rose Woodhouse April 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Yeah, I mean, if I were going to actually take this ranking seriously, there are a lot of issues. Why on earth is astronomy so high? WHy are we somewhere in the middle of all the sciences, instead of one side or another?

Psych just stood out as an egregious error.

3 Katherine April 9, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I was surprised physics was so high. These days the more theoretical, cutting-edge physics is sounding less and less like science and more and more like either philosophy or, frankly, magic. Alternate universes, and twelve dimensions with nine of them being tiny, and the like.

4 Katherine April 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Something can be real without being a science. The measure is whether debates in the field can be settled by
increased experimentation and accumulation of information, or whether they are inherently subjective thus and endlessly debatable. (I had a prof once try to convince me history was a science, and spent most of the class seeking unsuccessfully to convince him that 1) no, it’s not and 2) that doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable.)

Psychology has scientific aspects – biopsych doesn’t strike me as that different from neurology. The social sciences are, in my view, not sciences, because the arguments are fundamentally about perspectives. Neoliberalism, neo-realism, feminist theory, class analyses, what have you. It’s valuable, but it isn’t science. Science is about facts and evidence; social sciences and humanities are about perspectives. I’ve taken university-level classes in all of them, and though the social sciences insist very hard that they should be treated as science, they’re not. You can take a science experiment, perform it in the US, perform it in Russia, and perform it in Africa and (if you do it correctly) get the same results. You can do a psychology, or an economics, or a sociology study in those three places and get very different results, because social sciences are about people, and people are too complex for scientific generalizations to work.

Philosophy is, if anything, the LEAST scientific discipline in the world. If it became a science, it would cease to exist, because you could prove which philosopher or set of philosophers was right. Was Rousseau or Locke or Hobbes correct on human nature? Which moral system is best? Well, okay, that’s settled – now what?

5 Murali April 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Philosophy is, if anything, the LEAST scientific discipline in the world. If it became a science, it would cease to exist, because you could prove which philosopher or set of philosophers was right. Was Rousseau or Locke or Hobbes correct on human nature? Which moral system is best? Well, okay, that’s settled

That’s kind of the aim right? The current state of philosophy where philosophers haven’t really made any significant breakthroughs in knowledge (As compared to lay persons) where debates have been more or less where they are for the past two millenia or more is really shameful right? If philosophers qua experts are trying to lay claim to some specialised field of knowledge the same way chemists and biologists do, then what is the core body of knowledge that philosophers possess?

Like in the natural sciences, answering some questions open up some other questions. So, even if we solve all or most of our current philosophical problems, we may still have other philosophical problems to tackle.

6 Rose Woodhouse April 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm
7 Katherine April 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

But those things still remain debated . Much of economics, in particular, is predicated on the notion that people’s preferences are determined by self-interest.

8 Mike Schilling April 11, 2012 at 3:07 pm

I’m curious what real philosophers think about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Good stuff, talented but inconsistent amateurism, utter nonsense? Or is it just forgotten by now?

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