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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Is philosophy dead?

Dr. Dave Ward's MOOC class on "Introduction of Philosophy" generated a stirring discussion on a statement made by Stephen Hawking about philosophy. The statement was taken from his book The Grand Design, which goes as follow:
" ... philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge."

I have always admired Hawking for his science writings and promoting scientific ideas to the common people. But this one was certainly a careless and poorly thought-out statement from a prominent scientist. And it forms an example of his mediocre understanding of philosophy and advances in philosophical studies. One definition of philosophy suggests that philosophy is about asking the right question, figuring out the right way to answer it and reasoning the answer with explanation. As far as a person is on the quest for knowledge, it falls in the domain of Philosophy. In this respect, even the people like Hawking and Richard Dawkins are philosophers themselves, until they don't turn into firm believer of only one way of looking at knowledge and stop their quest without considering other angles. Philosophy is not only as progressive as other fields of study, but also it often provides foundation for progress. If philosophy is dead, how and why the new branch of science (or philosophy) has emerged out- philosophy of science.

'Hawking is so evangelical about the notion of progress is he that it might as well be a religion'. Photograph: Murdo Macleod (Source here)
Physics is not a necessarily anti-philosophy and anti-religion stream. Another famous physicist, Fritjof Capra, is known for investigating parallels between philosophy and physics. How the duality of properties of sub-atomic entities as wave or particle is tackled in science... what does it even mean by saying "probability" or "likelihood" in statistical world... what is the whole mathematics of Bayesian and Information theory based upon- Information and perfect truth... and how do we understand these concepts... answers to these questions lead us to conjunction of science and philosophy. I've discussed the unity of science and philosophy in my earlier post as well. Referring to Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem, every self-enclosed logical system, the Principles of mathematics included, contains the seeds of its own incompleteness; and modern physics stands on the shoulders of mathematics.

from The Guardian, criticized Hawking's restricted view to see the 'progress'. Read his article also, titled 'Why does Stephen Hawking think science has overtaken philosophy?'.

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