De omnibus dubitandum
18 Jul 2011
Thanks to my friend Derek I’ve now discovered the BBC podcast The Infinite Monkey Cage. It’s a great show that, in its own words, provides a “witty, irreverent look at the world through scientists eyes.”
In going through its archive of recent episodes, I came across one about philosophy. In this podcast the regular hosts professor Brian Cox and Robin Ince debate the virtues of philosophy with professor Raymond Tallis and philosopher Julian Baggini.
When listening to this podcast, what struck me from the start was the supreme arrogance of the pro-philosophy side of the debate. Immediately the philosophers attempted to take a position of superiority, insinuating theirs was a superior intellectual discipline and that science dealt with the inferior dirty, material stuff.
But in fact the questions that philosophy asks seem to me to be little more than linguistic tricks, devoid of any real meaning or purpose. Philosophy, to me, is just the limitations of our human intellect made manifest.
Philosophy doesn’t ask questions science can’t or won’t answer – no, philosophy asks questions that are meaningless and, instead of conveying a deep understanding of the world, betray a deep ignorance of the nature of our reality. In that regard I completely agree with Stephen Hawking when he says that philosophy is dead. It has become a meaningless, deeply confused pseudo-intellectual pursuit.
At the end the podcast makes a good point, inadvertently so. In an attempt to deride science in favour of philosophy, a parallel is drawn between mathematics and philosophy. Mathematics being the ‘purest’ of all science, dealing with absolute truths that will never change.
But that parallel falls flat on many points, most obviously on the fact that philosophy doesn’t use mathematics. Physics does – abundantly so.