More Adventures in Philosophy

So, my philosophy course has taken a rather unexpected twist. My Philosophy of Religion lecturer (who is apparently a Catholic priest) has so far been a paragon of objectivity, while my Introduction to Philosophy lecturer has made some very disparaging and downright annoying comments about scientists. I’d love to know where people get the idea that scientists view the world in a cold, clinical light. Certainly they do that while in the lab, but its not as if that kind of mindset cannot co-exist with a more aesthetic way of looking at nature.

I discovered that science doesn’t destroy the beauty of things in secondary school, when I learned that trees aren’t just collections of attractively arranged leaves on sticks. Learning of their complexity and the slow-motion fight for survival that they go through does not in any way diminish my enjoyment of of them – if anything, it makes me appreciate them all the more. Nature takes on a new dimension when you stop looking at it as an elaborate display for your benefit.

The same is undoubtedly true of astronomy. The Universe is larger than we could ever comprehend and has existed for a length of time that makes the lifespan of our entire species seem insignificant by comparison. How anyone can claim that knowing this detracts from our appreciation of its splenour is beyond me.

In other college news, the NUIM library is a fascinating place. There’s an entire shelf dedicated to evolution, including Stephen Jay Gould’s enormous The Structure of Evolution Theory. It’s refreshing to see evolution presented in a way completely unlike the following:


The theory of evolution is regarded as one of the greatest glimmerings of understanding humans have ever had. It is an idea of science, not of belief, and therefore undergoes constant scrutiny and testing by argumentative evolutionary biologists. But while Darwinists may disagree on a great many things, they all operate within a (thus far) successful framework of thought first set down in The Origin of Species in 1859.

That’s from the Amazon.com reviw of Gould’s book, and it unfortunately mimicks the tone that a lot of writers, both scientist and non-scientist, feel that they must adopt when they talk about evolution. The part about evolution being an issue of science rather than belief is particularly cring-worthy in how much it panders to the morons out there. It’s a sad indicator of how forcefully Creationists have penetrated the public consciousness, and I have a feeling that it will only get worse as time goes by. Thankfully, institutions of third-level education, long the prime target for anti-intellectual nuts everywhere, don’t seem to be budging from their insistence that the evidence for evolution is solid.

(If you’re curious, quite a bit of The Structure of Evolutionary Theory is available for free on Google Books. The contents section is fun, if only for how intimidating it is.)

11 Responses to More Adventures in Philosophy

  1. penguinfactory says:

    What were those insolent philosophy guys saying about scientists? I’ll have to go construct some sort of death ray device and teach them what for (because first year science students can do that).

  2. freidenker85 says:

    I have this gut feeling that philosophy is important to our understanding of the universe, but I just haven’t proved this to myself, yet.

    What do YOU get out of it?

  3. forknowledge says:

    What do YOU get out of it?

    I suppose I get the same thing out of philosophy that I get out of studying English literature – they’re both fulfilling and interesting. Although I’d agree that a lot of philosophy isn’t ‘useful’ to anyone except other philosophers, I think it’s also easy to overlook how much philosophy has shaped the world we live in.

  4. Sorry penguin. That right is reserved for SECOND year science students only. You haven’t passed the test yet.

    What test, you ask? Oh, you’ll see… 😉

  5. forknowledge says:

    That sounds ominous. But it can’t be worse than having to study physics in first year, right? Right?

    Quick, PF, run for your life!!!

  6. freidenker85 says:

    Satisfaction and fulfillemnt are OKAY answers for me.

    The question is, doesn’t it get REALLY annoying? Especially with the more wacky metaphysics?

    Not that I know that much about philosophy.. It’s just seems to be such an entirely lawless field.

  7. forknowledge says:

    I’ve only been studying it formally for a few weeks now, but I can tell you that it’s not nearly as ‘lawless’ as most people think. True, there is generally no way to tell when you’ve arrived at a right answer, as there usually is in science, but it’s definitely not a kind of free-for-all where anything goes – even when it comes down to wacky metaphysics.

    If you want to be really annoyed, though, take a look at literary criticism. It’s still not lawless, but the rules are a good deal more malleable than in any other field I can think of – worse (from a scientific point of you), you can chuck out one set of rules and adopt another from one reading or essay to the next, and there’s nothing especially controversial about this. Unless you’re talking to someone playing by rules where that is controversial…

    You can see the problem, I’m sure:/

  8. freidenker85 says:

    This is why I always hated and loved literature in high school – I could pretty much yank every answer out of my ass and it’d still be okay, because I only have to be internally consistent with whatever premise I spawned out of my anus and my point will be just as valid.

    The most promiment aspect of science, namely its rigorous rules and constraints, is what I admire the most in it.

    The question is – what apart of internal consistency with any logical (I did study formal logic, everyone in Israel who attends a university has to) premise is required in philosophy? Is it simply an individual matter of any philosophical school which arbitrarily makes up its own metaphysical assumptions?

    Is there any other philosophy apart from methodological naturalism which is consistent with observed reality by definition?

  9. forknowledge says:

    The question is – what apart of internal consistency with any logical (I did study formal logic, everyone in Israel who attends a university has to) premise is required in philosophy? Is it simply an individual matter of any philosophical school which arbitrarily makes up its own metaphysical assumptions?

    I’m not sure I’d be able to answer that question coherently. I’ve only studied Plato, Aristotle, and to a lesser extent Aquinas in any detail – like I said, i’ve only been in the course a few weeks. I have read enough about other metaphysical systems to realise it’s not just a free-for-all and that outright logical contradiction isn’t allowed (obviously), but couldn’t give you a full account of rigorous metaphysical systems must be in order to ‘pass’. Watch this space, hopefully!

    Is there any other philosophy apart from methodological naturalism which is consistent with observed reality by definition?

    This is one problem I have with the amount of theistic philosophers out there. Look at most modern philosophers and the majority of what they say will probably be nothing that your average naturalist would have no problem with, except perhaps where it comes to the mind/body division (ironically, some ancient philosophers seem to be more tolerable in that regard). Then they throw God into the mix and suddenly everything becomes disengaged from reality. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but again, I’ll reserve final judgement on that until I learn more.

  10. freidenker85 says:

    You’re the second “philosopher” I’ve run into that I asked about this, and I still don’t get what it is that philosophers actually DO. But yeah, I’m probably being too hard on you, since you’ve only just started the course a couple of weeks ago. I’ll stay tuned.

  11. forknowledge says:

    Hopefully I won’t disappoint!

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