Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pinker Plinked - Again

Philosophy Prof Gary Gutting takes a whack at Stephen Pinker's essay on scientism, including a drive by on Pinker's weakest claim - that science plus "common sense" can give us morality, but he really really wants to complain that scientists don't give Philosophy enough respect. Physics, of course, is the worst.

I would certainly agree that most physicists, those of my generation anyway, don't have much patience for philosophy, at least not as a guide to our thought in physics. I expect biologists are much the same. We, I, don't have any problem with philosophers trying to comprehend physics and fit it into a world view, but I just don't think that they have anything to contribute in the way of insight. I think that's true in biology too, and increasingly true in the study of human nature.

The great philosophers of the past had some deep insights, but their intellectual tools were blunt. Introspection is a poor substitute for the experimental method, trying to understand human nature without understanding Darwin is hopeless.

The modern philosopher's I respect, like Daniel Dennett, seem to concentrate on explaining the implications of biology (or physics, or evolutionary psychology) to the public.