Why Do We Philosophize?

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"Anyone can call themselves a philosopher and announce any claim as a

philosophical truth, and no one can say that the author is not a

philosopher nor the claim is not a philosophical truth; [therefore]

philosophy is useless."
                                                                                   -Philip Atkinson

The relationship between philosophy and science is often framed as a "chicken or the egg" situation. Which came first?

Well, it appears that philosophy came first, with natural philosophy acting as the precursor for science. This notion is also evidenced by the fact that a lot of early philosophers dabbled in science. Fast-forwarding to today, philosophers often pontificate on science, but not a lot of scientists study philosophy.

Over the years, plenty of philosophers have tackled the philosophy of science. For example, they've attempted to delineate the border between science and non-science. In addition, they've dissented on how science should be interpreted. Scientific realists claim that we ought to consider scientific theories as true, approximately true or likely true. Conversely, scientific antirealists argue that scientific theories should only be regarded as useful, but not necessarily true.

To me, this philosophizing seems to be naught but aimless drivel, and historically, many in the scientific community have privately or openly agreed. Prominent physicist Richard Feynman was quoted as saying, "Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds."

2004-05-24-The_Meaning_of_Life.jpgDespite a great many philosophers' eagerness to probe and dissect science, we have not seen a great many scientists applying the same rigorous scrutiny to philosophy. It's time for this to change by launching a new discipline: "science of philosophy."

A good way for scientists to start is by addressing a fundamental question: "Why do philosophize?"

Scientists can begin to answer this query by examining what philosophy truly means to human beings. Since the dawn of rational thought, humans have been preoccupied with the fundamental problems of existence, language, knowledge and values. Is this philosophical search an essential trait of humanity? Psychologists can conduct preliminary research on this topic through surveys of prospective college philosophy majors.

Neurologists also have a role to play in the science of philosophy through examining hormonal responses and brain activity catalyzed by considering philosophical questions. This would undoubtedly yield fascinating results!

One brain I'd surely love to see analyzed is the one belonging to the professor from my Philosophy of Religion class at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. His head-down ramblings, conducted entirely without any form of notes or visual aids, scythed across the continuum of religion and philosophy. And he somehow found a way to relate such topics as Creationism and Atheism back to the Boston Celtics. The man radiated an aura of mystical brilliance that --   though it regularly put me to sleep -- was utterly amazing to behold.

I'd love to know why he -- and the rest of us -- philosophize.

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