Monday, January 24, 2011

Philosophy Is Dead

Stephen Hawking says that philosophy is dead. In his new book, The Grand Design*, he asks questions like, "How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves?" "How does the universe behave?" Where did all this come from?" "Did the universe need a creator?" Then he states, "Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but 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."

We all know that Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man who can do the math and show the formulas that describe eleven dimensions and multiple universes. But with three sentences he discards a whole intellectual field of study and proclaims that it is worthless. Someone should tell Peter Singer and John E. Hare to quit their day jobs. And just when did this death of philosophy occur? I don't recall seeing the obituary. Did it occur before or after Rene Descartes?

No, we must understand Hawking's three sentences for what they are. They are logical sleight of hand. He is asking us to agree to his conclusions before he makes his arguments. If we agree that philosophy is dead and that science is the only true field of study, then all that Hawking presents will be all that we can discuss. There will be no room for other voices. No room for philosophical questions or philosophical answers. He is seeking to preclude all conversations of a metaphysical nature and limit all discussion to what can be seen, felt, heard, tasted, or smelt. But as an article in the Guardian newspaper says, "who let Stephen Hawking choose the rules of the game?"

I am continuing to read The Grand Design; but I will be aware of the path down which I am being led and will recognize that a good portion of the pursuit of truth is being left out. Even brilliant minds have their limitations. Dr. Hawking does not have the final say on cosmology, philosophy, religion, and science. There are other voices to be heard.
“The senses deceive from time to time, and it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once.” Rene Descartes (French Mathematician, Philosopher and Scientist, 1596-1650)

*Hawking, Stephen, and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010, p. 5.

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Well said! Seriously, I wish I had written this. You say so much in so few words.
Hawking is a super genius, A Brief History of Time (the illustrated version, its the only one I could possibly get through and partially comprehend) blew my mind. But in it, he acknowledges that the laws of science break down the moment just prior to the big bang. So when it comes to pursuing even the science of nature, there are limitations beyond which we can only ask metaphysical questions. What I don't understand is how he can jump from 'physics has made lots of progress' to 'we don't need to ask higher sorts of questions'. Or is he just saying that philosophy for too long has been dominated by Newtonian, mechanistic, deterministic forms of thinking, and that it is dead in the sense of having not quite shaken off those old habits? When quantum physics has changed so much about how we think, is he just suggesting that philosophy needs to play catchup?
I'm going to need to read that book! Thanks for a great post!