Thursday, October 28, 2010

Normative shmormative

In the light of some recent discussions on this site (here and here), I thought it might be appropriate for me to make a short statement about my general attitude to science and philosophy. I am not as convinced as some of my interlocutors are about the coherence and value of philosophy as a discipline, but I know this is a personal thing, and I certainly don't presume to tell others what they should do or be interested in!

I tend to think historically, and I see a grand tradition of thinkers who were called philosophers, but many (most?) of the great names (e.g. Descartes, Leibniz) were also scientists and/or mathematicians. What is left of philosophy after all the sciences have been peeled off from it does not attract me - unless it can be reconnected in some way with the sciences. I am not unsympathetic to the Quinean view that philosophy of science is philosophy enough. But there are very different ways of seeing the philosophy of science.

As I have the view that philosophy is not an independent discipline, I tend to see any authority to set epistemic norms and make definite judgements on factual matters as residing within specific scientific traditions, and the role of philosophical thinking as essentially clarificatory; but also speculative in the sense that it may suggest new conjectures to be considered or new ways of conceptualizing or interpreting data.

From what I have said it may seem that my worldview is rather impoverished, but let me hasten to say that my view of the world embraces lots of non-scientific things (e.g. pleasure in language and literature). I see morality and manners as being of central importance, but I am reluctant to accept the need for experts in ethics and similar areas (except in limited pedagogical contexts).