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philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone


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Why philosophy is so important in science education

Each semester, I teach courses on the philosophy of science to undergraduates at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the students take my courses to satisfy general education requirements, and most of them have never taken a philosophy class before. 

On the first day of the semester, I try to give them an impression of what the philosophy of science is about. I begin by explaining to them that philosophy addresses issues that can’t be settled by facts alone, and that the philosophy of science is the application of this approach to the domain of science.

Stop. Hold the presses. This article was only referenced for the cited portion.

It is understandable why this may seem plausible. So many issues continue to be argued about without agreement. Are facts an issue that philosophy addresses? If agreement cannot be reached as to what qualifies as a fact, then this is a rhetorical thread.

What is disheartening is to see just how prevalent this stuff is. And if ignored, it is not going to disintegrate and crumble away.

Justice is the act of acknowledging what exists. And in the same passage that pointed that out in Atlas Shrugged, it was proceed by the acknowledgment that it is possible for men to abandon their sight of justice, and then it is justice that destroys them.

It is comforting to know that the preceding paragraph can be acknowledged for what it is by those that can.


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Facts alone do not settle the issue of what a “fact” is. Facts plus a method of reasoning (supplied by a philosophy) does.

In saying “It is understandable why this may seem plausible”, I conclude (based on a a long life of detecting subtle implications and how they are rhetorically encoded) that you disagree something in the preceding quote: I am struggling to figure out what that is. The thing that seems most likely is that there is some question about agreement that you find relevant. I don’t see any claims being made there that have to do with agreement, although at some point I hope that the professor engages normative questions (agreement is evidence of truth only when reason is the only tool used for reaching conclusions).

So I am quite puzzled: how can you possibly disagree with the quote?


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Distracted reading. I took for granted that a method of reasoning was needed to arrive at the facts. Looking over the article again, it was clearly better than where I parked it and shot at it from the hip.

Here is a paragraph that redeems the article and makes quite remiss my take:

Another reason (college students so often treat philosophy as wholly distinct from and subordinate to science) has to do with concrete results. Science solves real-world problems. It gives us technology: things that we can touch, see and use. It gives us vaccines, GMO crops, and painkillers. Philosophy doesn’t seem, to the students, to have any tangibles to show. But, to the contrary, philosophical tangibles are many: Albert Einstein’s philosophical thought experiments made Cassini possible. Aristotle’s logic is the basis for computer science, which gave us laptops and smartphones. And philosophers’ work on the mind-body problem set the stage for the emergence of neuropsychology and therefore brain-imagining technology. Philosophy has always been quietly at work in the background of science.

You are quite right to be puzzled.

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  • 2 years later...


I sympathize. For me philosophy has always been about facts.

What is the nature of a person?

What is the self?

What is self-interest?

The difference between philosophy and science with regard to facts

is that science will often study dead facts, whereas philosophy will more often study living facts.

(Think concepts of consciousness from Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology).

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On 9/24/2021 at 7:48 AM, Sebastien said:

is that science will often study dead facts, whereas philosophy will more often study living facts.

I don't have the quote at my fingertips, but one of the reasons Ayn Rand took history (dead facts?) was to glean insights into man's nature and come up with her notion of the ideal man.

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