What Philosophy is, and what Science is

What they have in common is that they are two approaches to understanding (as we will loosely refer to reality:) the world. Mathematics and Logic, paradoxically, aim to understand no world and (perhaps, we may never find out) any world – yet are used in Science and Philosophy both!

Upon re-reading The Philosophy of Logical Atomism after 22 years, I wanted to write a little about the difficulties of methods of understanding. In the below text, subject refers to physical phenomena in the world such as forces, planets, and beings.

A bit into the above episode, it is mentioned that modern Philosophy is quite different from classic Philosophy. In its infancy, Philosophy was a positive force with on the surface reasonable and bold propositions that would describe and explain the world. In modern times, a satirist could say “Philosophers try to find out what the meaning of meaning is, and when I accuse them of it, they all nod and say, ‘Exactly!'”

Looking at it from a broader (and perhaps more well-meaning) perspective, I can’t help but think more viewers than me will see the similarity between the way in which the classic Philosophy and Science reduces and captures the world in succinct propositions that are at first glance (perhaps at the glance of the best minds of the age) well-founded. It’s apparent the various methods 2 millennia since of categorizing, sorting, cataloging, and idealizing worldly phenomena fall short and contradict modern knowledge. Should we be worried that Science is falling into the same trap testing, relating, and formalizing – from the perspective of the pervading knowledge 2 millennia hence?

Well, you could say Science just wants to find out more and more by looking at the world, and Philosophy is more ambitious, because it wants to really know. (Rather like: know what it knows, because it increasingly establishes what constitutes knowledge.) As long as linguistic analysis and sophistry doesn’t put you in a mental ward, it curtails what propositions about the world entail, and that may lessen generalizations and idealizations in formulations about the world. This is good, because it hampers Science from describing the world in the ham-handed broad strokes of early philosophical attempts.

To me, it’s a fascination that subjects in the real world fit the straight-jacket of logic, but so frustratingly not-quite-enough as to make us think we live in a word that is “definitely not absurd, yet around every new turn avoiding description”. You could counter this by saying (from intuition) that this feeling would stem from not yet knowing the world well enough.

Here is where I think the strength of the “less ambitious” Science comes in: by skeptic interrogation of the world and taking mere statistical experiment, observation, and prediction over axiom, we may arrive at the ‘strategy’ of the war of knowledge by way of ‘intel’, rather than attempting – as ambitiously as the best minds are able – to suss or extort the ‘strategy’ from the world philosophically.

The book brought home to me that with the perfectly well-known eternal Philosophical problem of understanding, let alone defining, subjects in the world, I think the problem is one of relation and especially, communication: just as an idea of something can never be completely ‘copied’ from one person’s mind to another’s, but can only be created anew in him by coaching his mind, so understanding of a subject in the world can only be created in the mind of the observer; the world communicates bits and pieces of the subject to us, and gradually, a more and more accurate structure of the subject is reproduced in our minds, using as best it can the conceptual building blocks our minds have at their disposal.

As we learn more, the structure arising is inevitable and automatic, I think. It will be increasingly useful, but never complete, and we will want for sure truths. We will then, perhaps more than ever, covet formalizing the world into short and neat descriptions. We should be aware of it, work toward fuller descriptions, and hope our minds together become more capable with time.

Theory Of Everything, Anyone?


About maximilion

I seek truths and try to make you see them. View all posts by maximilion

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