Philosophical Methodology: Thoughts on Meta-Philosophical Holism

Consider the following premise*:

(1) Philosophy ought to consider the deliverances of science i.e., physics.

This is a normative judgement on how philosophical methodology ought to proceed. It is a normative judgement, since it aims to prescribe how philosophy ought to proceed as a discipline. But, (1) can be reconstrued into a subjunctive conditional:

(1*) If philosophy’s goal is reality, philosophy must consult the deliverances of science.

The virtue of (1*) is that it takes philosophy’s consultation of science as a logical implication of the definition of philosophy. Why should philosophy consult science? Because if it did not consult science, it would be cease to be philosophy one is doing. I prefer (1*). Objection: Why think that science must be consulted for every problem? It does not; however, a philosophy being done independent of science seems to be weakened since human beings are multi-facet creatures, within a multi-faceted reality. Perhaps we can even weaken the claim here: Philosophy’s object (reality), since multi-faceted, is best done when it takes all the human data into consideration to “not leave anything out” (Pieper). Objection: We would then not be able to solve anything since we don’t have all the information about a single thing at a given time. I think to this I would suggest that it does not have to be perfect knowledge we are after; rather, we merely have to remember that without consulting other disciplines, we run the risk of missing important information. Objection: For instance, neuroscience does not study memory; it hasn’t even located where memory is in the brain. Sure. This doesn’t imply much though. Just because in one case it doesn’t give us much fruitful information for our philosophy of mind i.e., studying memories or beliefs as neurophysiological structures, doesn’t mean in other places it either does not or will not in principle. Consider the following. Science has a lot to say about localizability and whether the world is local or non-local. John Bell’s experiments shows us plausibly that the world is non-local. What follows from this (if correct)? It means that when we do philosophy and talk about concepts like simultaneity i.e., God’s bringing the universe into being simultaneously with the universe’s coming into being, science has a lot to say here. Take a non-theological example. Zeno’s paradoxes suggested that things were in principle infinitely (potentially infinite, that is (WLC)) divisible; however—as van Inwagen notes—high-energy physics tells us that there is actually a point at which further divisibility stops. Maybe we could have gotten there without science—maybe not. This is not to reject philosophy nor science; rather, it suggests a holistic approach, one which does not reject science nor thinks of it as its bedrock—it suggests that reality as a whole should be taken into consideration. Maybe you disagree that philosophy’s object is reality—but if it is not that, I’m not sure what one is doing (pseudo-philosophy?).


What about this objection: In philosophy, philosophers of mind are often divided by tradition. For instance, phenomenological and existential philosophy looks at the mind from an introspective approach; whereas analysis philosophy of mind focuses on what we mean by key terms i.e., sensations, perceptions, memories, thoughts, desires et cetera. It is not even clear that they are talking about the same thing. This seems correct; however, as I have been told elsewhere, there is often two ways of looking at the same thing (anonymous name). So, perhaps a belief is something one affirms or doesn’t affirm introspectively, is what phenomenologists call an introspective assent or dissent, is something which has content (as analytic philosophers i.e., Plantinga, are apt to point out), and which has a neurophysiological structure in the brain. This is a consistent picture, it seems to me. Are we talking about the same thing? Maybe, maybe not. Are there many ways of looking at the same thing? Probably yes. But of course the domain of the universal quantifier here is restricted over which objects this principle applies to. Objection: Let’s suppose that we are not talking about the same thing. Why does one discipline need to consult the others? Sure, psychology does not have to consult philosophy; but the problem is that philosophy does have to consult psychology (and yes, cognitive science and artificial intelligence). This does not mean that psychology and cognitive science will or does have anything fruitful to say, but philosophy regardless should consider the information found there. Last thought: If—as St. Aquinas, Pieper, Plato, Aristotle—thought that the most important quality or feature of the philosopher is the spirit of wonder, why would the philosopher not open herself to the world as a whole? I think this view is best called meta-philosophical holism (with its greatest defender being Josef Pieper, whom I will defend in another post).

*This post is largely based on a discussion had with a few people yesterday; all the ideas here are not ‘necessarily’ original to me ex. many of the objections, examples, et cetera. (I will keep the names anonymous).




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