More Philosophical Whining

Jim Holt, in the NYTimes (via 3Qdaily) says “Physicists, Stop the Churlishness“.

Oh come on! This ‘churlishness’ is all just part of the ‘game’ that has been going on *between* philosophers ever since the beginning.

And philosophers themselves have never been slouches when it comes to applying that ‘churlishness’ to philosophy in general – especially in comparison with real science.

Russell: “The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of a bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.”

Nietzsche:”Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; also that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy constituted the real germ of life from which the whole plant had grown.
among scholars who are really scientific men things may well be different – ‘better’, if you like – there you may really find something like a drive for knowledge…”

But I would give Democritus a bit more credit than some other commenters have done. Coming up with a plausible hypothesis is a worthwhile contribution, even if the necessary step of testing it is left for someone else to do later (and even if “later” in this case means two millennia). His atoms actually do serve quite well to explain the proportions of reagents in chemical reactions. And after what early chemists thought to be the “atoms” turned out not to be? – well, we still have not quite completely abandoned the idea of truly elementary particles, so the idea of indivisible “atoms” still has legs to some extent.

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