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Weinberg's Against Philosophy

  1. Jul 9, 2009 #1
    Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Philosophy is useless for Scientists and the only positive thing that can be said about it, is, that it protects us from even worse philosophy. :devil: Read and comment:
    http://depts.washington.edu/ssnet/Weinberg_SSN_1_14.pdf" [Broken]
    I hope you have heard of the author...
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2009 #2
    Re: Philosophy sucks

    People that believe that complicated philosophical arguments do not reveal reality are pragmatists. Pragmatism is a particular philosophy, with thousands of books filled with complicated philosophical arguments to back up its claims. So those that believe that all philosophy is rubbish are followers of a particular philosophy. Ironic, aint it!
  4. Jul 9, 2009 #3
    Re: Philosophy sucks

    LOL, I agree. Everyone has a philosophy.
  5. Jul 9, 2009 #4


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    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    But if you actually read the chpt, Weinberg actually makes decent points. He stirs things up by saying "philosophy is bunk". But then shows how certain philosophies, like atomism, have proved fruitful in the history of science.

    And then in self-contradicting fashion, argues that the purity of positivism (a philosophically held position of course) does not actually make for good science. Weinberg doesn't say it, but this in itself is the argument for why science needs the salt of philosophy. You need to make bold intuitive guesses as part of the evolution of knowledge.

    So the kind of philosophy a scientist needs is at "the history of ideas" level. It helps to see past our prejudices if we know how those prejudices were formed.

    Then as to future scientific knowledge, we should not expect contemporary philosophers to come out with specific answers to particular questions. But they could help lay the groundwork for future fruitful ideas like atomism.
  6. Jul 9, 2009 #5
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Science is a philosophy, with its roots mainly in the 'empiricism' of the enlightenment, which is of course based on ancient philosophies. This is a silly bigotry.
  7. Jul 9, 2009 #6
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    This very subforum is living for proof for an experimentalist such as me reading Weinberg's theoretical words.
  8. Jul 9, 2009 #7


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    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    For me it is more proof that philosophy doesn't get taught enough.
  9. Jul 9, 2009 #8
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    This is a beautiful text, and like anything Weinberg does, I doubt anybody can improve.
  10. Jul 9, 2009 #9


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    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Perhaps he just doesn't understand the usefulness of philosophy. One great uses of philosophy is paradoxes because they can give great insights into difficult problems. One of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century turned a philosophical paradox into profound mathematics.

    I believe in Platonism, so I guess my opinion is tainted and jaded.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  11. Jul 10, 2009 #10
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    That's not science or philosophy.

    That's religion.
  12. Jul 10, 2009 #11
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    I want to elaborate. We all have our personal interpretations of the reading (I hope) we all just did. I do not think Weinberg just told me he is "against" philosophy. My understanding of what I just read, being "against" philosophy is an absurd idea, and the root of the contradiction some people may feel here. We can not be "against" philosophy because we all have ours, it is inescapable as soon as we think. This very subforum is living proof that everybody has his own.

    What is useful for physics, the way science progresses, is not by ignoring philosophy, and in several places he gives examples. The way it progresses is by forming new personal philosophies which go beyond what was done by the respectful elders. The part of philosophy which claim to deal with science, which is the only part he talks about, can only try to keep up with the new genuine progress being made not by philosophers, but by physicists. Science is never written in stone, and scientists should always keep a fair balance (as everybody) when they use philosophy as an inspiration.

    When we quantum physicists say "shut up and calculate" we never meant (or if somebody did, they should not have) there is nothing to discuss about, no sense of an underlying reality. We mean "we'll discuss about it when someone has something worth to discuss". So develop your own ideas, this is necessary of course, but since experiment is the ultimate judge for scientific ideas, endless discussions about unproven ideas are mostly fruitless. This is almost an empirical statement based on a few decades of experience. Every theorist has their own philosophical prejudice why their approach must be better.
  13. Jul 10, 2009 #12
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    No, again, that's an empirical fact. It would be religion if I read nothing else. But I do read, including your own post.
  14. Jul 10, 2009 #13
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    So yes, what I'm saying is, before you put your own interpretation in Weinberg's mouth and then think you can reproach him, you may read again.
  15. Jul 10, 2009 #14
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    I'm always open to the opinions of experts.... when they are talking within their field of expertise. I do not believe this is the case here. This is reactionary, and ill-informed.
    Invoking Feyerabend, and the boogeyman of 'relativism', does no one any favours.

    The philosophy of science has a long and important history that is still very relevant to how scientists do science.

    And, he admits he doesn't know what he is talking about, then goes on to talk authoritatively on the subject. Could it be improved upon? Uhm, yes, very much.
  16. Jul 10, 2009 #15
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    This quote is about a particular type of philosophy. Perhaps this is what Weinberg means?
  17. Jul 10, 2009 #16
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Yes it is ! But not anymore for the particular, very specific, point of helping scientists making new theories about fundamental physics. I only wish it would be otherwise. I would rather if someone came up suddenly with a new book going really beyond established physics, including a first chapter on philosophy, ten chapters on the theory, one chapter on experimental evidence, and yet another concluding chapter on philosophy. That would be perfect. It just does not seem likely anymore.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2009
  18. Jul 10, 2009 #17
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”


    How one evaluates, justifies and utilizes; hypotheses, laws, and theories; is all part of what the philosophy of science is.

    Newton's understanding of gravity was purely observational. He described a pattern. He had no interest in what makes it work. His interest was in how it works, the rules. Einstein wanted more of an 'explanation'. These are distinctly different views of what science is for. And the distinction remains.

    When a scientist is doing labwork, recording data, and such. No, the major concern is not about what his understanding of science is. But once a scientist moves beyond simply recording data, into inductive reasoning, explanation, and justification; the philosophy of science does become important. And the fact many scientists don't understand this, does impact on the science they do.
  19. Jul 10, 2009 #18
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    The quote only really applies if you believe all scientists are birdbrains. :)
  20. Jul 10, 2009 #19

    George Jones

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  21. Jul 10, 2009 #20
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    No that it is certainly not accurate. He was not fully satisfied with the philosophy of his own work, he was quite a metaphysical type, but he could only accept the success of his own work.
    Yes, once a scientist moves beyond doing science. And they all do.

    There is one point that I would also like to emphasize. Weinberg is not even discussing cosmology. He really refers to very high energy physics. What is philosophical in coming with string theory, LQG, non-commutative geometry, or twistor methods ? All those have technical motivations and developments. Scientists understand them technically better than philosophers, and only once scientists will tell philosophers "ok now this is this one theory you should seriously study" may we expect serious efforts to come up with something interesting to say from philosophers. By this time, scientists will study something else already. It is certainly not to say that there are not very distinct philosophical prejudices behind the different approaches quoted above.

    It is amusing that you quote Einstein for instance. We may evaluate the value for researchers of a few short perfectly clear books Einstein has written versus several order of magnitudes more philosophers have written about relativity.

    By the same token, I may read 50 pages from Alain Connes and understand quantum mechanics even better than by reading von Neumann and certainly better that by reading thousands of books about the philosophy of quantum mechanics. Those are not useless absolutely, they are useless for working scientists today.
  22. Jul 10, 2009 #21
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Let me also note, after reading George Jones' link, that european philosophers before WWI in Europe were seriously educated in science. They did have something to say about science. That was a century ago.
  23. Jul 10, 2009 #22
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Understanding what a valid scientific theory is, IS PHILOSOPHY.
    You are missing the point entirely.

    What a philosopher thinks about the validity of relativity or any other individual theory is not what the philosophy of science is even about. The philosophy of science is about how science is done, and how one ought to do it. Not the value of any particular theory.
  24. Jul 10, 2009 #23
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    Yes and when I'm building my own philosophy it's much more efficient by reading the scientists who made them than by reading professional philosophers.
  25. Jul 10, 2009 #24
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    I never said that. Thinking about the validity of a scientific theory is the profession of scientists by definition.
  26. Jul 10, 2009 #25
    Re: Weinberg's “Against Philosophy”

    And what makes a scientific theory valid?
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