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Mr. Taylor might wanna define 'human problems' and 'real world issues'. If a philosopher works on consciousness, is it less any 'human' for her to care what those neuroscientist say??

Marcus Arvan

Mark: Fair enough about consciousness, but I can't help but be sympathetic with the general worry. M&E are are supposedly the "core" areas of philosophy these days, but it's hard for me to see how real world-ish most metaphysical problems are. Statues and lumps? Mereology? Billy and Suzy throwing rocks at windows?

Matt DeStefano

I'm inclined to agree with Taylor (and Marcus) about the irrelevance of many philosophical inquiries. While "real world issues" certainly involve the nature of consciousness and other philosophical problems, but like you say, Marcus, I don't know that many metaphysical problems have serious real world implications.

I am a bit confused at the idea that "philosophers are becoming scientists" is supposed to be derogatory. Do scientists not work on "human problems" or "real world issues"?

Brad Cokelet

I doubt engaging with Taylor on this topic will be fruitful. Bernard Williams, on the other hand, makes a more interesting case for a thesis in the same ballpark.

Here is a representative quote from his paper "Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline":

"One definite contrast to a humanistic conception of philosophy is scientism. I do not mean by this simply an interest or involvement in science. Philosophy should certainly be interested in the sciences and some philosophers may well be involved in them, and nothing I say is meant to deny it. Scientism is, rather, a misunderstanding of the relations between philosophy and the natural sciences which tends to assimilate philosophy to the aims, or at least the manners, of the sciences. In line with the point I have just made about the variety of philosophy, there certainly is some work in philosophy which quite properly conducts itself as an extension of the natural or mathematical sciences, because that is what it is: work in the philosophy of quantum mechanics, for instance, or in the more technical aspects of logic. But in many other areas, the assimilation is a mistake."

The whole paper is on-line here:


Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Matt: I think I share your confusion. If scientists work on "real-world" issues, then, presumably, for philosophers to be more like scientists would be a good thing.

Brad: Thanks for the Williams reference. It looks very interesting. I'm curious to know why Williams thinks that "assimilation is a mistake."

Brad Cokelet

Moti: Generally speaking he thinks philosophy should aim to help us make sense of, and reflectively evaluate, our historically and culturally "local" conceptions and practices and he thinks this aim is more in line with the aim that historians have towards past situations than with the aim that scientists have. Roughly, scientists aim to grasp the fundamental, eternal structure of reality, and he thinks that in many areas of philosophy it is a mistake to aim to do that.

Brad Cokelet

Well, I think that is his main contention!

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