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Critical Thinking

Good philosophy can lead to better science and good science should rely on good philosophy for better understanding of itself

This is part of the final assignment of my Intro to Philosophy Class with the University of Edinburgh.

Philosophy is often classified as a purely reflective method of inquiry into reality and our place in it. But science also investigates reality and our place in it, with impressive success. Why (if at all) should we engage in philosophical inquiry into these matters? 

This question and its relevance to the viability of philosophy as a field of studyare the reasons why I chose to enroll in this course. I have struggled before to grasp the essence of philosophy as a discipline; while I am a strong proponent of a proper scientific approach to everything (and I mean everything, I would apply rigorous methodology to all my decisions if I had access to one), I have, in the past, failed to see the value of attempting to arrive at the truth of anything without direct observation of, and experimentation on the particular “thing” whose truth needs to be discovered.  In short, and as the question expresses: why do we (civilisation) need a philosophical approach to discovery when we have the proven methods of science?

As I see it today, good philosophy can lead to better approaches to science and good science can serve as a corroborator to philosophy.  It turns out that philosophers for the most part are concerned with facts and have a desire to understand reality as well as is humanly possible.  I must admit that my disdain for the word philosophy resulted from my exposure to some anti-intellectual schools of thought such as Post modernism, and to the rhetoric used by the so called “progressive” minds of new social justice era.  Further, my idea of philosophy often brought my thoughts to the less desirable, if not insufficient religious persuasions, and the equivocal employ of the term to refer to an individual’s purely subjective worldview – worldviews that at times seem to corrupt the concepts put forth by the great thinkers of the past.

Good philosophy can lead to better science by requesting, in a sense, that the person conducting an analysis approaches information from a different or less orthodox angle; or, as Dr. Ward proposes in his definition, that we step back from thinking to look at the thinking itself and to verify that it is and remains critical. This metacognitive commitment makes the proper practice of philosophy not only noble but very practical; insofar, of course, as the checks and balances of our strongest scientific methods are allowed to filter out the errors in collected data.  This, in turn, is how good science can enhance philosophy: by providing the philosopher with better objects on which to focus their disciplined thinking after having determined the essence of these objects to be consistent with reality.

It can be argued that science has methods that replace philosophy; however, the emphasis of any philosophy, especially of science is on thinking separately about these methods, their foundations, and their implications to scientific endeavours. Having this focus on the protocols of science can help us determine what qualifies as true science and how reliable its theories are. Thus philosophy becomes the checks and balances for the checks and balances of science

The answer to this question is in the benefit that proper philosophising can offer to science, and to the activity of thinking in general.  The truth is that humans will always accept what they want as true despite evidence to the contrary; and even the most powerful of philosophical intuitions will not deter this behaviour, but those who apply proper epistemic tools to their thinking and the claims of others, will most often arrive at better conclusions than those who do not.

I propose a society where everyone is exposed to philosophical and scientific principles as part of their basic education, where we are not simply given answers to questions but afforded the ability to formulate better questions and to successfully challenge and test the answers we construct during our pursuit of truth. I strongly believe that while this exposure to better ways of thinking would not solve all the problems that plague the human condition, it would grant us the possibility of a more balanced and just world.

As my conclusion I submit that science and philosophy (when observed with discipline) can operate independently, and quite successfully, but can only present optimal result when worked together. But they can only present these optimal results when all those involved observe their obligation to intellectual honesty, and when personal emotional biases are controlled by a similar metacognitive commitment to critical thinking.


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Weekly Science Quotes

"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence."

Louis Pasteur


"Science is a way of life. Science is a perspective. Science is the process that takes us from confusion to understanding in a manner that's precise, predictive and reliable - a transformation, for those lucky enough to experience it, that is empowering and emotional."

Brian Greene

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