Presentation at Reading, Jan. 2013

Presentation at Reading, Jan. 2013

2011年6月4日 星期六

Philosophy in an Age of Science

This is the title of the conference in honor of Hilary Putnam's 85th birthday. I think it is a nice gloss of contemporary philosophy as well. This is true in a trivial sense: natural sciences have been well established for at least two hundred and fifty years, and philosophy during this time is automatically qualified as "philosophy in an age of science." However, this title has a deeper connotation.

Philosophy is a weird subject. One can virtually do almost whatever one likes in this field, and this implies that one can disregard sciences and say whatever they like in philosophy. Of course this does not mean that people like that can all succeed in their professions, but at least there is no principal reason they will fail.

I do not think that philosophy is parasitic on sciences. However, I believe the interactions with sciences should be taken more seriously. There are so many branches in philosophy that are closely related to sciences: philosophy of science (obviously), of physics, of biology, of psychology, of mind, of language, and so on. Some kinds of metaphysics and ethics are like that too. Philosophers in these branches have no good excuse to avoid sciences. As Putnam remarked at the conference, philosophers of science should learn quantum mechanics, as opposed to pretending that they can work with Newtonian physics exclusively. This remark, together with my general suggestion above, might seem trivially true. And I agree. The trouble is that in practice it is difficult for philosophers - including myself - to follow the truism.

Before coming to the U.S., I always thought that it has been too late for me to learn psychology. And though I attended a lot events in psychology and tried to learn a bit, I found lots of excuses to not take it more seriously. To be sure, I have always respected the subject and taken it seriously theoretically speaking, but in practice I refused to engage it in more direct ways.

That was silly, and now I finally overcome it. After this year in NYC, I have totally changed my mind. The seminar on attention and perception by Ned Block and David Carmel in particular blew my mind, in a good way. And this conference for Putnam reinforced my new conviction: I want to do philosophy in an age of science, in a much more serious way. And Putnam is such a good paradigm for that.

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