Science seeks to explain natural events with natural causes. The Turing hypothesis does this. Beyond the bounds of science, there is no objective argument for anything really, just philosophical ones. To take nothing away from philosophical arguments, they fundamentally rely on unprovable premises

From a recent thread on turing machines. The poster concludes that philosophy is no different to "religion" - and everything it taken on faith.

My questions

  1. is this analysis of philosophy a science?
  2. is it the "best" science of philosophy?
  3. if not, then can it be proven anyway?
  4. and if it was, would it be viciously circular anyway?


There may be some truth to Wittgenstein's maxim that the only job of philosophy is to prove that only the natural sciences can really be true.

Of course that need not be problematic in itself - it can be expressed without self contradiction.

But: Wittgenstein does make some assumptions, and so his analysis would IMHO be viciously circular - if taken literally that is!

So unless our best sciences show that only the sciences can be true - then we are stuck.

  • Aren't we??
  • guh not ab. sure v. circular is the term i need here ?
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 15:23
  • 2
    Is a scientist proving the validity of science better off than a philosopher proving the validity of philosophy? Both smells like circular reasoning. But: Proving the validity of a methodology cannot be done empirically. The only discipline capable of scrutinizing the scientific method is philosophy. And the only discipline capable of scrutinizing the philosophical method is philosophy. That's where the circle is, and that's where we're stuck.
    – Einer
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:45
  • you mean - we are stuck arguing with unproven intuitions?
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 19:55
  • 1
    I assume you are familiar with the münchhausen-trilemma. We are always stuck in that swamp! Can we establish a hierarchy of reasoning/certainty? How can we do that? Or can't we? I don't know, but thinking about those questions is the core of philosophy. So my money is with that discipline.
    – Einer
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 20:13
  • 1
    Just want to raise my voice as the original poster of the comment. I would like to mention that it is necessarily simplified for purposes of the comment but I think was still relevant to the discussion at hand, which was qualia as taken on faith. I'll try to monitor this post for clarity and direction as it develops. Thanks!
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 21:28

4 Answers 4


I can scarcely think of a fact better supported by empirical evidence than that logic works to understand things. And you can't get anywhere with theory-building if you don't use rules of logic in your scientific endeavor. So if you're not going to admit philosophy, you don't have much science to do.

Now, philosophy does not constrain itself to that which is robustly provable, nor does it take care to the degree that science does to assess certainty of various models and assumptions. But the idea that all philosophy is just flim-flam is as badly nonsensical as nonsense can be.

We also have, however, oodles of evidence that the scientific method works way better (where "better" means "more successful at building robust and lasting knowledge") than anything else we've tried. If you want to frame this in scientific terms and do experiments on it, you can, but it's kind of like scientific studies to determine whether drinking water is necessary: there's so much evidence around already that doing a separate experiment is an exercise in pedantics not accumulating knowledge.

Finally, circular reasoning is not problematic if somewhere in the circle are a set of safe assumptions; it just shows you how things you already know are interrelated with others that you didn't. If you have a really small circle e.g. "Ben stole the cookies because he is a thief; Ben is a thief because he stole the cookies" then the problem is not the circularity per se but the detachment with anything that we believe we know. So it could all be false or all true. But if you have a circle that encompasses some very safe assumptions ("I have a hand" -> (many steps) -> "electrons are real" -> (more steps) -> "I have a hand") then you are not detached; you've demonstrated that the claims in the circle are as safe as your safe assumptions. Your safe assumptions aren't proven correct, of course. But if by "correct" you mean that they let you model and predict the world with high reliability, and those assumptions do, then your circular reasoning has just expanded the reach of your model. It might not be True but you don't really care as long as the whole framework does the job. (Coherentism makes a similar point.)

  • so people can reject philosophy on the grounds that they only accept observations that have high reliability - scientific ones? but that isn't shown to be "correct" - just consistent ?
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 20:14
  • I'm just going to throw incompleteness theorem at it and say we have to take certain things based on faith. Science is different because we're using philosophy rather than building it up directly, which to me provides an important difference and also validates the difference in name. Science is a subset of philosophy, but it does have certain fixed assumptions that protect it from certain critiques to which philosophy as a whole is susceptible.
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 21:34
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    @user3293056 - My argument is that you can only reject some philosophy. You can't just throw the entire field out without looking. And that circularity isn't a problem when the circle covers everything.
    – Rex Kerr
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 22:46
  • oh damn, i don't understand the last paragraph then - can you edit it ?
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 22:47

"Absolute" skepticism is no philosophy at all.

If we want to produce an argument showing that (e.g.) :

  • there is no truth

  • there is no knowledge

  • there is no science

  • there is no philosophy

  • ...

in every case we have to "assemble" a rational discourse trying to prove/support/... the thesis.

This argument needs : assumptions, rules of reasoning, etc. i.e. some kind of "tools" that we need in order to build it.

We can in turn discuss about the "tools", but we need a new argument, with assumptions, rules, and so on.

Thus, we have no escape from arguments, and in this sense it is hard to assert that we can have a rational certainity about some truth, science, philosophy,... which is absolutely grounded.

But if we want to use this "indefinitely revisable" approach to knowledge into an absolute proof about the non-existence of any sort of knowledge... I think it simply does not work.

If we try to "write" a proof that we cannot prove anything, we have to use some logic laws in the proof, e.g. the law of non-contradiction.

And what happens if this law is "wrong" ?

Thus, if we have no "ultimate" arguments pro something, we cannot have either "ultimate" arguments contra ...

  • does that convince anyone @ ?
    – user6917
    Commented Aug 27, 2014 at 17:02
  • "This theorem has no proof."
    – Calvin
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 21:36

The passage you quoted was:

Science seeks to explain natural events with natural causes. The Turing hypothesis does this. Beyond the bounds of science, there is no objective argument for anything really, just philosophical ones. To take nothing away from philosophical arguments, they fundamentally rely on unprovable premises.

You ask:

is this analysis of philosophy a science?

is it the "best" science of philosophy?

if not, then can it be proven anyway?

and if it was, would it be viciously circular anyway?

The passage you quoted is bad philosophy. Since he is talking about unprovable premises he thinks that it is possible to prove stuff. This would mean that there is a process that shows that a particular idea is true or more probable than its competitors - let's call it justification. In reality, you can't prove any position or show it is probable. Any argument requires premises and rules of inference and it doesn't prove (or make probable) those premises or rules of inference. If you're going to say they're self evident then you are acting in a dogmatic manner that will prevent you from spotting some mistakes. If you don't say they are self evident then you would have to prove those premises and rules of inference by another argument that would bring up a similar problem with respect to its premises and rules of inference.

In reality all knowledge is created by conjecture and criticism. You notice a problem with your current ideas, propose solutions, criticise the solutions until only one is left and then find a new problem. Experiments are useful only as criticism. Ideas can't be derived from experiment any more than from any other set of premises. Rather, the idea is that you work out how the consequences of one theory differ from those of another and then look for problems with those consequences.

In science the criticism involves experimental tests: you conjecture ideas about experimental setups that would enable you to see the relevant consequences and criticise them. Once you have a setup that works about as well as you can make it work you use it to do the test. If the results are compatible with one theory and not the others then you may have successfully refuted some false ideas. Sometimes a purported successful experimental test will be successfully criticised because a test is a conjecture about something that happened and that conjecture may be wrong, so experiments don't prove anything.

An idea about standards is not scientific. It does not say that it is impossible to break the standards, just that breaking the standards would be a bad idea. So no experiment can distinguish between different standards. By invoking unprovability, the author of the comment you quoted makes a substantive philosophical and unscientific claim about standards. He also claims there are no objective standards for assessing philosophical claims. So if we were to take his position seriously we have to conclude that it is completely arbitrary and no more of less worthwhile than any other position. In addition, because scientific theories can't be proven his adoption of that standard also implies that all scientific positions are completely arbitrary and no more of less worthwhile than any other position. So the commenter's position is inconsistent and so it is false. But it is worse than false, for as long as he holds it he will not be looking for criticisms of the sort that he can only get from good philosophy books, which brings me to some recommended reading:

"Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper

"The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch.

  • I don't see how the quote is inconsistent with a Popperian view of science, nor how the quote indicates that "he thinks that it is possible to prove stuff".
    – Dave
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 13:04
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    He contrasted philosophy with science by saying philosophy rested on "unprovable premises" so proof is possible and science in particular has provable premises. This is inconsistent with the idea that justification is impossible and so inconsistent with Popper's position as explained in "Realism and the Aim of Science".
    – alanf
    Commented Aug 29, 2014 at 15:35

We should remember that science developed from philosophy. Philosophy has a toolbox containing logic, principles, razors etc. Modern philosophy has been described as the leftover over bit after the development of science. Both science and philosophy develop, and some philosophical areas may grow into science. Philosophy is not science, nor is it inimical to science.

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