I asked a question earlier about how the Genealogy of Morals by Nietzsche had held out in terms how accurate his philosophy was, now that we know more about the emergence of the human animal. The question was put on hold because the commenter said that philosophers often do "arm-chair myths about how society arrived" and the checking of those myths isn't within the scope of philosophy, I provide a link to my question below, however, I'd like to ask a more general question:

Is philosophy simply conjuring up theories, ideas, myths, stories etc. in order to answer questions without much concern for the evidence that may help improve the answers to such questions. I have always thought philosophy was a form of study where many different disciplines and ideas came together to provide answers under different interpretations, thereby increasing the stock of knowledge, and if this is true then shouldn't philosophers keep a finger on the pulse of other disciplines like science and even religion. I am wrong to think of philosophy in this way? Do philosophers only look for some internal logic in their work and care not if it turns out to be consistent with observational data? Thank you and I apologize if this question too is misguided, I am new to philosophy and perhaps I have asked another silly question.


  • Honestly, if anything, I'd say your linked question is too empirically anthropological to be within the domain of philosophy. You're essentially asking whether Nietzsche's anthropology was correct - that's not a question for philosophy but for anthropology. It's a perfectly good question, and I'm myself very interested, but just not within the purview of philosophical inquiry. – commando Nov 28 '15 at 1:17

The questions pondered by philosophy since Thales eventually engendered "natural philosophy," as modern science was originally called. Scientific method since Bacon and Galileo pursues those questions in an increasingly well-defined, limited, credentialed, and conditional manner.

Science offers clear standards for what is accepted as subject matter and "knowledge" in its different disciplines. When these standards are applied, the practice becomes "science" and the "remainder," we might say, is philosophy... which has its own standards, methods, etc., but does not restrict its subject matter or necessarily accept the inductive, conditional, experimental limits to "knowledge."

Nonetheless, most professional philosophers remain keenly interested in and knowledgeable about progress in science and mathematics. Many address those issues in science that practicing scientists themselves are not necessarily concerned with. These might include the epistemological structure of scientific evidence or the ontological status of entities like "fields" or "genes." The questions of "how do you know?" or "what is it really?" are largely excised from science, since they can endlessly regress into skepticism.

In the analytical and empirical traditions, from Locke to the logical empiricists, many philosophers have seen their role as the conceptual clarification and justification of the sciences, toilers who "clear the brush" for science, as Locke put it. Most scientists, it must be said, do not regard this as an especially helpful or useful function. As philosopher Mary Midgley puts it, "philosophy is like plumbing." Everybody takes it for granted, nobody cares to think about it, until some connection breaks!

In philosophy, moreover, nothing goes out of date. Philosophy retains and studies its own history. But as the literature grows, philosophy too undergoes division of labor and specialization. Leibniz was reputedly the last man to "know everything" and Hegel the last philosopher to "know all of philosophy." So today many areas of philosophy have no particular need to keep up with science and math. Indeed, most scientists today cannot keep up with science and math. Philosophers who work in logic, ethics, language, political philosophy, phenomenology, hermeneutics, or history of philosophy don't need to subscribe to Nature or Scientific American.

Minus consensus or experimental validation, what good is philosophy? Well, its gedanken experiments are at least affordable. According to a joke circulating in physics departments, the university Dean complains bitterly about the cost of physics: "Why do you physicists need all this expensive equipment? The math department only needs pencils and a waste basket. And the philosophy department doesn't even need the waste basket!"

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  • I wouldn't argue with this summary but would want to point out that it is a description of the Western tradition and not of philosophy as a whole, most of which is ignored here. – user20253 Apr 11 '18 at 12:39

Do philosophical theories stay independent of scientific discoveries?

Of course the straight up answer to this is a resounding "No", any serious philosopher has to take into account real facts about the world, including those constantly being discovered by science.

Do philosophers only look for some internal logic in their work and care not if it turns out to be consistent with observational data?

Again, ideally "No", this is the very definition of Sophistry as used in its pejorative meaning.

Of course this isn't the case in practice. Philosophers are thrilled when confronted with scientific facts that confirm their theories. When confronted with blatant scientific and technological refutations of their ideas, they do not abandon them completely, instead they tweak and reinterpret the internal logic of their theories, so that their main ideas still stand. It doesn't really matter that they now have to bend over backwards and run in around in circles for their logic to stand. Religious like, they will hold to their fundamental dogmas at all costs, and change their interpretations and readings of the world accordingly. I guess we at least should give them credit though for always attempting to reconcile the latest facts of science with their theories

A typical case is mind-body dualism: DesCartes ideas about the nature of thoughts and how they differ from the body, and how they interact with the body, have been largely refuted by modern physiology, computer science and information theory. The dualists response has not been to abandon dualism, but instead to reinterpret DesCartes, and accuse materialists of not getting DesCartes true intentions and meaning.

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  • So would asking the question I asked be not suited for this site: the question of looking back on the genealogy of morals? – Barinder Singh Nov 27 '15 at 20:40
  • What a terrible answer. Scientific discoveries rely on a temporary stabilization of philosophical problems. Philosophy transcends that. The idea that Descartes' mind-body dualism can be refuted by any sort of scientific theory is ludicrous. – Pedro Werneck Nov 28 '15 at 1:59
  • @BarinderSingh as you can see Pedro Werneck is confirming my reply. – Alexander S King Nov 29 '15 at 19:05

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