Philosophy, one may state, is a field where one makes descriptive statements about the world - whether it's in ethics, metaphysics, logic, or any other philosophical study.

For example "the world is made out of physical entities" is a descriptive statement, and "all bachelor's are not married" is another. While on the contrary, scientific statements, one may state, are those of predictive power. Like, for example, "a ball that rolls down the hill would keep on rolling until something stops it", and "if a man that changes social groups, his social status would probably change, more often than a man that stays within his original social group".

Is this distinction between philosophical statements and scientific statements correct? Do philosophical enquiries not have predictive power?


Just to be clear, this question isn't about what differentiate philosophy from science; I merely use science as a contrast to something that doesn't involve prediction (as most would say that prediction is science's goal).

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    The statements you provided are not philosophical but linguistical. That means they define relationships between words/notions. – rus9384 Oct 30 '18 at 16:59
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    Isn't reducing philosophy to "descriptive statements", well, reductive? Isn't its role more of tying up diverse experiences into a structured whole? Sciences also make plenty of "descriptive statements", positivists even thought that that is what its experimental basis consists of. And description, if accurate, is predictive of what it describes. "All bachelor's are not married" is analytic by the usual lights rather than descriptive. – Conifold Oct 30 '18 at 17:47
  • @Conifold I agree with every word, I couldn't think of this description myself but knew there was something wrong with my wordings. And still, "tying up diverse experiences into a structured whole" - can this make a prediction? – Yechiam Weiss Oct 30 '18 at 18:00
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    It can, but perhaps more importantly, it helps with explaining and deciding how to act. So while philosophy can make predictions that is not its primary function. Once predictions in some area become specific enough it splits off into a positive science. – Conifold Oct 30 '18 at 19:29
  • "predictions" about what ? – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Oct 30 '18 at 19:52

Philosophy makes countless predictions but whether these are the sort of predictions you mean I'm not sure. They are the results of analysis but may serve as predictions.

This is an off-the-cuff scrappy list but by its results philosophy predicts...

--it is impossible to establish the objective reality of phenomena or discover an 'essence' at their core.

--there is no way to show how consciousness arises from matter.

--physics will never be able to refute or verify solipsism

--a matter-only theory is not fundamental. Materialism is false.

--a mind-only theory is not fundamental. Subjective Idealism is false.

--physics will never discover a fact that contradicts a result of metaphysical analysis.

--physics (as currently defined) will never have a fundamental theory.

--the metaphysical existence of time and space will never be established.

There are many more but whether they would count as predictions in the sense asked by the question may be moot.

  • By "philosophy predicts", do you mean "almost all philosophers agree that"? What about "a result of metaphysical analysis" - particularly considering that space, time, and causality were all seriously revised in the Twentieth Century? – David Thornley Nov 1 '18 at 16:28
  • @DavidThornley - I mean that philosophy predicts in the same way as mathematics. Mathematics 'predicts' that if I add 20 apples to 50 apples I'll have 70 apples. By analysis we establish the absurdity of metaphysical positions and theories and so 'predict' their falsity. I concede that this is not what the OP may have meant by 'predict'. . – PeterJ Nov 1 '18 at 17:18
  • Mathematics doesn't predict that. It says that 20 + 50 is 70. There are lots of things that don't actually add. If you have one drop of water and add one drop of water, you've got one drop of water. If you take two appropriately-shaped pieces of weapons-grade U-235 and bang them together sufficiently hard, and bring everything back together, you will find you've lost some mass. We know empirically that, under normal circumstances (i.e., not dropping into a black hole) apples add like integers. – David Thornley Nov 2 '18 at 22:10
  • @DavidThornley Yes. Mathematics predicts that apples add like integers. Or, at least, mathematicians do. I did note that this sort of prediction might not qualify but still I think a case can be made. – PeterJ Nov 3 '18 at 12:48

Classically philosophers have disagreed on this, and it has as much to do with the changing social status of philosophy (as a field of literature or an academic discipline) than anything else. Before approximately 1800, anyone who was making important predictions about nature or society would be called a "natural philosopher" or a "moral philosopher". Since then, largely due to the influence of Kant, an idea has spread that philosophy is sort of the command-center of all forms of theoretical inquiry, grappling with the limits of human reason and what we can legitimately infer; as soon as philosophers manage to spin off a sub-field of philosophy with its own proper theoretical tools and conceptual apparatus, then that sub-field stops being part of philosophy and becomes an "empirical science".

Anyway, without boring you with the history (which, as I've implied, combined sociological changes and philosophical changes in odd ways), the basic conceptions philosophers seem to have today:

  1. Philosophers investigate the same sorts of questions as empirical scientists but using different approaches/methods/background training.
  2. Philosophers investigate the same topics as empirical researchers, but there is a clean division of the questions (philosophy handles the questions that can't be answered or can't be described in empirical terms: so no predictions)
  3. Philosophers investigate different topics, skew to what empirical research is able to look into (again, the topics don't lend themselves to prediction, verification, or falsification)
  4. Philosophy and the empirical sciences kiss on their borders, so that e.g. an abstract metaphysical analysis of space could turn out to be crucial for theoretical physics.

My concluding caution would be: just because you can't follow/conceive what a position's implications (empirical or logical) are, doesn't mean it doesn't have implications.

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