Does a scientific question which we have not yet had the resources or time to answer scientifically classify as philosophically relevant? Or does everything which can be figured out through observation disqualify as philosophy on principle?

I'm constantly told that if something one day can be answered by a scientific study or if some kind of physical explanation can be given it disqualify from being philosophy. Is this how most philosophers view their field?

Are you not doing philosophy when you try to come up with reasonable answers to issues in circumstances where you are not able to live up to scientific standards, for whatever reasons, or are you doing something else? And if so, what would this be? (fiction?)

Wasn't all science philosophy at one point (before we had accumulated a big enough body of facts to classify it as science)?

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    Possibly a duplicate question:"Does philosophy belong to empirical science or formal science?";"What is the relationship between philosophy and science?" Apr 5, 2013 at 13:54
  • "I understand that all things which cannot be be figured out through observation disqualify as science." I think will be very hard to you justify it. Apr 5, 2013 at 14:01
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    It seems to me that philosophy is work that you have to do before you ask an empirically verifiable question. For instance, you first have to formulate the right question, and the framework in which to ask it, hopefully with the aim to learn something useful once you've asked the question. Scientific disciplines explore the world; philosophy explores the way in which we ought to go about exploring it. This goes some way to explaining why the current scientific tradition has its roots in philosophy: not only as an historical accident, but because people first grappled with fundamental ideas. Apr 5, 2013 at 14:04
  • @RicardoBevilaqua thanks for your feedback. I liked the idea of 'formal science'. Could it be argued that 'analytical philosophy' is not philosophy at all but rather 'formal science'? (I have felt that way many times since 'analytical philosophy' surely has a body of facts it studies) and thanks for pointing out my reckless claim :) which I now have taken away.
    – Kriss
    Apr 5, 2013 at 14:55
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    @Kriss Analytic philosophy is an emphasis on clarity via analysis of language, a focus on conceptual analysis, in contrast to continental philosophy. It is precision and thoroughness about a narrow topic, and resistance to imprecise discussions of broad topics, spiritual improvement, phenomenology and ideological philosophies. I don't think it is a science. The experts don't agree about most of the fundamentals. A formal system is an well-defined system of abstract thought based on models. To say that analytic philosophy is a formal system is to restrict it too much. Apr 5, 2013 at 17:24

7 Answers 7


Are you not doing philosophy when you try to come up with reasonable answers to issues in circumstances where you are not able to live up to scientific standards, for whatever reasons, or are you doing something else? And if so, what would this be? (fiction?)

Trying to come up with 'reasonable' answers to empirical questions without studying nature is indeed fiction or scientific speculation, not philosophy as it is understood in the contemporary academic community and also not empirical science. Commonly accepted are thought experiments, all kinds of more or less counterfactual speculation, and similar kind of hypothetical reasoning. Also commonly accepted nowadays are philosophical theories that are informed by empirical results, and if they can be shown to be empirically adequate many contemporary philosophers would consider this a benefit. Substantial arguments based on purely speculative answers to empirical questions without further support by empirical studies are not acceptable.

(Of course, you might always find a philosopher who disagrees. I'm describing a general consensus among professional philosophers, what you could call the 'mainstream' position.)

  • I never meant to suggest that you can find reasonable answers if you don't study nature :) , only that you might not always have the time or resources to use rigid scientific methods. So you are saying philosophical theories should be informed by empirical evidence to qualify as philosophy or else it is fiction? My reckless comment (which I took away even before you finished your answer) was meant to mean "all things which cannot be physically verified or falsified, at least indirectly". I don't see how philosophy is a science though?
    – Kriss
    Apr 5, 2013 at 14:44
  • No to the first question. Philosophy need not be informed empirically, I just claim that many philosophers nowadays allow that in contrast to formerly when philosophy was supposed to deal with only a priori matters. Regarding the second question, why should philosophy not be a science, just like mathematics and computer science who aren't empirical either? (To be complete, there are also naturalists like Papineau who think that philosophy is only empirical, but these advocate rigid scientific methods even more than non-naturalists). Apr 5, 2013 at 16:46
  • Just to make clear that I'm not being misunderstood. I personally don't have a definition of philosophy, don't care for one and don't think one can be given. When I use "acceptable" it's only meant in terms of getting funding, getting your papers published, etc., in philosophy at a university. Also, speculation is fine but if it concerns an empirical question A without evidence, then it should take a neutral form "if A were the case (which seems plausible), then C" not "A is the case because B" where B is not based on proper empirical evidence. Puh...now that's enough for today. :O Apr 5, 2013 at 16:51
  • Could you clarify the difference between philosophy and theoretical science? I'm not sure about when hypothetical reasoning falls on one side or the other.
    – Trylks
    Aug 15, 2013 at 18:26

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. In more casual speech, by extension, "philosophy" can refer to "the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group".

The word "philosophy" comes from the Ancient Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means "love of wisdom". - Wikipedia

  • Would you say that approach that you mention could be described as a workflow?
    – Trylks
    Aug 15, 2013 at 18:24

The short response is that the answer can be found in the original name of science, i.e. Natural Philosophy. Science is the philosophy of natural laws, so to put them in conflict is impossible. Science is just one branch of philosophy. Others are morals, ethics, politics, etc.

  • There are more sciences than natural sciences. Currently there are social sciences, which relate more closely to morals, ethics and politics.
    – Trylks
    Aug 15, 2013 at 18:23
  • Pro tip: if it has the word "science" in the title, it probably isn't. Aug 16, 2013 at 7:37
  • That's an assertion to be challenged.
    – Trylks
    Aug 16, 2013 at 10:27
  • Then challenge away. Aug 16, 2013 at 11:54
  • I can't, I still don't know how could I say something about science when there seems to be no consensus about what science is. It's like talking about whizziwazzles. Actually you should provide the definition of science, and you would not succeed at that task even if you thought you did. At the end, you would think you proved your points for giving a coherent (in the best case) but not shared or agreed point of view about what is science and what is not.
    – Trylks
    Aug 16, 2013 at 13:41

Do not bother with definitions. Word philosophy already wants to retire - so misunderstood it became. There is no philosophy or science - there is only THINKING about ourselfs and universe. We all HAVE to think in our lifes. Somebody thinks in one way, somebody thinks better, somebody thinks he does not think.

World if full with stuff to think about. This stuff exist on different levels which are connected.

Imagine we send you to distant unknown planet without your knowledge. One day you wake up and there are strange things all around -- you immediately start thinking about everything alien around and BAAM! - you are now philosopher or better to say thinker :)

So forget that someone said something is not philosophy - everything is and it is thinking. There are more clear things, more abstract, more mystical, more heartbreaking - they all are for just one thing. TO THINK.

People divide because they can not master several - look and learn from people who are multidimensional. They are closer to the truth.


Or does everything which can be figured out through observation disqualify as philosophy on principle?

On the flip side of the coin. Can undetermined observations in science be considered philosophy? As with the Quantum superposition

Most of philosophy itself, by its nature, does not try and understand concrete observable methods. If there is scientific method to prove a philosophical ideology , was it even philosophy to begin with. Maybe just a phase of a new paradigm that branches into its areas of concern with further understanding and explanation.

I think philosophy can most certainly lead people in other sciences to re-think current models and new ideas in the human thought progress. Our understanding of how we think and the way in which the world works are intertwined that both can effect the other.

It seems as if philosophy is the art of the sciences.


Science is a philosophy. It is a methodology to explain how we perceive reality. Science explains how reality works, it does not explain what reality is. Read Erwin Schroedinger's book "What is Life? with 'Mind and Matter'" for a 'philosophical' view on the limits of science. Schroedinger won the Nobel prize for his discoveries on light, was a member of the 'Copenhagen group', the discoverer of the dual nature of light, Schroedinger's wave equation, and the Schroedinger's cat paradox.


Yes, you might usefully think of the set of problems in the domain of philosophy as the set of problems which we can't resolve empirically, by observation.

However, this allows that many questions which we could not research empirically have come to be able to be researched this way. "What is matter?", for instance, has shifted over time from being a largely philosophical question to mostly in the domain of physics, because we can learn so much about it using the methods of physics. Over time, as science has improved, many questions have shifted mostly or entirely out of the realm of philosophy over to science. Of course, science has generate new philosophical problems, too!

Any way of roughly marking out the current domain of philosophy should also take into consideration that philosophers often refer to empirical results and theory when discussing problems. A huge portion of contemporary Philosophy of Mind, for instance, is engaged with neuroscience. But, as of now, philosophers of mind have questions neuroscience doesn't have the tools to answer.

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