My 11 year old is tasked with interpreting a Seneca quote. I started out by trying to explain to him what ethics is by contrasting 'Will robots ever have feelings?' as a question in Philosophy of Mind, with 'Should robots have rights?' a question in Ethics.
He then completely stumped me with the following back and forth:
"Isn't 'Will robots ever have feelings?' a scientific question? That's what you do for work, and you're a computer scientist, not a philosopher." (I work in Machine Learning)
"Science is about things you can observe and measure through experiments, and real feelings (as opposed to simulated feelings) cannot be observed or measured because they are locked deep inside someone's mind."
"That doesn't make sense. Science is full of examples where people asked questions about things they couldn't observe or measure, like the speed of light. They didn't just ignore them and start studying other stuff, they worked hard to come up with tricks to observe and measure them. "
At first I thought that I had just chosen a bad example: AI and consciousness is too much of an edge case, an example that is more inline with what Daniel Dennett meant when he said that scientific disciplines that are in their early stages (or as Kuhn would say, before a paradigm was established) necessarily involved metaphysical considerations.
But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that his comment was a Quine-level deconstruction of the entire empiricist mindset, not just a quirk of the borderline topic of A.I. and consciousness.
So my main question is:
How can someone defend empiricism and the scientific method against the argument that unverifiable or unfalsifiable statements cannot be dismissed as unscientific, because for all we know, we simply haven't developed the techniques or technology to observe them?