I am asking this because I've seen articles, graphics, and quotes of science against philosophy. I believe Hawking have said something about philosophy being killed by science, this article:

Dear Anthony,

I will not spare your convictions-this century you philosophers have contributed nothing to the understanding of science. Certainly nothing that is of slightest relevance to practising scientists such as myself.

This is a great pity as science is the foremost achievement of our culture. It is the best way to understand the world. But it involves ideas that are “unnatural” in that they do not conform with common sense. Just consider the Earth going round the Sun or the big bang. I looked to the philosophers of science for illumination as to what, for example, is meant by a scientific understanding and why science works. Alas, I found nothing but obscurity and lack of interest. They seem to be interested in philosophy, not science.

source: article

and others. Please enlighten me on why is that?

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    There really isn't much to say. Judging from comments Hawking has made (for instance, in the preface to The Grand Design, where he proclaims "philosophy is dead") he hasn't kept up with any developments in philosophy since roughly the 1950's. He seems to think that logical positivism is cutting edge philosophy and infers from that erroneous opinion that philosophy has nothing to offer. These are my observations, I post it as a comment because I am not well acquainted enough with Hawking's various comments to back this up with citations. This, however, is the impression I have.
    – Dennis
    Jul 31, 2013 at 3:31
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    Deconstructionism is fine, the failings of a journal notwithstanding. It has been a massive boon to e.g. History. The error (From philosophers, not physicists) lies in equating our understanding of the world WITH the world and so thinking that a philosophy for analyzing how we perceive things can make any claims about how the world actually is. To find out what the world is like, use positivist empiricism. To find out how those facts of the world have influenced our policies, our history and even our terminology, use Deconstruction - an ontological accompaniment to reductionism.
    – shieldfoss
    Jul 31, 2013 at 8:06
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    @prash: Feyerabend had an opinion: “The withdrawal of philosophy into a “professional” shell of its own has had disastrous consequences. The younger generation of physicists, the Feynmans, the Schwingers, etc., may be very bright; they may be more intelligent than their predecessors, than Bohr, Einstein, Schrodinger, Boltzmann, Mach and so on. But they are uncivilized savages, they lack in philosophical depth — and this is the fault of the very same idea of professionalism which you are now defending.”
    – Nikolaj-K
    Jul 31, 2013 at 8:25
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    @MoziburUllah: I agree that there is a practically unmanageable amount of low-quality papers in every field. Yet, I sympathize with Weinberg's criticism "The papers of Edward Witten, [... space/chop ...] are notably easier for a physicist to read [...]. In contrast, Derrida and other postmoderns do not seem to be saying anything that requires a special technical language, and they do not seem to be trying very hard to be clear. But those who admire such writings presumably would not have been embarrassed by Sokal's quotations from them."
    – prash
    Aug 1, 2013 at 1:00
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    @MoziburUllah: WRT "so far [Derrida's] reputation has survived". Depends on whom you ask. He never had any reputation with many philosophers & scientists, which brings us to OP's question. WRT 'gruppenpest', you are talking about aspects of a field that experts were working out, using various mathematical tools. I have analogous preferences for various approaches in my own field too. In contrast, refer to Weinberg's comments on Derrida's statements on a field that Weinberg knows (and you, presumably) quite well: relativity.
    – prash
    Aug 3, 2013 at 16:56

5 Answers 5


The article you quoted says:

this century you philosophers have contributed nothing to the understanding of science. Certainly nothing that is of slightest relevance to practising scientists such as myself.

This already implies science is the only possible item of interest in this world, that it is the sole arbiter of value. If philosophers have contributed nothing towards science, then they can't be doing anything of interest; lets put this another way to show just how bizarre this statement is - this century you musicians have contributed nothing to the understanding of science. Certainly nothing that is of slightest relevance to practising scientists such as myself.

Philosophers are interested in philosophy, and not doing science - there are scientists to do science. The same goes for artists, musicians, poets etc.

This is a great pity as science is the foremost achievement of our culture.

Why this need to place values in some kind of linear pecking order? Even in science the crude caricature of physics underlying chemistry which underlies biology is hugely suspect. Even a cursory examination of the historical record reveals a symbiotic relationship between various strands of science. Science is a great achievement, but lets keep some perspective.

Gandhi brought independence to India, Nelson Mandela threw of Apartheid. These are great achievements. Does it mean anything to compare them, or to compare them to science?

But it involves ideas that are “unnatural” in that they do not conform with common sense.

This appears to be a new way of saying just how great science is because it is anti-intuitive. It runs against common-sense. It seems to have arrived in greater force since the invention Quantum Mechanics, with scientists falling over themselves saying - it can't be true, because it isn't mad enough to be true.

But running against common-sense is true of almost all metaphysics - Brahman in Indian philosophy is not something you touch with your hands. Maya - reality is an illusion. The greek gods - where were they? Or where exactly is heaven or hell situated? Or God? Men, and women have spoken and argued over many many things that run against common sense down the ages.

Just consider the Earth going round the Sun

Well the philosophers of Greek Antiquity got there first. The air was rife then fevered speculation that ran greatly against standard common-sense. One may want to call them scientists, and some do; but it is a historical fact that they didn't see themselves in that way. Feynman in one of his books, said that the most important physical fact was that everything was made of atoms. This is the great scientific fact from which so many results flow. He seemed completely unaware that this idea had occurred two millenia ago and had been discussed by the Greek atomists and in India, by the Jains & Buddhists. That Newton in his Principia Mathematica, quoted Lucretius De Rerum Natura, which was a philosophical poem that presented these ideas. He would have also been unaware that Epicurus said that atoms moved randomly (the clinamen), which came as something of a great surprise after three centuries of Newtonian determinism.

or the big bang.

Cool. Now please explain to me what asserted the laws of world? Or how they came about? Did they too appear out of the void? Was there ever a void? In the Christian creation story, there was a formless void from which God created the universe - from a certain perspective there is a little difference between that story and the big bang - its just a matter of details.

I looked to the philosophers of science for illumination as to what, for example, is meant by a scientific understanding and why science works. Alas, I found nothing but obscurity and lack of interest. They seem to be interested in philosophy, not science.

Philosophers of science may be looking at different questions than this author is interested in. Why science works in tradition of Baconian science and the scientific method is straight-forward enough, but that is not the full story. The interesection of science, technology, politics and ethics is investigated in quite a few different directions that the author does not seem to be interested in. The whole programme of questioning the enlightment ideals, for example, by Baudrillard or Lyotard and Feyeraband is simply could not have occurred to scientists since they're far too invested in in these ideals. Of course one can suggest that is a late flowering of the whole Romantic movement launched by Rousseau and kept going by poets and artists as an indictment of an unthinkingly technocratic age. But would a scientist of this authors stripes know what that means?

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    Your point is that philosophers are as useful as musicians in the pursue of knowledge? Because musicians are not very useful. I think this is a matter of pragmatism, check again your first quote with this perspective. In the last paragraph you say he is interested in different questions, why should anyone be interested in something that is useless? That is the key point IMHO.
    – Trylks
    Aug 1, 2013 at 10:53
  • @Trylks: You've misunderstood me. Whether or not you like music, I suppose you can agree that musicians make music, as poets make poetry, and as philosophers do philosophy; why should the author brazenly expect them to do science or even the philosophy of science? Aug 1, 2013 at 11:42
  • I don't see a conflict between music and science. However philosophy and science seem to pursue the same single thing, knowledge, hence the comparison between both and the reason why the comparison with music is misleading.
    – Trylks
    Aug 1, 2013 at 13:23
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    @Trylks:The choice of music was chosen to emphasis a contrast. The point I'm making is that though science & philosophy may pursue knowledge, they are of different kinds. Is there for example a science of Justice or politics? Surely not in the same way as Physics or chemistry. By suggesting that they pursue the same ends, you appear to suggest they must be the same thing. There is a philosophy of aesthetics, can there be a science of such a thing? Are you claiming music is useless BTW? Aug 1, 2013 at 13:32
  • There is science for all those things, justice: game theory et al., politics: operations research et al., aesthetics: an application of cognitive science. Sure philosophical and scientific knowledge are different, scientific knowledge is verifiable thus more useful thus better. Time ago, philosophy was the only option for some areas but since cybernetics there are no knowledge areas where science cannot be applied rendering philosophy outdated.
    – Trylks
    Aug 1, 2013 at 14:24

This is an answer to a specific issue brought up in the comments on the theme of the OPs question. That is the nonsense that is the Derridian quote 'The Einsteinian constant is not a constant' in the context of Structuralism & Science. I'm putting it here as its obviously too long to go in a comment.

Derrida wrote Sign, Structure & Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences to present at a symposium at John Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1966 titled The Language of Criticism & the Sciences of Man. The intention of the symposium was to clarify the field of structuralism and define some of its common problems across disciplines. One should not be misled by the 'Sciences of Man' to suppose that they were primarily interested in the hard sciences - they were not - but to sciences applied to man, that is the study of man in his own being, for example sociology, anthropology or literary criticism

After the oral presentation by Derrida of his paper, Hyppolite, a French philosopher, and translator of Hegel, in an attempt to understand Derridas 'centre for a structure' asked the following question:

With Einstein, for example, we see the end of a kind of privilege of empiric evidence. And in that connection, we see a constant appear, a constant which is a combination of space-time, which does not belong to any of the experimenters who live the experience, but which, in a way, dominates the whole construct; and this notion of the constant - is this the center?

Now Derridas essay, was not on Relativity, nor did it make any substantive scientific claims. It is primarily on the structural anthropology of Levi-Strauss although it touches on the thought of Foucault, Althusser & Lacan. So why does Hippolyte choose an example from the Physical Sciences to interrogate Derridas notion of the 'centre'? Putting this question aside, let us examine his.

His question admits a fairly straight-forward reading. Einstein famously did Gedankenexperiments, that is thought experiments rather than rely on empirical experiments in the tradition of empirical science; one can say here that there is a break with tradition, a break that continues with speculative forms of physics such as String Theory or Loop Quantum Gravity.

The 'constant' that he alludes to could be the speed of light, which was the speculative move of Einsteins that framed his entire theory. But this does not make sense, as Hippolyte says that this constant is a combination of spacetime. This points us in the direction of the spacetime metric on a four-dimensional manifold, an elegant reformulation of Einsteins theory of relativity by his friend Minkowski, and in this reformulation the metric is an invariant, that is a constant.

This already shows that Hippolyte is well-informed about about the structure of Einsteins theory in a broad-based way. But what can he mean by saying that it doesn't belong to any of the experimenters who live the experience? How can a metric belong to anyone? The spacetime metric is a mathematical fiction it belongs to no-one. Further we do not live and experience spacetime but live and experience space and time. These ideas are distinct - they would have to be, otherwise Minkowski wouldn't have had to invent spacetime.

Minkowski uses this metric to anchor his interpretation of Einsteins theory, which explains why Hippolyte says 'it, in a way, dominates the structure'.

Derrida replies:

The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability - it is, finally, the concept of the game. In other words, it is not the concept of something — of a center starting from which an observer could master the field — but the very concept of the game which, after all, I was trying to elaborate.

The first thing to note is that there is no such notion as an 'Einsteinian constant' in physics, but Derrida is not referring to any concepts in physics in a specific way, here he is using the qualifier 'Einsteinian' to name the constant that Hippolyte brings up in his question.

Now Derrida says that this constant 'is not a constant and not a centre'. What can this mean? It is this Derridean statement that has caused something of a ripple in science quarters.

It is this statement that is quoted in Sokals hoax paper, and in the book he cowrote with Bricmont - Fashionable Nonsense - they say it is the papers

first major gibberish quote, namely Derrida’s comment on relativity (“the Einsteinian constant is not a constant . . .”). We haven’t the slightest idea what this means— and neither, apparently, does Derrida

but they generously add

but as it is a one-shot abuse, committed orally at a conference, we shall not belabor the point.

Weinberg in a reponse to his critics in the New York Times says:

[when] I first encountered this paragraph, I was bothered not so much by the obscurity of Derrida’s terms “center” and “game.” I was willing to suppose that these were terms of art, defined elsewhere by Derrida. What bothered me was his phrase “the Einsteinian constant,” which I had never met in my work as a physicist.

Well, we've shown that Einsteinian constant is just the name that Derrida has given to the constant in Hippolytes question. The real question is about the Derridean terms 'constant', 'centre' and 'play'. The wikipedia article referred to above has this to say about 'centre':

The "center" is that element of a structure which appears given or fixed, thereby anchoring the rest of the structure and allowing it to play. In the history of metaphysics specifically, this function is fulfilled by different terms (which Derrida says are always associated with presence): "eidos, archè, telos, energia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentality, consciousness, or conscience, God, man, and so forth."[11] Whichever term is at the center of the structure, argues Derrida, the overall pattern remains similar. This central term ironically escapes structurality, the key feature of structuralism according to which all meaning is defined relationally, through other terms in the structure. From this perspective, the center is the most alien or estranged element in a structure: it comes from somewhere outside and remains absolute until a new center is substituted in a seemingly arbitrary fashion. "The center", therefore, "is not the center."

Roughly, the centre should organise or structure the whole, but looked at historically, different centres have been substituted,leaving the structure the same. But the structure, by the theory of structuralism, should determine the centre. It does not - hence it escapes structurality - (and hence Post-Structuralism). Thus 'the Einsteinian centre/constant is not a centre/constant'.

Essentially Derrida is saying that Hippolytes example drawn from the physical sciences is not a good example of his ideas, this is only to be expected as he Derridas paper is on the human sciences and not the physical or mathematical ones in this specific form.

This critique is echoed by Gabriel Stolzenberg , an American professor of mathematics, in an unpublished letter to the New York Times wrote:

A friend of mine was disposed to believe the charge about Derrida. But when she looked at the text, and found that you are making this Big Deal about an unclear answer to an unclear question at the end of a talk that had -nothing- to do with physics, her reaction was (this is not verbatim but it's faithful to the spirit of it), "That's it?? This is all they have on him??"

Finally, this lack of balance between your charge and your evidence reminds me of a conversation between Alik Volpin and Vladimir Bukovsky, two great Soviet dissidents, back in the USSR. Alik was talking about the the importance of obeying the laws, to which Bukovsky replied, "But doesn't the KGB always say, give us the man and we will find the charge?"

And similar sentiments were expressed by Michael Holquist (professor of comparative literature, Yale) & Robert Shulman (professor of molecular biology, Yale) in correspondance with the New York times that was published:

Alan Sokal’s hoax is rapidly ceasing to be funny. An enterprise that originally had all the marks of a good joke is beginning to bring out the worst in respondents.

I'll leave the final word to Plato, in Georgias he has Socrate say:

What’s this, Polus? You’re laughing? Is this yet another kind of refutation which has you laughing at ideas rather than proving them wrong?

  • Thanks for looking into it! I, of course, won't try to refute Derrida. He is far too vague and his works are far too opinion-laden for my taste.
    – prash
    Aug 4, 2013 at 4:52
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    Derrida said "A critique of what I do is indeed impossible". The message I (and many others) get is "Nothing to see here. Move along."
    – prash
    Aug 5, 2013 at 11:13
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    @prash: People judge Einstein on the papers he wrote. This is what made him famous. You appear to judge Derrida on quotes, how exactly is this scholarly in any-way? Imagine someone poking fun at Einstein at getting quantum physics wrong because he said 'God doesn't play dice'. First what on earth is he doing bring God into it, and second hasn't Quantum Physics shown that random behaviour is an inherent part of the world? Aug 5, 2013 at 12:55
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    @prash:Of course that shows a lack of awareness that Einstein was one of the instigators of Quantum Theory and that doing physics is not mutually exclusive of being religious. What do you know of Structural Anthropology? Aug 5, 2013 at 12:59
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    @prash: yes, the operative word there is 'physical things behave'. Human cultures are not things and can't be studied like things. How do you propose to do the classic physical experiment on a culture? Is verificationism or predictive power wholly true even in the physical sciences? Have you looked at String Theory? Its obviously an important theory, but it has produced no predictions that are capable of being tested in the forseeable future. I'm saying its pointless to critique a work by quotes unless you're already familiar with the broad outlines of the work already. Aug 5, 2013 at 14:31

What is Ironic (if not a bit sad) is in that book of his he begins it by proclaiming philosophy is dead and then goes on for about a third of the book telling us what his views on the philosophy of science is.

I will not spare your convictions-this century you philosophers have contributed nothing to the understanding of science.

Even if this is true why would it matter? Is a discipline only of worth if helps understand science? (Whatever that means)

Certainly nothing that is of slightest relevance to practising scientists such as myself.

Questions of epistemology may very well be very important to science. It is the foundations
from with we come to conclusions. Questions of ethics can also have a influence.

...or the big bang.

To be honest the three main religions of the west have been discussing a universe with a beginning for many centuries. It is true before the discovery of the background radiation they mainly had to take it as a matter of faith but it is not really like philosophers have never discussed such a thing or phenomenon.

What to me is the main problem is that if you deny the importance or the influence on philosophy then you are going to assume positions without any way of reviewing them critically. It is like a person accepting a religion on blind faith with no critical process influencing his or her decision. Which to me is a bad way of doing things especially if you are going to be this champion for reason, deciding you will help humanity out of its ignorant state.


There is a good saying - "There are many translators who know foreign language, there are many translators who know their own language - and only great translators know both."

The moral is that to judge about philosophy and science together you should be both scientist (practicing one) and philosopher (thinking one). Unfortunately last hundred years there have been not so many great thinkers who are capable(had conditions) of that.

There are many good philosophers many good scientists - but almost none of them is a match for universal thinkers of the past (for example Leibniz). If you want to know what is science to philosophy read Leibniz, Descartes. They think a lot about this stuff.

We live in different times - no need for deep universal thinkers. Our times needed only advertising scientists fighting for grants.

Philosophy is not against science or vice versa - just some narrow minded people are talking about things they do not know.

Don't read Hawking he is not good. Feynman did not manage to grow as a philosopher. Read Leibniz, Descartes they will teach you a lot.

  • "Last hundred years" there has been a lot of action. What about Bertrand Russel? What about the Vienna Circle? We could even argue that the positivism of these philosophers is what actually updated it to philosophy 2.0 (aka science). We can even argue that science is to the death of philosophy as birds are to the extinction of dinosaurs.
    – Trylks
    Aug 1, 2013 at 10:49
  • @Trylks Good example, but he is not similar to the friends from past. He is an interesting mix between science,philosophy and activism. I would say he was great advocate of new ideas rather than their source. And btw he was admiring Leibniz too :)
    – Asphir Dom
    Aug 1, 2013 at 11:03
  • @Trylks: Wittgenstein, who is seen as an exemplar of the Vienna postivists was pretty dismissive of them. Carnap said 'I guess he's not one of us'. I think its the other way around - its the success of science that provoked the development of positivism in philosophy. Aug 1, 2013 at 13:38
  • @MoziburUllah it is the success of science, but it was mixed with philosophy until some people decided to separate both, then the positivism was born and a virtuous cycle of feedback between positivism and science started.
    – Trylks
    Aug 1, 2013 at 14:30
  • @Trylks Your point is self-defeating as this entire discussion falls within the realm of philosophy, not science. Can science delineate the development of positivism and its relation to philosophy and science? Aug 1, 2013 at 16:27

Einstein said the universe, the whole reality, is rational. His famous phrase: "the most irrational thing about the universe is that it's rational". That "rationality", "reason", "intelligence"... Necessarily implies "person"! A "person" is a thinking self-aware entity.

(a computer can do very "intelligent" calculations, and very fast and accurate, etc., however the computer knows nothing!, of course, it's the human person who created the computer who provides "intelligence". Therefore: person is the necessary pre-condition to "intelligence", to "rational", to "logical" ... Concepts!

"Person" is"who" allows the "connection" of ideas, concepts. Without person there's no possibility of "intelligence"! For instance, this simple truth: "the whole can't be smaller that its part/s", or "in a plane triangle the sum of its 3 angles is always, 180 degrees", or "e=m.Cc"... Any one of these "thoughts" is composed of varied ideas, concepts, and these can only be put together (as we show) by a "person" "in" his mind, a thinking (= self-aware) entity!

Therefore: what Einstein said, "I believe in the god of Spinoza, an impersonal god", with all due respect to his genius, is blatant nonsense!

The necessary corollary of expressing that the universe is rational (=reasonable, intelligent) is "person"!

Thus: he is actually saying the universe shows a supreme intelligence, thus a supreme person, and this of course is the same as "the maker of the reality which we know is a personal being", but this is the definition, the concept, of "god"!
Am I wrong?... If you think thus, please explain.

Frankly: this -to my mind!- is a clear (unintended?) expression by that genius of modern science, Einstein: that god is real, is obvious!, and that can be inferred from his own statement. There are other ways, like: "the necessary presumption for "universal vality of reason, science, is the universal intelligence, mind!; again: without this science can't presume of providing universally (for all "space-and-time") valid "laws" (e=mcc, for instance).

Hence: genuine science presupposes the universal mind, the supreme intelligent being, which is a definition -I repeat- of god! Which also shows that "man" is a "mini-copy" of the supreme spirit, we think according to god's mind, else, all the edifice of true knowledge is based on sand! Agree?

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