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Today a friend told me that Stephen Hawking claimed in 2010 that philosophy was dead. I've searched about this and indeed: he wrote that philosophy is ‘dead’ since it hasn’t kept up with the latest developments in science, especially theoretical physics. In earlier times – Hawking conceded – philosophers not only tried to keep up but sometimes made significant scientific contributions of their own.

My question is: Are there any contemporary philosophers holding a similar, critical point of view as that of Stephen Hawking? I know it may sound contradictory, but I don't see why it couldn't happen. For example, Nietzsche was very critic about the status quo of philosophy in his own days, and that didn't make him less of a philosopher.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Mar 1, 2023 at 14:57
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    @Frank the thing is, the minimal background in philosophy of science that is necessary to do modern science is already included in the curriculum and the practice of any scientist worth their salt. When your job is to produce knowledge, the very question of what "to know" means is central. And this is definitely not a physics question, or a chemistry, history or sociology question. That's why I think Wittgenstein wad relevant when he said philosophy is not a field parallel to other fields but transverse to all.
    – armand
    Mar 1, 2023 at 15:09
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    @armand I agree that the minimal background in philosophy has been incorporated in science by now - and it's been a two way road with scientists triggering philosophical question. But no physicist stops to consider what "to know" means to do their day to day job.
    – Frank
    Mar 1, 2023 at 16:03

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There are lots of people claiming "philosophy is dead" or "philosophy is pointless" over the last century of philosophic thought. These have taken a variety of directions.

Most noteworthy, but least recently, Logical Positivism attempted to banish all but logic and linguistics from philosophy, specifically targeting metaphysics as something that was meaningless. LP's project was widely popular within philosophy, but the movement then collapsed when its core assumptions were demonstrated to be METAPHYSICAL claims themselves.

A follow on movement, Ordinary Language philosophy, sought to banish all but linguistics from philosophy, by "curing" the misidentification of philosophy questions by supposedly showing how the questions supposedly being addressed were only created by flawed misuse of language. An example was "The Concept of Mind" by Ryle, where Ryle claimed that minds do not exist -- they are instead a flawed and artificial artifact of linguistic errors. He called minds a "category error". OLP and its approach of "curing" the misidentification of basically any philosophical problem by linguistic gamesmanship, never gained the following of Logical Positivism. Both Logical Positivism and Ordinary Language Philosophy were inspired by Ludwig Wittgenstein, although he never self identified with either movement.

With the collapse of logical positivism, philosophers in general re-engaged with metaphysics, and in doing so often relied upon philosophic intuitions. The criticisms of reductionism in philosophy of mind rely upon intuitionist arguments, including "What is it like to be a bat", "Mary the Color Scientist", and "The Chinese Room" thought problems. Also, Saul Kripke used a set of intuitionist arguments to bring "metaphysical necessity" and "essences" into the assumption behind much philosophic thinking. See Is metaphysical necessity an unambiguous concept, and if so, how do we capture it?

Hawking, and a variety of other contemporary scientists, still basically hold by a Logical Positivist, and material reductionist worldview, and disagree with the rejection of both by contemporary philosophy. They also retain an empirical skepticism of intuitionist thinking which is now common in philosophy. Hawking is not the only contemporary scientist who offers a similar attack on philosophy. These science-based attacks point to the relative rate of progress in science vs. philosophy, and often cite that as part of a claim that philosophy is "useless". In general, academic philosophers consider such attacks to be philosophically uninformed, as these scientists have not followed why the LP and reductionist assumptions they preferer have been mostly abandoned in philosophy.

The other major avenue of critique of contemporary philosophy is attacks on analytic philosophy. Analytic philosophy is the dominant method among most academic philosopher, and it tends to use complex academic jargon, and look at very narrow and abstract questions rather than the "big" questions of what is the nature of our world, and how should we live in it. The relative uselessness of analytic philosophy in addressing life questions is a major motivation behind the "public philosophy" movement -- which seeks to re-engage the general public with philosophic questions. The clearest advocacy of this "public relevance" attack is found in Christopher Phillips' Socrates Cafe book: https://www.amazon.com/Socrates-Cafe-Fresh-Taste-Philosophy/dp/039332298X

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  • "Analytic philosophy is the dominant method among most academic philosopher". I didn't know this. Thank you.
    – user64708
    Mar 2, 2023 at 18:23
  • @eirene This statement regarding analytic philosophy is to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. This is very language and country-dependent. Analytic philosophy is very popular in the "Anglosphere" while in e.g. Europe or South-America, academics are way more leaning toward continental philosophy.
    – Johan
    Mar 2, 2023 at 19:29
  • @Johan another user made that distinction in a comment too. Does this mean that Hawking's criticism of philosophy is implicitly directed towards analytic philosophy, and he would be agnostic with respect to continental philosophy?
    – user64708
    Mar 2, 2023 at 19:34
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    @eirene — None of LP, OLP, Hawking, or Christopher Phillips would endorse Continental Philosophy either.
    – Dcleve
    Mar 2, 2023 at 20:36
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    @eirene I would guess that Hawking was mostly familiar with analytic philosophy and I agree with Dcleve that he likely wouldn't endorse continental philosophy, for the good reason that continental philosophy feels mostly independent of the scientific progress.
    – Johan
    Mar 2, 2023 at 21:33
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I'm going to collect here some useful comments on this question and another, related one I posted after, that could be taken as an answer, at least until more answers are found.

In contemporary philosophy, Peter Unger describes modern analytic philosophy as "empty" in his book Empty Ideas: A Critique of Analytic Philosophy (Oxford, 2014). There is also an interview about this where he says:"you really have to engage with a lot of science. And very few philosophers do any of that, at least in any relevant way... it all goes down into these nonsensical so-called theories of reference and all that stuff — which itself isn’t anything deep, it’s just about how people use certain words... To me, all this sort of stuff is parochial, or trivial." Also, the post modernist position seems to be that philosophy never had meaning in the first place. Also, somewhat contradictory, Stephen Hawking was doing philosophy himself when he made such statement, despite being non-philosophically educated, which seems not be a prerequisite for doing philosophy.

So, as a conclusion (thank for the comments everyone, I take this from @LudwigV): "There are always people proclaiming the death of philosophy. Many of them are philosophers. Socrates killed his tradition, and Plato came up with his theories. Aristotle killed Plato's theories and came up with his own. That's how it works. There's a similar tradition in poetry, painting, music and the rest. Criticism is usually a spring-board." Hawking's statement above seems an instance of this, but doesn't imply anything definitive over philosophy.

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