Log in

No account? Create an account

April 6th, 2012

Another Book to Cross Off One's list

Julian Friedlander, the editor of Doing Well and Good: The Human Face of the New Capitalism, a visiting Professor of Ethics at a business school, is telling the punters at the New York Times  that

  • we [philosophers] should underscore the fact that various disciplines we ordinarily treat as science are at least as — if not more —philosophical than scientific. Take for example mathematics, theoretical physics, psychology and economics. These are predominately rational conceptual disciplines. That is, they are not chiefly reliant on empirical observation. For unlike science, they may be conducted while sitting in an armchair with eyes closed.

but they yield objective knowledge; therefore philosophy doesn't have to be science either. Thus Friedlander.  

Mathematics consists of analytic statements; insofar as it is mathematics, it says nothing about the observable world, and what it says about itself  depends on an arbitrary choice of axioms . (Whether 5+7 = 12 depends on which field of mathematics one is working in; in the ring Z/(11), 5+7 = 1.) Of course, it can be done with the eyes shut.  Insofar as theoretical physics is analytic - insofar as it merely derives consequences of  some given set of assumptions - it doesn't have anything to do with the real world either ; when it interacts with the real world, through  comparison with experimental physics, the physicist must open his eyes and read the physical journals. This distinction goes back to David Hilbert and Ernst Mach, a century ago; it would be nice if our dogmatists would catch up with the literature. 

The sort of psychology and economics that can be done with closed eyes aren't science at all; a priori claims about the observable world are prejudice and superstition. (Introspective psychology, which is observable with closed eyes, is not prejudice; but it is neither objective nor verifiable, so not science either.) We get, therefore, extra helpings of them in an election year.

It's always nice to know which books one does not have to read.