Ethics & Philosophy discussion

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'Ethics & Philosophy Discussion Group '
Details Participants

Date: 20th February 2008
Time: 8pm GMT
Venue: Japanese Garden
Max: NA

Organiser: Ronnie Sparker

Topic: Does science still need philosophy?


Science has long been encroaching on many areas that were traditionally the realm of philosophy, and has given us great insight into questions such as the nature of space, and of the human mind.

Philosophy needs science to help clarify the answers to these age old questions, but does science still need philosophy? Have scientists had to increasingly become philosophers themselves? Are the two subjects now intricately enmeshed?


Notes from the meeting

We discussed:

The boundary between physics and metaphysics – how far has the former encroached on what used to be considered the territory of the latter?

Arguments for/against the existence of God, and whether the arguments against are primarily scientific (i.e. empirical proofs) or philosophical (i.e. logical arguments). With ref to this the following was suggested as interesting: This led to discussion of the alternatives to belief in a divine being, with reference to the birth of the universe –

- What existed before the big bang?
- The instability of nothingness (making something inevitable); or the idea of a cyclical universe.
- Is the idea of ‘nothing’ becoming ‘something’ conceivable?
- Does refutation of a divine being just mean recourse to a different kind of faith?

This led us to discuss what it actually means to think something is highly probable (scientifically) if we can't properly conceive it. It was argued that it means something, but that as a species we may have the issue of trying to 'catch up' with our own knowledge, in order to fully understand it. It was felt that science is useful for proving certain things, but to extend those proofs to the wider world you need philosophy; and where we have no evidence, we go to metaphysics.

The nature of scientific ‘proofs’ - specifically the philosophy of Hume, who argued that you never actually experience the laws of nature; you just experience that one thing tends to follow another, which is no proof that they always will - different events happening one after another is no proof that one causes the other.

There was general agreement that advances in science will definitely throw up new philosophical questions – some of these are by their nature currently inconceivable, though others are already emerging: interesting to see New Scientist the other week talking of ‘intergenerational ethics’ with regard to issues raised by space exploration. This is a relatively new idea engendered by both scientific advancements and scientific awareness.

It was felt that the concept of the "goldilocks zone" invites philosophical questions (the goldilocks zone is apparently the area around any star which is suitable for terrestrial life) - this is not an area I know much about so if any of its exponents read this please feel free to elucidate!

Quantum theory - What is reality? - Only that which can be measured/experienced, or that which is in some way ‘out there’? It was suggested that Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and quantum theory in general have quite a few ramifications on philosophy, not least in making Laplace’s ultimately predictable universe impossible, and the debatable issue of whether the universe can still be deterministic with quantum theory (as some quantum behaviours appear distinctly random).

Finally there was general agreement that the Science vs. Philosophy/Belief debate is a battle that will never end, because no matter how scientifically advanced we become, human beings will always believe in something else, such as a God or other religious figure.

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