The following is from Spoonfed, written by Hilary Lawson founder of Howthelightgetsin.
In the closing pages of A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking takes a sideswipe at contemporary philosophy, arguing that it has been reduced to an analysis of language. In The Grand Design he goes a step further. “Philosophy,” he tells us, “is dead”.
As a philosopher and founder of the world’s largest philosophy and music festival, HowTheLightGetsIn, I’m not convinced by Hawking’s vision. Excluding philosophy and any other strategy one might employ to tackle life’s big questions seems a careless dismissal of forms of human enquiry.
The reality is that science has no monopoly on truth. Scientist and broadcaster Baroness Greenfield has spoken of the “smugness and complacency” of science and has called for a return to curiosity and open-mindedness. If science gave up its metaphysical pretentions and stopped supposing that it was uncovering the essential character of the world, it would be stronger not weaker. It would be in a better position to entertain new theories, which might enable more effective intervention in what we take to be reality. Just as science demonstrated the limitations of the church, so now we must come to terms with the limitations of science.
The relationship between data and knowledge is a complex one. It’s important to consider what human knowledge consists of, how is it uncovered and whether data can be trusted. This is turn raises issues about what remains unknown and where developments are likely to be found, as well as the ethical implications of new scientific research. To what extent, for example, can we trust research funded by commercial organisations? What are moral issues accompany human genome mapping? These are not questions that can be answered by science alone.
In The Limits of Science, one of this year’s debates held in association with Spoonfed, controversial biologist and author of The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake and physician and historian of science James Le Fanu will debate the limits of knowledge with Think editor, commentator and philosopher Stephen Law. They’ll be asking whether science can uncover the ultimate nature of the world, or whether there are things it simply cannot fathom.
The irony is that in Hawking’s ‘science-trumps-all’ world, philosophy has never been more necessary. The old certainties that came from religion and science have been shaken and their demise has left us confused and lost in our postmodern world. And where can we look now but to philosophy to try and make sense of the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves?
For centuries in the West we’ve looked forward to political, economic, and ethical progress. We’ve seen ourselves as on the upward curve of history. But the future looks uncertain, our values precarious. Do we need a new notion of progress and if so what would it be? HowTheLightGetsIn is really an opportunity to get philosophy out of the academy and into people’s lives.
The Limits of Science is on Saturday 9th June 2012 at HowTheLightGetsIn
I am also co-hosting a dinner…
Philosophy Now Dinner
Anja Steinbaer, Stephen Law, Rick Lewis.
Philosophy Now editors Rick Lewis and Anja Steinbaer and philosopher Stephen Law consider questions of truth and ethics in philosophy and literature.
Price includes dinner