As everyone seems to be aware, Stephen Hawking has a new book out where he lampoons philosophers and philosophy alike for their antiquated ways. I don’t really care much for answering this “Sokal killed philosophy” kind of posturing from established scientists, but Christopher Norris has written an absolutely splendid one here, so I thought I’d share:
Here Hawking’s argument shows all the signs of a rudderless drifting between various positions adopted by different philosophers from Kant to the present. He spends a lot of time on what seems to be a largely unwitting rehash of episodes in the history of idealist or crypto-idealist thought, episodes which have cast a long shadow over post-Kantian philosophy of science. That shadow still lies heavy on Hawking’s two central ideas of M-theory and model-dependent realism. They both look set to re-open the old Kantian split between a ‘noumenal’ ultimate reality forever beyond human knowledge and a realm of ‘phenomenal’ appearances to which we are confined by the fact of our perceptual and cognitive limits. So if Hawking is right to charge some philosophers with a culpable ignorance of science then there is room for a polite but firm tu quoque, whether phrased in terms of pots calling kettles black or boots on other feet. For it is equally the case that hostility or indifference toward philosophy can sometimes lead scientists, especially those with a strong speculative bent, not only to reinvent the wheel but to produce wheels that don’t track straight and consequently tend to upset the vehicle.
Note: Norris’ article is actually very balanced and fair throughout. This is just the juiciest bit.