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Hawking vs. Philosophy:

Has science killed philosophy?

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  • The Debate

    Hawking vs. Philosophy

    Stephen Hawking recently declared the death of philosophy. Is he right? Has science rendered philosophy obsolete? Should we be looking to science to answer the biggest questions, or are there areas of understanding that science cannot reach that philosophy can? What about epistemology and the role of philosophy of science to the progress of knowledge?

    The Panel

    Provocative biologist and author Lewis Wolpert, postmodern sociologist of science Steve Fuller and New Statesman Culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire investigate the limits of science and philosophy.

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Lewis Wolpert
    The Pitch
    Philosophy has no merit
  • Jonathan Derbyshire
    The Pitch
    The defense of philosophy
  • Steve Fuller
    The Pitch
    Science without philosophy in an emperor's new clothes
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    The scientific view of philosophy
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Does philosophy reveal the structure of science?
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    The role of philosophy in science
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Ophelia on 21/05/2016 8:10pm

This debate is a philosophical one. Surely, therefore, philosophy cannot be dead. Philosophy, as a discipline rather than an innate, passive human activity, will die when nobody mourns its death. When the assertion that philosophy is dead ceases to be inflammatory, philosophy will be on its deathbed. When philosophy, as an overt activity, slips into oblivion without mention, it will be dead. This will occur when all human thought is homogeneous and dangerously certain, or unnecessary and passively apathetic. Paradoxically, therefore, Hawking's statement reaffirms the relevance of philosophy, and these ardent responses reaffirm its good health.

Abdullah Alshamrani on 17/11/2015 10:41am

Philosophy & Science

Philosophy Philosophy & Science

Philosophy precedes everything in life, it is directly connected to consciousness, regardless of what they are saying about consciousness, it is the generating power of science, it is the kitchen that thoughts and ideas and recipes take place, it is the stimulated media for science, without philosophy we can't start hypothesis, we can't predict a theory, we can't imagine deeply.

It is the wisdoms, without wisdoms we are in illusion.

in fact, philosophy is the sign for the path of science

hub71 on 19/10/2015 6:38pm

not a great example of the great stuff found on this site. wolpert's argument is absurd, ill-informed and kind of pathetic. quite apart from any other consideration, hawking's feelings toward philosophy are not intrisnsically a valid subject for a serious debate merely because he is a distinguished physicist, any more than his feelings on plumbing. hawking is a great physicist, and that he has achieved what he has is all the more remarkable because of those impediments. but wolpert here is no more than a tethered goat and the debate is itself an empty one. if he wants to be an idiot, he has that right.

one very minor thing of course is that science itself has emerged from philosophy. that is as i see it the function of the inquiry, ie what is there? what is it like? how does it function? and so on. in other words, the unfortunate and misguided wolpert does seem to have forgotten who the undisputed progenitor of the scientific method was, namely the philospher aristotle.

JRDAGO on 17/10/2015 7:55pm

Philosophy x Science

If scientific results wouldn’t be massively supported by the commercial world in order to be archived new technologies maybe some other philosophical ways to look into science would be choices without our concerns. That means eventually without our philosophical way for looking into our lives, science could be just one more idealistic renounce.

Possibly there are some natural connections between these two subjects that need to be looked through other aspect, because a third way to get into human analysis is a psychological one and it may provide some balance about our decisions. So, eventually one subject can’t survive without the other.

Philosophy may be necessary for our day by day life, but we don’t notice well its presence in our minds. But in other hand sciences, if it wouldn’t be part of our philosophical way to care about our lives, it might not trigger any attention. This effetely can be well notice when we look modern objects in windows or shelves from a store and then they eventually mean nothing for us as observers.

Perhaps at the end without the observers science would be just an unveiled subject and as well without philosophy there wouldn’t exist observers.

Jaakko on 05/07/2015 8:13pm

Wolpert: "I have never really understood what philosophy has told us that wasn't obvious or trivial."

Good to know, so what are you doing in this panel?

Dzen_o on 03/07/2015 5:40pm

In the IAI a similar article exists now, where practically the same question – how philosophy and science relate to each other - is discussed -

So the Dzen_o comment in this thread seems as relates to this article also.


lewmay on 29/04/2015 10:05am

A very interesting debate. Philosophy plays around with science using speculation. Results provide us with 'soft science'. At first a mild influence.Over time destructive. Science stone wall players provide the soft science members the play time they seek. Progress suffers. Looking back on my metaphysical days I find wasted effort abounds.

Christopher Gillon on 06/03/2015 10:12pm

I agree with both sides. Normally, I would consider myself as more appreciative of Philosophy, but Lewis hit on a very good point, that Philosophy is 'common sense'. This is a tremendous hang-up within the Philosophical community: 'Why study philosophy'? Philosopher, Alan Watts once relayed the story of a Zen Master who was presented with a novel by his serving Monk, the Monk hoped to inspire Zen philosophy in the readers via literature. The Master shook his head and said: ''The sound of the rain needs no translation''. And it's absolutely right. You will find there are many 'anti-philosophies' that pride themselves in paradox - such as Zen Buddhism - as a means to quiet the mind and attain perpetual clarity.

So, Lewis is quite right. Once one has established common-sense, the Scientific method can proceed unhindered. But it is important to make sure that we all hold on to this 'common sense' he speaks of.

Phillip Griffin on 01/03/2015 6:10pm

This 'scientist' reeks of the dogmatism that haunts much of our scholarship. Maybe if he did some philosophy he'd be able to follow the arguments of the other dudes--for now, their language goes right over his head. Perhaps they could instead get a younger, hipper scientist who isn't afraid to reach across disciplines--but then, there wouldn't be much of a debate, would there?

thebaddestvlad on 02/01/2015 2:52am

i think the panelists representing philosophy were ill prepared for this debate.

mebigguy on 20/12/2014 5:00am

I think that we have something to fear from AI. Computers will become smarter than people ( seems very likely anyway) in a few decades and where will that leave us?

jimpliciter on 16/12/2014 5:14am

Hawking has recently expressed his concern that we have something to fear from AI. If he had any familiarity with the likes of Searle, Dreyfus, Noe, Lanier et al. he’d know he was ‘pulling his own chain’. Best he sticks to mathematical models of black holes.

AvProtestant on 12/09/2014 2:23am

Listening to Wolpert I'm reminded of what J S Mill said of Jeremy Bentham:

"[He] failed in deriving light from other minds. His writings contain few traces of the accurate knowledge of any schools of thinking but his own; and many proofs of his entire conviction that they could teach him nothing worth knowing."

Sophist on 19/08/2014 3:49am

Hawking's 3 counts of fallacies in the tube below

gmgauthier on 18/08/2014 9:20pm

Wolpert is absolutely right. Science, as a practice, is indeed nothing more than a means by which we can gradually make more and more confident predictions about the actual behavior of reality. And this pursuit is purely ethics free.

But rather than this point suggesting the death of philosophy, instead it actually requires it.

Sadly, however, philosophers have done more to destroy their own profession, than any scientist ever has. Instead of taking up the yoke of honestly trying to solve the riddle of a coherent secular ethic, they're busy denying that any such thing as normative truth is even possible, while simultaneously glad-handing with anachronisms like theist apologists.

John Jones on 30/07/2014 10:08am

It's really quite simple.

Hawking is saying that mind is created by objects because objects are plainly obvious. Objects are the only things that are plainly obvious. No justification for the plainly obvious is ever needed. So philosophy is never needed.

Sophist on 25/07/2014 8:34pm

the only way for how physics should study the mind:

Audeliz Irizarry on 21/07/2014 11:11pm

and lastly: John Conway is Hawking's best on the mind, besides his admiration for Descartes' ghost, either heroes of his can be challenged, "if you are going to talk about the mind, how do theories from Rutherford, Eisntein, Newton, Bohr, Planck, Maxwell, and whomever else matters, fit in with your perspective for a theory on the mind influenced by Conway and Descartes? it better compel..." this alone will give Hawking the problem, demanding his resposibility for what he says without imposing on philosophy.

thank you for reading, hope to interest all on platonics for a manner of philosophy that philosophizes from current facts.



Audeliz Irizarry on 21/07/2014 11:01pm

"Don't just juxtapose physics on the mind... tell me the theory of the physics for a mind or show me the nature making the mind," that is Hawking's weakness, which is the main point in the youtube of 'Stephen Hawking Failed to Study Philosohy for the Meaning of Life,'

"for who may want to be philosophers in Hawking's face, you can't excuse yourself from where the likes of Hawking want to hit philosophy hard to kill it," Hawkings is a physicists, and the mind is a jewel theory worth a lot for fame, which he wants, if you tell Hawkings, "Well, we also do ethics, aesthetics, politics..." you might as well them him, "and we also do parties making interesting questions with balloon animals."

Audeliz Irizarry on 21/07/2014 3:34am

in other words, the best manuever to take on Hawking is to synthesize philosophy with physics as the clip proposes is the most probable way to do so, which either produces what Hawking thinks is impossible for philosophy to advance, or show for both philosophy and physics the absurdity of such an endeavor

Audeliz Irizarry on 21/07/2014 3:31am

the talking heads, except the representative for science on the far right, are far from arguing where Hawking hits philosophy the hardest for owning studies on the mind, so the clip hits Hawking in where he came to serve physics over philosophy, but came in short in with physics for the mind... since Hawking proves no understanding for making the mind his business with the physics he knows about... so he proves no gaining on philosophy for it to be dead... if you're a renowned physicists, you must show how you can integrate one discipline with another you want to own, otherwise the next thing Hawking will attack is making cupcakes solely a physicists business, just because he knows the physics of heating, viscosities and whatnot. Look out Betty Crocker!

Jordon Flato on 25/06/2014 10:20pm

I'm befuddled how Mr. Wolpert can claim that Philosophy has accomplished nothing, and yet later in the debate admit that he doesn't know what philosophy is?

Brian Coyle on 04/11/2013 8:30am

Wolpert's pitch is silly. Einstein insisted his work was deeply philosophical. Philosophers like Quine helped define today's genomics and computer science. Philosophers of science like C.S. Pierce, Popper, and Lakatos provide sciences with benchmarks. Science used to be satisfied with deduction and induction. No more, and to make sense scientists need philosophy of science constructs. Of course, as Keynes said, those who say they follow no philosophy are just following an old debunked one.

Nagarjun Roy on 07/09/2013 2:28pm

Ok I am very mad at the moment after reading some provocative statements by a prominent physicist and I personally think science should tone down the authoritarian voice and start doing whatever they are good at (like collecting facts).

So science tells us that 70% of our universe is made up of dark energy (remaining 30% = 26% dark matter and only 4% ordinary matter). We don't know what it is neither we can detect it through scientific experiments. From all the evidence and astronomical sightings we can tell it is there.

To put it into perspective, it is like living on the surface of the earth and not knowing what water is. We are like a lizard in the Atacama desert. Even the lizard has more understanding of water than we have of Dark Energy. This is the realm of Philosophy and Spirituality. Beyond science and surely beyond our senses and common logic.

It is not about knowing it all but it is all about being aware. Hopefully one day fundamental science will catch up with the bigger ideas ;-) to me, awareness and wisdom is not about collecting and making a pile of facts (like science does) but trying to make a complete understanding out of whatever knowledge we already have. Of course we should try to gather facts but we should always emphasize on making a complete understanding from whatever facts we have already gathered.

A famous quote

“The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know; our knowledge of our ignorance. For this indeed, is the main source of our ignorance - the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.”

-Karl Popper

Why would (Stephen Hawking) one of the most intelligent humans alive say such provocative things like "philosophy is dead" and "Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics."

According to Hawking, the conversation about the truth of the world rests in the hands of elite physics professors funded by multinational corporations and national governments.

After all these fundings and use of such brilliant minds the best theory they came up with is Multiverse (a sea of infinite universes). If there are an infinite number of universes with different laws governing each one of them, then one of them will definately have Harry Potter in it. I think it takes a lot less faith to believe that the world was created in 7 days.

I personally think just like religion should not interfere with science, science itself should not intefere with subjects like theology, spirituality and philosophy and make provocative comments to grab attention.

Another famous quote

"Everyone who is seriously interested in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to man, and one in the face of which our modest powers must seem humble".

- Albert Einstein

Besides we all know Philosophy > Science. As a human being we are philosophers first and then some of us decide to or forced to damage our brains beyond repair and become scientists. To me it is almost equally wrong to name a bunch of people astronauts, put them in a tight compartment, name it a space shuttle, fill it up with highly explosive rocket fuel, light it up and then sit in the ground control fingers crossed in the name of science compared to sending a man strapped with a bomb to his chest in the name of Jihad.

Philosophy is more basic to human being or shall I say life. Each one of us at some point of our life looked up to the night sky and wondered about the universe. Maybe we came up with an understanding from whatever knowledge we had. Right or wrong doesn't really matter. The understanding can change as our knowledge increases but how many of us actually think that we can control and predict the universe by some mathematical laws. Unless you are a super control freak and put a lot more faith on Mathematics than a religious person puts in his God, it is highly unlikely that you can be a successful scientist.

Most importantly we should always have an open mind and ready to accept whatever the truth is. Making provocative comments and insulting each other is not going to help. When it comes from such a prominent scientist I think it is even more shameful.

If the truth is God you have to accept God and if the truth is Harry Potter then you have to accept Harry Potter. There is nothing you can do about it.

A final quote

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

- Sherlock Holmes

Kswanwick2 on 30/01/2013 9:09pm

I was disappointed by this debate. There was not enough discussion of the pure context of Hawkings’ statement. More importantly the panelists arguing the “for” points missed the broad side of a barn by failing to adequately discuss or even shortly dwell on the fields of moral philosophy and political philosophy. The nature of governments, economies, political systems and the corresponding ethical and legal systems are derived directly from philosophy and would not exist in a coherent way without it. How would one argue that these very things came from science or that they could have? What kinds of questions ask for the definitions of humanity and its purpose(s)? Are these derived from science and not philosophy? Were the Twelve Tables of Rome, Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights based on science or philosophy? What does science say about how we should organize society and meet individual and collective needs and why? Philosophy has a lot to say about these things and a systematic, logical way of doing so.

How to decide what is important and why? The philosophical sub-fields of epistemology, ethics and morality were hardly addressed. How could one let the good scientist dismiss the philosophy of science with the wave of a hand without discussing Karl Popper and his very specific critiques of empiricism and his development of this important field of inquiry and its application to human affairs?

Lastly, how could this conversation be had without delving into the “why” questions? What ought a person, a people do and why? What are the justifications for these decisions? Two Brits on the panel and not one could cite the landmark work of Philosopher and Ethicist Derek Parfit (Reasons and Persons, On What Matters), who has exhaustively and rigorously argued his points and others' counterpoints back to Kant and going forward to include Sidgewick, Rawls, Williams, MacIntyre, Scanlon and other important contributors? It seems difficult to dismiss these works and maintain a coherent view of a world that just happens without influence (positive and negative) of philosophy.

Perhaps Hawking is right, but only to the extent that he has not been challenged by the right minds outside of pure science.


I would like to hear Dr. Wolpert address the problem of Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems. These were derived through the pure application of logic (and intuition) within the discipline of philosophy, yet they stand as true as the sky is blue (accounting for Rayleigh Scattering)

Steve Green on 26/01/2013 7:15pm

Chistopher Norris published a rather pointed rebuttal to Steven Hawking a few months back, here: Much better than Fuller's ramblings.

parkerwsp on 26/01/2013 4:44pm

Philosophy (literally) means love for wisdom, or the seeking of wisdom. This art is not opposed but apposite to science; as has been demonstrated by the ancients from Aristotle to Pythagoras. Man's grasp of science is but yet in infancy and to suggest his puny knowledge a replacement for considered hypothesis of indefinite concepts is as facile as suggesting aspirin removes the need of heart surgery.

From science, we learn how things work. From philosophy, we learn why they work........

.........but here, we have well-known folk debating which end of the egg should first be opened, further to Professor Hawking having speciously suggested the egg is of no value..

SenseAmidMadness on 24/01/2013 1:41pm

Science does not present us with a method of understanding the world around us, but rather more sophisticated ways of modelling its phenomena. Philosophy is certainly capable of asking the important questions science can't.

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