Philosophy for our times: cutting edge debates and talks from the world's leading thinkers

Philosophy Bites Back:

Has physics made philosophy obsolete?

Welcome to iai tv. You are limited to 20 minutes of video a month without signing up. X
Membership is completely free, and gives you unlimited access to our videos, articles, courses and much more
Already a member?
You have used half of your monthly limit of videos. Sign up to continue watching. X
Membership is completely free, and gives you unlimited access to our videos, articles, courses and much more
Already a member?
You’ve reached your monthly video limit.

Want to see more?

Sign up to continue watching. Membership is completely free, and gives you unlimited access to our videos, articles, courses and much more.
Already a member? .
IAI TV videos are for personal use only. For commercial or educational licensing please contact TVF International
  • The Debate

    Philosophy Bites Back

    From neuroscience to cosmology, Hawking to Dawkins, many argue science can do away with philosophy. Yet science is replete with philosophical  puzzles. Should we see science as one metaphysics amongst others? Or is this to swap the megalomania of science with that of philosophy?

    The Panel

    Live from Australia, physicist and bestselling author Lawrence Krauss squares off against philosophers Angie Hobbs and Mary Midgley. The BBC's Rana Mitter keeps the fight fair.

  • Find out more about speakers

Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Lawrence Krauss
    The Pitch
    Philosophy has its uses but not in modern physics
  • Mary Midgley
    The Pitch
    We need philosophy to provide a framework for all subjects of study
  • Angie Hobbs
    The Pitch
    Philosophy and physics are intimately intertwined
  • The Debate
    Theme One
    Physics vs. metaphysics
  • The Debate
    Theme Two
    Can physicists learn from philosophers?
  • The Debate
    Theme Three
    The value of philosophy
Want to learn more about our speakers?
Join the conversation

to post comments or join now (only takes a moment). Don't have an account? Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or Google to get started:

Adam Crawley on 08/11/2015 2:43pm

1. Physicist claims that Physics is a “very mature” science. Physics is still in its infancy and is struggling to advance and connect the special sciences the way THE BASIC SCIENCE would claim to connect them. No example is needed beyond Fodor’s (old news) special sciences paper: Philosophers are clearly pushing the field forward despite this guy’s one shot claims. Constant sophomoric mistakes in the first 2 and a half minutes. Epic fail.

2. Philosophy can be very useful yada yada yada… He doesn’t know what philosophy is.

3. He says, “Knowledge” like he has a firm grasp on what knowledge is. He doesn’t. First consider that it took very deep thinking in classical philosophy to come up with the basic metric; justified true belief. However, that didn’t last past the 1960’s when Gettier pointed out that:

4. I don’t need to go any farther but I will because I’m less than 3 minutes into this video and my drink is not empty yet. So far, epic fail for the physicist. I don’t think he knows that a lot of philosophers of science are scientists with dual doctorates in philosophy and some kind of science. I learned metaphysics from a trained physicist, for example. He holds multiple advanced degrees in the sciences (which originated with philosophy to a very large extent) and philosophy. Christian Wüthrich is a brilliant philosopher and physicist:

5. The first philosopher is with me but she is trying to say too much: the physicist could be shut down with much less. I would have been more tactical and just said what has been presented above. But to her integrity, she is not trying to merely “shut down” the physicist as I would, she is trying to present the “truth” as a real philosopher should. In this case I would be content to merely show that the physicist has no idea what he is talking about.

6. The second philosopher should not be bringing into a debate (the Master) Aristotle’s 4 causes are too sophisticated for a general audience.

7. There is too much to comment on: If I tried to address everything this would take another year.

8. Mentioning 2 examples of what Aristotle got wrong is kindergarten: Aristotle set the bedrock for modern everything (almost). He invented almost everything (academically). He dominated western thought for almost 2000 years. Talking shit about Aristotle is childish: Let’s see this guy dominate western thought for 1 minute much less a year or 2000 years. Botany, biology, logic, zoology, astronomy, I could go on… and According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "Aristotle was the first genuine scientist in history ... [and] every scientist is in his debt."

9. Now he is saying “ancient lack of wisdom” even though he has no idea what the implications of physics actually are or could be (evident from his professed belief that physics is a mature science), and he still doesn’t know what scientific knowledge or philosophy are so he is clearly, at least, shot himself in the foot (if not shut himself down). I don’t know how this can go on for another 34 minutes… this guy is a child.

10. Holy fuck, he just said, “cause and effect” I don’t know how I can continue without receiving University credit… this guy is clueless!

11. He says, “it is imperative that philosophers understand science” but he doesn’t understand science!

12. I don’t need to go any further with this. I will, but, I will not waste my time commenting on anything unless something remarkable happens.

Terry Allen on 30/10/2015 7:02pm

“You might ask how I, a philosopher could speak to issues treated by scientists. The best way to answer this is with another question. Are we engaging in science or philosophy here? When you study the interaction of two physical bodies, for instance, two subatomic particles, you are engaged in science. When you ask how it is that those subatomic particles - or anything physical - could exist and why, you are engaged in philosophy. When you draw philosophical conclusions from scientific data, then you are thinking as a philosopher.”

Antony Flew

Terry Allen on 30/10/2015 6:40pm

I disagree with Krauss they are making the observations fit their hypothesis and that is not real science. The sad fact is Science like everything else is controlled and corrupted by the Rich and Powerful.

The Earth is flat not because I have seen it, but because the governments lie and so do NASA.

Carol Long on 22/05/2015 9:38am

In Ancient Greece, all scientists were philosophers. While Dawin and Newton were alive, they referred to their work as "Natural Philosophy". It is only in the last few decades that science has become separated. That scientists seem reluctant to look at the ethics of their own work is something also relatively recent. Perhaps we have gained much by the separation in the focused activities around the scientific method but by removing the link to the philosophical methods I suggest we have also lost something of value.

JRDAGO on 19/04/2015 9:23am

If science is the ultimate solution for a better future for the humanity or not, we can’t discuss yet, so it looks that regarding science implementations we always will need to see what is going to happen in the future, after all the way science may works is giving chances for postulations. But a detail has to be analysed, maybe because before philosophy became part of our reasoning there weren’t so many developed sciences and also for us to choose study physics or other kind of science may depends on some philosophy of life.

It is also possible to imagine that we create philosophical ideas and scientific theories looking for carries about our lives, therefore we could recognize that they together may lead us to find a better balance for our existences in Earth and as well show ways for us to stop destroying ourselves and our memories.

Maybe we are in a moment to look for new values in our minds and therefore they shouldn’t only depend on science and philosophy, but as well on a new psychological way to perceive ourselves and life.

Maybe the slight of experiments could until now occurred in a test tube, in compares to a vast world of science existing in Nature it is just a tiny bit of an iceberg’s tip. We could imagine that scientists in many cases have until now finding brand new deductions, but unfortunately we are using technologies discovered in less than two hundred years of experiments in order to change the genetic characteristics from the World, which starts its own still in many ways indecipherable science for billions of years ago. Isn’t that just amazing?

If we look from an interesting angle, for sure the most important “law” regarding science is the postulation and that certainly is a conclusion taken from debates among philosophers.

Maybe these two subjects depend from each other, in a way that scientists some times are looking to prove or disprove some philosophical interpretation and in other hand philosophers can help us to control our arbitrariness in utilising dangerous scientific knowledge.

AvProtestant on 02/09/2014 10:47pm

At the end of the discussion, in response to the point made by Mary Midgley, that Einstein did philosophy as an essential part of developing relativity theory, Professor Krauss says nonchalantly, in as many words, "Sure, creativity is essential to progress in science", but he does not seem to acknowledge that his concession contradicts what he is saying about the value-less-ness of philosophy to physicists.

Einstein's creativity included suspending the way of thinking that took Newton's theory as true, for which move - I believe it could be shown, if it wasn't admitted by Einstein himself - he needed the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. This was a change in philosophical outlook, and something important is failing to be registered when this is skipped-over, as if the change from the Newtonian to the Einsteinian world-view means nothing for us except greater powers of precision of prediction.

In this spirit of endorsing creativity, Professor Krauss may well concede that, yes, philosophy could be important to a physicist (a thinker concerned with physics) in some future crisis of physics, just as it was for Einstein one hundred and twenty years ago. But if that is so, his disparaging of philosophy is baffling. Unless, that is, we consider the possibility that the problems addressed by philosophy, including philosophy of science, have not occurred to him. There's no reason why they should have occurred to him, which otherwise might make philosophers interesting to him, and it is futile to try to make something interesting to someone who is determined to find it inconsequential.

Zoram Sanga on 21/08/2014 7:00am

Could Krauss be committing the 'taxi cab fallacy' here? There are some tricky issues here.

Michael Loomis on 21/08/2014 1:52am

I think you did misunderstand him. He specifically says that, with regards to modern physics, you do not need to understand or engage in philosophy. It is just a matter of fact statement about the current skills required to form new theories on this frontier, in which progress is led by science.

He also makes a secondary argument that all progress of any value to us comes about ultimately from the pursuit of science. This, as guru pointed out, is tautological.

He does not say, and repeatedly states that he doesn't want to be misinterpreted as saying, that philosophy is now obsolete. He says this multiple times in the debate. Can it be more clear that he doesn't think that philosophy is obsolete?

IKantunderstandyou on 19/08/2014 7:03pm

I'm just a novice here in full awareness of my fallibility here but Lawrence Krauss comes off as sort of naive in this short debate. His basic thesis seems to be that philosophy is obsolete in the wake of science. On what foundation does he suppose that the scientific method is constructed? The idea of falsifiability comes from a philosopher (Popper), the ideas of the very categories of study come from Aristotle, the idea of skepticism and building on a skeptical framework is partially due to Rene Decartes and his "Discourse on Method," amongst others, and what about Francis Bacon? Didn't that philosopher pretty much invent the scientific method? His thesis could be compared to the following logic: houses are good but foundations are unnecessary as soon as the house is built. It seems to me that any such house would soon fall right over.

Could it be that he is just seeing this through the lens of a worker bee and isn't looking at the bigger picture? Am I misunderstanding him?

guru.goodwin on 19/08/2014 5:52pm

First observation: Angie Hobbs in using Aristotle and asserting the idea of final cause does no service to science. Final cause in reference to questions of physics removes the observation and replaces it with speculation and religion. The ideas of causality of Aristotle are mostly useless generalizations from another era.

Second: the area of natural philosophy when it became real and driven by observation left philosophy behind and became science. When philosophy works it transcends itself and becomes science. When logic became mathematical it was removed from philosophy. When epistemology becomes rational and knowledge is defined by referential terms this reference drives us towards an empirical viewpoint.

Third: we can alway make stuff up and have fictions like Alice in Wonderland. Philosophy often mistakes its models, e.g., final cause, as references to things. They aren't. The circular and self reference of philosophy is limiting and fantastical. The ideas of knowledge in a vacuum devoid of facts and without reference makes philosophy look foolish.

When philosophy succeeds it becomes science. To ask questions at the limit of actual knowledge is one thing. To assert the significance of non-referential language is another.

branchw on 15/08/2014 2:30am

Fine comments back on 7/8 … too bad not any more have posted since then. Coming to the party late … I have to say that this is a very deep and broad topic that can hardly be canvased in this short a format. Dr Midgley and Dr Hobbs represent wisdom, but Dr Krauss represents knowledge … an important but smaller subject. Scientism is smaller than Empiricism, which is smaller than Epistemology … which itself is not self-sufficient, requiring Ontology above, and Rationalism as a cognate area under Epistemology.

Dr Krauss represents the typical journeyman view of a craft. He knows his tools, and is well able to use them to achieve an objective within his scope … a specialist, like a medical doctor. The other two in comparison are generalists, operating beyond mere craft, more like a biologist. A biologist is unclear about her scope because of its broadness, and is a researcher who is trying to invent new tools, rather than skillfully using existing tools.

A skilled craftsman is unconscious of some of the whys and wherefores, that a master is more concerned about, and can accomplish his task without general theories. Often physicists aren't very good at mathematics, it being a bag of tricks and a calculus that they are able to use when an amenable situation presents itself, but are at a loss in more difficult circumstances. So in String Theory we have a diddling with fancy Lagrangians, like the blind men in the dark with the elephant … but the whys and wherefores of any particular formula must be sought thru intuition. The job of a philosopher is to bring intuition into deduction and thus light to darkness … as Greek mathematics did for the previous Egyptian calculus. Dr Midgley was quite clear that the greater goal is to achieve a greater clarity of consciousness. Dr Hobbs on the other hand was quite clear, in a way that the limited self-consciousness of Dr Krauss could not rhetorically follow, that the history of a thing is part of a thing … that our present understanding is blinkered by our present unconscious bias, even with well developed subjects … even in the case of well controlled quantitative experiments.

Laura Kiil on 07/08/2014 7:01pm

They seem to be asking two different questions here with obviously two completely different ways of answering this.

If you ask the question: "Does a physicist need to read philosophy in order to do physics?" the answer would be no. That's not to say that said physicist will not partake in critical thinking or ask philosophical questions. It's not to say that he is unphilosophical or anti-philosophy. And I can't see many people disagreeing with this.

If, however, you ask the question: "Is science the only source of knowledge we need in the world?" then the answer will become far more muddled. There will certainly be some that will claim that only science, only empiricaln facts, bring true knowldge, but surely they would be in a minority. And there again may be people on the other side of the spectrum that view science with scepticism, but I would guess most people fall somewhere along that spectrum, with most probably saying, we need both. I think we do, but for diffent things.

Laura Kiil on 07/08/2014 6:22pm

@Sophist - You can hear Mary go "No! No! No!" in the background as well during that bit.

Sophist on 07/08/2014 4:08pm

Angie, nice strike on scientific knowledge and epistemic conditions: "if you are a scientist in 1100 AD... you would think the world was flat." He felt that.

AvProtestant on 07/08/2014 2:58pm

Didn't Popper say (or rather re-iterate Kant) to the proponents of logical empiricism that all our observations are "theory-soaked"? Our theorising is not derived only from having made observations, because those observations were themselves conditioned by earlier kinds of theory.

Copy and paste the code below to embed or link to this video.

Embed options
  • Video Seek
    Converted to a link which jumps to that point in the video
    Example: 00:34
  • Bold Text
    Example: [b]Bold[/b]
  • Italic Text
    Example: [i]Italics[/i]
  • Underlined Text
    Example: [u]Underlined[/u]
  • Website link
    Link to another website or URL
    Example: [url][/url]

Rate this talk with three clicks. You can choose 3 words, or vote for the same word 3 times.

Why sign up for the iai?
  • Discover new ideas
    Free and unlimited access to hundreds of hours of debates, talks and articles from the world's leading minds, as well as courses that rival top academic institutions.
  • Have your say
    Join the iai community and engage in conversation and debate around the issues that matter.
  • Hear it first
    Be the first to hear about our video releases, articles and tickets to our upcoming events.
Sign me up