We live in an age of big science. But 2014 was the year that philosophy fought back. The year began on IAI News with Peter Hacker’s agenda-setting Why Study Philosophy? In it, he argued that philosophy is the only discipline able to patrol the borders between sense and nonsense. Philosophy’s great task, he writes, “is to function as a Tribunal of Sense”. Only philosophy can decide what makes sense, not science.
Two interviews on IAI News provide exemplary illustrations of Hacker’s argument. First, we spoke to the ever-combative Mary Midgley about the materialist dogma that dominates much of modern scientific thinking. Second, Lou Marinoff and Beatrice Popescu discussed why philosophy is essential on a practical level – especially in the complex field of mental health.
But big science is still going strong. 2014 marked 60 years since the foundation of CERN, one of the best-funded science organisations on the planet, with an annual budget of £786 million. But is the Large Hadron Collider already an expensive white elephant? Theoretical physicist John Ellis, who has been at CERN since 1978, spoke to IAI about what we can expect after the Higgs boson.
Hacker also argues that “philosophy is the sole subject that confronts questions about how we ought to live [and] what kind of society we ought to aspire to”. But 2014 saw these questions addressed across politics, society and the arts. Linda Woodhead argued that, when it comes to ethics, religion matters. The total separation of church and state is neither possible nor desirable, she said. Meanwhile, the vexed question of corporate sponsorship of the arts raised its head again this year. In September, as Tate was up before the Information Tribunal regarding its relationship with BP, we spoke to Hannah Davey and Kevin Smith about the relationship between art and activism. “Activist art,” argued Smith, “is as varied as the human imagination.”
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