The Relationship Between Science and Philosophy

by Max Andrews

How far can science take us and at what point does philosophy and metaphysics take over?  Here is the general process of science and philosophy.

  1. METHOD. Science’s modus operandi is to observe the data while philosophy is examining the data and reasoning through it.
  2. MATERIAL. Science’s materials are facts. There are certain data that provide empirical fact to work with.  Philosophy’s material are conceptual–concepts that are the basis for the rest of the process.
  3. PURPOSE. Science is descriptive.  Empirical investigation can only observe what happens and the purpose of it is to describe the mechanism or process taking place.  The purpose, in relation to philosophy, is to be able to construct an argument.
  4. GOAL.  The goal of science is prediction.  We will see this in the strength of a theory by principle of verification and falsification.  The philosophical role is providing an explanation of the data.  Explanation is philosophical and not scientific.
  5. OUTCOME. The end of science is the production of technology. The general history of science runs in the direction of greater efficiency in its function.  Likewise, in the history of science, philosophy’s outcome is developing a worldview system.  Consider the historical development of science with Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.  Copernicus changed the worldview system with the Copernican revolution as did Newton.  I would actually argue that Newtonian physics may have made a greater philosophical impact than Copernicus in light of Kant (thanks Kant…).
  6. REASON.  We’ve already touched on this briefly, but the reason for why one does science is for efficiency.  The reason for philosophy is a search and understanding for meaning.

26 Responses to “The Relationship Between Science and Philosophy”

  1. “How far can science take us and at what point does philosophy and metaphysics take over?”

    First two are logic oriented ( based). Metaphysics lacks completely on this aspect. A cluster ( systematic) of Vague descriptions based upon subjective experiences- Loosely joined concepts. And there are , of course, as many concepts as there are meta physicals.

    If we are open to the possibility that there is something that can be beyond our senses or beyond what logic can comprehend, then neither science nor philosophy may go far. If ‘infinite’ is there, then there is no END. Each and everything we LABEL as something is based on an often unconscious premise of the opposite. Spiritual people have a concept of Enlightenment… Take out non-enlightenment from their mind and enlightenment too collapses, There was a basic unconscious premise that there is such a thing as non-enlightenment… Discontent ( in the form of non-enlightenment) is posed and enlightenment is projected as the contentment. remove one polarity and the whole illusion of duality collapses. One has to realize that our very understanding ( mind level) is based upon contrast and hence the two polarities ( – + ) cannot be comprehended within the mind. Neither can it be observed through senses as all senses work through contrast and in contrast the WHOLE is always sacrificed.

  2. I’m not sure I understand 2). It starts off with “Science’s materials are facts.” This is only true because philosophy deems it a fact, right? Makes sense to me since you say next it’s an empirical fact.

    I frequent Reddit quite a bit and debate atheists there. One of their claims was something akin to “science can’t provide facts. It can provide mountains of evidence in which we can formulate theories off of but that’s about it.” This is what my tweet to you was based off of.

    • What I mean there is that science doesn’t test or work with speculation as the basis for it’s material or data. Hard data and numbers are facts, measurements so to speak.

  3. What about the philosophy of science? There is actually a philosophy of science itself.

  4. just out of interest, how is it you know all this? what do you base your comparison on?

    • My graduate work/research is philosophy of religion, particularly in the area of cosmology and the fine tuning argument. And my interest I’ll be doing my PhD in will be philosophy of science, at least most likely. It’s really from an aggregate of reading and my education. This precise outline is from the professor I work for.

      • I believe the frame of argument as discretised science and philosophy. This is not a bad assumption, as our world is proving to be more discretised that we initially thought. However, the ratio of discretisation seems to be very large, which in itself makes the assumptions lose their validity.

        Philosophy and science and both different scales, for measuring different forms of quantity. Both are needed for a more accurate assessment. That is, and assessment carried out on a 1D model is good, but not as credible as an assessment carried out on a 2D model, and so on. Obviously, some 1D models have been proven to be accurate by comparing their results with 2, 3, N D models.

  5. In my perspective, with your definition of science, virtually every scientist employs philosophy rather than science, simply because philosophy is superior to science. Science would be the observable, but the observable can’t really have any meaning whatsoever without philosophy. You can see that when a dog chases a burglar, that aspects of your field of vision are changing and moving around, but it is philosophy which tells us that the dog is causing the burglar to run away from the dog that is chasing him. philosophy deals with cause and effect. your definition of science posted here to me seems to deal solely with perception. this would be like science is as an animal hearing tons o human sounds, but never putting together that its a language. to them, its just noise. they certain perceive the sounds, but they do not understand them. philosophy is to seek to understand the sounds, and science is useless without philosophy.

    for me, what we generally refer to as science i believe must never be rejected in favor of some supposed Scripture, because any book that claims to be scripture but contradicts science cannot be true. i have a very high view of science. the main reason i disagree with scientists regarding things like evolution, etc, is not because of the data. We all agree that the data is what it is. However, the interpretation/philosophy of that data…now that’s another story altogether. Ultimately without philosophy science is meaningless, but one must masterly use philosophy, or else they will have some flaws in their conclusions, as I am sure you are aware of. just giving my thoughts =).

  6. I think you hit on some really good points. I would add that not only does the interpretation of the data reflect on philosophy, it all too often determines what we accept as data.

  7. “… science is useless without philosophy.”

    When we talk about why we do science, we are no longer dealing with the empirical or material; the foundation for science is actually philosophical.

    “for me, what we generally refer to as science i believe must never be rejected in favor of some supposed Scripture, because any book that claims to be scripture but contradicts science cannot be true.”

    Any “supposed Scripture” would need to stand up to scrutiny in light of sound scientific knowledge in order to be considered reliable, which the Bible does. On a philosophical level, it offers what science cannot, and that is the best explanation for the universe, world and life that we can observe empirically. Things appear as we would expect them to if the Bible were true.

  8. My friend told me once that his favorite subject is math, because there is no subjectivity, but it is almost purely objective and everyone for the most part agrees on mathematics. Maybe this is something Max is getting at. Mathematics involves very little interpretation compared to the other fields of study, though mathematics although it requires little interpretation, it does require a lot of intelligence. Math is purely number/data. Its when we get to the questions of okay, what does this data mean, that is where science becomes philosophy.

  9. //Any “supposed Scripture” would need to stand up to scrutiny in light of sound scientific knowledge in order to be considered reliable, which the Bible does. On a philosophical level, it offers what science cannot, and that is the best explanation for the universe, world and life that we can observe empirically. Things appear as we would expect them to if the Bible were true.//

    What constitutes “sound scientific knowledge”? I don’t see why Scripture has to be measured by something which is constantly subject to revision.

  10. It all depends on what your definition of science is. for me, science is NOT what people claim is true, but rather, science is that which is actually true. so basically, Scripture should never be measured by something unstable like you suggest but rather it should be measured with the laws of logic, which are entirely stable and is the master of Scripture. whne measuring Scripture with the laws of logic, it must be in accord with what is actually true. If it is not, then Scripture is not true, and therefore it must be rejected. Thus, science/truth is prefferable to Scripture,, because you can’t have Scripture without truth, but you can have truth without Scripture.

    • I wasn’t very clear on that, sorry. By “Sound scientific knowledge” I meant what we generally accept and do not dispute, although much is disputed. This is by no means the standard for validity of the Bible, because scientific knowledge does change and may or not reflect what is actually true. Generally, Biblical history has not contradicted what we can observe to be true about the world, and even provides a basis for logic, uniformity in nature, and moral laws we all presuppose when we apply what we observe (scientifically or otherwise) to our lives.

  11. Your description of science, where science ends and begins, and philosophy, is interesting, and the boundary is thickly drawn. It has some nice conceptual benefits. You can look at any particular work and say “this is science” or “this is philosophy”.

    The problem I see with your description in its current form is that it doesn’t look like science, as far as I’m familiar with it. I do astronomy, and so can give some practical examples of where my scientific work appears more like philosophy as you’ve described it.

    Here are some of my questions about the distinction you draw:

    METHOD: Most of theoretical physics involves examining the data and reasoning through it. Much of experimental physics involves this, as well. Otherwise, why would you believe the data? How would you know if you are testing the predictions of a theory or not?

    MATERIAL: This is, I think, pretty-much correct, although facts themselves become rather theory-laden, and there is this measure of parsimony which is highly favored in theories.

    PURPOSE: I agree with this.

    GOAL: How do you distinguish “Goal” from “Purpose”? Also, how do you distinguish explaining data and making predictions? A great deal of my time is spent thinking about strange observations of interesting stars and planets, and trying to explain them by invoking various physical processes. Is this not explanation as you intend it? Is there no overlap between description (which you identify as the purpose of science) and explanation?

    OUTCOME: How is the end of a thing different from the goal or purpose of a thing? I’m not sure what you are saying about Copernicus’s contributions compared to Newton’s, but Newton’s scientific contributions are much more substantial. He was able to show that the same force that holds us to the earth accounts for the motion of the planets around our sun.

    REASON: The reason I do science is because of understanding. Science helps me understand more about the world. There are people who may even argue that science helps provide understanding much more than philosophy. I would rather say that both are attempting to understand the world, but maybe with different questions and in different ways?

    At the end of the day, I’m not sure what the division between philosophy and science is, or even if there is a real dividing line. Arbitrary boundaries can be drawn, and may turn out to be useful. But a description of real differences that hold in general for science and philosophy? I’m not sure that this has ever been done. It would be very useful to be able to express what such a division consists of.

  12. Hello Max,
    thanx for the info. I would like to know more about philosophy and how it relates to science. I’m taking a course on behavioural science and it has a branch in philosophy. Can i get some material/journals from you? You can send them to my mail
    Many thanks
    Mobolaji Ayo
    KNUST, Ghana.

  13. Hello Max,
    thanks for your analysis of SCIENCE. Actually I am trying to define the SCIENCE in my lectures for students. At present my short definition of science is as follows: science is development of ability for prediction with fixed precision even under perturbation. There are two important things in the definition which are precision and perturbation. Obviously my version of the definition came from my biophysical background but I guess that this definition can be expanded for more fields of science through a variation of the precision. One more my favourite statement was introduced by Immanuel Kant “in any special doctrine of nature there can be only as much proper science as there is mathematics therein”. The precision combines these two statements because it can be evaluated just from mathematical procedures.
    Do not hesitate to contact me via e-mail for more discussion about.

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