The scientific method is a set of assumptions that are used to produce knowledge, but these assumptions themselves are not amenable to experimental verification. They are what set the ground rules for experimental verification. Dealing with those and other assumptions and their limitations and problems is the territory of philosophy. Philosophy is about how to make and test and use assumptions. It has its own craft.
Original Doctor of Philosophy
As Western culture emerged out of the Middle Ages, the Medieval Universities offered four kinds of doctor’s degrees, theology, medicine, law, and philosophy. Theology addressed God and religion, medicine – the human body, law – the rules of society, and philosophy – the natural world. As the Middle Ages evolved into the modern era, science gradually emerged from philosophy. Eventually, like some mythological Greek god, science devoured its parent.
Science grew out of philosophy and then lost touch with it. Now science would greatly benefit from the rediscovery of the craft of philosophy. So, what happens if we start to take metaphysical philosophy seriously and use the craft of philosophy to examine our situation?
Types of Philosophy
Philosophy deals with basic assumptions about ourselves and the world we live in: how we choose them; how we organize them; and how we use them to guide us. Originally, Philosophy had three main branches: 1) Ontology, which focused on the nature of being and the types of existence; 2) Epistemology, which delved into what constitutes knowledge and how to know; and 3) Axiology, which considered values, morality and how to act.
Ontological Questions: Ontology asks questions like:
Is the universe essentially a machine that God made? Perhaps it’s a machine that somehow made itself.
Maybe the universe is an idea in the mind of God. Maybe the universe is an idea thinking itself. Maybe the universe is just my idea and there really is nothing else.
How about the possibility that the universe is an organism that God initiated or the possibility that it is an organism that is evolving itself?
Is the universe a pattern of vibrations sung by God or singing itself?
What is the essence of time, of space, of energy, of matter, of life, and of death?
What is before birth and after death?
Epistemological Questions: Epistemology explores questions like:
Does knowledge come from sense experience or from rational consideration or both?
Will knowledge emerge from reflection on the experiences presented by the outer senses (vision, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling) or reflection on the experiences of the inner senses (kinesthetic awareness, inner seeing, inner hearing, meditation visions, and lucid dreams) or both?
How do we determine whether our experiences conform to a reality outside of us?
Can the mind give us accurate knowledge of the worlds outside of ourselves by some means other than experience – perhaps by thought or intuition or inner vision?
How do we test our knowledge? Does it come from the right authorities? Do we compare our knowledge with the knowledge of others? Do we see how well our knowledge works to guide our actions? Is our knowledge internally consistent? Does it feel right?
Axiological Questions: Finally, Axiology addresses questions like:
How do we know what is good and what is bad for us and for other people?
How do we decide what choices to make and what actions to take?
Do the ends we are trying to accomplish justify the means we are using to accomplish them? Or do our means have to be intrinsically just if our end is justice?
What are the values that should guide us? What’s best for ourselves? What’s best for our community? What’s best for our country? What’s best for the planet?
The Philosophy of Orthodox Science
From the perspective of this understanding of philosophy, the orthodox scientific Ontology is that the universe is a machine/computer that somehow made and is making itself and behaves in a way that is consistent over time.
The orthodox scientific Epistemology is that knowledge is based on independently verifiable (often instrument mediated) observations through the external senses that can be explained by (usually mathematically expressed) hypotheses which predict future independently verifiable observations. Hypotheses that are “proved” – by predicting something that actually happens regularly – become “natural laws” that can be pieced together to form integrated theories that give a broader understanding of different aspects of the universe.
The orthodox scientific Axiology is that truth (as defined by scientific Epistemology) is the only scientific value. Science should pursue knowledge, regardless of the result and science bears no responsibility for the uses to which its knowledge is put. This approach to scientific knowledge has led to very powerful technologies with no grounding in values.
The Philosophy of Orthodox Capitalism
Science and technology arose at the same time that the capitalist economic system also emerged. The philosophy of orthodox capitalism holds that the only purpose of business is to produce financial profits (make money), particularly in the form of short term profits, and accumulate economic capital, particularly in the form of financial capital. If all businesses and all individuals maximize their own short term self-interests by making as much money as possible, then the greatest good will result.
Orthodox capitalism has used the discoveries of science and the capabilities of technology in the context of the (often implicit) mechanistic philosophy to make money by treating its factories as machines (with its workforce as cogs in the machines) that take in resources and produce products, pollution, and waste. This combination of orthodox capitalism and orthodox science/technology has brought us to our current reality – a social crisis embedded in an ecological crisis.
And, orthodox capitalism isn’t even doing so well in relation to economic/finance capital. Making money as the sole value (and pretty much at all costs) was at the root of Great Recession that is being so slow to resolve.
To be fair to science, the emerging fields of ecology and climate science have provided compelling information about the ecological crisis, particularly the climate change dimension of it. And to be fair to capitalism, there is a whole movement of businesses and business people who recognize that businesses should build (not destroy) social and environmental capital as well as financial/economic capital.
However, without tackling the basic philosophical assumptions of orthodox science and orthodox capitalism head-on, the forces that are trying to deal with the social crisis and ecological crisis right now are locked in a struggle that may not be won rapidly enough to avert a global catastrophe. We need to reframe the debate.
It’s past time to look beyond the limits and the largely hidden assumptions of orthodox science (Philosophy of Science) and orthodox capitalism (Philosophy of Capitalism). To do this requires a better understanding of consciousness (Philosophy of Consciousness).