Big Bang Bashup: Are the Philosophers Afraid of the Physicists?
The Atlantic is running an interview with Tim Maudlin about the philosophy of cosmology.
In May of last year Stephen Hawking gave a talk for Google in which he said that philosophy was dead, and that it was dead because it had failed to keep up with science, and in particular physics. Is he wrong or is he describing a failure of philosophy that your project hopes to address?
Maudlin: Hawking is a brilliant man, but he's not an expert in what's going on in philosophy, evidently. Over the past thirty years the philosophy of physics has become seamlessly integrated with the foundations of physics work done by actual physicists, so the situation is actually the exact opposite of what he describes. I think he just doesn't know what he's talking about. I mean there's no reason why he should. Why should he spend a lot of time reading the philosophy of physics? I'm sure it's very difficult for him to do. But I think he's just . . . uninformed.
I asked my father what he made of the interview. He replied:
The article is rather flabby, but Tim Maudlin is a terrific philosopher of physics, and what he has to say is always worth reading. He is surely correct in observing that the physicists have not been much occupied in asking or answering the obvious and natural philosophical questions that their theories suggest. He is also correct in implying that when the physicists do talk about philosophy, they generally make themselves look ridiculous. The philosophers doing philosophy of physics are the best of the best. They know a lot of physics and a lot of mathematics and they have the self-confidence of men who know both. What they lack is any kind of daring. There are institutional constraints in play in philosophy as well as evolutionary biology. The philosophers know better than to take on the physicists as rivals.
He also said, "I'll be happy to babble on further if anyone asks a question or two."
Anyone care to ask a question or two?