Well, in remarks that I’m pretty sure are guaranteed to rile up philosophers, E.O. Wilson, who apparently has a new book out on the meaning of human existence, disses both philosophy and religion, saying that scientists will provide the meaning of of existence.
I can agree with a lot of what Wilson says in this video. Many insights into who and what we are will come from evolutionary biology, paleontology, archaeology, brain sciences (neuroscience and psychology), and AI and robotics. (I do find it odd that Wilson dismisses molecular biology since it seems increasingly evident that life is a molecular, and at times quantum, phenomena.) I also can agree that astrophysicists are often eager to prognosticate on meaning while typically having little more insight than educated laypeople.
But Wilson’s blanket dismissal of philosophy strikes me as lazy pigeonholing of a vast array of intellectual activity based on its worst examples. Sure, there are plenty of philosophers who ignore or dismiss science, and as I’ve argued before, those philosophers are often engaged in insular navel gazing that is unlikely to produce anything useful. But there are also plenty of philosophers keeping up on the latest scientific developments, and I find their insights fascinating. They help sharpen my understanding of what is coming out of the scientific fields Wilson discusses.
I also find it strange that the man who wrote a book on the importance of consilience across different knowledge fields would disparage a field that often performs exactly that kind of function. And it’s interesting that doing so is, in an of itself, a philosophical position.
One of the things I’ve increasingly become aware of over the last couple of years is how often people dismiss entire fields of intellectual endeavor. Many do the same thing to a field that Wilson helped to start, evolutionary psychology, often citing its worst examples as justification, which is pretty much what Wilson is doing to philosophy. Other typical examples are economics, history, or the social sciences overall.
The fact is, there are bad practitioners in every field. When someone dismisses an entire academic discipline because of those practitioners, it’s almost always lazy and unfair, and usually just demonstrates the insularity of the person doing the dismissing.
All that said, Wilson’s new book sounds interesting. I may have to check it out.