Philosophy that ignores science risks impotence

English: The first lecture in Experimental Phi...
The first lecture in Experimental Philosophy in 1748. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Peter Hankins has a post up reviewing Harold Langsam’s new book, ‘The Wonder of Consciousness‘.  While the book sounds interesting (Hankins describes it as philosophically dense, so I probably won’t read it), something bothered me while reading Hankins’s review.

It was the idea that we can determine things about the world without looking at it, that a-priori knowledge is enough, and that scientific information doesn’t have to be taken into account.  This isn’t explicitly stated, but it seemed  implied to me.  I get the idea that Langsam is annoyed by all that science invading his turf, and just wants to get back to good old fashioned philosophy.  (To be fair, I’m sure his position is far more nuanced that that.)

The idea that philosophy can proceed, without accounting for the latest scientific findings, is one I sometimes observe as an implicit assumption, and it strikes me as hazardously insular.  Hopefully readers of this blog know that I’m both pro-philosophy and pro-science.  Using a-priori reasoning based on what we do know can provide important insights.  Insights that science can’t provide, and in some cases may never be able to provide.

But philosophical logic is only as good as its premises, and to be good, those premises need to be based on the best of what is known, not just what is commonly known.  If you’re doing philosophy of mind, you should be broadly up to speed, at least at a layman’s level, on neuroscience and psychology.  If you’re doing ethics, you should be following psychological, sociological, anthropological, and other relevant fields of research.  And if you’re doing metaphysics, you should be knowledgable of the relevant scientific fields.

If you’re going to philosophize from your armchair, unless your subject matter is the remotest of metaphysics, that armchair better have some relevant and up to date science books by it.  Otherwise your philosophical conclusions may be dated right from the outset.