Colin McGinn (a philosopher whose work on the philosophy of mind I have admired) has published an embarrassing piece in the Philosopher's Stone that is at the same time a plea for others to take philosophy seriously and a case in point as to why many don't. He proposes to rename the field of philosophy "ontics" and reclassify it as a science rather than part of the humanities. He justifies this proposal by making the case that philosophy is a science by the following standards: "the subject is systematic, rigorous, replete with technical vocabulary, often in conflict with common sense, capable of refutation, produces hypotheses, uses symbolic notation, is about the natural world, is institutionalized, peer-reviewed, tenure-granting, etc. We may as well recognize that we are a science, even if not one that makes empirical observations or uses much mathematics." He goes on to reduce "humanities" to its dictionary definition, "studies of human culture," and argue that philosophical sub-specialties are not studies of human culture.
This is a laughable replacement of wordplay for argument that might have the average reader believing that philosophy should simply be renamed "Semantics."
First, the wide definition of science that McGinn uses to rein in philosophy is also applicable to the humanities, including such subjects as comparative literature. In fact, even literary critics once believed themselves to be engaged in a science (in this broad sense) before "theory" (with its relativistic and anti-scientific preoccupations) took over English departments. So it doesn't help, in classifying philosophy, to note that it is a systematic body of knowledge. Which leaves McGinn arguing that philosophy be characterized as an empirical natural science ... despite the fact that it is not one.
Second, historically "philosophy" was thought to be an apt name because its meaning, "love of wisdom," calls out the problematic nature of its subject matter. "Love" implies a lack of complete possession of the beloved (see Plato's Symposium and various other dialogues -- Socrates seems to be inclined toward what the philosopher Stewart Umphrey calls zetetic skepticism, the belief that absolute philosophical truth is unobtainable but that the best life we can live involves seeking it anyway). By contrast, full possession is the name of the game in the hard sciences, where theories obtain wide consensus (despite the understanding that these theories are defeasible and might be overturned by the next scientific advance). Philosophical theories are always in dispute, and there is seldom ever any wide agreement on any major philosophical question. Further, that philosophical knowledge does not produce technology means it will always remain suspect to people who are inclined to believe that pleasure and the good life coincide -- which is to say, that to be worthwhile something must produce "practical" results, where the practical and the material coincide. Hence the Sophists of Ancient Greece went around with their day's equivalent of PowerPoint presentations (or TED lectures) to educate young men about virtue, defined as how to get ahead in the world. Socrates responded, "actually, that's a load of sophistic bullshit."
And speaking of which: philosophy was traditionally conceived to have an overarching goal of determining how to live a good life; and sub-specialties that didn't directly serve this purpose were thought to indirectly serve it -- not just because they laid the groundwork for addressing ethical questions but because doing philosophy turned out to be part of what it meant to live a good life. In Plato, epistemology and metaphysics are fields motivated by ethical and political concerns.
Finally, philosophy is part of the humanities because of the critical role that reflection (or "phenomenology") plays in its practice. (And as listeners and readers may know, I'm an advocate of reflection of the most comfortable armchair variety). It involves an attempt to come to terms with what it is to be human, and in practicing philosophy human beings are in the difficult position of being both subject and object -- a problem not generally faced by the hard sciences. Even epistemology and metaphysics -- which McGinn claims are about "nature" -- generally turn on the the problematic role of the subject in any engagement with the world. (I will concede that philosophy is a science the day that it involves long hours in a lab with a pipette).
The science envy that McGinn displays in this piece does not help philosophy. And in general, I'd like to say to those with similar concerns: if you wanted to become a scientist, you should have become a scientist. If your mother and friends are anything like average Americans, they would have thought more highly of you because of it. But consider the possibility that the arts and humanities are simply worthwhile pursuits, despite the fact that they are not going to produce the next iPad or a cure for cancer. And consider the possibility that the United States needs a counterweight to its philistinism -- to its pseudo-pragmatist values and their devaluing of the arts and humanities -- not the grotesque surrender to it that "ontics" represents. There are enough politicians telling children to study math and science and cutting the funding that would allow them to study anything else. They do not require your assistance, and your collaborationism is not going to win you greater respect -- from anyone.