Has science destroyed the dream of philosophy? Was Stephen Hawking correct in claiming,“Philosophy is Dead?” These and a few more questions were raised, or more so alluded to in a recent debate by Paul Horwich and Michael P. Lynch in the Stone in March. The two philosophy professors debated the current state of philosophy using Wittgenstein as a platform.
Horwich went first, focusing on the pessimistic state of Wittgenstein’s later days and his growing disinterest with the potential of philosophy.
Thus, even Bertrand Russell, his early teacher and enthusiastic supporter, was eventually led to complain peevishly that Wittgenstein seems to have “grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary.”
Horwich outlines four claims that he thinks constitute this ‘doctrine’: philosophy is scientistic, the non-empirical nature of philosophy is in tension with former, philosophy is pervaded by oversimplification and a decent approach to philosophy must be ‘therapeutic’ rather than constructive. He reads Wittgenstein as the “logical” philosopher, one who understands the problems with theoretical philosophy. What Horwich is describing as Wittgenstein’s Metaphilosophy is Wittgenstein’s problems with the way dialogical philosophy is conducted and how he believes it should be done instead. Wittgenstein criticized philosophy “purely descriptive,” unable to attain foundation explanatory answers.
On the other hand, Lynch’s rebuttal gives the reader another interpretation. Instead of simply overturning Horwich’s reading of Wittgenstein, Lynch accuses Wittgenstein of being prone to overgeneralization. Lynch’s article urges the philosopher to realize the error of science, the error that comes, perhaps, when one tries to oversimplify an argument in search of a ‘grounding’ answer. For example, Lynch argues that Horwich’s Wittgenstein, as he calls it, was mistaken in his attempt to find a unitary nature of truth. He contests that the option to define truth is singular and posits that it is much more rhizomatic (to use Deleuzian terminology) but that this does not leave the philosopher with anything less than a much more detailed way to explore the very definition of truth. Lynch sees Philosophy’s strength in searching, producing the effect of a new way of thinking, instead of simply trying to find the end result. He draws a hard line between science and philosophy, claiming each to have their place in the world.
Compelled by the recent PEL episode and these articles, I, too, have been contemplating the purpose of philosophy. Now, philosophy is regarded by some as the precursor to science, and some may believe that science has dismissed the need for philosophic debate and dreaming, but I tend to lean towards the side of Lynch’s argument. Having a strong bias towards Postructuralist Philosophy, I appreciate the inspiration to think differently. I understand the frustration of Heidegger in his inability to explicate the radical notions he tried to raise in Being and Time. I don’t know if we’ll ever be ready to develop the skills necessary to completely disconnect and reconnect our lens caps, to reveal a new take of the world. But this does not give us an excuse to fail to attempt articulation of these ideas. It only strengthens the value of philosophy and true philosophical debate. It allows the modern day philosopher to understand where we have fallen short, and justifies an even more intrinsic study into the art of philosophy, Socratic debate, and the need for a fresh take on how one participates in the discursive process.