Why Philosophy Blows

There has been Philosophy since the creation of civilization, it took a lot longer for humankind to invent Science.

It grew from the seeds of what was once known as Natural Philosophy, blossomed in the hands of 11th Century Arabic thinkers such as Ibn al-Haytham and took root in Western Culture during the Enlightenment thanks to the likes of John Locke.

The Scientific Method is one of the most important ideas we have ever had. It’s principle tenets are simple: hypotheses are tested through observation and experimentation. Any conclusion must be testable and able to accurately predict future results; any piece of work will be peer reviewed to ensure it is correct.

There is no such thing as a single ‘Philosophical Method’ but endemic in the nature of Philosophy is the fact that people are trying to solve problems simply by thinking about them. Terms such as ‘thought experiment’ may try to add a little more robustness to the discipline but are somewhat of a fig leaf.

Generally the two have operated in separate fields of study, the physical and non-physical (moral), avoiding any potential clashes. However with the increasingly sophisticated nature of Neuroscience an important battleground has been set: the brain (and the mind).

For centuries Philosophers have speculated that the physical processes of the brain are at least partially, if not entirely, separate from the non-physical processes of the mind. The legitimacy of this view is being rapidly eroded as more and more evidence emerges showing physical processes for what we experience as the mind. One can’t help but be struck by the resemblance to Science’s ongoing feud with Religion.

Some, known as Eliminative Materialists, have gone as far as to challenge Philosophy’s entitlement to comment given the flaws in it’s methodology. Pat Churchland, one of the leaders of this movement, can be heard taking the fight to Philosophers themselves on Philosophy Bites.

Perhaps those of us in the media and advertising industries have something to learn from this debate. How rigorously do we always examine the methodologies behind the behavioral theories we propose to clients? How strong for example is the evidence behind Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs, surely one of the industry’s most frequently quoted models?

Neuroscience, Behavioural Economics, and different fields of Psychology have very different methodologies. They shouldn't be given equal credence.


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