Monday, 28 April 2014

It’s the philosophy, stupid...

...but with apologies for the snowclone.

Science is a philosophy – natural philosophy. As such it is in permanent conflict with older doctrinal philosophies – the conceptual swamps where religion and politics ply their trades.

To my mind it is unfortunate that the terms natural philosophy and natural philosopher were sidelined in favour of science and scientist in the nineteenth century because the essential philosophical basis of science is apt to be forgotten.

As a result, too many scientists come across as poor philosophers, not seeming to understand clearly enough why effective science cannot have the same philosophical outlook as politics or religion. They seem to know that natural philosophy works but do not explicitly link its practical success to its non-doctrinal approach. 

For example, Baruch pinoza was an early natural philosopher, although he is now classed as a philosopher not a scientist. Yet I doubt if Spinoza would have accepted the distinction. He was a lens-grinder by trade, with a keen interest in the rapidly growing field of scientific optics. He also carried out experiments such as the hydrostatics experiment he illustrated in a letter to his friend Jarig Jelles. He was a natural philosopher.

From Spinoza’s letter to Jarig Jelles, September 1669

The distinction between science and philosophy seems to have led us into a situation where too many people confuse, mingle and otherwise conflate doctrinal philosophies with natural philosophy. They seek to bolster their scientific ideas with doctrinal authority even though scientific success obviously requires a non-doctrinal approach.

In my view this is why CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) seems so similar to religion or politics. Why the science seems so weak and disjointed when set against its confidently catastrophic claims. The similarity arises because CAGW is a doctrinal philosophy - not natural philosophy.

Again this is why official climate change doctrine is virtually immune to the observed complexities of climate behaviour and and the failure of climate phenomena to occur as predicted. The issue is one of authority, not natural philosophy. So the public domain is dominated by doctrinal quotes, often repeated verbatim by the faithful:-

Peer review...
97% of scientists...
The Royal Society...
The vast majority of scientific papers...
The latest computer models...

Journalists, CAGW activists and too many professional scientists understand doctrinal philosophies rather better than they understand natural philosophy. They understand authority and power. They see the world through the presumed authority of their sources, not the non-doctrinal uncertainties of natural philosophy.

Certainly it is clear to me after reading too many sterile reams of CAGW text that the binding climate change rationale is a doctrinal philosophy, a search for authority rather than non-doctrinal natural philosophy.

Of course science uses doctrinal authority for well-established theories and for educational purposes, but institutions such as the Royal Society seem to have imbibed the trappings of authority too well. Awarding Nobel Prizes is well-meaning no doubt, but is it a good idea to confer doctrinal authority on natural philosophers in this way? I’m not sure that it is.

I suppose the status of natural philosophy as a successful and prestigious knowledge culture was bound to attract those with an authoritarian bent. As soon as it became conspicuously successful, it was probably doomed as a philosophy of knowledge. Political exigencies insinuated a kind of mission creep which has been going on for decades – possibly longer.

So maybe it should have come as no surprise that scientific wings are being clipped by global authoritarians of which CAGW is a major exemplar.

We are not speaking of rational versus irrational here, but of different philosophies of what constitutes rational behaviour. 

A bow to power or a bow to nature.


Demetrius said...

Perhaps it's a coin flip between Gaia and Mount Olympus.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - I'll go for Mount Olympus.