Re: Fact Free Science?

George Murphy (
Thu, 06 Nov 1997 17:30:35 -0500

Tom Pearson wrote:
> At 02:21 PM 11/6/97 -0500, George Murphy wrote:
> > Science & theology must make use of clear thinking &c, & in that
> >sense I have no objection to these statements. But philosophy is a tool
> >& can't supply the facts & assumptions it needs by itself. Note, e.g.,
> >Kant's idea that Euclidean geometry is a necessary part of the way we
> >understand the world. In theology, the idea that we must build on
> >philosphy has been quite damaging to Christian thought, for it has led
> >people to think that the Christian God must be forced into the
> >impassible, unchanging, "perfectly simple" &c categories of the Greek
> >philosophical tradition. Cross & Trinity (e.g.) then become problems
> >which have to be solved or embarassments to be papered over instead of
> >fundamental data concerning God to which philosophy must adapt.
> > George Murphy
> Not to pick a fight here, George, but one of the advantages of
> studying philosophy is that it can serve as an aid in identifying the
> intellectual antecedents of positions people take. Your own comments
> suggest that you have a kind of Lockean empirical notion of philosophy, in
> that facts & assumptions are "given," while philosophy can only serve to
> sort and classify this data as it is furnished by experience. But there are
> other ways to look at this. Indeed, it seems to me that I would have no
> idea how to recognize any "facts and assumptions" if I did not already have
> some philosophical concepts and categories by which I could grasp such
> things. If I am a "blank slate," of course, then those facts and
> assumptions just show up there without my doing much of anything. But I
> think it is hardly likely that we are blank slates, and I think it is hardly
> likely that "fundamental data" is absorbed in some pristine manner,
> uncontaminated by prior philosophical reflection. It appears far more
> likely to me that the fundamental data adapts to our antecedent
> philosophical templates, rather than the other way around.
> The same is true of theology. How could we possibly understand such
> things as the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, or any Theology of the
> Cross, unless we had some prior understanding of the philosophical concepts
> of person, unity, agency or sacrifice?

OK, we first have to know what the concepts are. You have to
know what Euclidean geometry is before you can talk meaningfully about
whether or not it's the real geometry of the world. But I think the
examples I gave, both in science & in theology, show the sort of
problems which undo reliance on philosophy, or overestimates of its
importance, can lead to.
George Murphy