Saturday, 27 February 2016

Bergson's Wind Tunnel


Wilbur: We’ve taken this flight thing as far as we can go. Let’s admit it; we’re stuck
Orville: I agree. We need some intellectual technology.
Wilbur: Send for that cerebretonic ectomorph, what’s his name.
Orville: You mean Bertie Russell.
Wilbur: Yeah, he’ll get us off the ground.

Dan Linford in
public letter to Bill Nye
is clearly fond of the usages of his apprenticeship which was in science. As I read his open letter I thought his views on scepticism might bring some rebuttals followed by clarifications. His intellectual technology kite will also not survive the rigours of the wind tunnel so to speak.

Bergson’s lecture on Philosophical Intuition from 1911 to the Philosophical Congress warns of philosophic hubris (from The Creative Mind)



One would find the same kind of relationship between a philosophical system and the whole body of scientific knowledge of the epoch in which the philosopher lived.
There is a certain conception of philosophy which requires that all the effort of the philosopher should be to embrace in one large synthesis the results of the particular sciences. Indeed, the philosopher, for a long time, was he who possessed universal knowledge; and today even, when the multiplicity of particular sciences, the diversity and complexity of methods, the enormous mass of facts collected make the accumulation of all human knowledge in a single mind impossible, the philosopher remains the man of universal knowledge, in this sense, that if he can no longer know everything, there is nothing that he should not have put himself in a position to learn. But does it necessarily follow, that his task is to take possession of existing science to bring it to increasing degrees of generality, and to proceed, from condensation to condensation, to what has been called the unification of knowledge? May I be pardoned if I consider it strange that this conception of philosophy is proposed to us in the name of science, out of respect for science: I know of no conception more offensive to science or more injurious to the scientist. Here, if you like, is a man who, over a long period of time, has followed a certain scientific method and laboriously gained his results, who says to us:
"Experience, with the help of reasoning, leads to this point; scientific knowledge begins here, it ends there; such are my conclusions"; and the philosopher would have the right to answer: "Very well, leave it to me, and I'll show you what I can do with it! The knowledge you bring me unfinished, I shall complete.

What you put before me in bits I shall put together. With the same materials, since it is understood that I shall keep to the facts, which you have observed, with the same kind of work, since I must restrict myself as you did to induction and deduction, I shall do more and better than you have done." Truly a very strange pretention! How could the profession of philosopher confer upon him who exercises it the power of advancing farther than science in the same direction as science? That certain scientists are more inclined than others to forge ahead and to generalize their results, more inclined also to turn back and to criticize their methods, that in this particular meaning of the word they should be dubbed philosophers, moreover that each science can and should have its own philosophy thus understood, I am the first to admit. But that particular philosophy is still science, and he who practises it is still a scientist. It is no longer a question, as it was a moment ago, of setting up philosophy as a synthesis of the positive sciences and of claiming, in virtue of the philosopher's mind alone, to raise oneself above science in the generalization of the same facts.
Such a conception of the role of the philosopher would be unfair to science. But how much more unfair to, philosophy! Is it not evident that if the scientist stops at a certain point along the road of generalization and synthesis it is because beyond that point objective experience and sure reasoning do not permit us to advance?


2 comments:

Paul Raymont said...

Thanks for this. I'm enjoying your posts on Bergson.

ombhurbhuva said...

Thanks Paul