Concerning the relationship between science and philosophy

This post consists of the  elements of an answer I wrote at quora.com ; the question there was: “Is philosophy the top of all kinds of sciences?”

I think it would be convenient to distinguish between the general term “science”, referring to the state or fact of knowing, or to knowledge acquired by study and learning, and the modern meaning of “science”, mostly referring to mathematics and to the exact sciences using the rules of the scientific method (astronomy, physics…).

Philosophy and science were not separate in Antiquity.

In the original sense, philosophy meant the love, study, or pursuit of wisdom, or the knowledge of things and their causes, theoretical as well as practical.

Pythagoras was a mathematician, and at the same time it is said that he was the first one to call himself a philosopher, or “lover of wisdom”.

Plato was a philosopher who recommended the knowledge and the study of geometry. In The Republic, Plato thought that the best ruler was the king-philosopher.

Aristotle studied nature and wrote works about physics, biology, logic, etc, from a philosophical point of view.

According to the OED:

   “In the Middle Ages, ‘the seven (liberal) sciences’ was often used synonymously with ‘the seven liberal arts’, for the   group of studies comprised by the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) and the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astronomy).”

The expression Natural philosophy was frequently used for centuries :

   “Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature (from Latin philosophia naturalis) was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

    From the ancient world, starting with Aristotle, to the 19th century, the term “natural philosophy” was the common term used to describe the practice of studying nature. It was in the 19th century that the concept of “science” received its modern shape with new titles emerging such as “biology” and “biologist”, “physics” and “physicist” among other technical fields and titles; institutions and communities were founded, and unprecedented applications to and interactions with other aspects of society and culture occurred. Isaac Newton‘s book Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), whose title translates to “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy”, reflects the then-current use of the words “natural philosophy”, akin to “systematic study of nature”. Even in the 19th century, a treatise by Lord Kelvin and Peter Guthrie Tait, which helped define much of modern physics, was titled Treatise on Natural Philosophy (1867).

In the last few centuries, alchemy separated from chemistry, astrology separated from astronomy, and there was also a certain separation between philosophy on one side, and mathematics and the exact sciences on the other side.

Mathematics became progressively the most prominent and the essential scientific discipline, it is acknowledged as the language of science and of the physical world.

Philosophy is nowadays often regarded as a reflection, view or study of the general principles of a particular branch of knowledge, or activity. There is a philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of education ,etc.

Some theories or views related to epistemology (which is concerned with the general theory and the study of knowledge) and philosophy, such as rationalism, empiricism, and positivism, share a number of principles with the scientific approach to events and phenomena.

photo of Kant

(Source of the image above: Wikimedia Commons)

A scientist or a physicist can also be a philosopher. Important thinkers can be philosophers and create philosophical systems, but modern philosophers must take into account the advances, discoveries and theories in modern science. A historical example would be Immanuel Kant elaborating his philosophical system and philosophical ideas at the end of the eighteenth century in light of and in relation to the exact sciences known at that time, especially Euclidean geometry and Newtonian classical physics and mechanics.

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About the 2016 presidential elections

I read a lot , and I try to analyze events objectively. I wrote an answer on June 18 , 2016  on quora.com outlining a general rational method to analyze historical events , and I gave reasons why Donald Trump would be elected president . The link to that answer can be followed by clicking here . I added an update to the answer in November , but the initial publication date can be seen in the answer log .

I also wrote an answer on November 9 , 2016 , reminding of the answer I wrote in June and giving additional explanations concerning my point of view and my ideas.

I will present here the two answers I wrote (with a few unessential modifications) , and part of a third answer I wrote .

Here is the first answer of June 18 , 2016:

First of all , I’d like to point out that I’m not involved in politics and I’m not attached to any political ideology , but I’m going to try to give my (objective and concise) opinion about this topic .

Based upon my many readings and my personal reflections , I think an objective study of historical events can be conducted , and the principles of the scientific method can even be applied to History , if it is done the right way .

I think Trump would be the president of the USA based mainly on two reasons or two notions:

  1. The notion that (along with historical progress and evolution) there are “periodicities” , regularities , and exact correspondences or analogies between (human) historical events over periods of two thousand years or two millennia , which is why I would call them bi-millenary correspondences .
  2. The notion of inversion or transmutation of values , more or less related to Nietzsche’s ideas .

For the first notion , there is an exact correspondence between the Roman emperor Claudius and Trump . According to the Wikipedia article about Claudius (who ruled from 41 to 54 CE) , it was reported that “at one time he expelled the Jews from Rome, probably because the Jews within the city caused continuous disturbances[…]” and the Wikipedia note states : “There is some debate about what actually happened. It is reported by Suetonius and in Acts (18:2), Cassius Dio minimizes the event and Josephus—who was reporting on Jewish events—does not mention it at all. Some scholars hold that it didn’t happen, while others have only a few missionaries expelled for the short term.” This event corresponds to Trump’s call to ban Muslims from the USA .

For the second notion , it is known that Claudius was the first Roman Emperor to be born outside Italy . This is to be contrasted with Trump’s birther ideas or birther issue , insisting that the president should be a natural born citizen of the United States .

These explanations or ideas may seem new or strange or “exotic”, but I think I have a point here .

So we’ll have to wait for the verification of what I have stated above with the unfolding of future events .

Update (November 9, 2016) :

Trump has been elected president. It looks like the unfolding of events has provided an empirical or “experimental” verification of what I had written about five months before the November elections. In fact this answer was written on June 18, 2016.

Here is my second answer , published November 9 , 2016:

I think a statement such as “I told you so” is in order here. I wrote an answer on June 18, 2016 about why Trump would win the November presidential elections. Not that I follow any politician, I’m not attached to any particular political person, political party, or political philosophy.

I presented or outlined a general method based on the proper , correct , and rational analysis of current events and of related specific past historical events (which took place too millennia ago) , and a way to find connections , correspondences and analogies with current events , and to reasonably , objectively anticipate future important events. This method may need more explanations, refinements, or elaborations, but I think it is correct and valid. I’d consider that the unfolding of recent events can be regarded as an empirical or experimental proof or verification of what I had stated earlier in June.

There is no need to refer to the concept of black swan or to similar notions or interpretations, or to say “this is implausible, nobody could have seen or known this”. Randomness and “black swans” are usually a reflection of our ignorance of all the relevant and/or necessary data and facts. The supporters of the winner don’t subscribe to the implausibility or to the black swan narrative and would say that they knew all along he would win the elections. However they represent one side or one of the sides of the issue at hand, so their discourse is not unbiased or dispassionate and is not based on objective and neutral analysis.

I think the impartial , adequate , accurate analysis , study and comparison of historical events and the detection of patterns, regularities , relations and connections between these events can generally help explain the past and also provide insights and valid anticipations of significant future events.

Moreover , The general idea of using scientific methodology (to try to find out who will be the next president for example)  is not the core problem , the essential requirement is to use and apply something such as the rules or principles of the scientific method the right way , and to use the right , correct , accurate , adequate, verifiable methodology .

About the importance or relevance of black swan events in History

Here is a slightly modified reproduction of an answer I wrote at quora.com concerning the black swan theory and black swan events in History.

The Black Swan theory or notion can be sometimes useful but it cannot be reliable or subject to generalization for History.

Explaining (or not being able to explain ) historical events by often relying on the concept of Black Swan can be counterproductive and prevents researchers and thinkers from analyzing objectively and impartially human history in order to find patterns , regularities , and reasonable interpretations in accordance with the principles of the scientific method.

I’ll give an example:
The British had a guy called Oliver Cromwell.Then the French had a guy called Napoleon Bonaparte . Then the Germans had a guy called Hitler. So one could discern a pattern here in the historical succession of great powers.

Another example:
There are many important scientists and scholars but a few have an importance or greatness of the biggest caliber.
The British had a very important scientist called Isaac Newton , then the French had a scientist called Pierre Simon Laplace , then the Germans had a scientist called Albert Einstein ( Einstein was born in Germany , then he lived in Switzerland , then he came back to Germany , then he went to the United States.But in his most productive years he was in the sphere of influence of the German language and of the German culture).

An interesting field for studying history is Cliodynamics, but I think the methods of cliodynamics can also be ameliorated and surpassed.

Certain events might be unexpected for a group of people , but they could be expected and/or predictable for another group of people.

A famous event such as the French Revolution was unexpected and could have been viewed as a Black Swan by the French nobles and aristocrats and by the supporters of the Ancien Régime , but it was expected , anticipated and brought about by the ‘bourgoisie’ , the peasants and the common people in France.The English Civil War or the English Revolution can be thought of as an antecedent to the French Revolution.
For the last two centuries the French Revolution and its causes have been explained , interpreted and reinterpreted in many ways by many people and thinkers.

Some events may seem surprising or unexpected , but the big picture and the general structure of historical events can be analyzed , found and interpreted.

As an additional example , I think there is no need to refer to black swans in relation to the 2016 presidential elections in the USA . Things and events to come can be viewed objectively by analyzing past historical events the right way , impartially and coherently , and by making the right and correct connections .

I also think specific patterns , regularities , and connections between important events can be found in human history for (definite) periods extending over centuries and even millennia.

Some notes about the possibility of a mathematical theory of History

I will present some general remarks and some personal opinions and findings (with a constant concern for accuracy and objectivity) about the attempts at mathematizing History , historical events , processes and phenomena.

My many readings (see my various book pages and the books I have read) and my analysis of History made me realize that important historical events and phenomena are (highly) periodic , and that exact correspondences (or similarities or “homologies” , one of these terms could be chosen, used  and defined) can be found between historical events separated by definite periods of time .

The history of humanity can be considered as the result of the interactions between the lives and actions of human beings  moving and acting in time. All humans have a role to play in the unfolding of historical events , but great men (and women) and great thinkers/scientists/reformers constitute the main group of humans who change and drive historical phenomena and happenings across cultures , nations and empires.

Evolution and progress take place in human history , such as technological/scientific progress, the increase in the global human population over millennia and the increase in the surface of political entities, from city-states to nation-states and to bigger entities , etc, but there are also general principles and definite periodicities and regularities in world history. Among these regularities are the stages or phases of gradual growth and decline through which most great powers and empires pass as they rise/fall and go up and down in time. Certain essential periodicities or cycles in history are accompanied by a change or transmutation in values (“moral” , behavioral , sexual, etc).
Relevant concepts can be defined such as the notion of bi-millenary (exact) correspondence and of bi-millenary periodical return of historical events. I will explain and clarify these concepts more when I have time in future writings.

Some philosophical and religious theories talk about eternal return/recurrence and cyclical time (the notion of eternal return constantly permeates the philosophy of Nietzsche), but these notions are not defined in a precise or scientific way.

I think that Mathematics and the scientific method , i.e observing phenomena and collecting data, creating hypotheses with the adequate mathematical model, experimental/empirical verification of these hypotheses and building  coherent theories, can be used in and applied to human history, provided that this is done in the proper and correct way. Historical chronology plays an important role, and the chronology of events before the Common or Christian era ought to be revised and corrected.

Another prerequisite for the impartial and objective study of history is to abandon preconceived ideas and to have a global perspective of human history , avoiding euro-centrism , afro-centrism and all kinds of ethnocentrisms , and avoiding to get stuck in certain habits such as classifying people and cultures into Western and non-Western. One should take into account the fact that geopolitical groupings and alliances change with the passing of time , centuries and decades.

A new discipline called Cliodynamics was created in the last decade . It is an area of research using mathematical , quantitative approaches and modelings to explain historical processes and societies. The practitioners of this discipline have made some interesting observations about historical events and have tried to formulate mathematically backed theories to interpret historical facts , however I think they have not found or discovered the right , convenient , correct and/or precise way to mathematize History and historical phenomena .

If the right mathematical theory of human history can be elaborated, using the scientific method and testing hypotheses in history could be equivalent to and lead to the (precise) prediction of important events taking place in the future of humankind.