I wrote this quote in big letters on a piece of paper and left it on the kitchen table for my father to read before leaving the house for a couple of days to visit a friend. It was meant as a response to this ridiculous argument we’d had the night before about him not wanting to watch a Stephen Hawking documentary on the basis that he believed him to be “full of shit” and that he “let his emotions get in the way of his intellect”, culminating in his girlfriend-ish-thing accusing him of “intellectual arrogance”, etc. etc. etc.
He responded to my message with “Who to believe? Stephen Hawking said last night that philosophy is dead!”
I just sighed and once again resigned myself to the fact that arguing with my father is impossible because he gets so caught up on connotations of words that he neglects to spend any time thinking about the actual intention behind them.
I’m familiar with this statement. It was this one he was referring to?
In his book, The Grand Design, Hawking opens with the idea that “philosophy has not kept up with modern discoveries in science, particularly physics.”
More specifically he asserts that science, in place of philosophy, has moved into position to be responsible for answering such questions as, “How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?”
I realize his stance makes a lot of people angry while stating the obvious, and would like to help clarify. When we want to know more about something, we turn to science and its methods, not philosophical ponderings, to learn empirically verifiable information. Can it be wrong? Yes. Can it get you closer than philosophy alone? Yes. This is the hard-to-argue obvious notion he’s stating, but when you call something people are attached to “dead,” they tend to get fairly upset. Of course, I’m referring to none other than Friedrich Nietzsche, another INTJ. His version, I will include for reference.
“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
—Nietzsche, The Gay Science
Ok, some plot twist this is, right?
Nietzsche was a philosopher, and Hawking says philosophy has died!
For the sake of understanding, let’s keep going. Nietzsche lived in a time when knowledge about reality, about the universe, when empiricism was at an all time low. With the same set of cognitive tools as Hawking, he did the same thing Hawking did. He pointed out that which will not last.
God is dead, and we no longer need to use religion to explain the universe, just as philosophy is dead, and we no longer need to rely on it to explain the universe. Scientific empiricism solves all of these things. If we don’t know, we can approach that unknown. With philosophy, we’re left to our own devices, at the mercy of our imagination, ability to reason, knowledge, assumptions, and worst yet: left to decide. This is not so with scientific empiricism. If you think you can decide how the universe works for even a second, the universe is there to show you complete indifference to your conclusions, as it continues onward as it always has: regardless.
This is what Stephen Hawking is referring to, and if anyone is interested, he is a fantastic writer. As for arguments with your father. Don’t bother. Aim to enlighten and inform, rather than persuade and disagree. You might be delighted to find that’s all he needed. Disarm the argumentative with genuine openness while asking the right questions they need in order to get there.