It can be argued that the birth of modern science in the 17th Century has relegated much of philosophy’s influence, overtaking its epistemological capability. The dissolution of philosophy into the the natural sciences saw increasing attempts to redefine philosophy in the face of an ever-increasing scientific eclipse. In fact, much of philosophy, today, can be summed up as an attempt to justify itself. This venture can prove a very difficult task, owing to the blurred line that currently exists between science and philosophy, if there is ever one. Has science totally subsumed philosophy such that philosophy is now only part of its realm rather than, as traditionally defined, a distinct system of thought onto which science builds and proceeds from?
The fact that philosophy attempts to legitimate itself could perhaps be the one thing that distinguishes it from science and in fact all other disciplines. Philosophers ask and attempt to answer what philosophy is about and defining philosophy remains a pestering problem. One could even use “philosophical arguments” to call philosophy itself into account or question its own value. This contrasts with other fields. For instance, it is not a problem to scientists what science is about or what science attempts to explain. It is also not a problem to mathematicians what mathematics attempts to explain or study. Furthermore, philosophy does not keep to itself, but rather intrudes heterogeneously into aspects of many other disciplines. We often speak of the philosophy of science, philosophy of art, philosophy of economics, or philosophy of language, specializations which are even distinct areas of study. This begs the question whether “philosophy” even exists or whether it is just simply a subjective label given to any sort of intellectual exercise, or resemblance thereof? Did philosophy work itself into the distinct academic discipline that never was but now finds itself in a never-ending battle to vindicate its existence?
In an attempt to delineate itself from science, philosophy often creeps in when science fails to answer existential questions of purpose or meaning or when it fails to account for something that only appears to need an explanation or answer a question that only appears to need an answer. But, is any question truly a question? The fact that you can rework a sentence into the grammatical structure of a question does not make it one. You could also ask questions such as “What’s the edge of the earth?” or “What’s North of the North Pole?” or “What’s the colour of fear?”. All of these are questions that science cannot answer. But that does not mean something else that only appears to answer those questions but actually does not must transcend science or has found its niche. Objective truths about the natural force us to morph our logic with empirical reality and certainly not to preform empirical reality such that it suits our prejudiced senses. If the filters of our subjective whim allow us to ask questions that may not be answerable by the logical discipline of science, then perhaps it is not entitled to any particular answer and the answer to it ends up being whatever we want to ascribe to it. Questions that can only be accorded subjective answers are not good places to waste intellectual effort and may be quasi-questions masquerading as legitimate questions. For some reason, these so-called “quasi-questions” are often commandeered by disciplines such as philosophy and faith that are in a constant need to accord their specialties some value. They end up answering them no better than one can without them.
The endless pursuit of these subjective values that philosophy seems to commit itself to in an attempt to delineate itself from science may turn out to be more destructive than vindicatory. One of the crowning features of the scientific practice is that it allows us to remove our filters. The subjective misrepresentations of reality that our evolutionary past has etched into us can be divested from if we subject them to the filtering funnel of the scientific method. Science allows us to realise objective truth precisely because of it removes our anthropocentric conditioning. We are, all the more, forced to adjust our logic not in accordance with what it should be but rather in accordance with what it actually is. Philosophy, however, by attempting to answer subjective quasi-questions, or even worse, obliging science to attend to them, reinforces human error. Far from bringing us closer to reality, it distances us from it.
If philosophy is to demarcate itself as distinct area of thought, it ought not attempt to usurp science’s endeavour to explain reality and claim an ability to generate knowledge about the natural world while lacking the many empirical processes of investigation that science is endowed with. Perhaps, philosophy could rewrite itself as a system that could generate scientifically meaningful questions that science could then test. But, I wonder if that just renders it a generic intellectual effort. This can be evident, especially that you have just read an entire article on philosophy but learned absolutely nothing new.