Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Richard Feynman’s Philosophy of Science

Ben Trubody finds that philosophy-phobic physicist Feynman is an unacknowledged philosopher of science.

Richard Feynman (1918-88) was one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century, contributing, among other things, to Quantum Electro Dynamics (QED), for which he won a Nobel Prize. His popular portrayal is of a buffooning genius with a preference for no-nonsense thinking – the sort that by his reckoning seemed in short supply within philosophy.

He is noted, and quoted, for his dislike of philosophy, and in particular of the philosophy of science. Any quick trawl of the Internet will bring up quotes attributed to him on the absurdities of philosophy, no doubt informed by his brief flirtation with it at Princeton. Feynman would parody what he saw as ‘dopey’ exercises in linguistic sophistry. As he remarks in a famous lecture series, “We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers… one saying to the other: you don’t know what you are talking about! The second one says: what do you mean by ‘talking’? What do you mean by ‘you’? What do you mean by ‘know’?” (The Feynman Lectures on Physics, Vol.1, 1963).

Interesting reading via Philosophy Now:

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