Why is philosophy not considered a science?

When is philosophy a science?

Prof. Dr. Claus Beisbart from the University of Bern answered the question:

When is philosophy a science? (Article online)

Everyone is a philosopher - at least sometimes. Because every person occasionally thinks about philosophical questions such as: What is there? What can i know And what are the characteristics of a just society? When we speak of philosophers, we usually do not mean all people, but only those who practice philosophy scientifically. The simple amazement that everyone knows may mark the beginning of philosophy, but it is not its end.


The philosophical questions that we know from everyday life are just questions. A satisfactory answer to the questions often proves to be difficult and is therefore left to a scientific philosophy. But what are the characteristics of scientific philosophy? Under what conditions is philosophy a science?

What is science
To answer this question, we need to clarify what science is. This problem is itself again philosophical; it is dealt with in the philosophy of science. Karl Popper, for example, characterizes empirical or natural sciences by their falsifiability. This means that scientific hypotheses and theories can fail due to experience. It must therefore be possible to verify them through observation.


On the other hand, Popper demands that people who conduct empirical science be critical of their own views and test their hypotheses, for example through experiments. The critical spirit now certainly also characterizes scientific philosophy. On the other hand, Popper's first criterion is worse off. Because many philosophical theories are so abstract that they can hardly fail because of experience.

So philosophy is not an empirical science and cannot become scientific using the methods of the empirical sciences. From a historical perspective, philosophy tried to answer questions that were later at least partially accessible to empirical research - think, for example, of the question of whether space expands into infinity. But the subject areas concerned were then also outsourced from philosophy.

Opposing positions
In addition to the natural sciences, we now know other sciences, above all the humanities and cultural sciences. These cannot fail directly due to experience, but share with the natural sciences characteristics that we can also demand of a scientific philosophy. The purpose of these indicators is to enable people to better answer certain questions.


Doing science means, firstly, giving good reasons for the answers to certain questions. In the natural sciences one relies on experience for this, but where this is no longer possible, there are other possibilities of justification. The philosophy is based on the conversation and the intellectual debate with a counterpart. Arguments are exchanged that speak for or against a view. In this way, the right, the best answer to a question should crystallize out and be accepted by consensus.

Scientific philosophy is critical in the Poper's sense of the word: One particularly seeks to grapple with positions that are contrary to one's own. Because good reasons for a view are only decisive as long as they are not outweighed by counter-reasons. As a result, so many positions have developed in philosophy that are often harshly opposed to one another, such as empiricism and rationalism or realism and idealism.

Connections and links
Secondly, doing science means not only answering certain questions in isolation, but also seeing larger contexts and establishing links to other questions. As Kant emphasizes, science has the task of creating unity in knowledge. Science does this by developing theories that summarize our knowledge in a systematic form and help us better understand what we know. Philosophy is therefore scientific when it thinks together what belongs together. In his "Critique of Pure Reason", Kant tries to give a complete outline of human cognitive faculties.


Similarly, the American philosopher John Rawls not only formulates an answer to the question of a just society. Rather, it systematically sets out how justice contributes to the stability of a society and how the good and the just can be reconciled. This is why his main work can rightly be called "A Theory of Justice". In a time in which the other sciences are increasingly specializing, it is necessary for philosophy to bring together and link knowledge from different areas.


Progress in philosophy
Kant also demands that a science does not remain caught up in mere "fumbling around", but rather makes progress and achieves results that are the subject of a reasonable consensus. Even if philosophy fulfills the two criteria mentioned so far and its answers to philosophical questions are well founded and systematically linked, one may be worried about this third criterion. Because the current philosophy is partly still concerned with the same questions that already plagued Plato, without a consensus always emerging.

However, progress has also been made in philosophy. There are conceptual differentiations that all take into account, arguments that need to be addressed, and ideas that nobody believes they can fall behind. Therefore, the philosophical discussion leads to more and more knowledge. Overall, good justifications and systematic networking can lead to philosophical progress that can be called scientific.