Philosopher Laura Macguire on the blog of the fantastic podcast Philosophy Talk explores the claim that advances in science have all but made philosophy obsolete:
… in the last few years a number of scientists, like Stephen Hawking, have been very vocal in pronouncing the death of philosophy. They seem to think that science can or will answer all the important questions there are. If there are any questions that science can’t answer, then they’re just pseudo problems, not worth thinking about.
You might wonder what kind of empirical evidence Hawking and these other scientists have offered for such a radical claim. Perhaps they’ve done some experiments to prove this hypothesis? Or, they’ve shown that the claim can be derived from, say, quantum mechanics? The truth is, the claim that philosophical problems are just pseudo problems, not settled by empirical facts, is itself a philosophical position that is not settled by empirical facts, which is sort of ironic, if you think about it.
Philosophers call this view that Hawking and others espouse positivism—the view that any claim that can’t be verified or falsified scientifically is just nonsense. Positivism was popular in the early twentieth century, but was fairly unanimously rejected—in philosophy, at least—because it obviously fails its own test, which makes it an incoherent position. How wonderful of Hawking to resurrect this long-since abandoned view! He’s obviously given it a great deal of thought. And they say philosophy doesn’t make progress…