(Under a six-minute read.)
I am of the firm, but alarming opinion that you, O Reader, woke up this very morning thirsting to know the real and true differences between a science, an art, and a philosophy.
In fact, I am of such a firm opinion that you woke up yearning to learn all about that issue this morning, that I fully aim to quite soon embark upon bringing about your glorious enlightenment in the matter.
Never mind that you yourself most likely know this stuff already.
Never mind that! Please say you want to hear all about it! Please! Otherwise I will have woken up this morning thinking about this stuff for nothing! For no useful reason at all!
Anyway, here’s the easiest way I can think of to summarize the differences…
A scientist seeks to discover the empirical nature of something but does not seek (as a scientist) to attach any value or emotional meaning to it. If and when a scientist does attach value or meaning to something, they do so not as a scientist, but in some other human capacity.
Unlike a scientist, an artist seeks (as an artist) to attach value or emotional meaning to something. If and when an artist seeks to discover the empirical nature of something, they do so not as an artist, but in some other human capacity.
Now a philosopher seeks to demonstrate a rationale for the empirical nature of something and/or a rationale for the value or emotional meaning of something.
Those are the three things distinguished in a nutshell.
By the way, philosophy is neither a science, nor an art, but is instead a “discipline”. You can think of a discipline as something that perfectly fits into neither the category of a science, nor an art, but rather is more or less intermediate between those two things and makes use of both of them.
Beyond that, you can also think of philosophy as a kind of game – a game with only one rule. That rule is you can reach any conclusion you want to reach about anything provided only that you reach your conclusion via flawlessly logical reasoning (which is all but impossible to accomplish).
But there’s a catch.
You see, the real goal of philosophy is not to reach the conclusion, but instead to create the flawless chain of reasoning. In philosophy, the journey is always more important than the destination. Put differently, to a philosopher, the destination or conclusion is just an excuse for embarking on the journey.
Granted, the above is just my own opinion – and there are plenty of philosophers who would disagree with me – but they happen to all of them, every last one of them, be crazy. Crazy! It is absolutely crazy to think that a discipline that has spent over 2,600 years debating such things as whether or not the gods exist without ever arriving at a firm and fixed consensus is actually all that interested in the destination! Crazy to think it is! Philosophers – regardless of what they say – are usually more interested in the fun of thinking than in the boredom of concluding.
Now, you can compare and contrast philosophy with science here. Just like philosophers love the thrill of discovering new, logically grounded ways of thinking about something, scientists love the thrill of discovering new, empirically grounded facts and explanations about something. That’s how the two things are similar.
Philosophy and science differ, however, in that philosophy requires only logical thinking about something, while science requires both logical thinking about something and the empirical verification of that logical thinking. That is to say, philosophy can – and often does – employ empirical facts, but it is not required to employ them. But science is required to employ empirical facts.
But why is science required to employ both logical reasoning and empirical verification of that reasoning, while philosophy is not?
There is more than one way to answer that question, but here let it suffice to say that empiricism is currently humanity’s most powerful way of reaching conclusions about things. “Seeing is believing”, as they say. Put somewhat flippantly, scientists are much more concerned with the destination than are philosophers. Philosophers are much more concerned with the journey than are scientists. Hence, scientists always resort to empiricism while philosophers see empiricism as optional.
Where do artists stand in relation to scientists and philosophers?
The world will tell you that artists are more like philosophers than they are like scientists. Yet, here the world is once again wrong about something. Quelle surprise! Psychologically, scientific studies have shown that artists and scientists are more similar to each other than either group is similar to philosophers in at least one hugely key and important way.
Both artists and scientists tend to think in probabilistic terms. That is, they tend to think in terms of the odds something is right or the chances something will happen, etc. But philosophers – as a group – tend to think in more absolute terms. They tend to think something either is or is not the case. They tend to think something either is true or is false. They tend to think something is either ethical or unethical.
Of course, those are generalizations and they have outliers. There are plenty of philosophers who think probabilistically and plenty of artists and scientists who think in absolutes. Yet overall, philosophers are more likely than artists and scientists to think in absolutes, while artists and scientists are more likely than philosophers to think in probabilities.
Why is that so?
Consider that philosophers attempt to achieve (but seldom perfectly achieve) flawlessly logical thinking. Further consider that flawlessly logical thinking is most often (but not always) binary. Logical or illogical. True or false. Correct or incorrect. Valid or invalid. Sound or unsound.
Now consider nature – the subject of empiricism. Although we often see it as binary (e.g. “night and day”), it almost never really is binary. Nature is much more often analog than digital. Night really is not the opposite of day – except in how we imagine it. The tree in my yard does not become its opposite when the sun goes down. Both artists and scientists tend to be more empirical than philosophers and hence, tend to think in more probabilistic terms than philosophers.
So where does all of this leave us?
Well, consider this example. Suppose you have a dog named “Milo”. Science will tell you Milo’s empirical nature. e.g. Milo is a dog. Art will attach value or emotional meaning to Milo. e.g. Milo is lovable and precious. And philosophy will reveal the rational grounds – if there are any — for saying Milo is a dog or for attaching value or emotional meaning to Milo. e.g. the claim Milo is a dog can be inter-subjectively verified; the claim Milo is lovable and precious, while non-factual, is of potentially huge motivational value, among other things.
And there you have it. Some key comparisons between science, art, and philosophy. Of course, your own mileage may vary.
Have a blessed and beautiful day.