Philosophy dead?

Stephen Hawking, in a Telegraph piece this morning, declares that Philosophy is dead:

But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead

There is a series of comments attached to the piece itself: my initial reaction was he has a very narrow sense here of what philosophy is, and what it is for….

Do others agree? (for comments via our Facebook group see: )

The nice people at Philosophy Now have taken a response by Chris Norris from behind their paywall – so we can all read it – – thanks to them…



Anonymous says:

philosophy may not be dead but it has become insane and inane quibbling about minute differences in definitions and the belief that everything humans do can be accounted for by algorithms.
so perhaps it would be better if it were dead, or at least if the overgrown adolescent boys who do it were dead

David W... says:


does anon's critique only apply to analytic philosophy? if at all…

Anonymous says:

God is dead. (Nietzsche)

Nietzsche is dead. (God)

Anonymous says:

A couple of months ago Christopher Norris published an essay exhaustively commenting and responding to Hawking's (uninformed) claims. You can find it here: Hawking Contra Philosophy 

John Collier says:

I do not agree with Hawking. Philosophy is about clarifying ideas and finding the limits of (your) knowledge, not about asking the so-called “big questions”. Philosophy can contribute to the big questions by clarifying both the questions and what would constitute an answer. Philosophy can also play a role in constructing concepts to fill in gaps between divergent knowledge systems (in my opinion one of its most important roles), as well as questioning whether people are really communicating, even if they think that they are talking in the same terms.

I don't think that my view is that far from that of Socrates, Hume, Kant or Peirce, to name a few. Bertrand Russell was my early inspiration, and Hans Reichenbach has always seemed to me to have a good view on the relation between science and philosophy.

I do think that Hawking is right about philosophy having to pay attention to the knowledge produced by science. I am one of the contributers to Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. I also work on an objective form of Moral Naturalism in Ethics. I do get fed up with philosophers who say things that are not compatible with science. I especially get fed up with philosophers who think that there are non-trivial a priori truths. Hume and Peirce were right about this.

Obviously Hawking isn't up on the philosophical literature, for there are a number of philosophers with backgrounds in physics whose work is well informed by recent developments in physics. In any case, I would remind readers of F. H. Bradley's apt comment that he who would refute metaphysics is a brother metaphysician with a rival theory of his own.

Adva Shaviv says:

A most peculiar remark… I daresay it is not even entirely consistent. For if philosophy is about finding a meaning to life, how is physics related? Can physics supply a meaning to life? I'm not sure what Hawking is implying here.

I do agree, however, that philosophy seems to have given up on the meaning of life issue; personally I think it still as relevant as ever, and have even dedicated my dissertation to the atheistic meaning of life. No physics had anything to do with it, though.

However, recent developments in physics – or any other field – are surely necessary knowledge for any philosopher dealing with relevant issues (though much of philosophy has nothing to do with physics), but why claim that philosophy has lost touch with it? Like the vague generalization in the comment preceding mine, seems like Hawking is actually referring to a specific case he disapproves of. Quite a shame, bearing in mind that philosophy has not had good PR in our times even without such remarks.

Thanks for posting this on Philosop!


Anonymous says:

I really disagree with people telling me that philosophy is dead ore useless, especially when said people belong to another profession.

In my humble opinion, the question of philosophy being dead or not is a philosophical question, and entirely so. Everyone can engage in a debate about that, but will, in doing so, enter the field of philosophy.

Hence, Mr. Hawking has any right to tell us his thoughts about philosophy–but he certainly can't rely on his reputation as a physicist when it comes to debating this matter.

Also, I strongly disagree with people trying to tell me what philosophy is and isn't. This is directed to comments like, “Philosophy is about clarifying ideas and finding the limits of (your) knowledge, not about asking the so-called 'big questions'.” Undoubtedly, that's one aspect of philosophy today, and a very influential one, to be sure. But just one.

Yours humbly,

another anonymous guy

Physics is becoming less and less relevant to philosophy. This does not suggest the demise of philosophy but of the relevance of physics to philosophy. Duhem, Hermann Weyl and Einstein, were not philosophy illiterates. Hawking is. This is a trend. The less physicists actually know about philosophy the more critical they become. Regrettably, people who make their money teaching philosophy suffer the same problem: not knowing much actual philosophy. This contributes to the identity crisis across domains.

Jade says:

Philosophy is the underlying subject behind everything. We philosophize daily by simply asking why? if we didn't philosophize we would be certain about everything (Acknowledging that some people claim this certainty). Many physicists have made great contributions to the work of philosophy and vice versa, Hawkins should respect that.

The comment philosophy is insane… at times of studying it; I want to agree. However philosophy itself is not insane but some theories and approaches within it… Maybe.

Possibly he meant Metaphysics! But Philosophy is more that that. Besides I wonder much time he would devoted to reading Philosophy when he would be busy with cosmology.

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