The diagram evokes the memory of undergraduate debates about whether that chair actually exists or whether we live in the matrix. These debates seem silly on the surface but they are actually very important in classes devoted to logic and critical thinking. They provide real experience in thinking.
Chris DiCarlo. He taught reasoning and logic based on his book How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Asking the Right Questions. This is the essence of philosophy and it's why every single undergraduate should take a first-year course in logic, taught by philosophers.
However, there are issues in philosophy that seem silly to an outsider. For example, many philosophers are theologians and they still argue for the existence of gods. The ontological argument is still taken seriously by many philosophers. It seems to me that the question "Do gods exist?" should have been settled a long time ago in philosophy departments. There doesn't seem to be any legitimate arguments in favor of gods but many philosophers are still debating that very point.
There are also debates about ethics—that's Cris DiCarlo's current area of expertise. The idea that there are immutable, universal, moral absolutes is still a hot topic in philosophy and that seems very strange for a discipline that prides itself on logic and rationality. Other big questions of philosophy are "free will vs. determinism," and the mind-body problem. Many scientists think these issues have been resolved in favor of determinism and the rejection of dualism but philosophers are still making up their minds.
Science Doesn't Have All the Answers but Does It Have All the Questions?].
There are issues in the philosophy of science where philosophers seem to have gone off the rails and that's why some scientists have been critical of philosophy. Philosophers who criticize scientists for the sin of scientism and who promote the idea of methodological naturalism do not seem to be exercising the most fundamental rules of logic and rationalism yet they are considered to be good philosphers: Massimo Pigliucci, for example [What Kind of Knowledge Does Philosophy Discover?].
Some well-respected philosophers have promoted really silly ideas that should have been soundly rejected by all intelligent philosophers. It's astonishing that a famous philosopher of science could be be respected for arguing that omnipotent god(s) could direct the course of evolution by creating mutations that we cannot detect above background [e.g. The Problem with Philosophy: Elliott Sober]. I'm not disputing the truth of such an argument but surely it's been around for a long time and doesn't deserve to be taken seriously?
This brings us back to the discussion about reality. John Wilkins has a short video on Scientific Realism & Structural Realism where he discusses the issue.
Here's the description posted by producer Adam Ford ....
Scientific realism is, at the most general level, the view that the world described by science is the real world, as it is, independent of what we might take it to be. Within philosophy of science, it is often framed as an answer to the question "how is the success of science to be explained?" The debate over what the success of science involves centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make valid claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism.This gets complicated. First you have to understand what John means by "science." He means the work produced by scientists (geologists, biologists, physicists, chemists, astronomers etc.). I don't agree with that definition but let's go with it for now.1
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A GENE?
ARE SPECIES REAL?
WHAT DOES SCIENCE IMPLY?
WHAT DOES SCIENCE MEAN?
QUESTIONS OF REALITY
IS PHILOSOPHY A WASTE OF TIME?
I'm not sure whether John Wilkins agrees with me that science is, for the most part, describing the real world.
John points out in the video that there was some question in the past whether electrons, protons, and neutrons were real or not. Presumably, he agrees that the issue has now been settled in favor of reality. What that means is that in the past there may have been some philosophers who didn't know whether electrons were real or just conceptual devices. That doesn't mean they were justified in declaring that science does not describe the real world, does it? The best they could have said, logically, is that they don't know whether electrons are real or not.
I define a gene as "a DNA sequence that is transcribed to produce a functional product" [What Is a Gene?]. That's a good working definition, IMHO, but it's not perfect. Very few definitions are perfect in biology because it's a very messy science. Evolution does that.
There are exceptions to the definition (e.g. RNA genes) and there are ambiguous examples (e.g. operons) but that doesn't mean that the gene isn't real. Workers in the history and philosophy of science have done a good job of highlighting the problems with defining a gene. For example, John's colleague Paul Griffiths has published some excellent papers on the problem.
Now, it's true that "gene" is sometimes used to represent a concept rather than a real entity the way molecular biologists and biochemists think about it. In that sense the word "gene" can be taken as "unreal" but isn't that just another way of saying "ill-defined" or "metaphor"?
I don't see why this is such an important issue in the philosophy of science. Is that really a "hot-button issue" as John describes it? He asks, "Are the things that science tells us exist in the world, real?"
John, the answer is "yes," with only minor exceptions.
There are some things in biology that count as "conceptual concepts" and, in that sense, they are not "real." I'm thinking of "junk DNA" as an example. The term is used as a short-hand for stretches of DNA that have no biological function and could be removed from the organism without harm. In evolutionary biology we talk about "selection coefficients" as a way of describing the the tendency of a trait to increase in frequency in a population due to natural selection. Selection coefficients are not real, three-dimensional, entities but everybody knows that. Surely it's not a hot-button issue?
In biology we do the best we can with terms like "species" and "gene" but to question whether they represent "real" things or not seems, well, ... unreal.
I think I can speak for most scientists when I say that our theories and models are intended to describe the real world as it actually exists. John seems to agree since he is sympathetic to the idea of "structural realism." Good for him but what about those other philosophers who are anti-realists? Is that really a respectable position in the philosophy of science or is it just that philosophers like to quibble?
John says, "Philosophers tend to ask questions that scientists either don't think are terribly interesting or don't think can be answered and, as a result, a lot of scientists think that philosophy is actually a waste of time." That's only partially true. In addition, many of us think that philosophers are still interested in questions that CAN be answered but they just don't like the answer.
I don't think it's terribly interesting to debate whether gods could make undetectable mutations and it's hard to respect philosophers who think this is still worth discussing. I don't think there can be a definitive answer to questions such as "what is a gene" and "what is a species" so it's time to move on. The fact that we can't answer those specific questions in biology does not mean that there's a reality crisis.
I think that prokaryotic protein-coding bits of DNA are transcribed by RNA polymerase to produce a real RNA molecule that can be translated by real ribosomes to make real proteins inside real cells. Philosophers who question whether this view of the world is real or not are not going to get a lot of respect from biochemists and molecular biologists.
I think that those philosophers who say that science is restricted to methodological naturalism are dead wrong. I can't believe that this is still a hot topic in philosophy.
I have never said that philosophy is a waste of time but I have said that some aspects of philosophy are questionable. Many philosophers are too tolerant of silly ideas that permeate their field. All disciplines have kooks but most of them don't let the kooks run the asylum.
John once told me that he's a philosophical pragmatist. I think that's a reasonable position to take.
1. One of the problems with many philosophers is that they make assumptions about definitions without explaining that it's just their opinion. There are other definitions of "science" that are popular among philosophers, and scientists. Those other meanings change the argument that John is making. The nature of science is a more important topic in the philosophy of science than the nature of reality. Are theories and models of philosophy fundamentally different from theories and models of biology, chemistry, and physics? What about theories and models in history, English literature, and religion? Are they real? Do philosophers question those theories?