Tim Maudlin is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University. He is the author of "Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity," "Truth and Paradox," and "The Metaphysics within Physics," as well as many articles on the foundations of physics, logic, and the philosophy of science. His main areas of study pertain to the ways that physics intersects with philosophy.
Question: How is philosophy valuable in our daily lives?
Tim Maudlin: Well if you ask me about what philosophy is, to be engrained, like what – there are detailed philosophical theses of various sorts. And in day-to-day life, it’s probably not all that – it’s not going to be all that affected by choice among some of these. If you think of philosophy, and I think this is a bit better and more important. If you think of the job of the philosopher methodologically is to very carefully figure out by what reasoning you arrived at some conclusion, or why is it you hold some belief. What are the grounds for it? How did you get to it and are those grounds good grounds for holding it? To carefully review arguments and unearth their presuppositions and then hold those presuppositions up to the light of day and ask whether you want to believe them. That’s what I would say is the foundation of philosophical method.
And this sort of thing that even say in philosophy of physics, physicists are not likely to do. They’re not likely to take the foundational principles that they’re using and hold them up to the light of day and ask them whether they should believe in them. They’re more likely to say, well this is just the principles we work with, accept them, use them, and don’t ask about them. That’s ore or less the story any undergraduate would get about quantum mechanics as they say, “Shut up and calculate. Don’t ask me why these are the rules. Just follow them.”
I think in everybody’s every day life, that habit of mind would make a tremendous difference. I think the amount of belief that people hold for no good reason is distressing. And that the level of argumentation in our political life is abysmal. And the room for improvement, of clarity of thought of clarity of expression is almost unlimited. And if philosophy could help the world, it would be much more – instead of by having people adopt some philosophical doctrine about this or that, it would be to bring them a bit closer to the care and precision of thought that is characteristic, I think particularly characteristic of philosophical work.
Recorded September 17, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman