Historically (since 2500 years ago), philosophy - "love of wisdom" in Greek - encompassed all intellectual endeavors, and natural philosophy was seen as its part. However, these days the term science has supplanted "natural philosophy" and scientists are not considered to be philosophers.

I seem to recall that there was a watershed event in the second half of 19th century (circa 1870?) when a major (German?) scientist (Helmholtz?) declaimed (at a major scientific convention?) something like

Philosophers think that scientists are conceited and scientists think that philosophers are insane.

Alas, I have not been able to find a specific reference.

So, who/when/where said that?

PS1. The meaning of the phrase is that philosophers, employing their traditional scholarship, managed to learn zilch about how nature actually works, while scientists, employing the scientific method, managed to learn quite a lot.

PS2. Asked on History of Science and Math as recommended in the comments.

PS3. According to Philipp Frank in "The Origin of the Separation Between Science and Philosophy":

Kant stated bluntly that the observable facts of the physical world are completely and satisfactorily described and systematized by "science proper"; "philosophy proper" can never tell us anything about them.

He never mentions anything related to my question - i.e., a blunt disparagement of philosophers by a scientist.


1 Answer 1


That would be Bacon and later Newton with rejectin of FINAL CAUSES , the very lifeblood of philosophy

a final cause is that for the sake of which a thing is changing. A seed's end is an adult plant. A sailboat's purpose is sailing. A ball at the top of a ramp will finally come to rest at the bottom....So Evolution just says E. does what it does , there is no real end or finality to what a man does or in accord with his essence/nature

Francis Bacon described the use of final causes within science as being irrelevant to scientific inquiry - they have "given men the occasion to stay upon these satisfactory and specious causes, to the great arrest aand prejudice of further discovery".

Reductionism is often the result of this reducing everything to the material and mathematically tractable. A GREAT and short example can be found in De Koninck's "The Lifeless World of Biology" http://www.isnature.org/Files/DeKoninck_Lifeless_Biology.PDF

  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jun 15, 2022 at 18:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.