Is there a role for philosophy in science?

Scientists who adhere to a strictly “naturalistic” interpretation of science claim that only approaches which can be tested empirically (verified and/or falsified) are valid. The nobel laureate in physics Richard Feynman, for example, argued that string theory was not testable and therefore not scientific. A number of physicists and philosophers of science recently met in Munich to discuss the problems which have arisen in physics because theories, such as string theory, become increasingly more difficult to test. Some theoreticians at the meeting provided arguments to show that philosophical approaches, which in the foreseeable future (if at all) cannot be tested empirically, might well be valid.


For a full discussion see here:

“String theory, the multiverse and other ideas of modern physics are potentially untestable. At a historic meeting in Munich, scientists and philosophers asked: should we trust them anyway?”

Deutscher Widerstand gegen Hitler/ German Resistance against Hitler

An Ethical Basis for Nature Conservation: Arthur Schopenhauer

In the last chapter of  the book edited by me “The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013″, we, i.e.  Klaus Rohde, Hugh Ford, Nigel R.Andrew and Harold Heatwole”  deal with “How to Conserve Biodiversity in a Nonequilibrium World”. The first section of the chapter discusses economic, esthetic and ethical arguments for conserving biodiversity. We conclude that in the modern world people are most impressed by economic arguments, whereas the ethics of the problem is very rarely considered. Are there ethical reasons for conserving biodiversity? We point out that there indeed are, convincingly demonstrated by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His philosophy is particularly suitable, because it appeals not only to philosophically educated Westerners, but also to all those who have a Buddhist or Hinduistic background, i.e. a very large proportion of mankind. Schopenhauer was the first Western philosopher who taught that ethical (moral) behaviour must be based on compassion with humans and animals. 

I have given a concise outline of Schopenhauer’s philosophy of ethics and justice earlier:

Here I mention a few important points in excerpts taken from my earlier essay:

Schopenhauer’s ethics and theory of justice follow from his epistemology, according to which the world as it appears to us, as we perceive it, is to a large degree shaped by our mental apparatus. Following Immanuel Kant, he assumes that time, space and causality are not characteristics of the thing-in-itself (“Ding an sich”) but categories of our mind. All distinctions between individuals disappear once these categories are taken away. In other words, all beings are in essence One.

Schopenhauer’s ethics has had a deep influence on many philosophers and writers after him. Albert Einstein, for example, mentions Schopenhauer as an important influence on his views. Schopenhauer was the first who arrived at conclusions similar to those in Eastern philosophy, in particular Hinduism and Buddhism. And he was the first in Western philosophy who based ethics on compassion with man and animals.

………  Schopenhauer develops a theory of ownership, of natural justice and law in general. Injustice is the original and positive, justice the derived and negative concept. “The only purpose of law is determent from encroaching on others’ rights”. Schopenhauer considers Kant’s thesis that humans should always be considered to be the end (“Zweck”) and never as means, as vague and problematic, because “a murderer sentenced to death must with full justification be used as means”, as a determent and for the re-establishment of public security. However, this applies only to justice in time (“zeitliche Gerechtigkeit”), eternal justice which applies to the entire world (that is, lies in its essence) and does not depend on human constructions (“Einrichtungen”), cannot be retaliatory, because it lies not in time unlike justice in time which is based on retaliation. “Punishment must here (in eternal justice) be connected with the crime in such a way that both are one.” If one wants to know what humans as a whole and in general are worth from a moral perspective, one only has to look at their fate as a whole and in general. This is indigence (“Mangel”), misery, agony and death. Eternal justice at work…..”. However, the “crude individual” has a different view, since he knows only the temporally and spatially separate appearances: he sees tormentors and murderers on the one side and sufferers and victims on the other, who are really only One. Nevertheless, in the depth of his consciousness he sometimes has the “somewhat dark hunch” that “all this is not entirely foreign to him”. Horror (“Grausen”) is founded on this sometimes appearing hunch. All evil in the world derives from the Will which is the real essence of each single person. Hence (Schopenhauer quotes Calderon’s “Life as Dream”, in which the Christian dogma of original sin is expressed: “Since the greatest guilt of man is that he was born”). – Esoterically depicted in the Vedas and especially in the Upanishads, the myth of transmigration expresses the cognition of eternal justice in an easily understandable form for the people. You must not kill an animal, because at a time in eternity you will be born as such an animal and suffer the same death”. This is the meaning of “tat twam asi” (This is you), which is the foundation of Hindu teaching. – In the same sense Christian ethics forbids retaliation of evil with evil and submits to eternal justice (“Revenge is mine, I shall retaliate, says the Lord”).

Our discussion to this point permits a description of the ethical significance of action. According to Schopenhauer, genuine virtue can come only from the insight which recognizes in a foreign being the same being as one’s own. “In principle (“an sich”) all deeds…. are just empty images, and only the attitude (ethos, “Gesinnung”) that leads to them, lends them moral significance.” The principle of justice (based on the negation of evil) commands that one must not hurt others.” Genuine goodness goes much further and leads to love of mankind  (“Menschenliebe”): one distinguishes much less than usually between oneself and others, one sacrifices one’s property and even oneself to one’s neighbour (“Nächster”) and one does not torture an animal. Love is based on the recognition of foreign suffering and pure love is therefore by its nature compassion. All this is in direct contradiction to Kant’s view that any truly good and virtuous deed is based on abstract reflection, on the concept of duty and the categorical imperative.

In Schopenhauer’s time (the first half of the 19th century), destruction of the environment had not become the important issue it is today. Hence, he does not deal with conserving the environment as such. However, his conclusion that moral behaviour of humans must be based on compassion with fellow humans and animals should be interpreted as meaning that animals must be protected and therefore also their habitats and the environment in general. In other words, we must not preserve organisms and the environment as a whole because they are of economic benefit to us, we must conserve them because we have an ethical responsibility towards nature, i.e., not only to the next generations of humans, but also to other living beings.






Third book review of Klaus Rohde ed., The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013.

The third review of the book edited by me has just been published in Biological Conservation 182, 281-283 (February 2015)
Reviewer is Brian Drayton, TERC Cambridge, MA, USA, who gave me permission to use excerpts from his review.

For earlier reviews see here:

This latest review covers two books:

Green Equilibrium: The Vital Balance of Humans and Nature, Christopher Wills. Oxford University Press (2013). xxviii+280 pp.,
and The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Klaus Rohde (Ed.) Cambridge University Press (2013). xvi+413 pp.

Excerpts dealing with the book edited by me follow:

“These two books make good companions, and it is instructive to read them side by side. In doing so, the reader can reflect upon a central challenge to conservation science, and to the societies within which it carries out its business.”


“Klaus Rohde’s fascinating edited volume The Balance of Nature and Human Impact offers a snapshot of current research, exploring
evidence for or against equilibrium processes from an array of systems, interspersed with reviews of literature on selected topics. A brief gallop through the table of contents can only suggest its wealth of provocative entries.
Part I: ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in populations and metapopulations’’ examines reef fishes ……..
ectoparasites on terrestrial hosts …….. and marine parasites. Part II: “Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in communities’’ examines plankton communities ……, community stability in relation to fire ……., marine and freshwater ectoparasite communities ….. and small mammal ectoparasites …. , and bird populations and communities. Part III addresses ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium on geographical scales’’ in the context of island flora and fauna …… and arctic vascular plant diversity and spatial variation ……… Part IV: ‘‘Latitudinal gradients’’ focuses on diversity gradients… the literature providing evidence for and against equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations,” and ‘‘effective evolutionary time.’’
Part V: ‘‘Effects due to invasive species, habitat loss and climate change’’ is by far the largest section. …….. the section marks a transition, as all the rest of the book looks at ‘‘biocomplex’’ (coupled humannonhuman)systems—where the nonhuman component may include insects … coral reefs ….. , emerging infectious diseases ……., human impacts on biodiversity …… , amphibians …….. , and reptiles ……. Part VI: ‘‘Autecological studies’’ comprises two articles: ‘‘Autecology and the balance of nature—ecological laws and human-induced invasions’’ …… and ‘‘The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea’’.
Part VII: ‘‘An overall view’’ sets much of the foregoing into a larger theoretical and practical context, coming back to the
challenges faced by conservation biology in a world in at least one kind of chronic disequilibrium: anthropogenic climate change. Rohde discusses interspecific competition as a regulator of communities, and the status of evolutionarily stable strategies. Finally, Rohde and co-authors discuss ‘‘How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world.’’ Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Wallington et al. (2005) argue, much conservation strategy betrays an underlying ‘‘balance’’ orientation, which often takes the form of creating reserves and assuming that they will ‘‘do the job’’……….; or of reintroducing species or otherwise restoring a system, and then assuming that short-term success will last (also not a safe assumption……………. Rohde et al. argue cogently that in the world we now inhabit, equilibrium assumptions will result in deep design weaknesses in many conservation strategies, and the kind of reflective research represented by this volume as a whole must result in substantial innovation.”


“Both books under review make the case ……. that the unexamined assumption of ‘‘balance’’ has contributed to many of our current ecological crises, and inhibits proper responses to them. In some cases, a naive reading of ‘‘balance’’ contributes to the assumption that in time, any disturbance caused by human activities will be remedied by Nature as it comes back into balance. In other cases, the ‘‘balance of nature’’ is reified without sufficient understanding of ecological systems and their dynamics, so that intended remedies result in further, different disturbance or even system transformation. Our challenge …….. is to convey a much richer, but perhaps just as satisfying, understanding of the way things work, and the implications of that understanding for what conservation must become. As Donald Worster (1994) wrote in his seminal treatment: ‘‘It is a pattern of behavior based on the idea that preserving a diversity of change ought to stand high in our system of values, that promoting the coexistence of many beings and many kinds of change is a rational thing to do. . . .Such a strategy of trying to conserve a diversity of changes may seem paradoxical, but it is founded on a crucial and reasonable insight. We may have to live with change, may even be the products of change, but we do not always know—indeed, we cannot always know—which changes are vital and which are deadly.’’

Australian universities: cracks open up in the ivory towers. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest

A number of years ago I was sitting in the breakfast room of a hotel in Münster/Westphalia next to a German professor, we were talking about the university system in Germany. He dropped some remarks about universities in Australia: “yes, and in Australia degrees are for sale, at least that is what I was told by an Australian colleague.” I was sceptical about that remark, because during my active days at an Australian university I did not encounter cases of degrees for cash. But the situation has changed. Governments have cut funding for universities, funding is based on student numbers, and a large proportion of universities’ funding is supplied by fee-paying foreign students. Foreign students represent one of the largest sources of income for the Australian government. Students expect something (a degree, not necessarily quality) for their money, and so standards have continually been watered down, even at the most prestigious universities. Students have even employed agencies to have their essays written for them and employed people to sit in for them at examinations. And these are not exceptions, such cases are widespread. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22.4.2015 gives a brief and concise overview of what is happening. See here:

Concerning foreign students: ” Fifty per cent of all work submitted now is plagiarised, according to one source – a huge increase on what was happening only five years ago. Students who can barely speak English are initially failed, and then, when their work is re-marked, are given a pass, allowed to register as professionals, and enter the workforce.”
Lecturers “know which students are cheating, and which are plagiarising the work of others; they know whose English is too poor to pass, and who lacks the knowledge or intelligence to graduate. It is when they attempt to act on what they know in an intellectually honest manner, however, that they find obstructions in their way.”
“Decades of government policies in higher education which have destroyed the traditional university as an independent community of scholars and turned it into a degree factory serving the ephemeral interests of the economy are the real cause.”
“The expectation that all courses in all faculties must have some vocational end in view; the destruction of student life with the end of compulsory unionism; the insistence that all research must have immediate practical application – these different trends, all of them market-based, all of them philistine, have all transformed our universities for the worse.”

The government has plans to make the situation even worse by deregulating university fees, i.e. allowing universities to set their own fees in order to get their hands on more cash. These plans have so far been blocked by the Senate, but the government has not given up. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest!

The end of the university?

This is what Terry Eagleton, the noted Catholic-Marxist literary critic, has to say about the university today in an interview in Times Higher Education

“What I would say about the university today,” he says, “is that we’re living through an absolutely historic moment – namely the effective end of universities as centres of humane critique, an almost complete capitulation to the philistine and sometimes barbaric values of neo-capitalism.”

He sums it up in a nutshell!

2nd book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

The review, by Professor W.E.Williams, was published a few weeks ago by Choice Reviews, copyright American Library Association.

For copyright reasons only short extracts are included here. For a previous review see

……… specifically addressing two questions: the extent to which equilibrium processes, particularly competition,…..describe natural ecological systems, and whether ……..human disturbances–climate change, land-use change, introduction of invasive exotics, and so on–primarily upset existing equilibria or instead amplify disequilibria already present. Twenty-four papers and three concluding chapters examine these questions in widely different ecosystems, ….. plankton, coral-reef fishes, Australian birds, animal parasites, and many more. There are 29 contributors to the volume, ………Each chapter contains its own extensive list of references, and the book’s index is quite good……….. the book will appeal primarily to academic ecologists, although some essays are general enough to be useful to those more broadly interested in human ecological impacts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty, and professionals.

The results of misinformation about climate change in the U.S.

Inspite of recent announcements by the American president, nothing important has yet happened with regard to climate change. Large sections of the American public remain unconvinced that human activities are responsible. Why? Lack of scientific evidence certainly is not the reason. See here:

A quote from this article:

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

– Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center

Linguistic imperialism. Basque, Catalan, Alsatian and Corsican speakers deliver petition to UNESCO in Paris asking for “cultural asylum”

According to a recent television report, Australia is the world leader in extinguishing languages. There are two reasons for this, the large number of native languages that invite to be extinguished, and the attitude of those who do the extinguishing.

However, Australia is not alone, France -for example- is doing its best to get rid of minority languages in its territory. The only reason why it is not a world leader is that the number of minority languages is rather small. See here:

Climate Science is a Hoax

A just published scientific article examines the mind of so-called climate change sceptics.

NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science
1. Stephan Lewandowsky1
2. Klaus Oberauer1,2
3. Gilles E. Gignac1
1. 1University of Western Australia
2. 2University of Zurich
1. Stephan Lewandowsky, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia E-mail:
Psychological Science March 26, 2013, 0956797612457686

Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.”

(Cited from