Rebecca Goldstein: "To be human is to reflect on the questions we ask as philosophers."
Describing the “war” between philosophy and science as “ridiculous,” acclaimed novelist-philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein told a UC San Diego audience on Jan. 27, 2015, that science doesn’t provide all the answers to age-old mysteries.
When moderator Roger Bingham, founder of The Science Network, pointed to Stephen Hawking’s famously derisive remarks about philosophy’s lesser role when compared to modern science, she had a quick response:
“I absolutely disagree,” she said. “If that’s what he believes, he’s not been talking to the right philosophers.”
The presentation was the latest edition of the Helen Edison Lecture Series, presented by UC San Diego Extension.
In Goldstein’s talk, she professed her belief that philosophy remains essential to our understanding of the world’s complexities, posing such questions as: What does it mean to live a good life? Or to be a good person? And what is the meaning of reality?
Her 2014 book, “Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away,” imagines what Plato would think, say and write about today’s contemporary world if he were to return.
Plato surely would defend philosophy’s place as an academic pursuit and real-world discipline against those who would dismiss its teachings, said Goldstein, whose own academic career began in physics before she turned to writing mainstream books and treatises.
Science, she said, exists as “a wonderful methodology of science that we wandered on, thanks to Galileo,” but doesn’t provide all the answers.
For every area of human inquiry, she said, “We have debated the philosophy of mathematics, language, science, education, history, art, religion, politics. … It was Plato who mapped out that entire landscape. He asked the iconic questions in all these areas."
Yet, she reflected that Plato, who lived some 2,500 years ago until age 80 (“It’s that Mediterranean diet”) saw nothing wrong with slavery in his day, as long as it wasn’t fellow Greeks who were being enslaved. “What they called ‘barbarians’ were all non-Greeks,” said Goldstein.
“To be human is to reflect on the questions we ask as philosophers,” she added, pointing to societal shifts in racism and human rights. “Not every question can be answered by science."
The next edition of the Helen Edison Lecture Series featured best-selling author Ken Blanchard and UC San Diego psychiatry professor Morton Shaevitz, co-authors of “Refit! Don’t Retire: Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life.”