Why Is Physics Important? To Refute Arguments such as these:

  • Below are two clips sent to me by a friend. I personally believe questions about whether reality really exists rank in importance with gods, pleasure, and death. And if we remember that the twelve principles of physics come before the "ethical" conclusions, it is physics is more important.

    Does reality exist? What should we think about it? It's not a topic that is omitted from the principal doctrines- it precedes the principal doctrines in development of Epicurean theory, just as the letters to Herodotus and Pythocles precede the letter to Menoeceus. If in fact the universe was created supernaturally, then none of the rest of Epicurean theory makes any sense at all.

    And in response to "well maybe reality doesn't really exist - we can't be confident of it because the math and the physics point in all sorts of directions" ---

    I think Epicurus confronted exactly the same type of question and fought against it hard -- which we also need to do today.


  • I suggest that we do not use the oxymoron "speculative math". It is an obsolete term for pure math. The way I learned math from mathematicians, math is essentially built on logic, is not a science as often falsely stated and does not make any claim on reality although whole branches of math are inspired by the success of modelling reality with the assistance of math.

    What you probably mean is "speculative physics", e.g. creating physical theories for which we have not yet any empirical base.

  • Thanks Martin! This is a very complex subject and I hope we can find articles and other references to collect here on the topic of math and its relationship to reality. I presume geometry too probably fits the same category.

  • I think to understand the rejection of geometry as a prerequisite of philosophy we really need to understand the sort of claims that were made for it. These claims have in fact never stopped being made, and find a fascinating expression in, of all people, Abraham Lincoln;


    "He studied and nearly mastered the Six-books of Euclid (geometry) since he was a member of Congress. He began a course of rigid mental discipline with the intent to improve his faculties, especially his powers of logic and language. Hence his fondness for Euclid, which he carried with him on the circuit till he could demonstrate with ease all the propositions in the six books; often studying far into the night, with a candle near his pillow, while his fellow-lawyers, half a dozen in a room, filled the air with interminable snoring." Abraham Lincoln from Short Autobiography of 1860.

    The assumption here is that if one understands how to prove a geometric theorem, one will equally know how to prove a philosophical one, as here;

    But this involves a logical sleight-of-hand; it employs an argument by analogy, but argument by analogy only works if things really ARE analogous. Epicurus would challenge Lincoln on this point. If he wants to argue an end to slavery, he needs to argue from a foundation of sensation, anticipations, or feelings--because people aren't triangles, they're people.

    Simply put, geometry as a foundation of philosophy is an invitation to casuistry. Nevertheless, I will always enjoy a wonderful performance by Mr. Daniel Day-Lewis!

    Edited once, last by JJElbert ().