A recent Big Think video has come out where Bill Nye responds to a philosophy major asking Bill what he thought about philosophy. Very sadly, Bill Nye attempts to explain why philosophy is useless because it focuses on things like if we are in the Matrix. Bill then goes on to say that philosophy majors may have trouble finding jobs. I love what Bill has done for science communication, but he clearly has no background in philosophy.
Importantly, it’s totally fine to not be an expert on every subject! We have many people specializing in various fields for that reason. But to completely dismiss an entire field that you haven’t studied is simply anti-intellectual.
As a side note, it’s also embarrassing when scientists dismiss philosophy because philosophy provides the foundation for the scientific method!
The arguments that you seemed to think philosophers concern themselves with — arguments that we cannot know the external world, trust our senses, that perhaps everything is radically subjective, or the like — are more caricatures of my discipline than they are representative of it. It’s true that we talk about those issues with our students in the effort to get them to think more deeply and critically, but I do not know any professional philosopher who would take seriously the arguments or concerns that you attributed to us. At the very least, no one would take them seriously in the way that you phrased them. If that’s what you think philosophy is, then I think you should just reject philosophy outright.
The lesson from this video is pretty simple: it’s okay to admit your ignorance. Instead of spouting off nonsense, Bill could have easily admitted that he didn’t know much about the field and someone more qualified could have done the video instead. I hope Bill reads Dan’s letter and understands that philosophy is much more complicated than the caricature he presented in the video. There is a great deal of value in philosophy and we shouldn’t dismiss entire fields simply because we haven’t taken the time to learn about them.
[Featured image from Wikipedia]