09 November 2009

Philosophical Belief and Science

I've been thinking about the jurisprudence behind Grainger plc v Nicholson, since the judgment was published, this is my third post about the case.

Continuing from my previous note where I argued that the judgment was wrong, on the basis of the criteria set out by Burton J. In this post, I would like to write about science as a philosophical belief within the parameters of equality law jurisprudence.

Is science a philosophical belief? Yes. Certainly.

Science is a part of philosophy that says that objective reality can be explained by applying the scientific method, where the scientific method is an evolving philosophy of thought and action. The last refinement of the philosophy of science happened in 1931, Popper's idea of falsifiability. As such I anticipate that it will continue to evolve as philosophy evolves, and I anticipate that the breadth of objective reality which it can describe will increase as technology improves such that ideas about this objective reality can be tested by falsification.

As a philosophical belief this is compatible with Burton J's criteria set out in para 24 of his judgment,

  1. "The belief must be genuinely held.

  2. It must be a belief and not, as in McClintock, an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.

  3. It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

  4. It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.

  5. It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others (paragraph 36 of Campbell and paragraph 23 of Williamson)."

But what about, as in Grainger (man-made global warming) a philosophical belief that is based upon science? Surely this is a contradiction, a non sequitor. Science is a philosophical belief; can you have a philosophical belief based upon another philosophical belief where the latter belief undermines the very nature of the former, the foundation, belief? It doesn't make sense, it is irrational.

This is the error in Grainger. Science as a philosophical belief is worthy of respect in a democratic society. Basing a philosophical belief on science undermines science: the philosophical belief either is scientific or it is not: if not, it is not worthy of respect in a democratic society.

It doesn't matter that the two philosophical beliefs happen to coincide. It is not invetable that they will continue to do so; it is wrong to support a philosophical belief that may be incompatible with a more fundamental philosophical belief.

I would, however, take extreme care in not undermining any other philosophical beliefs: beliefs that are not supposedly predicated on science. Eg, humanism, or any other examples found within Grainger and beyond. I distinguish these philosophical beliefs from the ones that are supposedly based upon science.

As I said earlier, fascinating jurisprudence.


  1. "Science is a part of philosophy ...."

    Science is a tool.

  2. @sam_m

    Isn't all philosophy a tool? Just as a light bulb is a tool to illuminate a room, doesn't philosophy illuminate our understanding of the world?