Our correspondent at The Economist dismisses Stephen Hawking’s most recent dispensation with characteristic British aplomb. Strongly suggesting that Hawking should keep the meta out of his physics, the reviewer takes direct aim at Hawking’s lack of philosophical sophistication:
The authors rather fancy themselves as philosophers, though they would presumably balk at the description, since they confidently assert on their first page that “philosophy is dead.” It is, allegedly, now the exclusive right of scientists to answer the three fundamental why-questions with which the authors purport to deal in their book. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? And why this particular set of laws and not some other?
It is hard to evaluate their case against recent philosophy, because the only subsequent mention of it, after the announcement of its death, is, rather oddly, an approving reference to a philosopher’s analysis of the concept of a law of nature, which, they say, “is a more subtle question than one may at first think.” There are actually rather a lot of questions that are more subtle than the authors think. It soon becomes evident that Professor Hawking and Mr Mlodinow regard a philosophical problem as something you knock off over a quick cup of tea after you have run out of Sudoku puzzles.
Despite some odd French detours over the past few decades, philosophy remains a powerful and relevant force in and outside of academics. For those who are skeptical of this claim, I suggest you bookmark The Stone — a place where contemporary philosophers regularly weigh in on the meaty issues of our day in ways that are accessible and engaging.