In Praise of Natural Philosophy: A Revolution for Thought and Life

McGill-Queen's Univ. Mar. 2017. 352p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780773549029. $110; pap. ISBN 9780773549036. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780773549050. PHIL
Per Maxwell (emeritus, philosophy, Univ. Coll., London), the road from early modern natural philosophy to the empirical physical sciences took a wrong turn with Isaac Newton: the famous scientist boldly—and incorrectly—stated that science was purely objective and owed no debt to philosophical metaphysical assumptions. Despite modern science's astonishing ability to produce great technological wonders, it fails to account for value, the good, and thus to help direct humans toward the kind of society science could help create. Maxwell calls for a revolutionary return to natural philosophy in which science replaces "standard empiricism" with an "aim-oriented empiricism" that aims toward ever more satisfying comprehensions of reality and toward the good, a good rooted in philosophical awareness of its metaphysical assumptions and values. The revolution is both partially happening (as he admits) and unlikely to come from his own manifesto. While Maxwell presents an engaging summation of his work over the decades, he is too much in dialog with his past output, insufficiently engaged with other philosophical traditions (pragmatism; process), and unacknowledged by scientists who want to see mathematical equations to substantiate his speculations in quantum theory.
VERDICT Recommended for philosophical and scientific enthusiasts.
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