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Philosophy and Physical Sciences



Granted in the foregoing subcategories of this article that philosophy does not merely share with Science, but is in itself a science in the original and general sense of the term, we now have to observe how it is a different or separate and special kind of Science. By physical science, we intend those sciences that concern themselves with observable phenomena as given to our senses. These are also referred to, either as experimental or as empirical sciences due to the manner they engage in their pursuit of knowledge through observations of, and experiments on their objects of knowledge or investigation.

Philosophy shares with these forms of Science in their primary objective of seeking objective and certain knowledge by

“constructing a system of interconnected objective certitudes about things and their causal relations”. (RUGH, 1984:60).

Both philosophy and physical sciences are concerned with the knowledge of physical realities, that are objective and certain, though they differ in their respective methods of attaining their common goal or objective of solid basis for objective and certain or definite knowledge. In this regard, while philosophy relies more on rational means, that is, it goes about its investigation of causal relations of beings, things or realities under the light of reason through reasoned arguments, physical or experimental sciences rely on observation and experiments. Philosophy, though most times starts its inquiry with the observation of the concrete phenomena, it transcends these concrete physical phenomena in its desire to arrive at the ultimate cause or causes. In this connection, philosophy is a transcendental science for through its metaphysics, it carries its inquiry beyond the physicals, .

Philosophy differs from the physical sciences also by being about all things that is, it is the “science of all things” for its “Vision of totality”. Its quest for knowledge is universal as it seeks the essences of things and not the mere knowledge of the appearances of things. Various physical sciences deal with particular branches of knowledge and none deals with knowledge in its totality, hence Biology is concerned with plants and animals, Physics with forces and nature of physical things, Chemistry with atoms, molecules and the nature of chemical elements or substances, Medicine concerns studies of diseases through their symptoms and ways of curing such diseases. In this manner, every science is science of the particular while philosophy remains the unique science of all things in their ultimate or first causes, and it is as such, the Science of Sciences.

As the science of sciences, philosophy is the absolute science for in seeking the “why” of its object of inquiry, it does not rest until it gets at the ultimate or the first cause beyond which no other cause or causes exist. This means in essence, that when in its quest for knowledge, one explanation is given, it seeks further explanation and continues in this manner until it exhausts all questions and as such, all explanations. Philosophy stops inquiry only when no further need for explanation exists. Philosophy, therefore, seeks the ultimate or absolute knowledge, while on the other hand physical sciences are approximative in their quest for knowledge, for where they cannot get at the ultimate, they content themselves with the approximate. The knowledge of physical sciences is therefore approximative and this explains why they often talk of certain percentage of correctness with regard to their discoveries. Physical sciences consider certain facts incalculable or immeasurable when they cannot find the instrument to measure them, and what they do in such a case is to approximate the measured data to a round figure, that is, when for instance they deal with figures, and in such case the incalculable is assumed to have been taken care of in the approximation. But in philosophy, no question or problem is settled by approximation, where full knowledge is lacking, the search for it continues and this makes some philosophical problems to remain perennial and its search or inquiry unceasing.

“The search for the ultimate reason is the main feature that distinguishes philosophy from physics, biology and the various sciences of phenomena. Although these Sciences also deal with contingent beings, they do not carry on their search beyond a knowledge of immediate or secondary causes. Their goal is merely to describe contingent reality in measurable terms or by its observable features. (John-Terry, 1994:13).”

With the above passage, we can conclude this subsection by stating that in relation to philosophy, physical sciences are superficial and not profound for they seek superficial explanations of the realities they study. While philosophy is strictly explanative, physical sciences are more descriptive than explanative for they seek to describe the features of the realities. In conclusion, while philosophy is a Science, ‘ it remains a unique Science, similar in certain respects to physical sciences, but different in its ability to transcend the physical phenomena.