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  • Hunters, Cooks, and Nooks:Two Interpretations of the Tangled Relationship Between Philosophy and Science
  • Stefano Franchi (bio)

Knowledge is the measure of all things.

—Plato, Prot. 361b


Preliminaries: Double Questioning

When philosophers ask questions about science, they usually do so in the context of one specific discipline whose latest results or whose historical development seem to pose genuinely philosophical problems: for instance, the nature of space/time, the nature of intelligence, the nature/nurture debate. It is rarer to hear a philosopher asking questions about the general relationship between philosophy and science, even when, as in the cases above, the answer to this question provides the necessary ground for any specific investigation of the allegedly genuine philosophical problems arising in physics, biology, or cognitive science.

The main difficulty lies in the intrinsic ambiguity of the term "science." On the one hand, "science" can be considered as a descriptive term: it is the genus of the empirically given, scientific disciplines (the "sciences," in the plural). On the other hand, "science" (episteme, scientia, Wissenschaft) (always in the singular) is a theoretical term that denotes a form of knowledge. More precisely, it refers, as philosophers say, to a "conceptually unified body of objective knowledge." Traditionally, the latter meaning includes philosophy itself within its denotation. Thus, when both meanings of the term "science" are considered, to interrogate the relationship between philosophy and science is always, and preliminarily, to question the nature of philosophy itself, even when the question as such is not explicitly raised. In all these cases, a characterization of the nature of philosophy is presupposed by a philosophical analysis of scientific results.

However, unless the specificity of concrete scientific investigations is denied from the outset, the questioning, even when conducted from a circumscribed philosophical standpoint, cannot be reduced to a single gesture that interrogates the scientificity of philosophy. On the contrary, it must also concurrently question the possibility of a specific relation between a determinate philosophical endeavor and specific scientific pursuits. Any questioning of the relationship between philosophy and science will always imply a double gesture: on the one hand, a question about what makes or does not make philosophy a science; on the other, what brings philosophy closer, or moves [End Page 98] it farther apart, from the sciences. Most often, philosophers focus their attention on just one aspect of this double question. In this paper, I would like to address both sides of the issue. In particular, I would like to examine the two very different answers to this general problem given by Plato and by Michel Foucault. Although their answers address fundamentally the same issue, they are so diametrically opposed, as I will show, that they may be considered as the external boundaries of a very broad range of possible responses.



Let me begin with Plato. In a well-known passage from the Euthydemus, the main characters are discussing which kind of knowledge is required by wisdom. In this context, to the delighted although belated surprise of Crito, the young Cleinias introduces a crucial distinction between hunters and cooks: the former know how to find the prey, but only the latter know how to use it:

No art of actual hunting, [Cleinias] said, extends any further than pursuing and capturing; whenever the hunters catch what they are pursuing they are incapable of using it, but they and the fishermen hand over their prey to the cooks. And again, geometers and astronomers and calculators (who are hunters too, in a way, for none of these make their diagrams; they simply discover those which already exist), since they themselves have no idea of how to use their prey but only how to hunt it, hand over the task of using their discoveries to the dialecticians—at least, those of them who are not completely useless [anoetoi].


Cleinias's account acknowledges the reality and value of the knowledge gained by the sciences, but denies that scientists have full awareness of what they are doing and of the implications of their own work. Scientific knowledge lacks both self-reflexivity and transparency: it does not have the ability to bring to full evidence the principles it rests upon...


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