Prior to the nineteenth century, those who are now regarded as scientists were referred to as natural philosophers. With empiricism, science was claimed to be a superior form of knowledge to philosophy, and natural philosophy was marginalized. This claim for science was challenged by defenders of natural philosophy, and this debate has continued up to the present. The vast majority of mainstream scientists are comfortable in the belief that through applying the scientific method, knowledge will continue to accumulate, and that claims to knowledge outside science apart from practical affairs should not be taken seriously. This is referred to as scientism. It is incumbent on those who defend natural philosophy against scientism not only to expose the illusions and incoherence of scientism, but to show that natural philosophers can make justifiable claims to advancing knowledge. By focusing on a recent characterization and defense of natural philosophy along with a reconstruction of the history of natural philosophy, showing the nature and role of Schelling’s conception of dialectical thinking, I will attempt to identify natural philosophy as a coherent tradition of thought and defend it as something different from science and as essential to it, and essential to the broader culture and to civilization.
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