[This post was inspired by an email correspondence with John Doris.--ES]
The sciences play an important role in (at least) two ways of doing philosophy these days: (a) as an ingredient or constraint in so-called 'naturalistic turns;' (b) as an object of study in Philosophy of X (POX) -- with X = any particular science -- or General Philosophy of Science (GPOS). This (a-b) is not to deny the existence of other roles of science in philosophy, including: (c) functioning as the exemplary model of doing philosophy--I tend to refer to this as "Philosophy as Normal Science" (PANS; regular readers know I want us diminish PANS) and (d) being a source of discipline of philosophy (as, say, Williamson wishes). In practice, there are lots of blended positions. I will not define "philosophy" or "science", and I recognize that those of us that work in Europe (and, perhaps, elsewhere) are often taught (and paid/evaluated) to think of ourselves as scientists.
Here I focus on some problems that (a) and (b), especially, share in practice. The source of these is that we philosophers are generally not practicing scientists. (What I am aboout to claim also applies to those that have a PhD in some science, but it may not apply fully to those that also have ongoing research projects within some science.) This means that any science we rely on (in a-d) will be inevitably: (i) dated (science can move very fast as Bertrand Russell emphasized--it is hard enough for the professionals 'to keep up'); (ii) potentially misunderstood (we are -- despite our fabulous reasoning and conceptual skills -- not the experts in the science, after all); (iii) a partial perspective (most sciences are much larger than philosophy and can have a huge division of intellectual labor). Even if one were to ignore the effects of (i-iii) in (a-d) bits of science 'travel' from properly (stabilized) scientific domains/contexts to philosophical contexts; it is, thus, very likely that (iv) science will be partially transformed in translation (one need not be a Quine-ean holist, Kuhnian incommensurabalist to see that any disciplinary appropriation is not prima facie truth or meaning/pragmatics preserving). In practice, i-iv can be blended--and, perhaps, the list ought to be longer. I call the effects of i-iv, "NAPPs." The idea is that NAPPs is internal to naturalism (and not to be confused with excesses such as scientism or positivism).
A. One can rely on privileged informers within a science. This tends to address (i)-(ii) quite nicely (I have a whole cluster of economists that I can turn to), but it may well exacerbate the problems associated with (iii). This may be due to entirely innocent reasons such as the fact that those scientists that are willing to spend time talking with and educating, even risk being criticized by philosophers may not be representative of the discipline at large. The scientist-informants can have axes to grind over various controversies or they may be just too interested in philosophy. As a non-expert it is very difficult to catch or filter these problems. When partial (or heterodox) science travels to philosophy, there are few informed critics around to offer a correction.
B. One can rely on text-book science or get some science education, say, a MA or even a PhD. This corrects for (iii), but tends to reinforce (i). Now, for some philosophical purposes (i) may not be a big problem. Even so, (B) may also correct for (ii), but in practice it creates false-self-confidence. We need not trust Kuhn on text-book-education to get a sense of the problem: 'we professionals' all can tell the difference between a MA and a PhD in philosophy. (Fill in your favorite exception.) We can also tell the difference between some PhD who stopped reading, say, in the 80s and somebody who 'keeps active." (Hell, when I show up to a conference in metaphysics -- a field I am genuinely interested in --, other folk can immediately tell that I am clueless about a good third of the distinctions; they probably suspect I am not aware of my clueless-ness about the other two-thirds.) Textbooks and MAs teach one an image of science often without the relevant and much needed wrinkles.
C. One can bite the bullet on (i) by avoiding trying to keep up and turn to philosophical history of science (one of my routes). The problem here is that one's fellow-philosophers often tend to think that too much history of science just is not philosophy. Even if we leave such very real prejudice aside, a turn to history also may make matters worse in (ii) and (iii). It is extremely hard to avoid hindsight bias--for a while I could partially avoid such bias in my work in early modern sciences and philosophy by just being ignorant of the nineteenth century developments. But given that our sense of the 'philosophical problems' are, in part, the consequence of past science (and the philosophy embedded in it), such bias is almost inevitable. So, this undermines the turn to history in some sense.
D. One might try to address (iv) by pursing one's philosophy in genuine interdisciplinary or hybrid fashion. This also address problems associated with (i-ii). Now, clearly, there are lots of intellectual, financial and practical barriers to *being* a hybrid philosopher-scientist, so one often opts for interdisciplinary centers. Even if D is successful qua science, it nearly always makes (iii) worse (not to mention that successful (centers of) philosopher-scientists can be very intolerant of other philosophers' alternative routes to philosophical insight). Even if one is capable of philosophical reflection within and on one's scientific practice, it is very difficult to also take a further almost third-order stance and critically reflect on the partiality of one's (particular) scientific position.
I welcome extensions of these lists. (I have not mentioned toy-examples, thought experiments, issues of testimony, etc.) But I close on a final thought. I don't view NAPPs as devastating problems for naturalism, PoX, or GPOS. In fact, reflection on NAPPs might make us wiser -- because more self-aware about the limitations and strengths of our tools -- philosophers about philosophy...and science.