It's been a little over a week since I posted my Why is this philosophy? reflections, and I find myself still puzzling over a common sort of reaction that I got to the post. The common reaction seemed to be that other areas of philosophy are subject to similar challenges, and/or that philosophers in other areas are subject to similar difficulties on the job market, etc. And so (the implication seemed to be), what was my point?
Let me first clarify that I certainly never meant to imply – and looking back over the post, do not see where I said – that philosophy of science or philosophers of science have it worse than anyone else. I do not take that to be the case. I know that there are certain areas of philosophy that are quite marginalized, causing practitioners in those areas to struggle at various points in their careers. So, why speak about philosophy of science? Well, philosophy of science is what I do, and so the particular criticisms of it are in my face more so than criticisms of other areas. I encourage others to speak out about challenges in their own areas, challenges that I am not in a position to speak to. But let's be clear that the challenges in area X, even if worse than the challenges in philosophy of science, don't make the challenges in philosophy of science go away or unworthy of discussion.
So, what are the particular criticisms that can make doing philosophy of science challenging?
Most philosophers of science have been on the receiving end of this question at one time or another. A friend of mine recently called it a type of hate speech. I think my friend was joking. But maybe not. Philosophers of science struggle to get into grad programs, to obtain jobs, to earn promotion and tenure, to be perceived as "central" and important figures in the field, all because their work is not seen as philosophical. So, while it may not be hate speech, it is speech that does genuine harm.
This isn't a new issue and it's one that others have touched before. But a number of recent events have brought the issue to mind for me and emphasized the importance of continuing to discuss it. One in particular was a conversation with a colleague whose opinion I value and whose good faith I have utter confidence in. And yet this colleague had doubts about an essay being philosophical even as I could see that it fell squarely within the domain of philosophy of science. The colleague was willing to take my word for it, but the fact that such a well meaning person had doubts really brought home to me the fact that this is (at least in some case) simply a lack of awareness about philosophy of science. Thus this post. I can't hope to fully convince anyone in a blog post length entry, but I can at least point to some of the other events that have got me thinking about this topic again.
The second event was the excellent essay "Philosophical Enough" by Subrena Smith, a recent Featured Philosop-her. Smith rightly points out:
Yesterday, in my Twentieth Century Philosophy class, we worked our way through Bertrand Russell's essay on "Appearance and Reality" (excerpted, along with "The Value of Philosophy" and "Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description" from Russell's 'popular' work The Problems of Philosophy.) I introduced the class to Russell's notion of physical objects being inferences from sense-data, and then went on to his discussions of idealism, materialism, and realism as metaphysical responses to the epistemological problems created by such an understanding of objects. This discussion led to the epistemological stances--rationalism and empiricism--that these metaphysical positions might generate. (There was also a digression into the distinction between necessary and contingent truths.)
At one point, shortly after I had made a statement to the effect that science could be seen as informed by materialist, realist, and empiricist conceptions of its metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions, I blurted out, "Really, scientists who think philosophy is useless and irrelevant to their work are stupid and ungrateful." This was an embarrassingly intemperate remark to have made in a classroom, and sure enough, it provoked some amused twittering from my students, waking up many who were only paying partial attention at that time to my ramblings.
This is the third installment of my series of posts with different sections of the paper on conceptual genealogy that I am working on. Part I is here; Part II.1 is here; a tentative abstract of 2 years ago, detailing the motivation for the project, is here.
I now turn to Canguilhem as an author exemplifying the kind of approach I have in mind when I speak of 'conceptual genealogy'. The main difference is that Canguilhem focused on scientific concepts (especially from biology and medicine), whereas I am articulating a methodology for the investigation of philosophical concepts (though of course, often the line between the two groups will be rather blurry). The same caveat of the previous installment on Nietzsche applies: this is a very brief and inevitably superficial discussion of Canguilhem's ideas, on which there is obviously much more to say.
The thesis of the relevance of historical analysis for philosophical theorizing rests crucially on a historicist conception of philosophical concepts, namely that they are not (or do not correspond to) a-historical essences or natural kinds. However, ‘historicism’ can have different meanings (Beiser 2011, Introduction), so let me now spell out in more detail in what sense I defend a historicist conception of philosophical concepts.
A graduate student in my department, Shawn Miller, has created a wiki for graduate programs having faculty who specialize in philosophy of biology: philbio.net It gives an at-a-glance overview of schools and faculty, with links to websites, CVs, and PhilPapers profiles for individual faculty. The wiki thus serves as an excellent springboard for those who are researching graduate programs in philosophy of biology, both Ph.D. and terminal M.A. As the wiki notes, "The primary intended audience is prospective or current graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology who want to get the lay of the land by seeing who works where, and on what."
Some important features of the site:
Anyone can edit the wiki, with or without an account. Faculty and students are encouraged to add listings and update listings.
The criterion for program inclusion is just that a philosophy (or a history and philosophy of science) Ph.D. program have at least one full-time faculty member who self-identifies as a philosopher of biology.
On the main page, faculty specializations can be listed and willingness to work with new students can be indicated. Programs can also create a separate page that lists further information about the program, such as lab groups (see UC Davis's entry for an example).
I would encourage others to update this site and help make it a useful resource, and to recommend the site to prospective graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology. I would further encourage those who work in other areas of philosophy to create similar sites to facilitate prospective graduate students in doing the sort of deep research that an important decision like applying to graduate school calls for.
I just got back from the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Chicago, held in conjunction with the History of Science Society. My co-chair Holly Andersen and I knew we had better-than-ever attendance for the 5th PSA Women's Caucus Breakfast, but after counting the names on the sign-in sheet, I can report that we had 83 attendees! (mostly women, plus a few welcome supporters). We didn't get to all of the items on our packed agenda, but there was some serious energy in the room, and hopefully we can really get things done in the next two years. Thanks again to the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science and individual donors for sponsoring.
I don't know if anyone else noticed (and maybe I shouldn't point it out), but Saturday was a good day for philosophy of biology. Helen Longino is finishing her term as PSA President, to be succeeded by Ken Waters; Helen also won the PSA Women's Caucus Prize for Feminist Philosophy for her recent book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality, while Elliott Sober won the Hempel Award. Congrats to all.
My own session, "Beyond the Lab Experiment," with Sharon Crasnow, Eric Desjardins, and Emily Parke (ably chaired by Chris Eliot) was one of the best I've ever participated in. At the end of it, I realized that all four papers sought to make positive contributions; none was a critique (not that I am against critique -- I think critique is important and have done it myself -- but sometimes it's nice to make forward progress without having to trash what came before). We had a half hour at the end for general discussion, and the audience used it appropriately, probing connections between the four talks that I was certainly too bleary-eyed to see. And speakers responded thoughtfully and openly to suggestions. It was a really positive experience and I got a lot out of it.
It was also announced that this was the largest PSA meeting ever. I think we still have work to do to increase the diversity of topics and attendees, but I know that work has been done in that area and that more is planned. The PSA is looking healthy.
My friend Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science at the University of Florida, has drawn my attention to a number of concerning events at the eminent journal Science.
One was an appalling magazine cover, for which they were roundly and rightly criticized. The Editor-in-Chief issued a non-apology for the cover, saying that she is "truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone" and promising "that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves."
A second recent development is the shortening of book reviews to 600 words, with an increased focus on popular books and fewer reviews coming from scholars in the history and philosophy of science as compared to the past. This is an unfortunate loss of an important perspective from Science.
Now, a blog post from Michael Balter, who has been with the journal for over 21 years, talks about some of the behind-the-scenes troubles at Science and its publishing organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). These include the recent dismissal of four women in the art and production departments, with essentially no notice in three cases and very little notice in the fourth case, and the absence of any serious response to the concerns expressed by the overwhelming majority of Science's news staff about the way these dismissals were handled.
I am not in a position to fully comment on these recent developments; I am only reporting what I have read and what I have been told. But as a member of the AAAS Section on History and Philosophy of Science (Section L) I am very concerned. Indeed, perhaps given the important role that Science plays, we should all be concerned about what what is involved with the "strategic transformation that AAAS is currently undergoing, to enhance its engagement with its members and to be in the forefront of the multimedia landscape of the future."
Today my research group in Groningen (with the illustrious online participation of Tony Booth, beaming in from the UK) held a seminar session where we discussed Fabienne Peter’s 2013 paper ‘The procedural epistemic value of deliberation’. It is a very interesting paper, which defends the view that deliberation has not only epistemic value (as opposed to ‘merely’ ethical, practical value), but also that it has procedural epistemic value (as the title suggests), as opposed to ‘merely’ instrumental value. I'll argue here that I agree with the thesis, but not for the reasons offered by Peter in her paper.
The paper begins with the following observation:
An important question one can ask about collective deliberation is whether it increases or decreases the accuracy of the beliefs of the participants. But this instrumental approach, which only looks at the outcome of deliberation, does not exhaustively account for the epistemic value that deliberation might have. (Peters 2013, 1253)
One way to spell out this idea is the following: suppose there were two knowledge-producing procedures with the exact same accuracy, i.e. which would produce the same amount of true beliefs and avoid the same amount of false beliefs. Moreover, procedure D involves deliberation, while procedure O relies entirely on an oracle, for example. If we can show that procedure D is superior to procedure O on purely epistemic grounds, then we can establish that deliberation has procedural epistemic value, rather than merely instrumental epistemic value (i.e. increase accuracy).
10. You can get an accepted but-not-yet-published paper read right away, without waiting for those sometimes lengthy publication times.
9. You can increase the visibility of your work because a) PhilSci-Archive articles score highly in Google searches and b) sites like PhilPapers scan PhilSci-Archive and will include links to your papers automatically.
8. You can get feedback on a work-in-progress from a wider audience than just the couple of people you can think to email.
7. Your work can be read, for free, by anyone, even those without institutional library access.
6. Work that was presented, but never published, can be made accessible.
5. Papers in those harder-to-obtain volumes will be more widely accessible.
4. If you are in an underrepresented area of philosophy of science or are an author in an underrepresented group in philosophy of science, you can help to increase the visibility of your area or your group. [Right now, the papers are disproportionately in philosophy of physics – you can help change that].
3. PhilSci-Archive is a non-profit organization – like PhilPapers, but unlike, say, Academia.edu or Research Gate. You can feel good about contributing to its flourishing.
2. After posting your articles, you can linger a bit and check out some of the good work that is there already, including conference papers and (in a new venture) open source journals. Or you can sign up for an email subscription, the Twitter feed, or the Facebook page.
1. It's cool, and all the cool kids are doing it. You can be cool, too.
...an open-access, English-language electronic journal dedicated to the philosophy of science. αnalytica is edited by a younger generation of Greek philosophers of science, with the aid and support of an international advisory board. It provides a platform for peer-reviewed original contributions in philosophy of science, and is hosted by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Dare we hope that more open access philosophy journals are on the way?
When Tyson laughs as he dismisses philosophy as "pointless" he reminds me nothing so much as a high school bully who has just visited an indignity on his victim. And, as in high school, nobody much seems to mind.
I don't know why this kind of thing is so popular among physicists who don't know any post-World War II philosophy of science or any pre-World War II history of science (one could do worse than starting here). See Stephen Hawking telling Google that "philosophy is dead" and Lawrence Krauss calling David Albert a "moronic philosopher" in a manner which suggests the phrase is pleonastic for him.
It's maybe not so weird how often philosophy's enemies end up just doing bad philosophy themselves.
Anyhow, it was very nice to read Damon Linker's take-down of Tyson's philistinism here. Depending on your meta-philosophical commitments you might be tempted to split hairs with respect to Linker's epistemology-centric characterization of the philosophical tradition. But what he writes isn't implausible, and he's clearly getting a very large part of the tradition correct.
Next Saturday, the University of Leuven is hosting an outreach event called Philosophy Festival ("Feest van de Filosofie"). This year's theme is people & technology ("mens & techniek"). I was asked to join a panel discussion on the technological singularity. The introduction will be given by a computer engineer (Philip Dutré, Leuven). There will be a philosopher of technology (Peter-Paul Verbeek, Twente) and a philosopher of probability (me, Groningen); and the moderator is a philosopher, too (Filip Mattens, Leuven). So far, I have not worked on this topic, although it does combine a number of my interests: materials science, philosophy of science, and science fiction.
The idea of a technological singularity (often associated with Ray Kurzweil) originates from the observation that the rate of technological innovations seems to be speeding up. Extrapolating these past and current trends suggests that there may be a point in the future at which systems that have been built by humans (software, robots, ...) will become more intelligent than humans. This is called the technological singularity. Moreover, once there are systems that are able to develop systems that are more intelligent than systems of the previous generation, there may be an intelligence explosion. The possibilities of later generations of such systems are inconceivable to humans. (This theme has been explored in many science fiction stories, including the robot stories by Isaac Asimov (1950's and later), the television series "Battlestar Galactica" (2004-2009), and the movie "Her" (2013).)
Even this brief introduction gives us plenty of opportunity for reflection on concepts (What is intelligence?) and consequences (What will happen to humans in a post-singularity world?). I am planning to analyze a very basic assumption, by raising the following question: When are we justified to pick a particular trend that has been observed in the past (e.g., Moore's observation of an exponential increase in the number of transistors on commercial chips) and extrapolate it into the future? Viewed in this way, the current topic is an example of the general problem of induction.
The hypothesis "The observed trend will continue to hold" is only one among many. Let me offer two alternative hypotheses:
Many philosophers of science are understandably excited about Neil deGrasse Tyson's reinvorgoration of the TV show Cosmos. After all, most of us are pretty excited about science and anything that improves the public's scientific literacy. Thus, it is extremely disappointing to hear him articulate the comments that he does at about 1:02:46 of this video.* He says that a "philosopher is a would-be scientist without a laboratory" and that we have been "rendered essentially obsolete." He later suggests that there is much positive work that a philosophers can do (in ethics, for example), but doesn't seem to think that there can be any good philosophy of science. (Richard Dawkins, who is also shown in the video, seems to take a slightly more positive view of the field).
This morning, I saw two things that shook the cobwebs: 1) Eric Winsberg's intriguing post about dark matter, and, more to the point at hand, the fact that he was at an event that involved astronmers and philosophers, and 2) with the web announcement for a “Genomics and Philosophy of Race” Conference that I am a part of, involving both biologists and philosophers (not to mention historians and sociologists). These two events are only two of the many, many productive collaborations between scientists and philosophers of science. We need to do a better job telling people about them, and about telling the general public what philosophers of science do.
* H/T to Lucas Matthews, graduate stuent at the University of Utah, for the pointer to the video and NdGT's attitude toward philosophy of science
If Plutynski and Weatherall's reviews are right (and they read wonderfully) both books in different ways seem to me to mark decisive moves away from Generalized Philosophy of Science. The very first paragraph of Weatherall's reads:
If this collection has an overarching theme, it is that the details matter. If philosophers hope to understand contemporary physics, we need to engage in depth both with the technicalities of our best physical theories and the practicalities of how those theories are applied. The authors in this volume brush aside an older tradition in the philosophy of physics -- and the philosophy of science more generally -- in which actual physics entered only to illustrate high-level accounts of theories, explanation, or reduction. Of course, by itself, dismissing this tradition is hardly worth remarking on: such an approach to philosophy of physics has been going out of fashion for decades. Taken as whole, however, this volume pushes the theme still further, in ways that mark important shifts in recent philosophy of physics.
As conversations in the discipline concerning the climate for women in philosophy and the role of feminist philosopy in fostering good climate continue, it is worthwhile to pause and honor the good work in feminist philosophy that is being done in various areas in philosophy, such as philosophy of science.
Nominations are now open for the 2014 Philosophy of Science Association Women's Caucus Prize. The Prize is awarded biennially for the best book, article, or chapter published in English in the area of feminist philosophy of science within the five years prior to each PSA meeting. The winner will receive an award of $500, which will be presented to the winner at the November 2014 PSA meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
The deadline for nominations is May 1, 2014. To be considered, works must have been published between May 1, 2009 and May 1, 2014. Articles posted electronically on journal websites in final (accepted) form prior to May 1, 2014 are eligible for consideration. Self-nominations are allowed but are limited to one per person. One may nominate more than one paper by someone else.
According to Brian Leiter, Israel Scheffler died on February 16th at the age of ninety. A very sad event. Scheffler was not a philosopher who cared much about trends. When all around him were scratching their heads about Thomas Kuhn, he wrote a pretty trenchant rejection, Science and Subjectivity (which also took on people like Feyerabend and Hanson). And his fine (but perhaps slightly too didactic) book, The Anatomy of Inquiry ,was perhaps the last good book written on the epistemology of science from an analytic perspective. His passing reminds me that there are issues about which the philosophizing of the mid-twentieth century was simple and right, and far superior to what superseded it.
I thought I would make my inaugural post on NewAPPS a follow-up to Roberta's post about the retraction of the article in Food and Chemical Toxicology. I don't want to continue the debate about whether the retraction was justified; that debate can continue in the original thread. Here, I want to discuss one of the reasons why we should be paying vigilant attention to events such as these, and why their importance transcends the narrow confines of the particular scientific hypotheses being considered in the articles in question. What I worry most about is the extent to which pressures can be applied by commercial interests such as to shift the balance of “inductive risks” from producers to consumers by establishing conventional methodological standards in commercialized scientific research.
Inductive risk occurs whenever we have to accept or reject a hypothesis in the absence of certainty-conferring evidence. Suppose, for example, we have some inconclusive evidence for a hypothesis, H. Should we accept or reject H? Whether or not we should depends on our balance of inductive risks—on the importance we attach, in the ethical sense, of being right or wrong about H. In simple terms, if the risk of accepting H and being wrong outweighs the risk of rejecting H and being wrong, then we should reject H. But these risk are a function not only of the degree of belief we have in H, but also of negative utility we attach to each of those possibilities. In the appraisal of hypotheses about the safety of drugs, foods, and other consumables, these are sometimes called “consumer risk” (the risk of saying the item is safe and being wrong) and “producer risk” (the risk of saying the item is not safe and being wrong.)
"An economic theorist who offers a model prepares the ground for a practitioner who should employ her judgment in using this model; but the theorist's contribution falls short of a testable prediction." (Gilboa, et. al. 11)
"Cases can never be refuted, and case-based reasoning is thus an attractive alternative to rule-based reasoning, allowing economists to work with models simple enough to be useful without worrying about refutations." (Gilboa, et. al. 27) [HT: Jong Jae Lee]
The two passages above are quoted from a paper "Economic Models as Analogies" forthcoming in the Economic Journal by a group of leading economists.* It represents part of a wider trend among economists re-interpreting their own activity (recall last week's post); in doing so, they are also making more sensible claims on behalf of economics, while trying to keep most of the economist's tool-kit intact (recall this post). Both passages reveal how thoughtful economists' are trying to come to grip not just with the charge that their models are not realistic (as noted throughout the opening sections of the paper), but with the widespread perception that their models have been refuted in the events of the last decade. While a cynic might interpret the two passages above as a belated admission that something was refuted in 2008, the significance of these passages is to be found in the renewed focus on judgment.
If Elisabeth Lloyd’s take on the female orgasm is
correct—i.e. if it is homologous to the male orgasm—then FEMALE ORGASMis not a proper evolutionary category. Homology is sameness. Hence, male and female orgasms belong to the same category. The orgasm is an adaptation, whether male or female (and
Lloyd should agree). It is not a spandrel or by-product.
I’ll get back to this in a moment, but first some background. There are five NewAPPSers who have a particular interest in the
philosophy of biology. Roberta Millstein, Helen De Cruz, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, John Protevi, and myself. Aside from Roberta, each of us comes at it from a related area in which biological insight is
important. For me, that area is perception. I have written quite a bit about
biology, but my mind has always been at least half on the eye (and the ear, and
the nose, and the tongue, . . .).
There is a divide among us with respect to a leading controversy
in the field. Catarina is strongly anti-adaptationist and I am strongly
adaptationist (perhaps because of my motivating interest in perception, which is exquistely adaptive). Roberta, Helen, and John are somewhere in between, but likely closer to Catarina than to me. You can gauge where I stand when I tell you that in my view, Gould and Lewontin’s 1979
anti-adaptationist manifesto, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian
Paradigm” is one of the worst, and certainly one of the most mendacious, papers I have
ever read in any field. Among the five of us, I am sure I am alone in this.
Given all of this, my take on adaptationism with regard to the orgasm may get a
hotly negative response from my co-bloggers. Nevertheless, I’ll get on with it.
One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy,
rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic
data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same
intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the
functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. We judge
economics by what it can produce. As such, economics is rather more like
engineering than physics, more practical than spiritual.--Robert J. Shiller [HT Jeff Bell]
Is the younger generation of economists like Raj skipping some of the
big questions of economics because some smaller questions are easier to
answer? If so, is that optimal from the standpoint of society as a
The character of cutting-edge, academic economics has changed during the last few decades. It is not entirely easy to characterize these changes in part because economics is a very large, fast-moving field (and, of course, I pay more attention to philosophers than economists). Even so there can be merit in this simplification: (i) between 1947 and 1970, there was a formal revolution in economics (associated with names like Samuelson, Arrow, Debreu, etc.); this revolution occurred more or less simultaneously with (ii) the development of econometrics (associated with names like Tinbergen, Koopmans, etc.)--many of the people involved interacted with each other at the Cowles Commission. Of these two developments, the first had a more theoretical ethos and the second a more policy oriented focus. (Of course, lots of fields in economics -- development, labor, forestry, agriculture, etc. -- have always been very focused on policy.) With the break-down of the Keynesian consensus in the mid-1970s, policy,
"big questions of economics" returned to the center of the discipline's attention.* In the quoted passage above, Shiller's "necessarily" takes the centrality of policy for granted...so much so that most of what is published as "theory" by theoreticians in economics these days has some such policy orientation.**
Colin McGinn is a famously polemical reviewer. Yet, when he gets administered a taste of his own medicine (recall), he resorts to name-calling: "absolutely hysterical, ad hominem, and completely devoid of any sense of critical decency."[HT Wayne Myrvold] I leave it to readers to judge this "hysterical."
In his rage he seems to have misread McKenzie's review. He falsely claims (without evidence) that "She pours scorn on my contention that physics is epistemologically
limited in important ways—that physicists (and everyone else) are deeply
ignorant of the intrinsic nature of the material world. She contrives
to make it sound as if this view is an eccentricity dreamt up by me
alone." If true, this claim would be astounding because McKenzie is a product of Leeds philosophy--one of the strongholds for views that (in some of their guises) deny knowledge of intrinsic nature of the world (see here). Of course, McKenzie does no such thing. Rather, McKenzie claims that (a) McGinn does not engage with folk who anticipate versions of such views and (b) that he misrepresents the existing discussion; moreover, she reveals that (c) his sole citation to contemporary work in the area is mangled.
Obviously, one can debate the merits of extremely polemic, uncivil reviews. But when in glass houses...
Ingrid Robeyns has a very nice post at Crookedtimber with an excellent discussion on why "economics should become much more aware of the values it (implicitly or
explicitly) endorses. Those values are embedded in some of the basis
concepts used but also in some of the assumptions in the
theory-building." Her post includes a lovely, brief and clear treatment of the abuse of the Pareto-improvement criterion; it's worth your time to check it out.
However, I worry a bit about the meme that focuses on the lack of clarity about values by economists. For, it reinforces the convenient economist's (and philosopher's) distinction between positive and normative questions, embraced since Sidgwick encouraged the split between the two fields (recall and here). To put the worry more constructively and subtly reinterpret my two earlier posts (here and here) on Raj Chetty's widely discussed NYT op-ed piece: economists are not transparent about their status-quo bias that is embedded in their empirical methodology, which (recall (and here and here), takes important institutions and norms as given).[+] From the point of view of the political economy of economics this (relative) status-quo bias of policy oriented economics is to be expected because the demand for economists is fuelled by existing institutions.
When I studied philosophy in graduate school [in the 1990s--ES], my peers and I went to
classes where we were made to read Kripke and Davidson and Quine and
Putnam. Then, duty done, we met together at a coffee shop and discussed
the latest paper from Millikan, pens in hand, arguing passionately. I
cannot even recall how we found her work and knew we had to study it,
but somehow there was consensus among us that she was producing the most
exciting philosophy happening right then. Sometimes we were convinced
that Millikan got a problem wrong... more often we felt she had offered a
solution to some problem that other philosophers had mostly just
obscured. But that was not what made us study her work so eagerly. The
important thing was that Millikan gave us tools. Her theory of
proper functions was something we could actually use. It had wide and
general utility...And, as we contrasted her work with
what our instructors considered the contemporary canon, we felt certain
that Millikan represented the vanguard.
I mention all this because the second striking feature of Millikan's
responses to these thirteen criticisms is that she still seems the
radical maverick. If it is fair to consider her critics in this volume
as representative of current philosophy, then one gets the impression
that most of us are still catching up with Millikan....To see her respond to this
pressure, however, is very helpful to understanding the details and
applications -- and, ultimately, the novelty -- of her approach.--Craig DeLancey, reviewing Millikan and Her Critics [the volume includes a chapter by our very own Mohan--ES]
I sometimes wonder how common DeLancey's experience is of graduate students discovering and debating exciting work unrelated to one's instructors' sense of significance. I often have the disheartening sense that it is more common that graduates recycle the shared and undoubtedly sophisticated commitments of their graduate instructors (despite the now relatively easy access to other people's works). This recycling is often itself very sophisticated with accompanying mini-narratives that bolster the priority claims of privileged participants (see, for example, this interesting review). There is nothing dishonest about this kind of recycling and it allows the generation of progress, but one wonders if more frequent intellectual parricide/matricide wouldn't be healthier for the discipline.
Zachary Ernst, we're sorry to see you go. But you've left us with some important issues to mull over, here.
These even includes some issues that are under faculty control, like the following:
Furthermore, my department also considers single-authored work to be more significant than co-authored work. Frankly, I find this policy totally absurd, but it's not that uncommon. Because a lot of interdisciplinary work will appear in unfamiliar (to one's colleagues) venues, and be co-authored, that work is downgraded, not once but twice. The effect is that when it comes time to decide on salary raises, a faculty member with broad, interdisciplinary research interests is at a severe disadvantage. To put the point bluntly, interdisciplinary researchers get paid less.
Is philosophy really so insular that we can't respect interdisciplinary work? That we can't recognize the extra effort (not less effort) that it takes to collaborate? I am afraid that I know the answers.
One attractive story about the demise of the Principle Sufficient Reason (PSR) is that it was discarded in the founding of analytical philosophy together with the heritage of British Idealism and related polemics against Spinoza (and Bergson) by Bertrand Russell. When Russell was given the option, accept (a) Bradley's Regress or (b) the PSR, he chose neither; and he opted, instead, for (c) submission to scientific fact: "The scientific philosophy, therefore...aims only at understanding
the world... without being turned aside from
that submission to fact which is the essence of the scientific temper." (On Scientific Method In Philosophy [recall my discussion and Jeff Bell.] If the to-be-explained-facts are brute, then it is possible that even if they can be fully captured by integrated into a theory/model (etc.) some arbitrariness is inevitable (in, say, initial conditions). One might even think that this stance is (informally) justified by the "principle of indifference" that accompanies the embrace of a classical probability theory in one's inductive logic (see, Carnap).
Three illustrations of why scientists need to know history:
 Biologists often appeal to founders in the field such as Darwin or
Haeckel, either as a point of contrast or as intellectual ancestor - but
are their depictions accurate?
 Scientists need to know the nature of the scientific practice, e.g.,
the refutations of well accepted theories, the failures, the dead ends.
 Terms like "fitness" may be loaded with historical baggage that scientists are not aware of, but which affects their reception.--Roberta Millstein. [Numbers added to facilitate discussion.--ES]
The image(s) of science that philosophers of (the) science(s) describe and promote often has an afterlife in (the) science(s).
Ever since Kuhn projected his experiences within and about physics onto a persuasive and widely discussed image of science, philosophers of science and the scientists that embrace Kuhn and his image [see here], have thought that progressive science requires certain features (paradigmatic consensus, mythic history, puzzle-solving, etc.)* In the exchange over her post, Millstein offered three reasons for thinking that praticing scientists need to know an accurate history. Let's grant a critic that  is not very persuasive. For those kind of appeals are primarily rhetorical techniques; there is a sense in which the truth does not matter in such appeals. Let's grant a critic that  can be achieved without knowledge of history (which now is conceived as a repository of error). So,  is not intrinsic to scientific practice, but it does not mean that history does not have this useful, therapeutic role.
I certainly applaud and concur with the spirit of Gary Gutting's recent piece, "Science’s Humanities Gap." He agrees with Steven Pinker that specialists in any area are likely to benefit from acquaintance with relevant work beyond their disciplinary boundaries, but thinks that Pinker errs in saying that it is humanists who need to pay more attention to science. Instead, Gutting says, "it’s humanists who are the choir and scientists who need a call to grace." Gutting then goes on to characterize all of the areas in which philosophy has been informed by a deep knowledge of science. All well and good.
However, I have a bone to pick with Gutting. Here is the sum total of what he has to say about the philosophy of biology: "Philosophers of biology like David Hull have been similarly well versed in that discipline [as philosophers of physics have been versed in physics]." It is true that Hull is a fine example of someone who was well-versed in biology, who engaged with biologists, and who inspired many other philosophers of biology to do likewise. But that is just the point. Many, many other philosophers of biology since Hull have immersed themselves in various areas of biology – far too many to list here, since such philosophers comprise a substantial portion of the field. What I can attempt to list, however, is all of the different areas of biology that philosophers of biology engage with, knowing that I will miss some: systematics (an area that Hull particularly focused on), genetics, population genetics, paleobiology, developmental biology, evo-devo, molecular biology, genomics and other -omics, ecology, conservation biology, cell biology, behavioral biology. Once all these areas are listed, it becomes clearer just how empirical the philosophy of biology has become.
The problem with giving short shrift to philosophy of biology is that one might actually walk away with the opposite impression of what was intended, i.e., one might get the mistaken impression that not much science-oriented philosophy of biology is going on. And that would be a shame, particularly since Pinker could do with a greater appreciation of the philosophy of biology, such as Elisabeth Lloyd's excellent shredding of his views in"Kanzi, evolution, and language."
Let's stipulate that there is genuine bullshit (see Frankfurt 1986). Let's also stipulate there is bullshit in the Humanities, even in philosophy.
A lot of people I know in philosophy are pretty confident that much of what passes in Literary Theory and the philosophies that influence(d) it is bullshit. I have seen testimony people that ardently defend this view who have studied quite a bit of, say, Continental philosophy and reached this conclusion. (Of course, in reality, a lot more folk are dismissive on the basis of extremely slender personal, intellectual investment.) When pressed for evidence, the Sokal Hoax is trotted out as exhibit A. It made a great splash inside the academy and the popular media that covers it. Rather than interpreting the case as an instance of bad refereeing, editorial misjudgment, whole areas of thought got written off by quite a few people.
I just learned that a paper was retracted from Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics--a very fine physics journal published by a reputable institute. It frankly reports, "The Editorial Board has investigated this and found that the XPS
spectra shown in figure 3 all exhibit an identical noise pattern that is
unphysical." [HT Retractionwatch] In other words, the journal published artfully presented bullshit. (It recently announced that it "is now using ScholarOne Manuscripts for submission and peer-review management.") Undoubtedly, this incident is unpleasant for all the parties involved, but nobody in their right mind will draw any inferences about physics from it.
The moral: very good journals can publish bullshit, and the refereeing institutions of all disciplines need constant maintenance.