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.
Doubtless a vigorous error vigorously pursued has kept the embryos of
truth a-breathing: the quest of gold being at the same time a
questioning of substances, the body of chemistry is prepared for its
soul, and Lavoisier is born. But Mr. Casaubon's theory of the elements
which made the seed of all tradition was not likely to bruise itself
unawares against discoveries: it floated among flexible conjectures no
more solid than those etymologies which seemed strong because of
likeness in sound until it was shown that likeness in sound made them
impossible: it was a method of interpretation which was not tested by
the necessity of forming anything which had sharper collisions than an
elaborate notion of Gog and Magog: it was as free from interruption as a
plan for threading the stars together.
"Scientific philosophy" as I will be using it here is an eighteenth century invention by now-forgotten philosophers (McLaurin, 's Gravesande) or not read as philosophers anymore (Euler) (and then opposed by now-canonical philosophers like Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and folk that are fun to read like Mandeville and Diderot) that, after the split between philosophy and science, was re-introduced into philosophy by people like Russell, and echoed by Carnap, and Reichenbach. Scientific philosophy has six characteristics:
‘success’ trumps other
(rational/methodological) claims. Given that scientific philosophers sometimes retreat to the idea that philosophy is an a priori discipline, the 'empirical' (in 1) is often re-packaged as, say, inference to the best explanation in light of a variety of enduring 'scientific virtues' (i.e., simplicity, scope, predictive power, fruitfulness, exactness, etc.)
(a) Physics is the foundational science and/but it (b) has no need
for ultimate foundations. While 2(a) may seem obvious (see, e.g., Ladymann & Ross) due to its universal scope, its foundational nature was contested well into the nineteenth century. One could imagine, say, the science of information taking over as the foundational science in the future.
Within scientific philosophy reason
limits itself in various ways: in doing so (a) it avoid the fallacy of systematicity because it does not try to say
everything about everything; (b) it embraces the intellectual division
of labor (from 3(b)); it avoids the fallacy of (metaphysical) foundationalism because it has no
need to try to to secure its practice in un-shakeable, first principles
(see 2(b)). So, it is no surprise that Russell rejected the principle of sufficient reason or Bradley's regress argument.
is a self-directed, autonomous practice; once one has mastered certain rigorous tools, one moves
from one given experiment/solution (etc.) to the next problem. Given the emphasis on rigor, it is no surprise that:
Scientific philosophy is often opposed to a licentious or unintelligible
alternative(s) associated with past failures, sometimes even moral. (Exhibit a.) It, thus, embraces commitments to transparency (and clarity).
offers submission to the
facts (recall) and is disciplined (recall) by way of a careful, painful, modest and most
importantly open-ended progressive method. This entails that any scientific philosopher will enter a pre-existing, moving research trajectory and can expect to die before any destination is ever reached.
In this episode of Radiolab
Columbia physicist Brian Greene presents an argument for skepticism
that runs as follows. What we once thought of as a universe is better
thought of as a multiverse consisting of many universes. The reason for
this is that the cosmos is expanding at an accelerating rate owing to
the growth of space between galaxies. The rate at which space grows is
greater than the speed of light. Hence, there are galaxies we could not
reach even in principle. Given that we don't have access, even in
principle, to all regions of cosmic space, it is better to talk about
multiple universes rather than just one. There are, of course, multiple
ways to divide the cosmos into universes. This question shall not
concern us here.
Last week I received a widely distributed announcement on a conference celebrating "The 'Stanford School' of Philosophy of Science." The 'core' members of this school are taken to be: Nancy Cartwright (Durham), John Dupré (Exeter), Peter Galison (Harvard), Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY), Patrick Suppes (Stanford). The parenthesis are the current affiliation of the 'core' members; this immediately suggests that if there is a 'school' at all we are either dealing with a historical phenomenon or very distributed one. Scanning the list of the 'next generation' confirms that Stanford is not the current base of the purported school.
First, I adore much of the work done by many in the 'core,' but the idea that this group is a 'school' is deeply flawed. For, Suppes is far better understood (as he does himself) as belonging to the first generation (including Kyburg, Pap, Isaac Levi) intellectual off-spring of Ernest Nagel, who successfully created American analytical philosophy by combining the Scientific wing of Pragmatism with the new approaches emanating from Vienna, especially, and Cambridge (recall and here). In his autobiography, Suppes describes how assimilated from Nagel the significance of history of science.
Let's distinguish between Mythical history (Myth) and Mistaken history (Mish).
Myth uses narratives about the past to indicate conceptual linkages among (various) and within natural and social kinds.
Mish contains factual errors about the past.
It's possible that Myth = Mish; but Myth need not be Mish (nor does Mish always need to be Myth).
In reflecting on the public and private responses I have received to my criticisms on Thomas Nagel's abuse of history (here and here), I realize I need some such distinction. (In particular, I thank Mazviita Chirimuuta for making me see what's at stake here!)
Myth and Mish are both compatible with (i) messy history, that is, one that suggests the past is (always more) complex and ambiguous (etc.) and (ii) clean history, that is, one that extracts some determinate claim about the way it was (other than being messy). In practice, Myth tends to be clean (but, say, Foucault practices the genre, in part, by being very messy). Mythical history (be it Mish, clean, messy, or not) is philosophially interesting because it can structure how we think about the world and the way we conceive of the nature of the the problems at hand (or overlooked).
The fact that the discipline of economics hasn’t helped us improve our
predictive abilities suggests it is still far from being a science, and
may never be....Over time, the question of why economics has not (yet) qualified as a
science has become an obsession among theorists, including philosophers
of science like us...What is economics up to if it isn’t interested enough
in predictive success to adjust its theories the way a science does
when its predictions go wrong?--Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain, in the New York Times.
Sometimes I receive the following back-handed, compliment-question, "Why do you do history? You might make a decent real philosopher." A part of the answer is that the second-order stories we tell ourselves -- often handed down by mentors and supervisors, and senior peers -- about where we come from and what we do often are just as interesting and important as the first-order activities; they may also influence us and others in ways that are often hard to spot. This by way of introduction because in what follows I primarily challenge the conceptual oppositions (and associated historical myths) in Rosenberg and Curtain's Opinionater piece (allowing that the genre they are writing in need not require scholarly precision). Perhaps, my challenge allows some clarity about the first-order issues to emerge.
The main stated point of Rosenberg & Curtain (hereafter RC) is that "the task of the Fed’s next leader will be more a matter of craft and wisdom than of science." Surprisingly enough, given that RC are philosophers, they spend very little words on conceptualizing the nature or origin and causes of such "craft and wisdom," even though at the end of their piece they boldly assert that "the Fed chairman must,
like a first violinist tuning the orchestra, have the rare ear to
fine-tune complexity (probably a Keynesian ability to fine-tune at
that)." We are not told why of all the crafts and skills, the fine-tuning violin is the most appropriate exemplar for a Fed chairman. Even if we grant the fruitfulness of the tuning metaphor, a fine-tuning violinist possesses a skill that may not require (much) wisdom; she tunes an orchestra that is oriented toward a common goal with skilled performers. The Fed-chairman deals with a more heterogeneous population with ends that are -- I hope -- not unified.
In fairness to RC, most of their piece is focused on a self-described "obsession:" is economics 'science?' So, let's turn to that first.
The ideal of a pure language in which a pure, pared-down, unambiguous translation of
the truths of pure mathematics can be effected deserves a more extended discussion
than I have given it here. But I will limit myself to pointing out that this ideal language is very far indeed from the languages of man as conceived by Whorf; for to Whorf the least visible structures of a language, those that seem most natural to its Speakers, are
the structures most likely to embody the metaphysical preconceptions of the language
Community. On the other hand, the case of gravitational attraction does not at all
demonstrate what Whorf asserts about Newtonian cosmology as a System, namely that
the key concepts of the cosmology emerge smoothly from or fit smoothly into, the
structures of Newton's own language(s). Instead we find in Newton a real struggle, a
struggle sometimes — e. g., in the General Scholium to Book III of the Principia —
carried out in awareness of the issues involved, to bridge the gap between the non referential
symbolism of mathematics and a language too protean to be tied down to
single, pure meanings.--J.M. Coetzee (1982) "Newton and the Ideal of a Transparent Scientific Language," Journal of Literary Semantics.
Among recent philosophy the Whorf hypothesis is primarily an object of curiosity as background to Kuhn's Structure (and maybe Quine's Word and Object), although two of my favorite philosophers, Lieven Decock and our very own Helen de Cruz (and a few others), work on it. (Undoubtedly part of the lack of interest is recent, philosophical abhorrence of relativism, but the thesis has not disappeared from linguistics and psychology.)* A charismatic economist, Keith Chen, rediscovers a version of it in economics by focusing on the surprising impact of linguistic structure and financial activity (saving rates)--here's a popular video. (HT Hülya Eraslan; I ignore my methodological qualms today.) In the article quoted in the epigraph above (it's his conclusion), Coetzee is interested in the version -- he attributes it directly to Whorf -- that "we see nature along lines laid down by our native languages." I call this version, the "narrow Whorf thesis" (to distinguish it from broader claims about linguistic/cultural relativism and also Whorf's explanation for the narrow Whorf thesis.)
Now, what does the narrow Whorf thesis have to do with Newton and Coetzee?
A draft summary of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been leaked to the press. Although I don't have access to the draft itself, the reporting alone is interesting, but also potentially confusing to the average layperson. The New York Times tells us that "An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades," and quotes the document as saying, "It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010." We are also told that whereas in 2007, "the chances were at least 90 percent that human activities were the cause" of climate change, saying that now in 2013 "the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause." Reuters words this slightly differently: "it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities - chiefly the burning of fossil fuels - are the main cause of warming since the 1950s." But what do the phrases "near certainty," "extremely likely," "95 percent odds," "95 percent likely" mean? [the emphasis is mine in all of the above quotes]. In this context, I think they all mean the same thing, but that's not entirely obvious.