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.
The following three sub-fields are highly specialized: Ancient philosophy, seventeenth/eighteenth century philosophy, and philosophy of physics. The following sub-fields have a low level of specialization: metaphilosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of probability, philosophy of the social sciences, decision theory, and philosophy of race and gender. Highly specialized sub-fields tend to require extensive knowledge in some area beyond the typical training of a philosopher, and outside of philosophy proper.--Brad Wray.
Brad Wray, a Kuhnian-naturalistic philosopher of science, has mined the PhilPapers data with an eye toward "the degree of specialization in each area of specialization" in the discipline. (Wray is a bit too confident that this is a "representative sample of the profession;" I worry about selection and, especially, geographical effects; even so the numbers are pretty large (3,226 people in total and 1,803 'philosophy faculty or PhD') so that the results can be illuminating if used with caution.)
Wray: "The degree of specialization of an area is a relative measure of how specialized a particular area is" and is calculated as follows: "The number of people who claim the area as their primary area of specialization/The number of people who claim the area as an area of specialization." I have posted a chunk of the abstract, which contains the core results, in the epigraph above. One of Wray's finding would not have surprised Adam Smith: "an analysis of the data suggests that the size of a specialization is correlated with the degree of specialization."
Wray's crucial result (which seems to have been explored at the prompting of a referee) is this one: "a high degree of specialization is the exception, not the norm in philosophical specialties. Many specialties seem to depend, to a significant degree, on the involvement of many who work in the area but who do not identify the area as their primary area of specialization." Of course, this says nothing about the way in which specialists set the agenda with a specialization.
Either way, this data suggests that there are still quite a few generalists in philosophy (it is amusing to me that I work in a 'specialist' area because us 'early modernists' cover two hundred years of systematic philosophy with ongoing discussions pertaining to M&E, value, science, and increasingly philosophy of religion). The question as to what degree Wray's pattern is born out by publication and citation-data is worth exploring in the future.
One can’t help but share in
Chagnon’s frustration at the hasty decision of the majority of his disciplinary
peers to disown its historical connection to any branch of the complex and
variegated scientific tradition. After all, until very recently (and to some
extent to this day still in languages such as French and German), a ‘science’
was any relatively systematic body of knowledge, anything the goal or product
of which was scientia, and it is only
in the very most recent times that the notion has been reduced to the figure of
somber men seeking to run the world on the basis of claims of unassailable
expertise. Yet the cartoon version of science that Chagnon proposes in
response, in its total failure to recognize that there might be special
problems of theory-ladenness, power inequality, looping effects, prejudice --in
a word, all those factors that make the scientific study of humans a more
delicate matter than the study of other domains of nature--, can easily make
one wish to take the ‘postmodern’ turn oneself, if only to get away from this
astoundingly simplistic pretense of scientificity.--Justin Smith (writing about Napoleon
Chagnon’s book, Noble Savages: My Life
among Two Dangerous Tribes- The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists (Simon
& Schuster, 2013).
Justin is one of the leading historians of philosophy of my generation. He is also a staunch defender of the fact that "one can in fact approach the subject matter
of anthropology naturalistically, using the conceptual tools of European
traditions of thought, and still come up with theoretically sophisticated
accounts of indigenous beliefs that remain nonetheless sensitive to the actual
concerns, to the ‘voices’, of the people being studied." (He also wants to bring some anthropological methods into the history of philosophy.)
If this collection leaves it unclear just what naturalized metaphysics
comes to, its advocates are at least making a serious attempt to engage
with our pre-eminent knowledge-producing disciplines. Newton famously
compared his efforts to those of a boy on the seashore who succeeded in
picking up a smoother pebble or a prettier shell while the great ocean
of truth lay all undiscovered before him. While naturalist
metaphysicians are at sea trying to oversee the reconstruction of
Neurath's boat, many a contemporary analytic metaphysician remains on
the beach embellishing his or her own sand castle, oblivious to the
incoming tide.--Richard Healey.
I mentioned Healey's review favorably a few days ago. Even so, the polemical closing paragraph above, which gives voices to "the deep suspicion" of "many naturalistically inclined philosophers," is unfair and dangerous myth. Before I turn to argue this, some terminological clarification. Healey's review is about a book about "scientific metaphysics" and he calls the practitioners of it, "naturalist metaphysicians," which are contrasted with so-called "analytic metaphysicians." He never settles on definitions, but after some empirical analysis, he writes, "Whatever naturalized metaphysics comes to, it is clearly less enamored
with logical analysis of language but pays much closer attention to
actual science than a lot of what goes by the name of analytic
metaphysics." This is a decent first approximation (and captures nicely the contrast between those that, say, start-from-David Lewis and those that, say, develop their views from grappling with the Scientific Image, or Structure).*
[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).
[My wife is a physician-PhD, so I doubt I am an impartial observer here.--ES]
In reality, medical care during pregnancy seemed to be one long list
of rules. Being pregnant was a good deal like being a child again. There
was always someone telling me what to do, but the recommendations from
books and medical associations were vague and sometimes contradictory.
It started right away. "You can only have two cups of coffee a day." I
wondered why. What did the numbers say about how risky one, two or three
cups were? This wasn't discussed anywhere.
The key to good decision making is evaluating
the available information—the data—and combining it with your own
estimates of pluses and minuses. As an economist, I do this every day.
It turns out, however, that this kind of training isn't really done much
in medical schools. Medical school tends to focus much more,
appropriately, on the mechanics of being a doctor--Emily Oster in WSJ [HT Diana Weinert Thomas via Facebook].
Oster's editorial is a pre-publication to a commercial book. It's supposed to be provocative. Indeed, it 'ticks off' all the 'right boxes:' babies, a desire for self-ownership/autonomy ("Pregnant women...want to assess risks for themselves and make their own best decisions"), rejects scientific over-reach ("fuzzy science and half-baked research"), embraces the good life ("a glass of wine every now and then, plenty of coffee, exercise when I wanted it") etc. Her editorial also offers a glimpse into the eugenic ideals of the new epistemic elite: "the other big concern with alcohol [consumption during pregnancy] is low IQ" of the child. (Fetal alcohol syndrom is not just about IQ.)
Evelyn Fox Keller (whom I cited yesterday) has long been one of my favorite philosophers. No small part of that attraction has been her critique of the search for "master molecules." As I put it here in the article I did on her for The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, a "master molecule" is
an isolated and transcendent command centre
whose unidirectional commands account for the order of an otherwise chaotic or
passive material. Against all such hylomorphism – which has been consistently gendered in Western
culture and science (the active command centre figured as masculine and the
passive or chaotic matter figured as feminine) – Keller points us to the study of the
morphogenetic patterns of complex interactive systems, that is, to processes of
immanent self-organisation across multiple levels.
So I was greatly interested in recently coming across these 2009 lectures, where Keller writes about a stage in the origin of life that falls between physical self-organization and cellular autopoiesis, what she calls "smart matter":
[UPDATE 8 August, 2:25 pm CDT: comments by Roberta Millstein and by "bizarre" have convinced me that the author of the review, David Haig, is better seen as *diagnosing* tough guyism in his neo-Darwinist colleagues rather than as exemplifying it. My thanks to them for pushing me to see this. I'll leave the post as is -- for the record, as it were -- but ask readers to keep this change of view in mind in reading it.]
This is a fine review of Transformations of Lamarckism, ed. Gissis and Jablonka (MIT, 2011), but its conclusion is somewhat marred by a classic flaw: it attributes an "emotional reaction" to its targets without acknowledging that its own position is also emotionally inflected rather than being simply "intellectual." We can call this the self-denying political affect* of tough guyism.
[X-posted at Prosblogion] In the epistemology of religion, authors like Swinburne and Alston have argued influentially that mystical experience of God provides prima facie justification for some beliefs we hold about God on the basis of such experiences, e.g., that he loves us, is sovereign etc. Belief in God, so they argue, is analogous to sense perception. If I get a mystical experience that God loves me, prima facie, I am justified in believing that God loves me.
Alston relies critically on William James' Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). This seminal, but now dated psychological study draws on self-reports by mystics to characterize mystical experience. The mystical experiences James (and others) describe are unexpected, unbidden; they immediately present something (God) to one's experience, i.e., they provide a direct, unmediated awareness of God. More recent empirical work on the phenomenology of religious experience, such as that conducted by Tanya Luhrmann and other anthropologists, suggests that ordinary sense experience is a poor and misleading analogy for religious experience.
Even most Kuhn-haters are committed to the popular idea that an important measure of scientific truth is consensus among the experts. The downside of this commitment is on display in Roberta Millstein's important piece on "the removal of gray wolves from endangered species status in the U.S." One could debate the merits of the proposal, of course, but a scary aspect of her account is the manufacture of scientific consensus by a government-agency. I quote the relevant bits first, and comment below the fold:
The problem is, as the authors of the proposal acknowledge, that
there is a lack of consensus among scientists on what species are, what
subspecies are, and how many species and subspecies of wolves there are.
Nonetheless, they declare that one paper, Chambers et. al (2012),
"is the only peer-reviewed synthesis of its kind conducted for North
American wolves and summarizes and synthesizes the best available
scientific information on the issue."...Chambers et al. (2012) appears in the journal North American Fauna,
a publication of the FWS [Fish and Wildlife Service] itself; it is unclear why the paper wasn't
sent to a more recognized peer-reviewed journal in the field, such as Conservation Biology. According to the website for North American Fauna,
Chambers et al. (2012) is the only publication since 1991; it appears
as though the journal was reborn specifically to publish the wolf study
only to languish again afterward....In short,
the FWS service has taken one of the most well-studied animals, about
which there is great controversy...and benighted one paper, authored by itself (perhaps by some of the
same people who wrote the proposal) as "the best available scientific
information"....What is the urgency – so urgent that the FWS must hastily designate
itself as the source of the best available science – to make policy when
the science is so unsettled?"
On June 13, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed removing the gray wolf, Canis lupus, from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Under this proposal, the species of gray wolves – which was at one time protected across the 48 contiguous U.S. states – would no longer be so protected. Only one subspecies of gray wolf would be granted protection: the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi). This would, in effect, protect only 75 of the wolves in the U.S. (the current size of the wild population of Mexican wolves). The FWS is soliciting comments on this proposed ruling here, where you can also find the text of the proposal. If you find this proposed ruling as problematic as I do, I would urge you to submit a comment.
Philosophers of biology such as myself, many of whom are well-versed in the challenges of defining the terms "species," "subspecies," and "population," not to mention skills in evaluating arguments, are particularly well placed to see the flaws in the proposed ruling. I was first alerted to potential problems in the proposal upon reading this editorial, which blamed the ruling on pressure from "a loose coalition of hunters' groups, outfitters, and ranchers." While I don't have any evidence for this assertion, after reading through the ill-defended proposal one has to wonder, "Why this? Why now? And why has the fact-finding process of the Endangered Species Act been corrupted with a 'government-manufactured scientific consensus'?" (thanks to Eric Schliesser for the felicitous phrase).
"Horn 1: no predicates carve at the joints. Here only two attractive options seem open. One is Goodmania: all talk of objecive joints in reality is simply mistaken." T. Sider (2011) Writing The Book of the World, 186.
"Let it be clear that the question here is not of the possible worlds that many of my contemporaries, especially those near Disneyland, are busy making and manipulating." N. Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, 2.
One nugget in the Healy citation data is the near-absence of Nelson Goodman. The only work by Goodman found in the top 500 is The Structure of Appearance (1951) with 11 citations in the H4 (between 1993-2013). No mention of Goodman's Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (over 3000 citation according to google.scholar) or the foundational work in mereology; there is no harm--even Harvard professors can be forgotten (recall Jon on Collingwood paradoxicality; it seems Goodman's reputation went into decline around 1996). A more serious matter is that Goodman's Languages of Art (published in 1976), which over 4000 citations, is invisible in the H4. So, this tells you at once that nominalism is discussed and aesthetics is seriously neglected in our supposedly, generalist journals. This should come us no surprise (recall this post earlier in the week.) Given the significance of the widely deployed aesthetic principles embedded in the theoretical virtues of simplicity, elegance, harmony, this absence is something of a scandal (over and beyond the intrinsic value of aesthetics). (By the way: in the Stanford Encyclopedia, Goodman's aesthetics is the only entry primarily devoted to Goodman--it even contains a biographical sketch, as if the editors doubt there ever will be a systematic Goodman entry.)
The absence of Goodman's (1978) Ways of Worldmaking (WOW) is in some sense more important. (For the record: I never met Goodman.) Let me explain.
over sixty years it has been widely accepted that twinning, the process
that results in identical or conjoined twins, normally occurs about two
weeks after fertilization, or conception. This assumption has been used
as a premise in what philosophers call the "twinning argument." The
idea behind the twinning argument is that since one thing cannot be
identical to two things, a twin cannot be identical to a zygote, or
fertilized egg. Arguing from that
to the general conclusion that none of us is identical to a zygote is
more complicated and involves the further premise that it is not fully
determined at the time of fertilization whether a zygote will undergo
Brian Weatherson has done some nice data crunching of his own inspired by the Healy-data (eliciting an important comment by Jennifer Nagel), especially here. In particular, he looked at citations in a broader range of journals than the H4. Now Brian's crucial point is: "Lesson 1: It’s easy to be wrong about what people are talking about, if you try to generalise from personal experience." This is important to keep in mind for all of us that need to make decisions about the future of the field (i.e., future job candidates and those that supervise them.) Brian is a privileged observer having helped shape cutting-edge M&E as a presence at a variety of top departments. (I made a similar observation last week in light of converging evidence.) His data also show that the recent debate over philosophical intuitions (see Catarina [and Mohan and here]) is generating a lot of discussion outside of the H4. This is part of a larger phenomenon: while H4 articles are cutting edge (by stipulation), their citations are a lagging indicator of current trends (see also here and here). This may be due, in part, to their relatively slow refereeing process (thus, building in delay from submission to acceptance), or it may be due to in-crowd refereeing (so that in effect citations of high status males are privileged).
Here I focus on Brian's surprise about "336 citations for a paper about mechanisms!" This is a reference to "Thinking about mechanisms" by P Machamer, L. Darden, CF Craver in Philosophy of science (2000) [here for direct access]. (Hereafter MDC) There is no evidence that Brian thinks MDC does not merit attention. Brian's lack of awareness of the importance of this paper is indicative of a genuine split between: (a) post-Lewisian folk that take the metaphysics and epistemology of science, especially inspired by text-book physics, seriously and (b) those of us that focus more on scientific practice, past and present, in our philosophy of science, epistemology, and even metaphysics. Moreover, Brian's tendency to suggest that the high citation-rate for MDC must be due to a non-philosophical audience suggests (with N=1) that folk in (a) tend to underestimate how large the community of (b) is within philosophy.