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RS35 - What is Philosophy of Science Good For?

Release date: May 22, 2011

In this episode we explore philosophy of science: What is it about, and should it matter to scientists? Massimo and Julia also discuss some of the most important questions in philosophy of science now, and some historical debates between leading philosophers of science, like Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, over how science should or does work.  

So is philosophy of science, as Richard Feynman famously quipped, "as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds?" Or was philosopher Daniel Dennett closer to the truth when he said, "There is no such thing as philosophy-free science, only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on-board unexamined?"

Comment on the episode teaser.

Julia's pick:  "The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable?"

Massimo's pick: The blog entry 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers

Reader Comments (5)

Depressing to hear the call for philosophers to study quantum physics for a few years before jumping into that space instead of simply referring them to post-modern philosophers, who can get well-intentioned readers to the same place in less than a month. Part of the problem I think is the idea that truth, falsehood, reality etc...need to go the way of all absolutes. Not necessarily down the chute, but at a minimum be considered in context of its consumers. But it is not so radical, this idea, it simply means prefixing the word 'science' with the word 'our'.

May 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schreier

Regarding the different ways of doing science and the different views of Kuhn and Popper, in most cases there is no point of using the falsification principle. Once a parafigm is established trying to falsify it is a waste of time and not usefull. Falsifiability is reasonable when a new theory is presented and in fact this how it works. When the theory of relativity was presented scientist did try to falsify it with no success. Why should someone try to falsify evolution today? However, when results from an established theory raise questions or are not consistent with each other than scientist start to look at the roots of the theory to see if something is wrong.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGil

“Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds."
—Usually attributed to Richard Feynman
(or somebody else who has never heard of songbird habitat preservation.)

October 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I agree with Gil. Conversations don't keep harking back to the foundational construct once it becomes part of common ground with the caveat that if there is something fishy, you look deeper at why that is.

I think the most elegant way to combine all the topical things that were discussed in this podcast is to consider things with a clearer notion of what pragmatism is, since Massimo mentioned the term. Peirce wrote: ""[I intend] to make a philosophy like that of Aristotle, that is to say, to outline a theory so comprehensive that, for a long time to come, the ENTIRE work of human reason, in philosophy of every school and kind, in mathematics, in psychology, in physical science, in history, in sociology, and in whatever other department there may be, shall appear as the filling up of its details."

He goes on to say that "If you carefully consider the question of pragmatism you will see that it is nothing else than the question of the logic of abduction." In abduction, then, you have a syllogism that structures all problems in a way that places great value on rationality and where ALL problems, such as that involving speciation or whether one should use falsification or otherwise, are displayed in a manner such that everyone can know better the context. That is, abduction illustrates how the scientific method is both nondiscursive/discursive, intuitive/reasoned, system1/system2 and that they necessarily follow in series.

If the goal of science is motivated by truth seeking ("Only everybody can know the truth"-Goethe; "The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth"-Peirce), and if science is considered the most reliable and efficient way towards it, then we should be clearer about whether and how three simple lines can affect the whole of natural science to everyone's satisfaction. Abduction is a tool of economy, which is useful since philosophy is sometimes referred as discourse taken to its limit. That is, it's good for getting to that limit faster.

January 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJerry Rhee
Ornithology certainly benefits birds. Ornithologists investigate bird diseases and behavior, and this can benefit bird veterinarian care and habitat preservation.

We don't know enough about the limits of science to declare that we know the limits of science.
January 31, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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