Massimo Pugliucci on philosophy and natural science

This is a very nice essay (h/t to Shannon Spaulding on Facebook), with many things relevant to the discussion in the comments to Cameron Buckner’s post from last month. An excerpt:

I had (naively, as it turns out) assumed that having more than a quarter century of experience in science, but also having done the hard work of going back to graduate school to build philosophy creds, would mean that as a philosopher of science I would encounter a generally friendly atmosphere: the scientists would be interested in what I had to say as a philosopher, because of my reputation in their own field; and the philosophers would be happy to have a real scientist in their midst who had taken their discipline seriously enough to go back to school for it. Instead, more often than not, I found the opposite to be true: a number of my new colleagues in philosophy think of me as too much of a scientist (I keep asking the perennially annoying question: “but isn’t this a matter of empirical evidence?”), while my old colleagues in the sciences see me as lost (i.e., prematurely retired) to armchair speculation (always asking them: “but isn’t that an epistemological or metaphysical assumptions that you are making?”).

Okay, it isn’t quite as bad as all that. I’ve received plenty of friendly smiles and encouragements on both sides of the divide, which has been immensely gratifying. Still, the cross-divide suspiciousness is always lurking just out of sight — and sometimes it actually hits you directly in the face.

My adventures in sliding back and forth between science and philosophy have taught me a lot about how the academic world works, and of course about just how differently people may think when they are immersed in a disciplinary echo chamber constituted of their close colleagues and graduate students.

Going back to the two parenthetical questions I asked above, many scientists are genuinely puzzled by the idea that some of what they do is based on philosophical assumptions that lie outside of their purview, and about which a number of colleagues in philosophy departments have thought long and hard (and have something interesting to say).

Back to Top