The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher

I am writing to inform readers of Brains about a recent volume titled The Philosophy of Philip Kitcher. Kitcher’s work has been influential in many areas of philosophy. This volume surveys a range of Kitcher’s work, by a well-known group of contributors. Subjects covered include philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mathematics, ethics, and philosophy of religion, and the volume includes Kitcher’s replies. While the volume considers Kitcher’s work as a whole, I will mention two chapters that may be of particular interest to readers of this blog.

A chapter by Jim Woodward discusses Kitcher’s views on explanation, unification, and how these relate to the notions of autonomy and multiple realization. Kitcher is well-known for his unificationist account of explanation—the idea that good explanations make use of argument patterns that are capable of being used over and over again and so unify the phenomena they explain. Woodward considers this approach in relation to other approaches to explanation, referencing work by Jaegwon Kim and Carl Hempel, and explaining where he agrees and disagrees. Those interested in recent work on explanation may find this chapter useful.

Michael Strevens’ chapter is another one worth mentioning. Kitcher’s antireductionist views have played an important role in debates about reductionism and the special sciences. Strevens focuses on Kitcher’s views in his “1953 and All That” paper that addresses antireductionism within biology. Strevens looks at a number of issues, arguing against Kitcher that we should prefer a version of reductionism that is compatible with explanatory autonomy. This chapter will be of interest to those concerned with debates about reductionism and higher-level explanations.

Other chapters examine such issues as scientific realism, functional explanation, science and democracy, and ethics. In all, the volume surveys Kitcher’s work over the years and its importance for several areas.

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