What is Philosophy of Science Good For?
The first of occasional columns on science and philosophy by Massimo Pigliucci.
“There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination.”
(Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995)
I venture to say that few philosophers seriously question the usefulness of their own pursuit, and philosophers of science are probably as self-confident as any. But the question rightly asked by the public at large (when it actually pays attention to such matters), and in particular by scientists, is: what is philosophy of science good for? I think there are at least three, somewhat interrelated, areas of inquiry for a philosopher interested in science. These are: firstly, investigations into the very nature of science; secondly, the analysis of key scientific concepts as used by scientists; and lastly what could be called ‘science criticism’ – despite the obvious and often unwelcome smell of postmodernism-gone-bad that such a label may carry.
I will eventually devote more than one column to each of these three branches of philosophy of science, but let’s take a brief tour of the whole subject first, beginning with the study of the nature of science.