RS #35: What is philosophy of science good for?

In episode #35 of the Rationally Speaking podcast, Massimo and I explore philosophy of science: What is it about, and should it matter to scientists? We 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?”

2 Responses to RS #35: What is philosophy of science good for?

  1. Mike Gage says:

    I tend to go with Dennett’s view. I recently read Hawking and Mlodinow’s new book. Toward the beginning, they flatly stated “philosophy is dead.” They then went on to discuss a variety of topics that I would say are largely philosophical, including defending a type of realism.

  2. Alan Cooper says:

    I have always thought Feynman’s line was perfect – both at the superficial negative reading and in the more subtle positive interpretation that you alluded to in the podcast. While birds don’t need ornithologists to teach them to fly, an intelligent peregrine falcon might well appreciate that perhaps they do serve some other useful purposes – and I think the usefulness of philosophy to science is in some ways similar.

    So far as i can see, the philosophy of science doesn’t contribute anything useful to the actual predictive enterprise of science but it may help to increase public appreciation of that enterprise both by helping to express scientific theories in common language when correct, and when incorrect, by demonstrating to scientists where what they are saying is difficult for outsiders to interpret correctly.

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