Hey, this phil sci jaw isn’t the GapYawnder you were expecting:
This month, we [Routledge, publishers] asked Alex Rosenberg – Professor of Philosophy at Duke Univversity and author of Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction – to tell us about why philosophy of science matters, and got some answers we didn’t expect!
Here. As in
A.R.: I think that the humanities are in serious trouble. In our culture science has secured more cachet and more resources owing to its successes in technological application and to its ever-expanding explanatory reach. Meanwhile the humanities have lost confidence in their own ‘canons’ for various reasons, and have not found a substitute. Too many humanists, following their French colleagues, have sought to fill this vacuum with ‘theory’– scientific-sounding but ultimately unintelligible babble, perhaps in the hope that it will be mistaken by students and the public for “science,” and rewarded as such. Additionally, they have sought to wrap themselves in the mantle of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions, meanwhile hoping that Kuhn’s book would also strip the mask away from science’s claim to objectivity and progress. The study of the philosophy of science is one important tool for demystifying this stratagem. Indeed, it is the most important one.Routledge: What was the “Sokal hoax” and how did that affect both the humanities and scientific research?
A.R.: One of the symptoms of the trend in the humanities described in my last response was provided by a physics professor, Alan Sokal, who produced a “pastiche”—an intentionally silly imitation—of the sort of ‘theory’ that humanists in the 90s were taking seriously. He called it “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” and he submitted to one of the important journals in this ‘theory’-besotted part of the humanities. I have to admit the journal was edited by famous scholars at my own university. They accepted it (without refereeing), and published it, after which Sokal revealed his hoax. Of course critics of the latest fashion in this high-prestige area of the humanities announced that the hoax revealed that the emperor had no clothes. Meanwhile the editors complained that Sokal should be condemned for academic dishonesty. They thereby showed no sense of humor or shame. Alas, among humanists the scandal was soon the subject of amnesia. Meanwhile scientists and philosophers of science had better things to do than continue to point to the emperor’s nudity.
Routledge: What sort of challenges does the field face now and what challenges do you think will be most salient in the future?A.R.: At the research frontiers of our field one big set of problems is in the philosophy of physics—trying to make sense of quantum mechanics—a theory that combines the greatest imaginable accuracy and breadth of predictive and explanatory precision, with complete unintelligibility. Add the testability problems and the multiverse possibilities of string theory, and it’s obvious why the philosophy of physics is ‘hot.’ Another area is my own special interest, the philosophy of biology, where questions about extending Darwinian theory beyond its original area of application—the evolution of lineages of individual organisms—to other levels of organization and even other domains, such as human behavior, cognition, morality, culture generally. Finally, the financial crisis has generated increased interest in the philosophy of science’s application to economics and the questions about its scientific prospects. Developments in each of these sciences and their cognate fields (for econ it would be cognitive social psychology, and evolutionary game theory) will set the agenda of the philosophy of science in the near future, I think.
Evolutionary psychology?! And he expects to be taken seriously by thoughtful people? He is also the author of forthcoming The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions.
Wow. People who live in gas houses couldn’t know zones.