Massimo Pigliucci is one of the deeper thinkers in the evolution camp (his book, Evolution: The Extended Synthesis, is well worth your time to read). In a recent article Pigliucci does a great job of picking apart deGrasse Tyson’s recent string of attacks on philosophy. If you haven’t heard what deGrasse Tyson has been saying, don’t worry, Pigliucci quotes him at length.
Here is a summary of some of Pigliucci’s points:
- Philosophy is about the tools of thought. This doesn’t directly discover new laws of physics, but it does give us the framework to do so.
- Philosophy does make progress, though not always in the sense of figuring out problems. Philosophy is much more multidimensional, and it often makes progress by pointing out certain ways of thinking that don’t work together, or new dimensions of thinking worth considering.
- The objection that philosophy has been debating the same things for centuries is no less true of science. Cosmology has been debating the origin of the Universe since the Greeks, and biology has been studying the nature of adaptation since Aristotle.
- Many of philosophy’s questions, even for philosophy of science, are different from those of science itself, so it is unsurprising that there isn’t a lot of direct impact all of the time.
One thing that philosophy of science can do that science itself has a harder time doing is letting the public know how seriously the public should take various scientific findings. A philosopher can better understand when a methodology may make a scientific finding less applicable than researchers may think. Pigliucci pointed out that philosophy of science tells us why science worked or didn’t work in the past. I think that a good place for philosophers of science today would be to tell us what currently isn’t working out and why.