Tue, Feb 24, 2009, 11:42pm What and How
Nature » Philosophy
(Last updated: Wed, Feb 25, 2009, 6:02am)
T
here's a book, the History of 20th Century Philosophy of Science, that starts immediately with the following sentence:

The aim of philosophy of science is to understand what scientists did and how they did it, where history of science shows that they performed basic research very well.

This stopped me dead in my tracks. It's just so wrong, in several different ways, and it's only the first sentence. I was going to ask if anyone thought I should bother continuing, but I started skimming the rest of the book and have decided it won't be worth my effort, mostly because I'm already familiar with the ground it covers and I thought it was going to have a different focus.

But it's perhaps the first time that the first sentence of a book made me snap-to and think that perhaps I shouldn't read it. Maybe more books should have such clear warning signs. No slight intended to the author, it's just clearly a work that I should pass on.

  • John (Wed, February 25th, 2009, 4:32am UTC)
    I'd be interested to hear your single-sentence characterization of philosophy vs. history of science (I presume that you feel you could compose a superior one).

  • Jeff (Wed, February 25th, 2009, 5:03am UTC)
    It's not a history vs philosophy of science issue for me, they are both excellent complementary areas of study. My problem is primarily with the first half of his sentence, about what philosophy of science is about. That said, I also have a problem that he would claim that one should only make use of the history of science where the research was performed very well. There is much to learn from both the good and bad in the history of science.

    But to get back to the main issue, the idea that philosophy of science is there to understanding what scientists did and how they did it, is just far too narrow a vision for the field. It need not even be about scientists or the nature of research at all, though that certainly characterizes several areas of study.

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