This week, we’re discussing the first four chapters of George Reisch’s book, How the Cold War Transformed Philosophy of Science, Don Howard’s “Two Left Turns Make a Right” (from Logical Empiricism in North America, which also has several other great essays), and Alan Richardson’s “Engineering Philosophy of Science: American Pragmatism and Logical Empiricism in the 1930s”
In the Introduction to Science, Truth, and Democracy, Philip Kitcher begins,
From time to time, when I explain to a new acquaintance that I’m a philosopher of science, my interlocutor will nod agreeably and remark that that surely means I’m interested in the ethical status of various kinds of scientific research, the impact that science has had on our values, or the role that the sciences play in contemporary democracies. Although this common response hardly corresponds to what professional philosophers of science have done for the past decades, or even centuries, it is perfectly comprehensible. (xi, emphasis added)
And later, he describes his book “as an attempt to venture into areas that philosophers of science have neglected“(xiii, likewise).
One of the goals of this week’s readings is to call into question the historical claim that the sort of topics discussed by Kitcher (and likewise, by Longino, Kourany, etc.) have been generally neglected by philosophers of science.
In this history, three figures loom large in my mind:
- Otto Neurath—Key player in the Vienna Circle and the Unity of Science movement
- John Dewey—America’s foremost philosopher and intellectual in the 1930’s, leader of Pragmatism.
- William Malisoff—Russian-born American biochemist and founding editor of the journal Philosophy of Science
These three philosophers, their associates, followers, and students bear the bulk of the responsibility for the creation of philosophy of science as an area of focus in philosophy. Coming from different traditions, with somewhat different agendas, and sometimes at odds, these philosophers had several things in common. One of the shared links is a strong interest in the relationship between science, values, and politics. Expressed differently in the work of each, all showed a deep interest in the power of science for social liberation, the morally and politically responsible practice of science, science policy, and science planning.
One could argue, on this basis, that the questions that Kitcher assumes have been neglected by philosophers of science for decades or centuries are precisely the questions at the core, at least from a historical point of view, of the discipline.