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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Philosophy of biology

Peter Godfrey-Smith interviewed by Richard Marshall
3AM Magazine
Originally published April 11, 2014

Peter Godfrey-Smith is the go-to guy in the philosophy of biology. He is forever evolving his thoughts on externalism, complexity and why we shouldn’t expect a settled outcome, the contribution of pragmatists to philosophy of biology, why Fodor gets it wrong, on how best to understand what science is, on Darwinian theory, Darwinian populations, on why Richard Dawkins and David Hull are wrong and on the contribution of philosophy to biology. Like Cool Hand Luke, this one bites like a ‘gator!


PGS: It’s fine with me if the biologists (and other scientists) get on with their scientific work without input from philosophers. Philosophy does often contribute ideas and theory-sketches to science, which then acquire a life of their own in the new setting, but this “incubator” role is a secondary role for philosophy. The same applies to the “clarification” of scientific concepts by philosophers. It happens, and sometimes it’s helpful for scientists, and that’s a good thing, but it’s not central to philosophy. I don’t think of philosophy as essentially a field that contributes to other fields. Philosophy is, roughly speaking, its own field, though it has a special status because it’s so integrative – because the aim of philosophy is to get a coherent and defensible picture of everything going on. I very much like the one-line description of philosophy given by Sellars: philosophy is about “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” If we take this view on board, it implies that philosophy will always be interacting with the sciences and drawing on them, but it won’t be swallowed up by them.

So I have no problem with scientists who do their scientific work while ignoring philosophy. It’s a different matter when scientists start trying to answer philosophical questions, or trying to distill philosophical messages from their work. Sometimes they do this well, sometimes badly. Either way, then they are part of the philosophical conversation.

The entire article is here.

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