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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Philosophy in Science: Can philosophers of science permeate through science and produce scientific knowledge?

Pradeu, T., et al. (2021)
British Journal of the Philosophy of Science


Most philosophers of science do philosophy ‘on’ science. By contrast, others do philosophy ‘in’ science (‘PinS’), i.e., they use philosophical tools to address scientific problems and to provide scientifically useful proposals. Here, we consider the evidence in favour of a trend of this nature. We proceed in two stages. First, we identify relevant authors and articles empirically with bibliometric tools, given that PinS would be likely to infiltrate science and thus to be published in scientific journals (‘intervention’), cited in scientific journals (‘visibility’) and sometimes recognized as a scientific result by scientists (‘contribution’). We show that many central figures in philosophy of science have been involved in PinS, and that some philosophers have even ‘specialized’ in this practice. Second, we propose a conceptual definition of PinS as a process involving three conditions (raising a scientific problem, using philosophical tools to address it, and making a scientific proposal), and we ask whether the articles identified at the first stage fulfil all these conditions. We show that PinS is a distinctive, quantitatively substantial trend within philosophy of science, demonstrating the existence of a methodological continuity from science to philosophy of science.

From the Conclusion

A crucial and long-standing question for philosophers of science is how philosophy of science relates to science, including, in particular, its possible impact on science. Various important ways in which philosophy of science can have an impact on science have been documented in the past, from the influence of Mach, PoincarĂ© and Schopenhauer on the development of the theory of relativity (Rovelli [2018]) to Popper’s long-recognized influence on scientists, such as Eccles and Medawar, and some recent reflections on how best to organize science institutionally (e.g. Leonelli [2017]). Here, we identify and describe an
approach that we propose to call ‘PinS’, which adds another, in our view essential, layer to this picture.

By combining quantitative and qualitative tools, we demonstrate the existence of a corpus of articles by philosophers of science, either published in philosophy of science journals or in scientific journals, raising scientific problems and aiming to contribute to their resolution via the use of philosophical tools. PinS constitutes a subdomain of philosophy of science, which has a long history, with canonical texts and authors, but, to our knowledge, this is the first time this domain is delineated and analysed.