Mark Perakh made a very silly comment at Panda’s Thumb about the philosophy of science:
… let me evince my (admittedly controversial) view of philosophy of science. I dare to claim that the sole value of philosophy of science is its entertaining ability. I doubt that all the multiple opuses debating various aspects of the philosophy of science have ever produced even a minute amount of anything that could be helpful for a scientist, be he/she physicist, biologist, geologist, you name it.
Everybody’s favourite philosopher of biology the Albino Aussie AnthropoidTM posted a spirited riposte on his blog, which stimulated me to the following thought as a sort of footnote:
The following is a list of people who wrote on the philosophy of science in the 17th century. The list has no pretensions to being complete and it is in no particular order, although vaguely chronological. The educated reader might be aware that one or other of those on the list also made one or two minor contributions to the sciences.
Simon Stevin, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Blaise Pascal, Isaac Beeckman, René Descartes, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton.
8 responses to “Philosophising scientists or scientific philosophers in the 17th century.”
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Yes, but I am sure the philosophy-of-science-bashers (of whose number I am not) would say that the gentlemen you list made their important contributions to science when they were doing science, rather than philosophising!
Then you would have to literally go through their works selecting a sentence here, half a sentence there, a paragraph from that page and nearly the whole of the following one, because they did their philosophising as part and parcel of their scientific work and in fact a lot of their scientific work would not have been possible without the philosophical foundations that they themselves created to build their science on.
The same is true of any innovators in science in any century. A couple of examples necessary? James Clerk Maxwell, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr…I could go on but I think I have made my point.
There’s a more substantive criticism: The line between science and philosophy of science wasn’t as clear cut as it is now. Moreover, many of the people on your list are classic Renaissance men who worked in many fields. The fact that they also did phil sci isn’t evidence of much without further analysis.
As I’ve already written once above all of the people on my list did philosophy of science as an integral part of their science and in fact without having done so their science would not have been possible. All science has an extensive and necessary metaphysical fundament and those that follow new paths in science, as did all of those on my list, must perforce reconfigure that fundament in order to justify their novelties.
This is part of the problem with some of the replies to John’s post – trying to divide the world into separate categories. Is it religion, philosophy, science, etc. In the comments, some people are saying “the existence of god” is a religious question, but “the nonexistence of god” is not a religious question. If god is by definition undefinable, then you can’t test whether god exists. Is this what a religious question amounts to – a question with no answer?
People who have had strokes are not directly aware of the absence of feeling in parts of their body because the absence of feeling is not the same thing as the awareness of the absence of feeling. It is much the same with ignorance about the role of philosophy in the history of science. If you’ve had a narrowly technical education, you’re not going to be aware of the world of things you’ve never encountered. There are phantom pains in missing limbs, but such afflictions don’t trouble serpents and other legless creatures.
A lovely analogy Jim.