Sometimes philosophers complain that scientists do philosophy badly and that philosophers may thereby be underrated. The idea is that people could have better philosophy if they just turned to academic philosophers rather than the popular scientists that have done philosophy badly. (Perhaps analogous complaints about philosophers circulate among scientists). In this post, I want to turn our attention to scientists that do philosophy well and philosophers that do science well.
Many philosophers don’t admit (or realize?) that some scientists do philosophy as well as or better than the average philosophers. They not only deliver clear and concise arguments, but their arguments are made more cogent by their ability to discern the breadth and quality of the relevant evidence, methods, and analyses.
These well-rounded scientists can make a philosopher feel insecure! After all, if I were hiring an academic philosopher, I would prefer to offer the position to the well-rounded scientist than many philosophers. The well-rounded scientist simply offers more in their research, teaching, and service. I get the sense that I am not alone in this preference. I hear it from university presidents, administrators, scientists, and even some philosophers.
Insofar as this preference for well-rounded scientists is widespread and/or growing, philosophers will do well to become more competitive with what many scientists offer: not just staying up to date about the relevant evidence, but learning the latest methods as well as their applications and misapplications. That way philosophers can competently distinguish better and worse evidence/analyses when constructing/revising their views and the arguments therefor. Philosophers who instead prioritize more armchair, fact-free theory building offer much less to their students and colleagues (who can learn how to do fact-free theory building for free from the many public domain instances of it).
Of course, there are some scientists in fields like Experimental Philosophy and Philosophy of Science—I call them philosopher-scientists. They are often trained and employed in Philosophy departments, but much like the well-rounded scientist, they can competently contribute to both science and philosophy—they can even synergize the best of philosophy and science to offer value that goes beyond the value of just the science and just the philosophy. It’s exciting stuff!
So here’s to the philosopher-scientists and well-rounded scientists out there! When I encounter you or your work, I feel as though I have found something rare and inspiring. It can help me stay motivated and grateful. Thank you!
If this post made you think of someone that strikes you as a well-rounded scientist or a philosopher-scientist, feel free to give them some recognition in the comments. Or maybe you can just send them this post to thank them for their work.