Twentieth-century attempts to evaluate the philosophical signiﬁcance of Darwinism have been dominated by a pair of polar perspectives. At one extreme stand those who insist on the autonomy of philosophy and who conclude, with the early Wittgenstein that "Darwinâ€™s theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other hypothesis in natural science". At the other extreme are naturalists who maintain that "now that we know" this or that other fact about the cosmos, the human brain, or (most pertinently (...) for present purposes) the role of natural selection in hominid evolution, traditional philosophical problems are easily solved. Each of the opponents lives oﬀ the excesses of the other. Both also overlook the possibility of a wide variety of ways in which scientiﬁc ideas, including Darwinâ€™s, might play a useful, but partial, role in philosophical discussion. It has proven remarkably diﬃcult to give Darwin his due. (shrink)
Philosophy is often conceived in the Anglophone world today as a subject that focuses on questions in particular ‘‘core areas,’’ pre-eminently epistemology and metaphysics. This article argues that the contemporary conception is a new version of the scholastic ‘‘self-indulgence for the few’’ of which Dewey complained nearly a century ago. Philosophical questions evolve, and a first task for philosophers is to address issues that arise for their own times. The article suggests that a renewal of philosophy today should turn the (...) contemporary conception inside out, attending to and developing further the valuable work being done on the supposed ‘‘periphery’’ and attending to the ‘‘core areas’’ only insofar as is necessary to address genuinely significant questions. (shrink)
This article attempts to describe new directions for the general philosophy of science. In the opening section, I take stock of the current situation. The second and third parts explore science as a social enterprise, conceived first as the collective search for knowledge, and then as an institution within society.
The version of modest scientific realism I favor, real realism, does not depend on any weighty metaphysical doctrines about truth. It presupposes that we typically refer to objects that exist independently of ourselves. I argue that this approach can be reconciled with the insights of pragmatism, and that, in consequence, those inclined to pragmatism should have no quarrel with real realism.
In the spirit of James and Dewey, I ask what one might want from a theory of knowledge. Much Anglophone epistemology is centered on questions that were once highly pertinent, but are no longer central to broader human and scientific concerns. The first sense in which epistemology without history is blind lies in the tendency of philosophers to ignore the history of philosophical problems. A second sense consists in the perennial attraction of approaches to knowledge that divorce knowing subjects from (...) their societies and from the tradition of socially assembling a body of transmitted knowledge. When epistemology fails to use the history of inquiry as a laboratory in which methodological claims can be tested, there is a third way in which it becomes blind. Finally, lack of attention to the growth of knowledge in various domains leaves us with puzzles about the character of the knowledge we have. I illustrate this last theme by showing how reflections on the history of mathematics can expand our options for understanding mathematical knowledge. (shrink)
Militant modern atheism, whose most eloquent champion is Richard Dawkins, provides an effective and necessary critique of fundamentalist forms of religion and their role in political life, both within states and across national boundaries. Because it is also presented as a more general attack on religion (tout court), it has provoked a severe reaction from scholars who regard its conception of religion as shallow and narrow. My aim is to examine this debate, identifying insights and oversights on both sides.Two distinct (...) conceptions of religion are in play. For Dawkins and his allies (most notably Dan Dennett) religions are grounded in doctrines, propositions about supernatural entities, events and processes which the devout believe. Their beliefs prompt them to actions, which they support or rationalize by reference to the doctrines. Dawkins and Dennett view the acceptance of the doctrines as resting on cognitive misfiring — these are delusions to be outgrown or spells to be broken.By contrast, the religious scholars who criticize the militant atheists often view religion as centered in social practices that inform and enrich human lives. To the extent that there are doctrines that atheists might subject to epistemic evaluation, these are to be viewed as pieces of scaffolding, that are, in principle, dispensable.I argue that militant modern atheism is incomplete (and likely counter-productive) so long as it fails to attend systematically to the roles religion fulfills in human lives. Yet it is important to achieve public clarity about the literal falsehood of the doctrines on which fundamentalists rely. The challenge is to develop a well-articulated and convincing version of secular humanism. Meeting that challenge is, I claim, one of the central problems of philosophy today. (shrink)
Abstract: Philosophy is often conceived in the Anglophone world today as a subject that focuses on questions in particular “core areas,” pre-eminently epistemology and metaphysics. This article argues that the contemporary conception is a new version of the scholastic “self-indulgence for the few” of which Dewey complained nearly a century ago. Philosophical questions evolve, and a first task for philosophers is to address issues that arise for their own times. The article suggests that a renewal of philosophy today should turn (...) the contemporary conception inside out, attending to and developing further the valuable work being done on the supposed “periphery” and attending to the “core areas” only insofar as is necessary to address genuinely significant questions. (shrink)
Claims that science should be more democratic than it is frequently arouse opposition. In this essay, I distinguish my own views about the democratization of science from the more ambitious theses defended by Paul Feyerabend. I argue that it is unlikely that the complexity of some scientific debates will allow for resolution according to the methodological principles of any formal confirmation theory, suggesting instead that major revolutions rest on conflicts of values. Yet these conflicts should not be dismissed as irresoluble.
In this paper we make a proposal for reforming biomedical research that is aimed to align re-search more closely with the so-called fair-share principle according to which the proportions of global resources as-signed to different diseases should agree with the ratios of human suffering associated with those diseases.
In this paper we make a proposal for reforming biomedical research that is aimed to align research more closely with the so-called fair-share principle according to which the proportions of global resources assigned to different diseases should agree with the ratios of human suffering associated with those diseases.
Debates sometimes arise within democratic societies because of the fact that findings accepted in accordance with the standards of scientific research conflict with the beliefs of citizens. I use the example of the dispute about Darwinian evolutionary theory to explore what a commitment to democracy might require of us in circumstances of this kind. I argue that the existence of hybrid epistemologies – tendencies to acquiesce in scientific recommendations on some occasions and to defer to non-scientific authorities on others – (...) poses a serious problem for democratic decision-making. We need a shared conception of public reason, and it can only be secular. (shrink)
Recent debates about Intelligent Design have brought into high relief the huge schism between those who believe in Darwin and the power of science to understand the world, and those who look through the prism of religious faith. Why, asks eminent philosopher Philip Kitcher, does this debate continue to rage given that the scientific consensus in favor of Darwin is overwhelming? This accessible and elegant essay attempts to answer this question. Kitcher first presents the compelling evidence on behalf of Darwin's (...) evolutionary theory, bringing out with unprecedented clarity the structure of the reasoning that has convinced almost all educated people of its merits during the past century and a half. He then sets the current debate about Intelligent Design in historical context, showing that ID theory is really dead science. Explaining the scientific issues in an elegant and accessible way, Kitcher shows how crucial discoveries successively undermined the Creationist views about life on earth that were once considered scientific orthodoxy. Finally, Kitcher goes on to analyze the recurrent opposition to Darwinian ideas, arguing that they do present a genuine threat to those forms of religion that invoke divine providence. A Darwinian understanding of the history of life makes popular forms of religious faith, including most versions of Christianity and Judaism, hard to sustain. The dispute about Intelligent Design emerges as a symptom of a much deeper problem - the clash between the deep impulses to religion and the discoveries of the natural and human sciences. Kitcher contends that we cannot resolve that clash either by denying these discoveries or by brusquely overriding the underlying impulses. Somehow, we must develop a version of secular humanism that will prove genuinely satisfying. (shrink)
I argue that the title question needs to be taken seriously because there are important questions about how the scientific agenda should be set. Natural answers to the question – declarations of the proper autonomy of science or expressions of faith in market forces – are found inadequate. Instead, I propose a form of democracy with respect to scientific research that will avoid the obvious dangers of a tyranny of ignorance. I conclude with some modest proposals about how the ideal (...) of a democratic science might be implemented and with a response to common objections. (shrink)
Few musical works loom as large in Western culture as Richard Wagner's four-part Ring of the Nibelung. In Finding an Ending, two eminent philosophers, Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht, offer an illuminating look at this greatest of Wagner's achievements, focusing on its far-reaching and subtle exploration of problems of meanings and endings in this life and world. Kitcher and Schacht plunge the reader into the heart of Wagner's Ring, drawing out the philosophical and human significance of the text and the (...) music. They show how different forms of love, freedom, heroism, authority, and judgment are explored and tested as it unfolds. As they journey across its sweeping musical-dramatic landscape, Kitcher and Schacht lead us to the central concern of the Ring--the problem of endowing life with genuine significance that can be enhanced rather than negated by its ending, if the right sort of ending can be found. The drama originates in Wotan's quest for a transformation of the primordial state of things into a world in which life can be lived more meaningfully. The authors trace the evolution of Wotan's efforts, the intricate problems he confronts, and his failures and defeats. But while the problem Wotan poses for himself proves to be insoluble as he conceives of it, they suggest that his very efforts and failures set the stage for the transformation of his problem, and for the only sort of resolution of it that may be humanly possible--to which it is not Siegfried but rather Brünnhilde who shows the way. The Ring's ending, with its passing of the gods above and destruction of the world below, might seem to be devastating; but Kitcher and Schacht see a kind of meaning in and through the ending revealed to us that is profoundly affirmative, and that has perhaps never been so powerfully and so beautifully expressed. (shrink)
Stephen Jay Gould is rightly remembered for many different kinds of contributions to our intellectual life. I focus on his criticisms of uses of evolutionary ideas to defend inegalitarian doctrines and on his attempts to expand the framework of Darwinian evolutionary theory. I argue that his important successes in the former sphere are applications of the idea of local critique, grounded in careful attention to the details of the inegalitarian proposals. As he became more concerned with the second project, Gould (...) was inclined to suggest that the abuses of evolutionary ideas rested on an insufficiently expanded Darwinism. I suggest that what is valuable in Gould's contribution to general evolutionary theory is the original claim about punctuated equilibrium (advanced, with Niles Eldredge in1972), and the careful defense of that claim through the accumulation of paleontological evidence. I try to show that the more ambitious program of a hierarchical expansion of neo-Darwinism is misguided, and that the endeavor to go beyond local critique fails. (shrink)
Philip Kitcher is one of the leading figures in the philosophy of science today. Here he collects, for the first time, many of his published articles on the philosophy of biology, spanning from the mid-1980's to the present. The book's title refers to Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who was one of the first scientists to develop a theory of heredity. Mendel's work has been deeply influential to our understanding of our selves and our world, just as the study of (...) genetics today will have a profound and long-term impact on future scientific research. Kitcher's articles cover a broad range of topics with similar philosophical and social significance: sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, species, race, altruism, genetic determinism, and the rebirth of creationism in Intelligent Design. Kitcher's work on the intersection of biology and the philosophy of science is both unprecedented and wide-ranging, and will appeal not only to philosophers of science, but to scholars and students across disciplines. (shrink)
Every day, in laboratories in countries all around the globe, molecular biologists and their technical assistants manufacture new organisms. Some of these organisms are chimeras, expressing quite different properties in different clusters of their cells – flies or mice, for example, that contain both male and female tissues. Others are designed as factories for the manufacture of specific substances; thus it’s routine to build bacteria with special genetic fragments inserted into them, and to use the organisms so engineered to churn (...) out large quantities of proteins for medical, agricultural, or experimental purposes. This wide-ranging ability to create new forms of life depends on representations of biologically significant molecules, nucleic acids and proteins. The bio-engineers draw on maps that show the arrangement of genes, on reams of printout that identify the sequences of bases in particular regions of DNA, on pictures of molecular structures and on general claims about DNA replication, transcription, and translation. (shrink)
This essay aims to disentangle various types of anti-realism, and to disarm the considerations that are deployed to support them. I distinguish empiricist versions of anti-realism from constructivist versions, and, within each of these, semantic arguments from epistemological arguments. The centerpiece of my defense of a modest version of realism - real realism - is the thought that there are resources within our ordinary ways of talking about and knowing about everyday objects that enable us to extend our claims to (...) unobservable entities. This strategy, the Galilean strategy, is explained using the historical example of the telescope. (shrink)
Striving to boldly redirect the philosophy of science, this book by renowned philosopher Philip Kitcher examines the heated debate surrounding the role of science in shaping our lives. Kitcher explores the sharp divide between those who believe that the pursuit of scientific knowledge is always valuable and necessary--the purists--and those who believe that it invariably serves the interests of people in positions of power. In a daring turn, he rejects both perspectives, working out a more realistic image of the (...) sciences--one that allows for the possibility of scientific truth, but nonetheless permits social consensus to determine which avenues to investigate. He then proposes a democratic and deliberative framework for responsible scientists to follow. Controversial, powerful, yet engaging, this volume will appeal to a wide range of readers. Kitcher's nuanced analysis and authorititative conclusion will interest countless scientists as well as all readers of science--scholars and laypersons alike. (shrink)
a priori. Since I ended up defending an unpopular answer to this question—"No"—it’s hardly surprising that people have scrutinized the account, or that many have concluded that I stacked the deck in the first place. Of course, this was not my view of the matter. My own judgment was that I’d uncovered the tacit commitments of mathematical apriorists and that the widespread acceptance of mathematical apriorism rested on failure to ask what was needed for knowledge to be a priori . (...) Nevertheless, my critics have raised important challenges, and have offered rival conceptions that are less demanding. I want to examine their objections to my explication of a priori knowledge, and to explore whether the weaker alternatives succeed in preserving traditional philosophical claims. What follows is a mixture of penitence and intransigence. (shrink)
In the brilliant final section of Reasons and Persons , Derek Parfit presents a puzzle about how the goodness of states of affairs relates to the quality of the lives led by people in those states. Stripped to barest essentials, the puzzle runs as follows: if the value of a state is obtained simply by aggregating the quantity of whatever makes life worth living, then a world in which a significant number of people (say ten billion) enjoy lives of very (...) high quality would be inferior to a world in which a vastly greater number of people have lives that are barely worth living (the.. (shrink)
I compare recent work in the sociology of scientific knowledge with other types of sociological research. On this basis I urge a revival of the sociology of science, offer a tentative agenda, and attempt to show how the questions I raise might be addressed.
The cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words vastly underestimates the expressive power of many pictures and diagrams. In this note we show that even a simple map such as the outline of Manhattan Island, accompanied by a pointer marking North, implies a vast infinity of true statements.