Ok, a few days ago I said I was going to write a post about this and here it is...
"General" philosophers of science are at risk of becoming an endangered species. In saying this, I don't mean to say that there aren't many philosophers that do a lot of very interesting work on general issues in philosophy of science (many of those who contribute to this blog do!). Rather, I mean that there are very few philosophers of science today that are primarily interested in general issues in PhiSci. It almost feels like "respectable" philosophers of science are expected to pursue general PhiSci questions in their spare time, when they are not doing serious PhiSci (which often seems to be equated with philosophy of physics, biology, economics, etc.) or at most as a by-product of their doing "serious" philosophy of science. If one really cannot help but being primarily interested in general PhiSci questions, then s/he'd be better off pursue those question within some formal framework, if s/he wants to be taken seriously (e.g. Bayesian accounts of IBE, unification, confirmation, etc.). But, if you want to work mainly in general PhiSci, do so at your own risk!
(A few more disclaimers: a) personally, I find much "serious" PhiSci very interesting. b) I have no nostalgia for the time in which philosophers of science largely ignored "real science" (I have no problems with--in fact, I like--people using "real science" to illustrate their points when doing general PhiSci for example. c) I don't have anything against "formal" PhiSci--a lot of my work on scientific representation is pretty "formal" but I didn't go down that route to look like I'm doing serious PhiSci. I did only because it seemed to be the best way to say what I wanted to say clearly).
Of course, as I stated in the opening disclaimer, the one I painted above is a grossly exaggerated picture, but it's hard to paint a much rosier picture after glancing at recent issues of the main PhiSci journals or at the programs of major recent PhiSci conferences or after looking at the results of the latest PGR survey for general philosophy of science (which seem to reward faculties for having philosophers of science independently of how much they work on general PhiSci) and its list of assessors (many of whom have made important contributions to the general PhiSci debates but can hardly be considered as working mainly in general PhiSci). The problem appear even more serious when one considers how many senior philosophers of science work mainly on general issues without being either close to or past retirement or having earned much of their credibility by moonlighting as philosophers of physics or biology. If this climate perdures, I wouldn't be surprised if philosophers of science who work mainly on general issues were to become soon virtually extinct.
For those who, like me, see themselves as general philosophers of science and don't suffer of any inferiority complex, however, it's hard to see any good reasons for the apparent decline of the discipline (at least insofar as research output and number of senior figures) and it's tempting to attribute it to what good ol' Imre Lakatos would have called "external" reasons (I know, aint' I soooo unfashionable?)--i.e. historically and sociologically contingent causes, philosophical trends. One of the few "internal" reasons I can think of is that (for reasons that I take to be "external") general philosophers of science have too often ignored or disregarded many crucial, relevant debates in neighbouring fields such as metaphysics or epistemology. Today, the philosophical neighbours of gen PhiSci are flourishing, general philosophers of science seem to have isolated themselves from their most natural interlocutors who seem to consider them thier not-so-bright cousins (the serious philosopher of science because they do that kind of stuff on their spare time and the epistemologists and metaphysicians because general philosophers of science are so philosophically unsophisticated).
- So, how far off the mark is my grossly exaggerated picture? Am I completely wrong about general PhiSci not being considered a very respectable discipline these days? (For example, do PhD students at major PhiSci programs who are interested in general issues feel any explicit or implicit pressure to work on more respectable topics or work on general topics in a more respectable manner?)
- How wrong am I about general PhiSci isolating itself from M&E or in thinking that it's part of the problem? (For example, how many pure M&E grad courses do PhD students at major PhiSci programs take? At LSE, we were not forced to take any and many of my fellow students there had no background in philosphy)
- If I'm not wrong about there being a problem, but I'm wrong about its diagnosis? What is your diagnosis?
- If you think general PhiSci has no reason to exist today, why do you think so? (btw, if you think so why are you reading this blog?)