First the good news: in Tilburg (southern Netherlands) they are developing and investing in a philosophy of science program focused on formal approaches. Besides appointing Stephan Hartmann out of LSE, they also appear to have attracted Eric Pacuit, who won a financially attractive research grant from the Dutch Science foundation (NWO). While I have reservations about Hartmann's hegemonic ambitions with his Bayesian program, we can only applaud this development. Tilburg appears to have entered a virtuous cycle, where funding begets talent which begets international development which begets funding. Together with groups in Amsterdam (the logicians) and Groningen (Van Hees, Romeyn), and the nearby centers in Leuven (Igor Douven) and Gent (Batens, Meheus), formal approaches are thriving in the Low Countries. Because there is plenty of philosophy (and even some history in Nijmegen) of science talent without formal fetishishes, especially in philosophy of physics (Utrecht) and economics (Rotterdam/Amsterdam), we can speak of a thriving philosophy of science scene. This is not to mention that there are no problems: there is curious weakness in philosophy of biology and despite presence of Marc Slors in Nijmegen lack of depth in philosophy of mind.
Anyway, this posting was prompted by announcement of yet another PhD position in philosophy of science (or epistemology) in Tilburg. For more details go to:www.tilburgu niversity. nl/tilps/
PhDs are lavishly funded; in effect one becomes an eployee of the state and one is treated more like staff than a student. Because these positions are costly, they are few. So, the Government only funds projects they deem worthy (fair enough) and attainable (yuck). Because every completed PhD gets a substantial bonus (really!) the incentives are all that the system favors a lot of 'me-too' projects and there is very little risk-appetite. (There are further problems in that a) the project is often handed down from the person who wrote the grant to the student, and b) because of a restrictive policy on who can be supervisor people don't always get to work with the folks who understand the topic.) A group with a unified focus (such as they are building in Tilburg) can optimize the division of labor, and parcel out projects within a going concern. This is philosophy on the model of a successful chemistry lab. This is as the Logical empiricists envisioned it, so I kind of enjoy the fact that Neurath's vision is alive and well in the Low Countries.
Yet, here is the bad news: Tilburg is pioneering PhD positions that are supposed to be completed in three years. The financial benefits are obvious: the university still gets the substantial bonus for a completed PhD, but saves money on salary. This shortening of the project simply means dumbing down. A typical Dutch philosophy aspirant has three years of college, two years of a research master, and then goes straight into writing a dissertation (with assorted stays abroad and research seminars, especially in Summer). Given all the selective pressures, Dutch aspiring PhDs are often the very best (but late-bloomers like me have no chance in this system), but they get no time to explore and develop philosophically. No doubt Tilburg will insist it can maintain quality control (maybe by getting foreign applicants or by insisting on publication in 'A' journals controled by formal fetishists), but the damage will be felt a decade down the line: the Tilburg PhD will exemplify a worrying trend of hyper-specialization and even more me-too-ism. This is fine in chemistry (where competition is reduced because of substantial barriers to entry), but in philosophy it means plodding mediocrity.