On the connection between natural science & philosophy

On Tyson’s recent comments on philosophy (taken from the Nerdist podcast around 20 minutes in).

Pigliucci’s rebuttals are okay, but it’s pretty much a cop-out to say “Philosophers contribute to science” without actually citing the relevant research. The whole point is that guys like Tyson don’t believe that post-1920’s philosophers make any contributions to the natural sciences, so telling them to Google it is not by itself going to help very much. They want specifics. Since for my part, I know for a fact that plenty of 20th/21st century philosophers contribute actively towards the clarification of methodological and epistemological disputes in the natural sciences, it is all the more frustrating that names go unnamed.

(That said, I also think that most philosophers in the profession do not celebrate philosophical colleagues that are actually doing work at the frontiers of science. If that is the case, then it would be both understandable and a strong indictment of the profession. But I also think it’s a different kind of criticism.)

So I thought I would cobble together a collection of works in philosophy that do the opposite of what Tyson thinks is going on. What follows is a highly conservative bibliography which obeys the following criteria:

– Professional philosophers: it is co-authored by one or more faculty members who are either members of a department of Philosophy (or faculty members in cognate departments that teach some courses in philosophy), so long as they possess a doctorate in philosophy;
– Influential: it is a noted work, which I stipulate to mean 50+ citations according to Google Scholar;
– Discipline-specific: at least on the face of it, the work concerns itself with the theories and methods of a particular scientific discipline (i.e., not “philosophy of science” in general);
– Natural science: it concerns the natural sciences (e.g., physics, biology, or chemistry);
– Unique: individuals are only listed once so that one or two names do not hog the list with their CV. (That said, if you want to look at more of their work, click on their name and you will be directed to their home page);
– Theoretical philosophy: the works are in a theoretical and not an ethical, historical, or meta-philosophical vein;
– Non-bullshit: the works are not radically out of step with, or patently uninformed by, the relevant established science (e.g., Fodor/Piattelli-Palmarini on natural selection, McGinn on physics).

(There are regrettable gaps in the list if we follow these criteria. e.g., I don’t get to mention David Bohm since he wasn’t a professional philosopher, even though his mid-century work was rooted in metaphysics. Oh well.)

Feel free to offer corrections or suggestions in the comments area. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list. But it might serve as a launching off point for anyone who would like to offer a more serious critique of the connection between philosophy and natural science in our time.


Biology and neuroscience

Evolutionary biology


* — indicates I was unable to find the name of the program.

(I reserve the right to update this post shamelessly and without notice.)

With thanks to the various posters at New Apps for their contributions, comments, and criticisms. [1, 2]

3 thoughts on “On the connection between natural science & philosophy

  1. Thanks for the note. Although Harris does work that does broadly fall under the category of natural science, and he holds a degree in philosophy, he does not appear to be affiliated with any professional department of philosophy. He also does not appear to have co-authored noteworthy papers with any philosophers.

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