Monthly Archives: December 2015

Science and its use for philosophers

Really nice quote about the relationship between philosophy of science and philosophy more generally: “As long as there was no such subject as ‘philosophy of science’, all students of philosophy felt obligated to keep at least one eye part of the time on both the methodological and the substantive aspects of the scientific enterprise. And if the result was often a confusion of the task of philosophy with the task of science, and almost equally often a projection of the framework of the latest scientific speculations into the common sense picture of the world … at least it had the merit of ensuring that reflection on the nature and implications of scientific discourse was an integral and vital part of philosophical thinking generally. But now that philosophy of science has nominal as well as real existence, there has arisen the temptation to leave it to the specialists, and to confuse the sound idea that philosophy is not science with the mistaken idea that philosophy is independent of science” Wilfrid Sellars (quoted in an article from the book What is Philosophy?, C. P. Ragland, Sarah L. Heidt (editors)).

Much has changed since 1956 when Sellars wrote this but it raises an important issue. I’ve long believed we need closer merge science and philosophy, and whilst many philosophers do not integrate science in their work, plenty do. This is positive. However, I’m often concerned that when philosophers do use science to further their arguments, they often take scientific evidence too concretely, as something which either logically supports their argument or does not. Generally, however, scientific theories are models that describes idealised probabilities. They do not easily function as premises which entail logically valid arguments or function as clear counterarguments. Rather, they function more analogously to risk factors, scientific claims being individual sources of evidence which push an argument in one direction or another. Sellars claims general philosophers paid more attention to the methodology of science. I wonder if this is lacking today. Whilst it is great that philosophers not infrequently turn to science to support their arguments, those philosophers should realise how tentative, how heavily inferential and how probabilistic many scientific claims are. When philosophical claims rest upon such scientific claims then the strength of those philosophical claims is reduced. I think this is generally the case and philosophy would be better to recognise this. Just like scientists, philosophers employing science need both knowledge of science and knowledge of methodology of science.

Book Review of Alternative Perspectives on Psychiatric Validation: DSM, ICD, RDoC, and Beyond

The December issue of History of Psychiatry contains my book review of Alternative Perspectives on Psychiatric Validation: DSM, ICD, RDoC, and Beyond (edited by Peter Zachar, Drozdstoj St. Stoyanov, Massimiliano Aragona and Assen Jablensky).

Though the book review appears in History of Psychiatry, the book is primarily philosophical (plus a few history chapters). Some papers discuss what notions of validation can be legitimately applied to, some discuss under what conditions validation succeeds and others discuss exactly what validating something accomplishes. For its interesting and diverse discussion of validation it is recommended for both philosophers and psychiatrists.