Philosophers can clarify many subtle scientific concepts
Many philosophers and scientists do not believe that their fields overlap or complement each other, despite a long history of fruitful interaction. This is a situation in need of a change, according to an article in PNAS by several philosophers and scientists from France, the UK and the US. As an epigraph, they cite a 1944 letter by Albert Einstein:
A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.
The authors point out that interaction between science and philosophy can take place in four ways: “the clarification of scientific concepts, the critical assessment of scientific methods, the formulation of new concepts and theories, and the fostering of dialogue between different sciences, as well as between science and society”. Curiously, none of their examples involve ethics, but the larger points they make about mutually enriching collaboration also apply to bioethics.
They make several specific suggestions for promoting this interaction: philosophical input at scientific conferences; hosting philosophers in scientific labs and departments; co-supervising PhD students; creating new curricula designed to create a dialogue; journal clubs; and philosophy sections in science journals.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge.
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