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Scientists who became philosophers, vice versa.

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TheEgoist
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This will be a reiterating of a post I made on Reddit (I know there are a couple of you here that occupy that place).

So I'm working on a paper discussing the effect science has had on philosophy and vice versa, in the past 200 years. I've been trying to research scientists who became or contributed some major work to philosophy.

There are some obvious candidates. The earliest I can think of are William Whewell and Ernst Mach. Members of the Vienna circle come to mind such as Phillipp Frank. One of my favorites is James Gibson, who started ecological perception movement and defended direct realism from a highly researched perspective. Brian Ellis is one of my favorite contemporaries. He does work within the philosophy of causal powers. I've heard Einstein had works in philosophy, but I've never been able to find them.

I have a few more candidates in mind to write about, but I'd be especially interested in those that actually affected their fields to some extent, both in science and philosophy.

On the vice versa matter, I've never really known of any philosophers who went on to contribute to science in the past 2 centuries. I'm very interested in hearing about them though, if there are any. I'll go ahead and eliminate a couple fields for purposes of my interest here. I am not interested in pure mathematicians, since I think often times that overlaps heavily with logic. I am also not interested in economists.

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Do you mean physical science? The goalposts aren't clearly set. What makes someone a philosopher is an even more vague issue. Richard Feynman sometimes said things that were philosophical, but certainly would have disdained the appellation.

Goethe qualifies. By specifying the last 200 years you rule out almost all the great enlightenment thinkers, Franklin's an obvious one, but also a few of the French philosophes. Voltaire even did experiments, though he's not credited with any discoveries.

Among the living, there's Noam Chomsky (linguistics) and Umberto Eco (semiotics).

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Chomsky's a good example. I use a conservative point of 200 years or so break off because I want to start in a time where the two disciplines began to become more distinct, since even into the 1700s the line between philosopher and scientist was blurred. I won't completely rule them out, but as a rule I am interested in the post-natural philosophy age.

I don't want to refer simply to the natural sciences, since I am using James Gibson as a very prominent example of what I mean, and he was a psychologist.

To your point of folks like Feynman and others who make philosophic points: that's a good example of what I am not looking for. Scientists can make points that are philosophically based, but I wouldn't classify them as philosophers. I am looking for scientists who have made significant contributions in philosophy, not those who have commented on philosophy or made points in lectures or papers that have philosophic bearing.

The line is always going to be blurry, though. So I'm not being too strict.

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Don't omit Mario Bunge (see Wikipedia). He started as a professor of theoretical physics and then has been also a professor of philosophy. Beside purely scientific papers, he published an impressive list of books and articles on the philosophy of science, primarily of physics.

For non-scientists, one book would be "Philosophy of Physics" (1973). More advanced: "Foundations of Physics" (1967). More recent: "Treatise of Basic Philosophy"; volume VII, Epistemology and Methodology III: philosophy of science and technology: Part I. Formal and Physical Sciences, covers Logic, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Earth sciences and Cosmology.

He defines himself as a philosophical realist. I am a theoretical physicist and I appreciate very highly his views in the field of the philosophy of physics. His metaphysics and epistemology are largely consistent with Objectivism. However, his works in the philosophy of social sciences and ethics can be safely ignored by this audience.

See a biography here http://www.uottawa.c...hies/bunge.html

He is, to my knowledge, the only contemporary person which is at the same time a professional physicist and a professional philosopher.

Alex

Edited by AlexL
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Don't omit Mario Bunge (see Wikipedia). He started as a professor of theoretical physics and then has been also a professor of philosophy. Beside purely scientific papers, he published an impressive list of books and articles on the philosophy of science, primarily of physics.</p></p>

For non-scientists, one book would be "Philosophy of Physics" (1973). More advanced: "Foundations of Physics" (1967). More recent: "Treatise of Basic Philosophy"; volume VII, Epistemology and Methodology III: philosophy of science and technology: Part I. Formal and Physical Sciences, covers Logic, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Earth sciences and Cosmology

He defines himself as a philosophical realist. I am a theoretical physicist and I appreciate very highly his views in the field of the philosophy of physics. His metaphysics and epistemology are largely consistent with Objectivism. However, his works in the philosophy of social sciences and ethics can be safely ignored by this audience.

See a biography here http://www.uottawa.c...hies/bunge.html</p>

He is, to my knowledge, the only contemporary person which is at the same time a professional physicist and a professional philosopher.

Sorry, I have problems with formatting

Alex

Bunge is one of my favorites. Thanks for reminding me.
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Most of the ones you all mentioned, unfortunately, turned to irrational philosophy. It is better to leave philosophy aside than to hold this kind of philosophy, which at least does not constitute a deliberate distortion of man's mind.

Then you begin to describe "scientists" of the humanities---no better than contemporary philosophy.

I don't get it: What's the point of this thread? Just to document career changes for the sake of interest?

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No, for a paper I'm writing on the relationship between science and philosophy historically and how scientific minds operate in and how they succeed or fail in their philosophic undertakings.

Who did I mention in the humanities? Chomsky? His work is much more scientific than that which is required in the humanities. Do you consider all science outside of natural science to be just the humanities?

As to the rationality or irrationality of their ideas, it's not my purpose to discriminate on those who I do and do not like. I cringe at logical positivism, but there were scientists that took it seriously.

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Interesting, I didn't know Peirce was involved in the sciences directly.

Yeah, and there's Willam James too. Trouble is, are you looking for someone who made a Nobel Prize worthy contribution to science who also did something substantial in philosophy? That's tough. If the standards are lighter, you might even count Sam Harris. He advertises himself as a scientist, with some kind of expertise with the brain, but the only writings I've seen by him are philosophical (or polemical). Also Richard Dawkins, though with him the scientific credentials and output are readily observable.

Edited by Ninth Doctor
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Sam Harris was an example I've been planning on using, since he seems to think there is no hard distinction between philosophy and science. He has said he thinks questions of metaethics are legitimate and answerable by scientific means. That is a more explicit case of something I'm considering in the paper, if and how scientists approach the problems of philosophy. As far as his credentials, I know he has been involved in research in neuroscience before, but I've never seen an academic paper of his either.

William James is probably a better example than Peirce from the Pragmatist school., though psychology at that point was in its infancy and still tied to philosophy pretty tightly. From the little I've studied from James, he was about approaching the problems of psychology from a much more theoretical standpoint than is accepted nowadays.

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Thanks, Tensorman.

Another fella whose works in the field of biology I've been reading today is Ernst Mayr, an influential biologist who is credited with popularizing philosophy of biology. He opposed categorical reductionism and supports organism-based evolution, as opposed to the gene based evolution supported by folks like Richard Dawkins.

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