In Luster Diminished: Writing Kant out of the Philosophy of Science

In the introductory chapter of his helpful Introduction to Phenomenology Robert Sokolowski reports on the genesis of his book project in a lunchtime conversation with a professor of mathematics and philosophy who reported on the following significant difference between mathematicians and philosophers: the former absorb the findings of their predecessors into their own work with little comment on or explicit acknowledgement of this foundational labor, compared with the manner in which “classical works often become enshrined as objects of exegesis rather than as resources to be exploited” in philosophy.

The observation regarding the absorption of earlier work is true of many natural science disciplines: for instance, rarely does one find explicit references to Darwin in the primary literature in ecology, even though Darwin provided the intellectual substrate upon which modern ecology is based.  Though one might be cautioned against overrelying on a taxonomic tool such as this one for distinguishing philosophical works from those in the natural sciences and mathematics, nevertheless the philosophy of science behaves quite philosophically when the tool is applied.   To illustrate, Rom Harré’s The Philosophies of Science: An Introductory Survey (1985) indexes Aristotle and Aristotelian (27 times), Hereclitus (and “Hereclitean individuals”) (5 times), Hume (3 times), Locke (5 times), J S Mill and his canons (22 times), and so forth.  Even Darwin gets mentioned (1 time).  Kant it seems gets two mentions in the book, although the second indexed reference cannot be found on the page referred to, and the first reference discusses Kant in relation to accusations regarding fundamental inconsistencies levied against Corpuscularian philosophy (something that Kant apparently levied validly, but “in a less clear form” than Boscovich, according to Harré).  There are no references to any of the key terms of the Kantian lexicon, none that relate to the theory or practice of science (that is, no entry on a priori, transcendental idealism, analysis in the Kantian sense and so on.).

Read on here

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About dublinsoil

Professor of Environmental Science
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