Philosophy of Science

A good philosophy of science should make you a better academic writer. In fact, a healthy approach to academic writing probably depends on having an adequate philosophy of what science is. After all, you are writing down what you know for the purpose of discussing it with other knowledgeable people. Before you can do that, you need to have a working understanding of what it means to “know things”; and, if you’ve paid attention in your introductory philosophy class you will know that we’re now already well on our way into the thickets of epistemology (“What is knowledge?”) and ontology (“What things are there?”).

I’m going think out loud about this over the next few posts, reflecting a little on my own understanding of what science (or research or scholarship) actually is. I’m always looking for a positive sense to give to the word “academic”, which today suffers from misuse both as a pejorative and an honorific, leading us to either ridicule or venerate academics in unhelpful ways. There’s a T-shirt I see promoted online with the variations on the slogan, “That’s what I do. I read books, I drink coffee, and I know things.” There’s something at once self-deprecating and self-important about talking like that, but it also captures that key question of the philosophy of science: What is it we think scientists do? What are they doing when they “know things”?

More tomorrow about how this will make you a better writer.

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