Philosophers Help Scientists do Better Work

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Some empiricists argue that science is a separate discipline from philosophy, and those thinkers may want to rethink their stance. The debate isn’t philosophy or science, the debate is actually how much philosophical rigour should be applied within a certain field of research. In order to effectively advance scientific fields scientists practice philosophical processes and patterns of thinking.

This hopefully comes to no surprise to many readers as we often see on this site that cross disciplinary practices usually provide the best approach. Plus, historically science and philosophy are one.

The researchers identified a substantial body of work by philosophers of science that used “philosophical tools to address scientific problems and provide scientifically useful proposals.” They call such work philosophy in science. So what kind of tools do philosophers use that can be applied to science?  The study authors don’t offer an exhaustive list, but point to activities such as making distinctions and proposing definitions, critiquing scientific methods, and combining multiple scientific fields as examples of typical philosophical tools.  And while scientists use these methods too, they don’t tend to do so as often or as rigorously as philosophers.

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What is Philosophy For?

Argument analysis flowchart

Anyone who’s interested in thinking ought to read Mary Midgley’s last book, What is Philosophy For? I just finished the book last night and felt the need to share it since it investigates pertinent issues of our time while calling for more people to engage with philosophical thinking. Midgley address head on the notion that computers will inevitable control our lives and calls into question the role that science has taken in our society. Modern science is a fine way to think of the world around us; however, we need to be able to question it and not limit ourselves to just one way of knowing.

Mary Midgley was a philosopher at the University of Newcastle who wrote on a wide range of topics: animal ethics, philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, moral philosophy. She was one of the philosophers who studied ‘Greats’ at Oxford during the Second World War, with the other members of what’s come to be known as the ‘Oxford four’: Midgley, Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe. Mary Warnock was also there at the same time, but a few years ahead of them.

This was a really interesting time for women studying philosophy at Oxford because so many men were away. The men that were left were elderly professors or conscientious objectors and so Midgley, Murdoch, Foot and Anscombe were left with slightly more old-school philosophy professors who were interested in Plato and Aristotle and a traditional form of the history of philosophy.

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Learning About Moral Philosophy Reduces Meat Consumption

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A taste of a postsecondary level moral philosophy class can turn you off of tasting meat. It’s been debated for thousands of years if learning moral philosophy actually changes how people live. Does knowing about the complexities of ethics actually make you more ethical? Short answer: yes. In a recent study a team of researchers and philosophers tested out if moral education about meat consumption would change their diet.

And it worked! Not only were students in the meat ethics sections likelier to say they thought eating factory-farmed meat is unethical, analysis of their dining cards — basically debit cards issued as part of UC Riverside’s meal plan that students can use to buy meals on campus — suggested that they bought less meat too. Fifty-two percent of dining card purchases for both the control and treatment groups were of meat products before the class. After the class, the treatment group’s percentage fell to 45 percent.

This effect wasn’t driven by a few students becoming vegetarians, but by all students buying slightly less meat. It’s possible this effect was temporary; the authors only had a few weeks of data. But it at least lasted for several weeks.

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This Flowchart Helps You Evaluate any Argument

Argument analysis flowchart
Figure 1 from Cook, Ellerton, and Kinkead 2018. CC BY 3.0

Complex issues with multiple influential factors can be difficult to process for some. Three researchers from George Mason University and the University of Queensland decided to help people evaluate arguments by combining their own knowledge into one handy flowchart. The flowchart (above) is a great tool to help you think through any topic that you’re having difficulty with. The best part of the using the flowchart is that the more you use it the better you’ll get at reasoning through other’s arguments.

Step 3:  Determine Inference

Recall that we can make deductive or inductive arguments. Deductive arguments make their conclusion necessarily true or false. Inductive arguments merely make their conclusion more or less probably true — thus admitting the possibility that the conclusion is wrong. One way to test whether an argument relies on deductive or inductive inference is to check whether and how its premises support its conclusion.

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Hundreds of Short Videos to Learn About Philosophy

Too many people think that philosophy is a practice for elites or people with too much time on their hands. Contrary to popular belief studying philosophy is easy and readily available. Studying philosophy helps with many aspects of life from logical thinking to mindful peace. Yes you can learn all about philosophy from some great video series on YouTube, over at Open Culture they compiled some of the better channels for you.

Nowadays, several million more people have access to books, literacy, and leisure than in Marcus Aurelius’ era (and one wonders where even an emperor found the time), though few of us, it’s true, have access to a nobleman’s education. While currently under threat, the internet still provides us with a wealth of free content—and many of us are much better positioned than Epictetus was to educate ourselves about philosophical traditions, schools, and ways of thinking.

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