I have just sat through one of the most teeth clenchingly bad philosophy talks, given on phylogenetics by a philosopher who has never read anything sensible on phylogenetics to phylogenetic systematists. One of the last mentioned leant over to me and asked “Does this guy know anything?” I had to say no. I am protecting the guilty for reasons of manners, but people: If you are going to lecture professionals about what they do as a philosopher, at least try to learn the science first. Whatever you do, don’t think that because you’ve read a book by a critic of the topic that you understand the topic. Simpson didn’t get phylogenetic systematics, OK?
This is part of a general phenomenon I think of as arrogant airheadery.
BiologistsPhilosophers have used biological examples for two millennia and more but until fairly recently they tried (like Mill, for example) to get the biology right. It seems that analytic philosophers particularly think they can a priori determine what must be right and what not. I’ll give it to the speaker, he braved the lions’ den, but he got mauled.
At least one honourable exception to the rule is Michael Devitt, a philosopher of language who has tried very hard to get what the biologists are talking about in his work. There are others. It can be done, without the hubris and snide tones when quoting those who, like Sterelny and Griffiths, actually do know what they are talking about as philosophers of biology.
I’m on a rant streak, it seems…