by Massimo Pigliucci
[Part of an occasional series presenting academic papers I have published but that may be of general interest. Full list with links here.]
Science and philosophy are two areas of human endeavor that currently have, shall we say, a complex relationship. Arguably, the scientific approach to understanding the world was invented by the Pre-Socratic philosophers — folks like Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the others — when they took the crucial step of rejecting mythical “explanations” of phenomena and realized that true understanding begins only when we look for natural causality (Waterfield, 2009). So was born natural philosophy, a branch of philosophy separate from metaphysics, ethics, logic, aesthetics, and so forth.
Jump forward to the Scientific Revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries (Shapin, 2018) and we begin to discern clear elements of what we nowadays refer to as science, fundamentally distinct from philosophy. Even though the word “scientist” wasn’t introduced until 1833 by philosopher and historian of science William Whewell (Cahan, 2003), and even though Galileo, Newton, and Boyle considered themselves natural philosophers, the irreversible divergence of science from philosophy had clearly started. It continued with a series of new scientific fields sequentially spinning off natural philosophy: physics, with Galileo and Newton; chemistry, with Boyle; biology, with Darwin; and psychology, with James. The process is still ongoing, with the classic field of philosophy of mind (Heil, 2019) increasingly turning into cognitive and neuro-science (Bermúdez, 2020). …