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03/13/2014

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Name withheld (but Eric knows who I am--Hi Eric!)

Eric, you are one of the most philosophically competent philosophers I know! Being as widely read in philosophy as you are is a virtue to which I only aspire. But why should anyone be shamed out of their "complacency"? I think most biologists are pretty ignorant of large parts of biology--and will often freely admit it. There is no shame there. The ignorance is OK, because biologists can collaborate and discuss matters with other biologists when necessary.

There's a line I've heard more than once from philosophers of biology: "Most philosophers of biology don't know much biology." (I have been on both the implicit praise and implicit blame ends of this remark, at different times.) I think it's false, in fact, but that's not the point. Rather, I think it's OK that there are some philosophers of biology who don't know much biology. It's still possible to make meaningful contributions, as it happens, although lack of knowledge of biology limits one--just as lack of knowledge of philosophy does. But some ignorance is OK, as long as the philosophers of biology who lack much knowledge of biology are in dialogue with some who do know more. And as long as some philosophers of biology are in dialogue with biologists. And as long as some philosophers of biology are in dialogue with historians of biology and philosophers of physics and formal epistemologists and statisticians and bioethicists and metaphysicians and historians of philosophy and .... (A further point is that interdisciplinary dialogue is facilitated by interdisciplinary knowledge, but one's time is finite.)

Eric Schliesser

In the post, I presuppose that's what is good for the sciences is not necessarily good for philosophy. (So, this is why I disagree with Helen de Cruz's post that I link to.) The division of intellectual labor is important in science and, as you note, it is vital then to keep lines of communication open.
I grant that within philosophy the division of intellectual labor is certainly with many successes of the sort that you describe. And I do not advocate abolishing it for a whole range of vital projects. Moreover, it is possible to be involved in philosophy of biology (as a specialist) and have basic philosophical competence in the way I have described. (Obviously there are some opportunity costs along the way, so I understand why specialization is attractive.)

Still anonymous

We agree that facility with diverse areas of philosophy is desirable, and that there are useful things that can be done without it. It's clear to me that we both value interdisciplinary scholarly interactions. Perhaps what disagreement there is here is just on how we weight the values of different factors.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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