One of the complaints about contemporary philosophy that seems to me to have some merit is that we (as a profession) don’t engage sufficiently with other disciplines. I think this has gotten better in some ways, and worse in other ways, over the last generation or so.
It’s gotten better in that there are more philosophers whose work is informed by, and relevant to, another discipline within which they’re deeply entrenched. My paradigm of this is Brennan and Pettit’s The Economy of Esteem, though I’m sure you can think of many more.
It’s gotten worse in that fewer philosophers have a general sense of what’s going across the university. That’s not surprising – fewer academics in general have a good sense of what’s going on across the university. But it affects philosophy more, since a higher percentage of that work is philosophically relevant.
So here’s a small attempt to do something about this harnessing the wisdom of (small) crowds.
Which works by non-philosophers do you think it would be good for more philosophers to read?
Leave answers in comments, please!
Here’s my suggestion:
“The General Theory of Second Best”, by R. G. Lipsey and Kelvin Lancaster, in The Review of Economic Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1956 – 1957), pp. 11-32, available at JSTOR
Lipsey and Lancaster discuss what happens when we know that the optimal circumstances are reached when a set of parameters take a particular ideal distribution, and we know that one of the parameters is not going to be set to the ideal value. The result, in general, is that if we set the value of that parameter as a constraint, we’re not best off setting all the other parameters to ideal values.
This is relevant to a whole host of issues in philosophy where we discuss the nature of ideals. Let’s say a philosopher has an argument that, say, the ideal agent’s credence distribution is a probability function. Does that mean that we should try to make our credences into probability functions, or that there’s something wrong with an agent whose credences are not probability functions? Not on its own – it might be that given physical constraints, the best outcome (by the very same measures that say the probability functions are absolutely best) are not probability functions. Or say that a philosopher shows that ideal agents only assert what they know. Does it follow that the fewer things one asserts but does not know the better? Obviously not – the second best solution (which might be all that’s attainable) might involve quite a bit of assertion without knowledge. In general, the implication from “The ideal has feature F“ to “What you do should have feature F“ is invalid, and in some circumstances the premise isn’t even a particularly strong reason to believe the conclusion. I’ve seen several philosophers miss this point, and others that appreciate it often ignore the fact that they’re working over material that had been well worked out by economists several decades ago.
So that’s my suggestion, but I’m sure you can come up with better.
UPDATE: I’ll keep a list of the suggestions here, with the suggestor in parentheses after the suggestion.
- The Physics of Chance: From Blaise Pascal to Niels Bohr – Charles Ruhla (Branden Fitelson)
- Statistical Evidence: A Likelihood Paradigm – Richard Royall (Branden Fitelson)
- Statistical Reasoning with Imprecise Probabilities – Peter Walley (Branden Fitelson)
- Theories of Probability – T. L. Fine (Branden Fitelson)
- Genetical Evolution of Social Behaviour, I and II, W. D. Hamilton, J. of Theoretical Biology 7 (1964): 1–16, 17–52 (Antony Eagle)
- Procrastination, busyness and bingeing, Robert Boice, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 27 (1989): 605–11 (Antony Eagle)
- Hrdy, S. (1999) Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection (S. K. Devitt)
- Yates, F.A. The Art of Memory (S. K. Devitt)
- Alec Nove, The Economics of Feasible Socialism (Matt)
- Alexandra Aikenvald, Evidentiality (Jennifer Nagel)
- Adam Alter and Daniel Oppenheimer, Uniting the Tribes of Fluency to Form a Metacognitive Nation, Personality and Social Psychology Review, Vol. 13, No. 3, 219-235 (2009) (Jennifer Nagel)
- Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (Jennifer Nagel)
- Saunders MacLane and Ieke Moerdijk, Sheaves in Geometry and Logic: A First Introduction to Topos Theory (Jeff)
- Eric Kandel, James Schwartz, Thomas Jessell, Principles of Neural Science (Robert F. Allen)
- Edwin F. Taylor and, John Archibald Wheeler, Spacetime Physics (Robert F. Allen)
1. This point has comes up in the discussion on Jason Stanley’s IHE piece and in discussions about the state of philosophy on Daniel Davies’ blog. I was reminded of the Lipsey/Lancaster piece by something else Daniel said recently, but I can’t find the exact link for that. The connections between it and the threads on this blog over the last week, both about justification and pragmatics, and about irrational agents and Equal Weight, are hopefully clear enough, even if I didn’t make them explicit to begin with.