Monday, September 17, 2012

[PHI 3800] Is philosophy of science as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds?

"Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." This saying is commonly attributed to Richard Feynman. Presumably, it is meant to express the following analogy:
philosophy of science : scientists :: ornithology : birds
Is this a strong analogy?

Why should philosophy of science be useful to scientists? Even if philosophy of science is not useful to scientists it doesn't follow that it is utterly useless. To see why, consider fact-checking websites, such as One might think that such websites are not useful to politicians, for obvious reasons, but that doesn't mean that such websites are utterly useless. They are useful to voters who want to get the facts straight before they decide who to vote for.

Similarly, philosophy of science may be useful to consumers of science, i.e., laypersons who are not experts in science, who want to make informed decisions about what scientific findings are worthy of belief.


  1. I've just started following your work at and then found this link and couldn't agree more!

    Believe it or not, I said almost exactly the same things on another blog, a while ago. Please check the last comment to this post:

    It's a long comment, I know, and it's also badly written and full of mistakes (I was in a rush, kind of). Note, however, that none of those "defenders of science against the useless philosophy" has dared to reply to me yet!

    Kind Regards,
    Vincenzo Politi

    1. Thanks for your comment, Vincenzo.

      Aquinas thought that philosophy is the handmaiden of theology. It is not clear why some scientists think that philosophy must be the handmaiden of science.


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