New chair of Philosophy Department stresses interdisciplinary
links between philosophy and science
While teaching at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the
late 1990s, Paul Roth cofounded an annual roundtable on the
philosophy of social science that reflects his avid interest
in the interrelationships of social science and philosophy.
New Philosophy Department chair Paul Roth
Photo: Scott Rappaport
Now in its seventh year, the event has become a thriving institution
featuring frequent guest speakers from Europe and diverse contributions
from around the world. This years roundtable takes place
on March 11-13 at Barnard College of Columbia University.
It was like a field of dreamswe built it and people
came, said Roth, newly hired this past fall as the chair
of the UCSC Philosophy Department.
It has had the desired effect of creating a new center
of discussion for this particular area. We put out a call for
papers, but we dont select the topic. So we learn what
it is that people are collectively writing and thinking about.
Roth noted that the philosophy of social science has always been
considered a subarea of the philosophy of science. But he stressed
the importance of taking an interdisciplinary approach to the
study of both science and philosophy.
The theoretical flow used to be exclusively from the
natural sciences to the social sciences, Roth observed.
But ideas that originated in the social sciences such
as game theory (mathematical ways of modeling human decision
making) are now being used in the biological sciences in such
areas as the study of evolutionary change.
Roth added that recent revelationssuch as that research
studies of heart patients do not reflect the different effects
of drugs and treatment on womenalso refute the myth that
the natural world is viewed with an unbiased eye by scientists.
Scientists, like any other human beings, can wear cultural
blinders and this can influence how they do their research,
Scientists might be developing skewed results by not
taking into account sex biases that they are unaware of and
never thought to look for. We can help make natural scientists
aware of what those cultural blinders might be.
This is all grist for the philosopher, Roth added.
Because the philosophers perennial question is:
Why is science successful? A stock answer is because
it uses the scientific method. But Im saying that method
needs to be constantly examined.
Roth said that there does not appear to be a single scientific
method but instead different techniques and theories that work
in different fields of science.
I am skeptical that one could come up with a generic
formulation of the scientific method, said Roth. Is
there a reasonable extrapolation that one size fits all? When
you find out what goes on in the various fields of science,
you find that each has a different way of proceeding. In my
view, we want to have a rich understanding of what research
isthe pitfalls, the complexities, and all the connecting
research agendas and resource limitationsand still get
the powerful results. So I see us involved in understanding,
and to possibly facilitate, the work of science.
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