The Philosophy of Science Major: A Proposed Marriage


Adam Fondren

Books on Phiulosophy inside the stacks of the J. Willard Marriott Library on the University of Utah Campus, Salt Lake City, UT on Thursday, July 13, 2017 (Photo by Adam Fondren | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Nicholas Rush


Science and Philosophy are to be married here at the U in the proposal of a new major called “Philosophy of Science.” The major was first proposed in the Fall of 2018 by Department Chair of Philosophy, Matthew Haber. The Daily Utah Chronicle spoke with Professor Haber about the pending union. “While it still has a few steps left, if it is approved it will be available to students starting in Fall 2019,” Haber said.

The requirements of this degree will merge the study of science and philosophy. “To complete the major, students must satisfy both a science and a philosophy requirement,” explained Haber. “To satisfy the science requirement, students may either (a) major in a science or social science, or (b) take at least three upper-division courses in a single scientific or social science discipline … The philosophy requirement is met by satisfying area distributions in philosophy of science, logic, ethics and history of philosophy.”

The Chronicle asked Haber about the marriage of science and philosophy, how they will interact when the vows are taken and his thoughts on the misguided common notion that science and philosophy are antithetical. “I don’t agree that they are antithetical. To the contrary, I see them as operating on a spectrum, though sometimes emphasizing different skills or features of inquiry. The analytical, logical and ethical reasoning skills I developed as a philosopher made me better at science,” Haber said. “For example, it’s typical that the exact same set of data can be explained by competing hypotheses. Evaluating which hypothesis is better isn’t simply an empirical matter (i.e., of data), but something more. That’s a philosophical question about how data and our tools of inquiry lend support to hypotheses.”

Speaking about the talisman, Karl Popper was known for popularizing the unity of philosophy and science, and Haber explained that Popper had a “big impact” on what scientists “thought counted as good science.” Popper philosophically argued how important it was that the sciences, which demonstrate to explain our natural world, do not seek to confirm their worldview and theories, but seek to “demonstrate that a hypothesis is false.” This is the humble mantle of which the sciences bear.

Haber even stated that one of his favorite philosophy papers ever was “written by a biologist.” The paper “challenged entrenched views about what kind of things species are.” That’s what Professor Haber loves about the philosophy of science. To him, it allows one to not be “boxed in by disciplinary boundaries.”

Hater explained how reason-based philosophy can be an initial bridge between philosophy and science: “A lot of philosophy of science used to be about trying to figure out what delineated science from non-science (or pseudo-science). I think a more common central question many of us are asking is “what makes ‘good science’ good science?” That turns out to be a much more fruitful question, and one that spawns lots of interesting lines of research as you disambiguate it.”

One of the most important questions is the transition of this degree into the job market. Professor Haber starts by explaining how even computer scientists face serious “ethical questions about the algorithms they develop.” He goes on to explain that “most of our [philsophy of science] majors are double majors, and being a philosophy or philosophy of science major gives them a real edge when they apply to graduate school or for jobs. Philosophy majors score at or very near the top of most of the graduate entrance exams. The analytical, logical and ethical reasoning skills, along with the core training in writing and argumentation, are highly transferable skills that help our students stand out in all kinds of professions.” It seems that this pair is a match made in heaven — well, not literally, that is.

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