Heikki J. Koskinen, Sami Pihlstrom, and Risto Vilkko, eds.: Science: A Challenge to Philosophy?
Science: A Challenge to Philosophy?
New York: Peter Lang 2006.
US$62.95 (cloth ISBN-13: 978-0-8204-7757-2).
'A bag of mixed nuts' is a phrase often used to describe conference proceedings. It certainly suits this collection of articles on the broad theme of the relationship between philosophy and science. As such, the book has many of the weaknesses that proceedings generally have but, at the same time, contains interesting individual papers while giving an overall picture of the nature and strengths of English-language philosophy in Scandinavia.
The collection is based on papers presented at the XV Internordic Philosophical Symposium which took place in 2004, and nearly all of the papers are by philosophers working in Scandinavia. The conference was organised around the topic that serves as the title of the collection, the clear motivation having been to lend coherence to the discussions while allowing individual speakers to pursue their own interests. As always in such cases the hope is that the papers illuminate the one topic from different directions rather than talk past each other. And, as always, the coherence actually achieved is only partial, with many papers off by themselves. What does give the volume more cohesion is that both naturalism and Peircean pragmatism appear time and again, as topics as well as approaches--giving those interested in either, or their interconnection, plenty to think about. It might have been beneficial for the editors to make the hard decision and cut the volume down to just the papers that deal with these particular intersecting subjects. That would have helped in another respect. Due to practical space constraints most of the nearly thirty papers are very short. As a result, some feel like a conference poster session--advertisements meant to intrigue the reader enough to personally approach the authors. I will only mention those articles I found most valuable or promising.
The very first paper in the volume, written by Mats Bergman, serves well as an example of the interesting work on naturalism and pragmatism in this volume. The paper is an admirable outline of Peirce's conception of science and its relevance to philosophy, a conception sophisticated enough to allow that poetry may also be a route to truth without dissolving into neopragmatism. Another example of a seemingly historical paper with clear implications for current work is Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen's article on the relationship between Kuhn and the logical empiricists--the re-evaluation of their work having recently become an increasingly more important avenue of research. Lars-Goran Johansson takes on the topic of the problem of induction and, within a short paper, manages to give an insightful analysis of the vitally changed context in which Hume's problem finds itself once naturalism is accepted. Cheryl Misak argues that Peirce's concept of truth as that 'which would stand up to the rigours of inquiry' (278) is the only one that can be applied within science as well as ethics, with important consequences for both. Among other interesting papers are Jussi Haukioja's defence of naturalist theories of meaning against Kripke's Wittgenstein-derived arguments, as well as the paper in which Jonathan Knowles raises arguments against what he calls 'non-scientific naturalism', i.e. a rejection of supernatural entities without accepting a thoroughly scientific world-view.
Perhaps the key paper of the volume, however, is Kenneth R. Westphal's longer article. Westphal's vision of philosophy is both broad, in terms of the paper's scope, and deep, in terms of his historical scholarship as well as his understanding of the intellectual underpinnings of modern thought. The article, which rewards re-reading, argues that modern philosophy has tended to lack self-awareness, a facility that Westphal sees as essential for avoiding arid theorising, and one that he believes may be found in Hegel's work. Although Westphal never mentions Peirce, his paper is actually quite reminiscent of that version of pragmatism: similarities between Hegel and Peirce have often been remarked upon and the conclusions that Westphal reaches, as well as his concern for what actual scientists do, are all very much in tune with Peirce's own attitude to science and criticisms of post-Cartesian philosophy. As such, the changes Westphal calls for in his richly textured article fit well into the Peircean and naturalist tenor set by many of the other papers.
The overall impression one gains from reading the collected papers is an awareness of the healthy state of English-language philosophy in Scandinavia. Given the relatively small size of the philosophical community there, the volume shows a vigour of which many other supposedly larger regions would be envious. At the same time, one comes to have the impression that much of that energy is focussed upon work within the broadly Peircean tradition, particularly the naturalist form it has taken on in the last few decades.
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, and Marie Curie-Sklodowska University