, Volume 177, Issue 3, pp 317–335 | Cite as

Engagement for progress: applied philosophy of science in context

  • Heather DouglasEmail author


Philosophy of science was once a much more socially engaged endeavor, and can be so again. After a look back at philosophy of science in the 1930s–1950s, I turn to discuss the current potential for returning to a more engaged philosophy of science. Although philosophers of science have much to offer scientists and the public, I am skeptical that much can be gained by philosophers importing off-the-shelf discussions from philosophy of science to science and society. Such efforts will likely look like efforts to do applied ethics by merely applying ethical theories to particular contexts and problems. While some insight can be gained by these kinds of endeavors, the most interesting and pressing problems for the actual practitioners and users of science are rarely addressed. Instead, I recommend that philosophers of science engage seriously and regularly with scientists and/or the users of science in order to gain an understanding of the conceptual issues on the ground. From such engagement, flaws in the traditional philosophical frameworks, and how such flaws can be remedied, become apparent. Serious engagement with the contexts of science thus provides the most fruit for philosophy of science per se and for the practitioners whom the philosophers aim to assist. And if one focuses on contexts where science has its most social relevance, these efforts can help to provide the thing that philosophy of science now lacks: a full-bodied philosophy of science in society.


Socially relevant philosophy of science Values in science Explanation Prediction Weight of evidence 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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