Feynman who, great a physicist as he was, is not in a terribly good position to comment on the state of the discipline today; as James Ladyman has observed, “the metaphysical attitudes of historical scientists are of no more interest than the metaphysical opinions of historical philosophers.” I tend to agree with this assessment: primacy should be given to the living, and (at least some) contemporary scientists are happy to admit a place for the philosopher in the scientific project.
Still, it might be useful to pursue this line of thinking a bit further. We can imagine how Feynman might respond to the charge leveled above; though he's dead we might (so to speak) respond in his spirit. Feynman might well suggest that while it is true that genuine contributions to quantum mechanics (and science generally) have occasionally come from men and women employed by philosophy departments, those contributions have come about as a result of those men and women temporarily leaving the realm of philosophy and (at least for a time) doing science. He might well suggest, (as John Dewey did) that, “…if [philosophy] does not always become ridiculous when it sets up as a rival of science, it is only because a particular philosopher happens to be also, as a human being, a prophetic man of science.” That is, he might well side with the spirit behind the cocktail party joke mentioned in Section 1.0—anything good that comes out of a philosophy department isn’t philosophy: it’s science.
How are we to respond to this charge? Superficially, we might accuse the spirit of Feynman of simply begging the question; after all, he's merely defined science in such a way that it includes (by definition!) any productive work done by philosophers of science. Given that
- Ladyman, Ross, Spurrett, and Collier (2007)
- Dewey (1929), p.408