Collaborative Dialogue


Background

When I first taught this course some years ago, I sought perspective on the general state of affairs in philosophy of science from a colleague who once served on the editorial board of the journal Philosophy of Science. In his e-mail he observed that the "... philosophy of science over the past 20 years has basically disintegrated." What has happened, he offered, is that younger philosophers have become interested in working on problems specific to disciplines in the natural and social sciences. Recent interest centers on philosophical issues specific to research in biology and economics, for example. More provocatively, my friend added that this kind of work does not really "feed back" into the "more general issues traditionally associated with philosophy of science, such as the problem of progress, realism, etc. It all strikes me as very much of the moment ... philosophers change their interests as the scientific fashions change."

In 1992, C. West Churchman presaged those sentiments: "I was an Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science during its early years. Now, over a half century later, I have to admit that I was not very clear what the journal was about, except that it tried to reflect on the meaning of science and its relation to other human activities. At this time I am even less sure of its purposes." Clearly, then, doubts exist not only about the direction of its primary journal but also about the general purpose of the philosophy of science.

Contrasting the seeming morass in philosophy of science is the rise and consolidation of the philosophy of technology. While philosophical interest in technology is hardly new, a wide-ranging but consolidated field of inquiry has taken root. Scholars from both philosophy and STS consider the "big questions" regarding how we understand, evaluate and criticize how technology affects, and is affected by, society. Such questions invite interdisciplinary inquiry. The field appears to have a clear purpose. And interest in the philosophy of technology follows a pattern found in STS — the shift in focus from science studies to technology studies.

If the picture I paint regarding the philosophy of modern science and technology is accurate, a philosophically-minded scholar might pose the following questions (among others): Can we intelligibly ask and determine what science is? What technology is? Is traditional, analytic philosophy an adequate method for answering these questions? Is an experimentally- or empirically- based philosophy an adequate method for answering these questions? Is, indeed, the philosophy of science disaggregating into philosophies of the particular sciences? If so, what consequences might such a movement have for inquiry performed in STS? In philosophy? In specific natural and social sciences? Are there currently "big questions" in philosophy of science or in philosophy of technology? What are they and are "big questions" relevant or answerable? Might individuals or groups make more progress (however defined) on more limited or seemingly answerable questions? Should philosophers be critics, advocates or underlaborers for a specific area of scientific or technological inquiry? How might the inquiry conducted by new scholars be affected by the apparent academic fascination with chasing trends and dollars?

Overview

In this assignment, we will write a collaborative dialogue. modeled on the style and organization of a Wikipedia entry (see, for example, Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Technology). The essay will address questions of interest related to the philosophy of modern science and technology. Using Wikipedia's open encyclopedia entry approach as a guide, our focus will be to construct an open dialogue about problems, questions and issues involved in the philosophy of modern science and technology.

Purpose and Aim

This assignment is an experiment in collaborative writing. This form of writing is an anathema to most humanities scholars. I believe, however, that insomuch as current inquiry in the humanities and social sciences apes the means and methods of the natural sciences, and as collaborative writing and authorship is a scientific norm, mass collaborative writing, in some form, will become more common in philosophy and in STS. Please take this assignment as an opportunity to consider what you understand the purposes of academic writing and inquiry to be and how digitally-based collaborative writing may succeed or fail to re-imagine those purposes. In short: With this assignment, take a chance. Examine and experiment with the conventions of academic discourse. In my enlightened assessment of this assignment, risk and imagination bring reward.

Structure

We will approach this assignment in a series of four steps throughout the semester. While this assignment speaks to the course readings, you may need to read ahead and look at other sources to get a sense of the problems, questions and issues you may wish to address.

While the assignment will result in a collaboratively authored piece, we will not write together as an entire class.

    Step One: Thought Piece
    Each class member will post a 500 to 700 word (no longer) thought piece, to the wiki, on a topic of interest raised in class — through the readings, discussions, question forums, and/and thought questions (below). As necessary, given your approach, please cite sources. The thought piece is due to the wiki by midnight, October 31.

    Step Two: Refining Responses
    Cycle 1: Having read all of the thought pieces, each member of the class will write a 250-300 word response (please address the idea, not the person posting) that explicitly identifies, and expands on, a central theme from any one, or any combination of, the thought pieces. As necessary, given your approach, please cite sources. Cycle 1 is due to the wiki by midnight, November 7.

    Cycle 2: Having read all of the responses, each member of the class will write another 250-300 word response (please address the idea, not the person posting) that explicitly identifies, and refines, a central theme from any one, or any combination of, the response. The theme you identify and refine can be, but does not need to be, the one addressed in cycle 1. Cycle 2 is due to the wiki by midnight, November 14.

    Cycle 3: Having read all of the responses in cycle 2, each member of the class will write a final 250-300 word response (please address the idea, not the person posting) that explicitly identifies, and refines, a central theme from any one, or any combination of, the responses. The theme you identify and refine can be, but does not need to be, the one(s) addressed in cycle 1 or cycle 2. Cycle 3 is due to the wiki by midnight, November 28.

    Step Three: Article
    Using the responses from cycle 3 as a basis, please work collaboratively to put together a coherent article that provides:

      • A title;
      • A 250 word (no longer) abstract;
      • A list of 3 to 5 keywords;
      • An introduction;
      • The body of the text using subheads to organize and index the contents;
      • A conclusion;
      • A list of references using the Chicago author/date style.

    You need not use all of the responses from cycle 3 in composing the article. Please choose the responses that work best together, once finally edited, to produce a cogent article. In developing the original content for the article, please negotiate explicit roles and divide the labor equally. The article is due to the wiki by midnight, December 5.

    Step Four: Revisiting the Thought Piece
    On completing the article, please revisit your original thought piece. Each class member will then post either a 500 to 700 word (no longer) reflection on their thought piece or, if so inclined, will revise the original thought piece based, at least in part, on the collaborative process resulting in the article. The revision is due to the wiki by 3:05, December 9.

Thought Questions

As we take up the readings in the course, please begin thinking about the contribution you will make to the collaborative dialogue. Beyond the readings, class discussions and question forums, let me offer some meta-philosophical thought questions to help spark your interest:

    • What ought the relationship be between philosophers and their objects of inquiry in science and technology? Ought philosophers be interpreters, critics, underlaborers, apologists, judges, policy-makers, enablers?
    • Ought philosophy of science be "scientific" or the philosophy of technology be "technological" (if not technical)?
    • What is the aim of the philosophy of science? The philosophy of technology?
    • What is the relationship (e.g., historical, methodological, programmatic) between philosophy of science and philosophy of technology?
    • Ought the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology be synthesized into a unified field of inquiry?
    • Does the philosophy of science (to the extent we address it this semester) have anything to say to the current conduct of STS?
    • How is inquiry conducted in the philosophy of science and the philosophy of technology? Ought the methods of inquiry in philosophy of science and philosophy of technology be applied to issues of interest in other areas of academic and social inquiry?
    • How do current social networking technologies (and other technologies of expression and experiment) affect how philosophy of science and technology is conducted? As technologies affect how we do philosophy, generally and philosophy of science and technology, specifically, do we then need a philosophy of the technology of academic inquiry?

Philosophy of Science and Technology