Science has such an effect on how we live, and on our concepts of the natural world and our nature as human beings, that it is not surprising that philosophical reflection, on science in general and on specific foundational issues in the various branches of science, is flourishing. While the traditional problems remain, there are also exciting issues to think about in relation to recent scientific developments, such as quantum physics and evolutionary biology. It is increasingly common for science academics to at least introduce their students to the philosophy of science, and the subject remains close to the centre of analytical philosophy.
These two books will help anyone wanting to learn how the discipline has developed in recent years. Whereas the focus of the philosophy of science in the work of Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and others was on the demarcation between science and non-science, scientific methodology and issues about rationality and relativism, contemporary philosophy of science reflects the widespread revival of metaphysics in analytical philosophy.
Hence, much recent literature has been concerned less with epistemology and more with metaphysical questions about the laws of nature, causation and explanation. Both these volumes reflect this trend, but they also include material on philosophical debates arising from the social context of science.
Yuri Balashov and Alex Rosenberg have put together a collection of classic articles to complement Rosenberg's first-rate textbook Philosophy of Science. Peter Machamer and Michael Silberstein, on the other hand, offer a collection of specially written essays introducing key topics in the general philosophy of science and in the foundations of the individual sciences. Both books join the rapidly expanding collection of high-quality, relatively affordable textbooks and anthologies in analytical philosophy.
The danger with anthologies is that they may give students an overly narrow and superficial concept of the subject. This can be avoided by including a good number of papers and ensuring that they represent diverse views. The result, in Balashov and Rosenberg's volume, is a pleasingly large collection of well-picked and important primary sources in the main areas of general philosophy of science, including explanation, causation and laws, theory change, scientific realism, confirmation theory and the social context of science.
This anthology would be eminently suitable as the core text for an intermediate or advanced course in the subject. The editors include introductions to each section, as well as study questions and guides to further reading; the book contains a large bibliography and an index. The low cover price makes this weighty tome good value for money.
Machamer and Silberstein's Blackwell Guide features 15 longish chapters on issues ranging from the interpretation of quantum mechanics to the feminist philosophy of science. There are two chapters on issues in the philosophy of biology, one each on cognitive science and the social sciences, and others on topics such as explanation, models, induction and probability, and philosophy of space-time physics. The standard of all the essays is high, they offer extensive guides to further reading and there is a short introduction on the history of philosophy of science.
Some of the issues addressed are technical and, while the essays are uniformly well written and accessible, this book is aimed at intermediate or advanced students rather than complete beginners. Although it is not likely to be suitable as the main text for courses, it offers an excellent resource for students and others to find out about the latest developments in the philosophy of science.
James Ladyman is senior lecturer in philosophy, University of Bristol.
The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Science. First edition
Editor - Peter Machamer and Michael Silberstein
ISBN - 0 631 22107 7 and 22108 5
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £60.00 and £17.99
Pages - 347