WHAT IS NEW
Sythese special issue on PHILOSOPHY OF AND AS INTERDISCIPLINARITY now available in print: Volume 190, Issue 11, July 2013. Please find an overview here.
Please click here to download a pre-print version of this Introduction. It provides an overview of the following six articles.
In this paper I attempt to answer the question: What is interdisciplinary communication? I attempt to answer this question, rather than what some might consider the ontologically prior question—what is interdisciplinarity (ID)?—for two reasons: (1) there is no generally agreed-upon definition of ID; and (2) one’s views regarding interdisciplinary communication have a normative relationship with one’s other views of ID, including one’s views of its very essence. I support these claims with reference to the growing literature on ID, which has a marked tendency to favor the idea that interdisciplinary communication entails some kind of ‘integration’. The literature on ID does not yet include very many philosophers, but we have something valuable to offer in addressing the question of interdisciplinary communication. Playing somewhat fast-and-loose with traditional categories of the subdisciplines of philosophy, I group some philosophers—mostly from the philosophy of science, social–political philosophy, and moral theory—and some non-philosophers together to provide three different, but related, answers to the question of interdisciplinary communication. The groups are as follows: (1) Habermas–Klein, (2) Kuhn–MacIntyre, and (3) Bataille–Lyotard. These groups can also be thought of in terms of the types of answers they give to the question of interdisciplinary communication, especially in terms of the following key words (where the numbers correspond to the groups from the previous sentence): (1) consensus, (2) incommensurability, and (3) invention.
In interdisciplinary research scientists have to share and integrate knowledge between people and across disciplinary boundaries. An important issue for philosophy of science is to understand how scientists who work in these kinds of environments exchange knowledge and develop new concepts and theories across diverging fields. There is a substantial literature within social epistemology that discusses the social aspects of scientific knowledge, but so far few attempts have been made to apply these resources to the analysis of interdisciplinary science. Further, much of the existing work either ignores the issue of differences in background knowledge, or it focuses explicitly on conflicting background knowledge. In this paper we provide an analysis of the interplay between epistemic dependence between individual experts with different areas of expertise. We analyze the cooperative activity they engage in when participating in interdisciplinary research in a group, and we compare our findings with those of other studies in interdisciplinary research.
Philosophy may relate to interdisciplinarity in two distinct ways On the one hand, philosophy may play an auxiliary role in the process of interdisciplinarity, typically through conceptual analysis, in the understanding that the disciplines themselves are the main epistemic players. This version of the relationship I characterise as ‘normal’ because it captures the more common pattern of the relationship, which in turn reflects an acceptance of the division of organized inquiry into disciplines. On the other hand, philosophy may be itself the site for the production of interdisciplinary knowledge, understood as a kind of second-order understanding of reality that transcends the sort of knowledge that the disciplines provide, left to their own devices. This is my own position, which I dub ‘deviant’ and to which most of this article is devoted. I begin by relating the two types of interdisciplinarity to the organization of inquiry, especially their respective attitudes to the history of science. Underlying the two types are contrasting notions of what constitutes the ‘efficient’ pursuit of knowledge. This difference is further explored in terms of the organization of the university. The normal/deviant distinction was already marked in the institution’s medieval origins in terms of the difference between Doctors and Masters, respectively, an artefact of which remains in the postgraduate/undergraduate degree distinction. In the context of the history of the university, the prospects for deviant interdisciplinarity were greatest from the early sixteenth to the early nineteenth century—the period called ‘early modern’ in the philosophy curriculum. Towards the end of that period, due to Kant and the generation of idealists who followed him, philosophy was briefly the privileged site for deviant interdisciplinarity. After Hegel’s death, the mantle of deviant interdisciplinarity increasingly passed to some version of ‘biology’. I explore the ‘Natur-’ and ‘Geisteswissenschaft’ versions of that post-philosophical vision, which continue to co-exist within today’s biological science. I then briefly examine the chequered reputation of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, someone who exemplified the promise and perils of deviant interdisciplinarity over the past 200 years. I conclude with an Epilogue that considers contemporary efforts to engage philosophy in interdisciplinary work, invoking William James as an exemplar.
This essay offers a critique of disciplinary philosophy, the dominant form of academic philosophy in the United States and elsewhere across the twentieth century. It argues that disciplinary philosophy represents an aberration compared to the main tradition of two thousand years of Western philosophy. It describes the characteristics of a dedisciplined philosophy, and emphasizes that dedisciplining philosophy requires attention to be paid to the linked institutional and theoretical elements of philosophy. The essay bases its argument in part on the results of a survey sent to more than 500 philosophy departments across North America in the summer of 2010.
In this article we argue that philosophy can facilitate improvement in cross-disciplinary science. In particular, we discuss in detail the Toolbox Project, an effort in applied epistemology that deploys philosophical analysis for the purpose of enhancing collaborative, cross-disciplinary scientific research through improvements in cross-disciplinary communication. We begin by sketching the scientific context within which the Toolbox Project operates, a context that features a growing interest in and commitment to cross-disciplinary research (CDR). We then develop an argument for the leading idea behind this effort, namely, that philosophical dialogue can improve cross-disciplinary science by effecting epistemic changes that lead to better group communication. On the heels of this argument, we describe our approach and its output; in particular, we emphasize the Toolbox instrument that generates philosophical dialogue and the Toolbox workshop in which that dialogue takes place. Together, these constitute a philosophical intervention into the life of CDR teams. We conclude by considering the philosophical implications of this intervention.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States, like many other funding agencies all over the globe, has made large investments in interdisciplinary research in the sciences and engineering, arguing that interdisciplinary research is an essential resource for addressing emerging problems, resulting in important social benefits. Using NSF as a case study for problem that might be relevant in other contexts as well, I argue that the NSF itself poses a significant barrier to such research in not sufficiently appreciating the value of the humanities as significant interdisciplinary partners. This essay focuses on the practices of philosophy as a highly valuable but currently under-appreciated partner in achieving the goals of interdisciplinary research. This essay advances a proposal for developing deeper and wider interdisciplinary research in the sciences through coupled ethical-epistemological research. I argue that this more robust model of interdisciplinary practice will lead to better science by providing resources for understanding the types of value decisions that are entrenched in research models and methods, offering resources for identifying the ethical implications of research decisions, and providing a lens for identifying the questions that are ignored, under-examined, and rendered invisible through scientific habit or lack of interest. In this way, we will have better science both in the traditional sense of advancing knowledge by building on and adding to our current knowledge as well as in the broader sense of science for the good of, namely, scientific research that better benefits society.