I started reading Michael Friedman’s Dynamics of Reason. The book is broken into two parts, the original lectures that form the basis for the book and things that came out of discussion of the lectures. I suppose I will reserve judgment on whether to read the latter bits till I’ve gotten through the main lectures.

The first lecture contained some brief history about how philosophers and scientists came to be two largely distinct groups. The philosophers of Descartes’ time would, apparently, have thought it strange to be made to choose between camps. Following Newton, the two groups started to diverge although many were still interested in developments on both sides. Friedman goes on to tell on story on which the conceptual problems coming out of the sciences form the basis of philosophical debate. The first paradigm for this is Kant and his attempt to explain the possibility of Newtonian physics. Kant does this, roughly, by incorporating the basic concepts of Newtonian physics into the form of our intuition, the conceptual scheme with which we attempt to make sense of the world of appearance. This idea is continued later with Schlick trying to set up a similar foundation for relativity theory, except, rather than using an unchangeable, rigid idea like the Kantian form of intuition, he uses Poincare’s conventionalism. This is prima facie less rigid.

The story continues forward to Kuhn’s characterization of the development of science in terms of scientific revolutions. Friedman makes an interesting observation here. He claims that one of the reasons that Carnap was so enthusiastic about Kuhn’s work, which was published in the Encyclopedia Carnap edited, was that he thought Kuhn’s normal/revolutionary science distinction lined up with internal/external questions on his framework. Normal science is about developing science within a paradigm, a (more or less) fixed set of rules and ideas by which everyone operates. The framework itself is not in question. These are internal questions. Revolutionary science puts the framework itself in doubt and the search for a new framework begins. The motivation, usefulness and adequacy of different frameworks and theories is questioned. These are external questions, questions about which framework to adopt. This might be old hat, but it had never been clear to me why Carnap had said that he thought Kuhn’s work lined up with his own. I was fairly clear on why, say, Hempel would like it. Putting things this way made the affinity with Carnap’s views clearer, which was helpful.

Friedman’s main complaint about Kuhn seems to be that Kuhn treats philosophy ahistorically, roughly the way that Kuhn accuses philosophers of having treated science. Friedman’s project seems like it is to show how, when viewed more historically, developments in philosophy closely parallel developments in science and contribute to it during the revolutionary periods. Philosophy is supposed to provide new conceptual possibilities on which science can draw when the need arises. This provides the sketch of an answer to the problem with which the lecture opens, the relation of the sciences to philosophy.

The setup seems promising. The first lecture was a bit high altitude. There are lots of details that Friedman needs to supply here, like more examples of philosophers providing such conceptual possibilities, as opposed to mathematicians or, say, physicists. The historical narative is engaging, and I like the general motivation for studying the history of philosophy. It seems like it leaves a lot of philosophy in the lurch though. Friedman’s ideas don’t seem particularly applicable to ethics and aesthetics. I’m not sure what the story is supposed to be for the relation of philosophy to math since the latter is difficult to fit into the Kuhnian mould. Lastly, I’m not sure why we want philosophy to have that role. I suppose it would justify some bits of philosophy to some, but I don’t yet have a clear idea of what course of development it would recommend for philosopy as a whole. It seems like it should say something normative.