A History of “Data Controlled” Philosophy of Science


“The philosophy of science is what the philosophers of science do. But what are the philosophers of science doing? A team of researchers has just published its response, based on computer text-mining of each issue of the journal Philosophy of Science published from 1934 to 2015.

In “What is this thing called Philosophy of Science? A Computational Topic-Modeling Perspective, 1934-2015 ”, to appear in HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the History of the Philosophy of Science, the authors Christophe Malaterre, Jean-François Chartier and Davide Pulizzotto (University of Quebec at Montreal) argue that their method complements other current historical approaches.

They say their methods allow “holistic analysis of the semantic content of large corpora of full-text documents, thus providing an empirical basis for content-related studies, whether synchronic or diachronic.” As for what they learned, and how, they write:

we apply these methods to the full full-text corpus of Philosophy of Science from its very beginnings in 1934 until 2015 to empirically study the research questions that preoccupy philosophers of science and how these questions have evolved over the past 82 years. By applying topic modeling algorithms, we identified 126 key topics that were present in journal articles during this period. We also analyzed how these topics have evolved in importance over time. Our results join well-known episodes in the history of the philosophy of science, such as the rise and fall of logical empiricism (1930s-1970s), but they also document other trends, such as the strong emergence of ‘a philosophy of biology in the 1980s and especially in the first decade of the 2000s as well as the emergence of a significant interest in models and simulations in the 1990s…

These 126 topics show a great diversity of interests exhibited by philosophers of science, ranging from questions about the logic and philosophy of language to problems that are generally considered to be more metaphysical, for example, natural types or causality, including also included a wide range of epistemological issues. questions about induction, confirmation and the scientific method.

Here are some more specific findings:

  • 16% of the subjects concern the philosophy of language, logic and mathematics
  • 10% of the subjects concern the physical sciences
  • 9% concern biological sciences
  • 12% concern epistemology
  • 13% concern theory (concerning scientific theories, explanation)
  • 13% concern metaphysics

The following graph shows how the popularity of subjects in Philosophy of Science has changed over the period studied:

“Diachronic evolution of subject categories in philosophy of science, 1934-2015. The width of each “flow” is proportional to the probability of each category in the corpus. From “What Is This Thing Called Philosophy Of Science?” »By Malaterre, Chartier and Pulizzotto.

Comments from the authors:

  • The predominance of subjects related to language and logic from the beginning of the philosophy of science in 1934 until the 1970s, with language consistently accounting for around 20% of the main subjects and logic coming in two bursts, one before the 1950s and a stronger one from the 1950s to the 1970s. These episodes were then followed by a sharp decline and a complete disappearance of language and logic in the top 20 subjects from the 1980s.
  • Mathematics-related topics, on the other hand, were present more or less continuously throughout the journal’s existence, with an average of about one topic per period. Since many of these math-centric topics include terms that will be mobilized by any sufficiently formalized scientific theory (e.g., variables, state space, or the theorem), one possibility could be that they are grafted onto each other. one way or another on a number of subjects related to physics.
  • Physics topics [are] fairly well represented in Philosophy of Science, but not in a dominant way… Note how they appear in the top 20 subjects mainly in two periods: an early period from the 1950s to the 1970s with a simultaneous interest in relativity and quantum mechanics and a second period from the 1990s to ‘to the 2010s, much more focused on quantum mechanics and particle physics.
  • The emergence in the first decade of the 2000s of several themes which are in some way linked to the physical sciences (but not exclusively) and which concern models and simulations (themes 100, 116, 136). These themes linked to models could correspond to a relative shift of interest from traditional themes of the physical sciences towards modeling and simulation, which are themes which are not limited to physics but also concern other scientific disciplines.
  • From the creation of the journal in 1934 until the 1960s, there were only two subjects linked to biology… Towards the very end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, there was a very strong development of subjects linked to biology, including topics on natural selection, population genetics, and the concept of adaptation, with an even stronger presence from the first decade of the 2000s.
  • Topics related to the philosophy of mind at large – including perception, vision, behavior, intentionality and neuroscience as well as psychology and therapy – have been found to be present inconsistently throughout. the period of existence of the journal.

There is a lot more to the article, which you can read here.


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