New CRC looks to bridge science-philosophy divide

American philosopher Norwood Russell Hanson once said, “History of science without philosophy of science is blind … philosophy of science without history of science is empty.”

Western professor Stathis Psillos couldn’t agree more; he sees Western Science on the right path.

“It’s not that we shouldn’t worry about it, we need to make sure it stays on the right path and that the methods of science continually improve. We should learn from history not to be arrogant. The message generally is optimism, or as I describe my position as ‘epistemological optimism.’ Science is on the right track,” said Psillos, who was named the Rotman Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Science this morning.

As a Tier 1 chair, he is awarded $200,000 annually for seven years to fund his research.

Psillos, recruited from the University of Athens, has been part of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy for three months. He is a leading philosopher in examining aspects of scientific realism – the concept the world is the way our best scientific theories describe it.

“Understanding the scientific image of the world has long been an integral part of philosophy,” Psillos said. “This research can change the ways we view the relationship between science and metaphysics and show how empiricism and realism are necessary to better understand science, its aim and structure.”

He added the relationship between science and philosophy needs to be a “two-way street.” While science can go through moments of crisis, intellectual upheavals and scientific revolutions, philosophy is “a place in which the various bits and pieces of the scientific image of the world can get together and look at how coherent they are, how they work together, and get a meaningful picture.”

“The best moments of science, and of philosophy, are those moments when scientists and philosophers work together,” Psillos said. “We need to pull down the walls of arrogance that brought scientists and philosophers to their own disciplines. Philosophy and science – we should work together.

“The interaction has always been profitable for both sides. We can look at the same question from different angles; we can looks at different questions. Philosophy could not go anywhere without taking into account what science does around the world, and science would be blind without some philosophical understanding of the world.”

Psillos is “thrilled” to be at Western and has high hopes for what he wants to contribute to both philosophy and science at the university. He looks to help create a culture of cooperation and understanding.

“I really want to work hard on issues like the public understanding of science, the public image of science. I want to bring together philosophers and scientists in thinking about the broader physical and metaphysical implications of our scientific world,” he said. “I’m quite excited because Western is a great place to take on initiatives. They give you the space and the liberty you want to explore things.”

Stephen Ferguson, a Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor and Robarts Research Institute scientist, had his Tier 1 Canada Research Chair renewed this morning. Ferguson is developing new diagnostic and therapeutic tools that will have important consequences for identifying and treating neurological disease.