I am happy to announce that this fall I will be joining the faculty at Michigan State University as a post-doctoral Research Fellow. I will be joining the NSF-funded Toolbox Project under Michael O’Rourke.
This is an provocative project, and I’m excited to be a part of it. The basic premises of the project are that (1) philosophy is ubiquitous, (2) revealing the philosophical assumptions that scientists start with can enhance communication between members of a collaborate group, and (3) that improved communication will make the group more effective.
Collaborative, cross-disciplinary research teams are increasingly common. They combine researchers with a wide variety of academic training and backgrounds. As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that they often have widely different assumptions about a range of philosophical issues relating to the nature and role of science. They might disagree on the role of values in science. Or they might differ in conceptions of scientific motivation or methodology. The Toolbox Project works to identify those differences and then foster conversations among the researchers about those differences. Even if they persist in their differing philosophical views, by conversing about those differences, the researchers will be better equipped to continue their collaborative research and communicate together their results.
My main role with the project is to help develop a better understanding and picture of the effectiveness of their workshops. (They’ve already run over 120 workshops.) There are two main reasons I’m excited to be a part of this project. First, it is about the role of philosophy in understanding and enhancing communication. This is precisely the reason I got into philosophy, particularly philosophy of language. I have long been fascinated by communication, and in particular miscommunication. It is so easy for people to talk past each other, often without even noticing it, though with the obvious determent to communication. Philosophical conversations about central concepts underlying the conversation can help to clear up the miscommunication.
Second, the Toolbox Project isn’t trying to defending philosophy by manning the bastion of the besieged citadel that is Philosophy. Rather it is breaking out, seeking to push philosophy into foreign realms its long been (unfortunately) absent. I believe that philosophy has a value outside of Philosophy departments. It is ubiquitous.