6/28/2008

HOPOS 2008

The 8th HOPOS (History of Philosophy of Science) conference finished last week. Unfortunately, because of teaching obligations, I didn't arrive until the end of the second day, so I missed some sessions that I really wanted to see.

I learned a lot, got to catch up with several folks I haven't seen in a while, and met some new interesting and smart people. And I got very helpful feedback on the material I presented (on Quine's trajectory from "Truth by Convention" to "Two Dogmas"). So it was a very good conference for me.

There was one thing that's been bothering me, however. This may just be the result of missing some of the presentations on logical empiricism that I would've liked to see, but I'm wondering whether -- speaking very generally -- scholarship on logical empiricism is in danger of losing a clear and coherent direction. Why? For the last 20 or so years, work on logical empiricism has improved our understanding of Carnap, Neurath, Schlick et al. by leaps and bounds. This is in large part because the old, received view of the logical empiricists was extremely inaccurate. Marginal returns on investment were quite high in the beginning; it is only natural that they come down as our picture of the logical empiricists becomes more and more refined. But my worry is that without the fairly well-defined project of locating and then refuting various caricatures of logical empiricism, the field might begin to drift.

It is not uncommon for a group that is very successful when fighting a common enemy has trouble thriving in peacetime. I hope the same thing is not happening to logical empiricism studies, now that its enemy -- the Received View of logical empiricism -- has been in large part defeated (though we are still waiting for news of that victory to reach the ears of everyone in philosophy). We know what we are against; but what are we for? -- that is, can we identify and rally around some set of interesting and fruitful further research questions about the logical empiricists?

As I said above, I hope this was just a sampling error on may part: I think I missed some really good presentations, which are truly representative of the state of the art in the field. So I'm not worried yet.

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