About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Second Rationally Speaking release for Kindle

Yes, yes, I'm really having fun with Amazon's Digital Text Platform. Then again, it's nice to be able to distribute one's essays in a new format and to a potentially wide audience, so bear with me, I'll get back to actual posts on the blog very soon. (However, also keep an eye for a third Kindle release coming up: I have decided to re-issue my 2000 book, Tales of the Rational, which is almost out of print in paper format.)

So, the new collection, Thinking About Science, is a set of essays on the nature of science and its sometimes fuzzy distinction from pseudoscience. These essays were originally published as a regular column in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, one of the best sources of information available on controversies surrounding pseudoscience. The column, entitled “Thinking About Science” (just like this collection) is still going at the time of this writing (early 2009), and I refer the interested reader to its future installments to follow the evolution of my own thoughts about how science works.

These essays look at science from both the point of view of a scientist and that of a philosopher. This reflects my own dual background, with original training in evolutionary biology and the later addition of philosophy of science. The two disciplines have always had a difficult relationship, ever since science originated as natural philosophy and became independent in the 17th and 18th centuries. Scientists of the time, like Galileo and Newton, thought of themselves at least in part as philosophers, and figures that we count today as philosophers, like Descartes and Bacon, thought of themselves as scientists. But today’s academy all too often relishes the division, with scientists like physicist Steven Weinberg brazenly writing essays entitled “Against Philosophy,” and philosophers like Paul Feyerabend calling for “a formal separation between science and state” to guard society from the evils of science. My columns are written instead in the spirit that science and philosophy have much to gain from each other, with philosophy providing a broad view of how science works, and even criticism of specific scientific enterprises, and science returning the favor by informing philosophical debates with the best understanding of the facts of the universe that we can achieve at any particular moment.

I hope people will enjoy the quest as much as I do, and that readers will come to value honest human intellectual endeavor both for its own sake and for the good it can do to the human condition. As David Hume aptly put it, “What a peculiar privilege has this little agitation of the brain which we call 'thought.'”

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