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David Kinney

I work with a lot of scientists that do their primary research in field X when their PhD is in topic Y (e.g., physicists who mostly do computer science, Earth scientists who mostly do biology, etc.) As far as I know, none of them went and got a second PhD. I'm also working on some philosophical projects with some of them. So all of this is to say that what OP is interested in can be done without a philosophy PhD, and that collaborating with philosophers is one way for a scientist to make a philosophical contribution. I'd say that the most important thing for anyone looking to do cross-disciplinary work, especially for scientists looking to do serious philosophy, is to read the literature in the discipline where one does not have more training carefully, and with a lot of humility. While it does of course happen, it's unlikely that someone devoted the time and energy needed to publish a philosophy paper while also getting something wrong in an obvious and unsubtle way. But if something does feel off to you about the way philosophers are tackling a problem, and if it turns out, after spending a lot of time wrestling with it, that your scientific background can help spell this out in a novel way, while also making progress on the philosophical problem, then that sounds like the makings of a great philosophy paper, which all philosophers, but especially naturalistically-inclined ones, should be interested in reading or working on together.


Doesn't a lot depend on the field of *philosophy* Yn is interested in contributing to? Lots of philosophers of science do (or would like to) collaborate with scientists. But it seems to me that it would be harder to do collaborative work in other areas.


Thank Marcus! And thanks for the replies from Prof. L, David, and anonymous.

Let me clarify my situation. I'm studying collective behavior, which has few applied industry jobs, and the only relevant career is academic, as far as I know. The study of collective behavior rises in the wave of complexity science, which I think is the most relevant to philosophy. (If I'm studying some specific, applied thing, it's hard for me to connect my study with philosophy, right?) So if I don't want to give up my scientific career, I have to work on scientific study continuously. Otherwise, reentry is not so easy.

I guess I'm so greedy that I want to make scientific study and philosophical study run meanwhile. Option (2) to me is more of a technical question that how to find relevant philosophers that need my knowledge of modeling. I can imagine many philosophers collaborating with scientists, (that's why I think of this option), and scientists working with philosophers. However, it's always A looking for B for A's study, while my case is like B looking for A who wants B for A's study. How can I positively find someone to collaborate with?

By the way, how do you philosophers think about complexity or emergence? I think they might be the key to harmonize lots of philosophical conflicts (or maybe it's just my illusion from my daily thinking). But I haven't seen many serious discussions on them (maybe I searched in the wrong way, which is why I need a professional training.) I see some philosophical discussions taking them as an excuse. I only know a book by Nicholas Rescher, but I don't know follow-up studies.

David Kinney

Yn, there is a *lot* of recent philosophy of science that is adjacent to both the quantitative study of collective behavior and complexity science. For collective behavior, especially in humans, I'd start by looking at some of the papers by people like Cailin O'Connor and Kevin Zollman, and their collaborators. For complexity science there are a lot of possible entry points, but one good one is Angela Potochnik's 2017 book "Idealization and the Aims of Science." Once travel restrictions due to COVID start to loosen, if you're able to get some travel funding, you may want to try submitting proposals for posters or talks at some philosophy of science conferences (PSA, EPSA, etc.), so that you have the opportunity to chat with some philosophers of science, especially more junior people who will often have the most exciting projects. One thing to keep in mind is that many philosophers working in this field have pretty good command of some of the main mathematical models used, so it may not be a case of philosophers "need[ing] your knowledge of modeling," but rather two people from different fields working together on a common interest, without worrying so much about who has a PhD in what.


Thanks, David! By "need my knowledge", I wasn't meant to underestimate anyone, what I wanted to say actually was "need someone with my knowledge".

You are suggesting entry points in the philosophy of science, which is the most possible way for me. And I will definitely look into the names and the book.

However, please excuse me for being fastidious. My core philosophical interest is more in classical topics like mind, free will, etc, and if has to be classified, it will be more of continental philosophy, although realism is also of my concern. The names you recommended, although some of their research sounds very interesting to me, they seem like another class of philosophers than the class I want to work with. (I'm limited by my knowledge and not meant to offend anyone.) Philosophy of science might be a path to "more classical" philosophy, but I still wonder if there is a straighter way.

And I know some philosophers & cognitive scientists working on the philosophy of the human mind, but I can't find my place, and frankly, scientific thought is always dominating in such projects (maybe I'm biased from a scientific perspective).


Yn, there's also social ontology which is adjacent in a different way to collective behavior. Similarly, collective agency seems right up your wheelhouse. Much depends on what you imagine you could contribute to a philosophy-related project and whether it's something related to what you do or not.

Separately, in your response to David, you seem to be hitting nearly all 31 flavors in listing what you're interested in. If you want to do philosophy thoroughly unrelated to your current research then you're going to have a hard time breaking in without doing some coursework and learning the trade.

Derek Skillings

I was in the position you are in now about 9 years ago. I have a PhD in biology and decided to get a 2nd PhD in philosophy. Nearly all my work is quite interdisciplinary or collaborative and I feel (very very) lucky to now have a TT job. I don't think there is any general advice that I can give for your specific situation, as my recommendations are likely to be very discipline and context-sensitive and would require a bit more information from you. That isn't all that helpful, but I am happy to talk with you more via zoom if you reach out--on the condition that you report back here any advice you think would be helpful for others. you can direct message me on twitter @DerekSkillings or just email me via info found on my website.


Yn: I would start by browsing the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) and philpapers for the topics you're interested in. That's probably the quickest way to get the lay of the land: What people are working on, who works on what, and (most important) the concepts and jargon in which they frame things.

I imagine most philosophers (especially junior ones) are very open minded. The SEP and philpapers should give you some idea of who to contact and how to pitch your idea to them. If a scientist emailed me about my area of research and had an interesting and coherent idea/contribution, I'd be more than happy to exchange emails, do some Zoom chats, or even collaborate on a paper.

I guess I just have two other pieces of advice. (1) You should be aiming to simplify your ideas and minimize jargon. (2) If, after trying to simplify your ideas and browsing the SEP/philpapers you're still unable to pitch those ideas at a professional philosopher in a way that gets a positive response, then that's a good sign your ideas are actually confused, incoherent, unoriginal, or face some obviously fatal problem.

If you have a good idea, you shouldn't need lots of formal philosophical training just to express it. If you're interested in philosophy, I definitely think you should pursue philosophy, whether that be a philosophy PhD, attending conferences, collaborating with philosophers, or just befriending some philosophers and having chats over beer with them. But if you can't already articulate your ideas in a compelling way, it's overwhelmingly likely that training and collaboration will just make clear to you that your current ideas aren't any good. Of course, that's not to say that you won't come up with new, good ideas. When I started my journey as an undergraduate philosophy major, I thought I had all sorts of great insights that would change the field ... I did not, but, after a lot of practice and training, I did come up with original contributions.


Thanks for all kindly suggestions!

Andrew, "Social Ontology" sounds interesting, and is definitely related to my interest based on my study. Shamed never heard it. Thanks a lot!

Derek, good to know there (of course! there must be) was someone in the same position as I am. I might report back 10 years later (if I "succeed"), but you can write down your story right now if you haven't yet, and if you have, I'm happy to read it. I think your adventure is generally interesting for anyone. I'm saying not in my favor.

aphilosopher, I'm happy to hear "most philosophers are very open minded". And doing systematic research with SEP is a good suggestion, and also a big project for me. I agree with you that my current idea might be not any good, many times I thought I have an original good philosophical idea, if I hold it long enough, I would see a similar idea appear in a book published at least decades ago, in a much more comprehensive way. And many ideas I wrote down earlier I don't know what they mean now. That's why I need lots of professional training.

too early

I'm not trying to be territorial or dismissive. In fact, I sometimes assign non-philosophers in various classes I teach, even on topics that fall within the scope of philosophy. But it sounds like Yn is at the stage where they should just be reading a lot, rather than making concrete plans that might affect their career trajectory.

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