Sunday, October 16, 2016

Philosophy for PhD students

I keep thinking how no one seems to even know anything about philosophy of science. And I am talking about lecturers and doctoral students. Three years ago, I audited a series of research methods seminars at a certain university faculty where they literally laughed at the mention of epistemology. The consensus was that it is a nonsense concern. One student added, with everyone nodding to that, that - verbatim quote - "studying epistemology would undermine the very existence of our discipline". I wish I had filmed that moment, priceless.
Actually, there's not even a crash course in any basic philosophy for PhD (Doctor Philosophiae!!!) students that I know of! When I ask my fellow doctoral researchers, 'Who are your three favourite philosophers?' more often than not I get blank stares in response. And that is from students of social sciences, arts and humanities! Don't even get me started on natural scientists! Those guys just "believe" in science and their pop-prophets, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking, who all I bet never sat next to a philosophy textbook in  their lives.

I really think that if SOAS wants to up its game it needs to make training in philosophy and formal logic compulsory. And real proper methodology training too, like at LSE. I remember vividly  how an academic supervisor reacted to my including a methodology chapter in my thesis. Doesn't how we collect data  affect our research findings?

When I try to talk about it here, I usually get, 'You think too much'.

Isn't that what we are meant to do as academics, thinking too much?

Surely, thinking critically about how we think should not be such an esoteric concern for a scientist?

What do you think?

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P. S. Adjacent to this is why we need to teach social theory to even start discussing any social issues. At the same seminar that I mentioned above, I was ridiculed for suggesting just that. The lecturer who conducted the seminar was part of that too.


  1. who do you recommend we should read while doing our PhD?

  2. Michael Agar, The Lively Science
    Gerald Weinberg, An Introduction to General Systems Theory
    Veena Das, Michael Jackson, Arthur Kleinman, Brigupati Singh, The Ground Between: Anthropologists Engage Philosophy
    Jean G. Boulton, Peter Allen, Embracing Complexity: Strategic Perspectives for an Age of Turbulence
    Andrew Abbott, Methods of Discovery: Heuristics for the Social Sciences

  3. Hi Hasnain,

    Thanks for your question.

    I will try to compile a list but what springs to mind first is Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. That's a proper philosophy of science book by a top-notch natural scientist. It's not long and quite accessible.