I'm 25. How to be a philosopher of physics?

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In summary, the conversation revolves around the speaker's interest in becoming a philosopher of physics and the challenges they face in pursuing this career path. They have a background in chemical engineering but are currently studying physics and have a passion for history and philosophy of physics. However, they are concerned about the job market for philosophers and the difficulty of combining both disciplines. The other speaker advises them to focus on studying physics and self-study philosophy, and shares an example of a successful philosopher of physics without a PhD in physics. They also mention the tough job market for philosophers and the importance of having a broad range of knowledge in the field.
  • #1
Philethan
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I'm Taiwanese and 25. I'm deeply interested in philosophy of physics since I read "An Introduction to philosophy of physics" written by Marc Lange 3 years ago. I majored in Chemical Engineering in National Taiwan University(NTU) at that time. After graduated, I apply for the department of physics in NTU again and I'm sophomore now.

I discuss my dream about being a philosopher of physics with our professors. They told me there is a huge gap between philosophy and physics. Most of the physicists don't care about any philosopher's opinion unless he or she has a Ph.D. degree in physics (and it's very difficult to get both degrees..). Besides, the career plan of most of the students is a little bit industry-oriented(Just join http://www.tsmc.com). But that's not what I want. I also love history of physics very much. I've read the following books:

"Energy, the Subtle Concept: The Discovery of Feynman’s Blocks from Leibniz to Einstein", Jennifer Coppersmith
"The Science of Mechanics: A Critical and Historical Account of Its Development", Ernst Mach
"Forces and Fields", Mary B. Hesse

It's hardly possible to study history and philosophy of physics(HPS) in Taiwan. But, even if I could study HPS aboard, I'm still afraid that whether or not I could find a job in the future. In our department of physics, any kind of history or philosophy of physics course is not included in required class.

Can someone give me some advice? Thanks in advance...
 
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  • #2
Right. Nobody cares about physics philosophers unless they also know a great deal of physics, and have actively done research in physics. So if you want people to take you seriously, the best thing you can do is to study physics. Is it possible for you to also take philosophy courses? I don't think this should be impossibly for you to mix physics and philosophy in university courses. In any case, I feel that in order to talk about the philosophy of a subject, a very deep understanding of the subject would be necessary first.
 
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  • #3
micromass said:
Right. Nobody cares about physics philosophers unless they also know a great deal of physics, and have actively done research in physics. So if you want people to take you seriously, the best thing you can do is to study physics. Is it possible for you to also take philosophy courses? I don't think this should be impossibly for you to mix physics and philosophy in university courses. In any case, I feel that in order to talk about the philosophy of a subject, a very deep understanding of the subject would be necessary first.
Thank you so much. In fact, the only one related philosophy course in my university is philosophy of science. And...perhaps, it's also the only one related course in Taiwan. Ok, I'll try to face the music. If I really want to be an influential philosopher of physics, then I must have actively done research in physics. Well, maybe I should become a theoretical physicist first and then study philosophy of physics myself. Thanks...
 
  • #4
Let's take one example of a philosopher of physics. David Malament has a Bachelors degree in mathematics and a PhD in philosophy. It is clear from his writings (and some personal discussions) that he knows general relativity extremely well. You should check out some of his philosophy writings.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malament
So as you see, it's perfectly possible to get a bachelor in physics or mathematics and then move on to obtain a PhD in philosophy. Just try to self-study some philosophy in the meanwhile.
 
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micromass said:
Let's take one example of a philosopher of physics. David Malament has a Bachelors degree in mathematics and a PhD in philosophy. It is clear from his writings (and some personal discussions) that he knows general relativity extremely well. You should check out some of his philosophy writings.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malament
So as you see, it's perfectly possible to get a bachelor in physics or mathematics and then move on to obtain a PhD in philosophy. Just try to self-study some philosophy in the meanwhile.
WOW...it's inspiring to see a real person who have done what I want to do in the future. But I'm wondering if it's necessary to get a Ph.D. in physics? Or... maybe I should say that it's unnecessary if I can express my ideas using physicist's language, clear mathematical deduction and philosophical argument.
 
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  • #6
Philethan said:
WOW...it's inspiring to see a real person who have done what I want to do in the future. But I'm wondering if it's necessary to get a Ph.D. in physics? Or... maybe I should say that it's unnecessary if I can express my ideas using physicist's language, clear mathematical deduction and philosophical argument.

Like you see, Malament is a well-respected philosopher who has worked with important physicists. He does not have a PhD in physics but in philosophy. So no, it is not necessary. You do need some minimal amount of scientific training however, so a bachelor in physics seems very necessary.
 
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Philethan said:
I discuss my dream about being a philosopher of physics

You should look at the job market for philosophers. Even if you do everything right, the odds of being employed to do this are not the greatest. Furthermore, a great many philosophy departments look at breadth when hiring junior faculty. If you only do philosophy of physics, your career path becomes that much harder.
 
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  • #8
Vanadium 50 said:
You should look at the job market for philosophers. Even if you do everything right, the odds of being employed to do this are not the greatest. Furthermore, a great many philosophy departments look at breadth when hiring junior faculty. If you only do philosophy of physics, your career path becomes that much harder.

Here's one such statistics from a few years ago, and I don't believe the bleak outlook for philosophy majors has changed much:

https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Unemployment.Final_.update1.pdf

Zz.
 
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This post seems sort of backwards to me. Not all institutions offer a PhD in Physics. In the US, the PhD in Philosophy is often a route, especially in the past, to a higher degree for somebody already specialized in physics. So, just because someone has a PhD in Philosophy doesn't mean they took the actual philosophy route in prior degrees, it simply may have been the only way to gain a higher degree. One of my Professors has a PhD in Philosophy, but has been involved (still is) in numerous important projects for the last few decades in astronomy.
 
  • #10
Philethan said:
It's hardly possible to study history and philosophy of physics(HPS) in Taiwan. But, even if I could study HPS aboard, I'm still afraid that whether or not I could find a job in the future. In our department of physics, any kind of history or philosophy of physics course is not included in required class.

Can someone give me some advice? Thanks in advance...
What country are you wanting job projections for? I've looked at the normal jobs statistic sites and there weren't any listings, so I checked the American Philosophical Association for ALL jobs in ALL fields of Philosophy and it's very bleak.

http://philjobs.org/

This is a field that you would enter more because you aren't interested in money and are doing it just for enjoyment. If you can afford it and want to do it, that's great.
 
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  • #11
As others have mentioned earning a living as a philosopher is tough.

Odds are your chances are best to support yourself as a teacher or physicist and write some philosophy books and papers along the way.

I took some philosophy courses in college and have read a lot of books along the way. I may not ever be known or influential on the philosophy side, but I've written a few papers. My most cited papers in atomic physics and brain injury each have over 100 citations. My most cited paper on the philosophy side (epistemology) has about a dozen scholarly citations and maybe 20 more informal citations (blogs, wikipedia, etc.).

Since Newton, the philosophy of physics has been driven more by physicists expressing their philosophies than by philosophers dabbling in physics.
 
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What does it mean to be a philosopher of physics?

A philosopher of physics is someone who applies philosophical principles to the study of physics. They may question the underlying assumptions and implications of physical theories, and explore the philosophical implications of scientific discoveries.

What qualifications do I need to become a philosopher of physics?

To become a philosopher of physics, one typically needs a strong background in both physics and philosophy. This can come from earning a degree in one or both fields, or through self-study and research. Additionally, a strong critical thinking and analytical skills are important for this role.

What type of research do philosophers of physics conduct?

Philosophers of physics may conduct research on a wide range of topics, such as the nature of space and time, the relationship between quantum mechanics and classical physics, or the role of mathematics in understanding the physical world. They may also analyze the ethical and societal implications of new scientific discoveries.

What career opportunities are available for philosophers of physics?

Philosophers of physics can pursue careers in academia, teaching and researching at universities. They may also work in research institutions, government agencies, or think tanks. Some may also find employment in science communication or consulting roles.

Why is it important to have philosophers of physics?

Having philosophers of physics is important because they provide a critical perspective on the foundations and implications of physics. They can challenge assumptions and encourage deeper understanding of scientific theories. They also bridge the gap between science and philosophy, helping to make scientific discoveries accessible and relevant to a wider audience.

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