A Short Note on Writing Empirical Philosophy

There is no philosophical genre yet which encompasses empirical studies in the social epistemology of science, and I could not resort to an established scheme into which I could have molded my writing. In working upon this book, I therefore have had to solve challenges concerning not just its content, its method and argument, but also concerning the narration of content.

To write as an empirically immersed philosopher means to be constantly caught between two spheres, between the abstract and the concrete, between abstract concepts and the locally observable, between the technical and the quotidian. It means to focus on empirically observable phenomena on the one hand, and to follow the trails of philosophical thought on the other, thereby exploring each of their subtleties and making visible how one bears upon the other.

Writing qualitative empirical research comes with a commitment to detailed observation, but also with the responsibility to guard the interests of the people studied. When presenting my empirical data, I have decided to refrain from describing research details that could compromise the anonymity of the scientists that have participated in the study. To this end,

I have modified descriptions and interview quotations where necessary. Furthermore, all persons that are mentioned in the empirical material have been given pseudonyms. My choice to refer to the scientists studied by their first name reflects the rather informal workplace culture in Denmark.

When writing about empirical research for an audience of philosophers, you have to find a way to meet, if not entirely adopt, the expectations of style in philosophy. Social epistemology and philosophy of science are dominated by analytic approaches, and one of analytic philosophy’s prime achievements is that its language is abstract and elegant, often slick and clean. Philosophy tends to speak with a rather authoritative voice. However, the gradual exploration of empirical phenomena with the help of qualitative methods, however, gives a more mixed, tentative picture that is gradually corroborated. Furthermore, qualitative empirical studies engage the investigator as a social, corporeal individual and as an instrument (Osbeck & Nersessian, 2015). Therefore, reflections on the role of the investigator and his or her embodied interactions with the field are essential. This reflective style is not easily reconciled with the impersonal, often bold, style of writing which is state of the art in philosophy of science and epistemology.

As the reader will notice, I have found a slightly different balance between philosophy’s analytic style and the style of qualitative research in each chapter, placing emphasis sometimes more on the concrete, sometimes more on the abstract.

 
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