Philosophers of science and sustainability scientists unite!

An international group of philosophers of science (Michiru Nagatsu, University of Helsinki; Taylor Davis, Purdue University; C. Tyler DesRoches*, Arizona State University; Inkeri Koskinen, Tampere University; Miles MacLeod, University of Twente; Milutin Stojanovic, University of Helsinki; Henrik Thorén; University of Helsinki) recently wrote an article entitled “Philosophy of Science for Sustainability Science” on the nature and significance of sustainability science. This article is forthcoming in the journal Sustainability Science.

Sustainability science is a novel field of research in many respects. Its practical orientation, transformational ambitions, and interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary core require the reconfiguring of both the way science is organized and the relationship between science and practice. When combined with the ethical dimensions of sustainability, this raises many serious philosophical concerns. Sustainability scientists have been hard at work in recent years developing conceptual resources and novel methodologies to address these concerns, and philosophers of science have long been posing similar questions about scientific methodology, the appropriate role of science in society, and the various ethical and epistemic issues that arise in scientific practice. Moreover, much contemporary philosophy of science is a continuation of science proper, as philosophers have begun to engage directly with the same theoretical questions that scientists ask.

This new article suggests that philosophers of science are uniquely positioned to contribute to the development and soundness of sustainability science, both from an outsider perspective and in partnership with sustainability scientists. A critical viewpoint from the philosophy of science could promote the further development of many theoretical discussions in sustainability science on the one hand, while on the other, collaborative efforts could help to focus philosophical work on specific issues in the field. Collaborative efforts such as these have been endorsed by several academic units, including the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science at the University of Helsinki, and Purdue University’s Center for the Environment, all of which have hired philosophers of science (including some of the authors of this paper) to collaborate with sustainability scientists.

The ultimate objective of this article is to initiate a mutually enriching conversation between philosophers of science and sustainability scientists, thus responding to recent calls from the latter for more inclusive engagement with the humanities and social sciences.

*Co-author C. Tyler DesRoches is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability.