PSA 1968 Featured Philosopher - Adolph Grunbaum and Nicholas Resher.


 Nicholas Rescher 2

Nicholas Resher

My main recollection of PSA 1968 is that the participation was much smaller than nowadays and the people seemed more closely collegially connected.


The main change in Phil Sci over the last 50 years is that is has drawn much closer to actual scientific work (and more distant from issues of epistemology and general methodology).


As to changes over the next 50 years I am reminded of the anecdote about the jazz musician who was asked where jazz was going. He replied: If I knew that we’d be there already.


My only advice to young scholars is that they should try to figure out what is their own thing. If they hop onto a fashionable bandwagon, they are begging for obsolescence. Those bandwagons soon run out of steam.

 Grunbaum Adolf

Adolf Grünbaum

What is your dearest / funniest memory of the first PSA meeting in 1968?

I can recall that I was so excited at the development of the Philosophy of Science Association and to be able to attend its first meeting. It meant that my subject of study was now being intensely cultivated on a large scale.

What are the most important changes you have seen in the philosophy of science over the last 50 years (beside growth)?

Over the last 50 years, I have seen a stronger integration of science into the study of philosophy. Without that scientific foundation, our understanding of the world in which we live would be tremendously impoverished.

Is there anything else you would like to say on this occasion?

This is a great occasion and I am most happy to live to see the Philosophy of Science Association celebrate this milestone. I wish it many more successful years to come.


 PSA 1968 - Featured Philosopher - Ken Schaffner 

 Ken Schaffner has also agreed to share some of his insights, both as an attendee of the 1968 meeting and as former Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science.  

SCHAFFNER photo Oct 2016


Some recollections of the 1968  PSA meeting:


I recall that the 1968 PSA event was the first solo meeting of the organization, which previously had only met jointly with the AAAS. Adolf Grunbaum was the President at the time and local host. Unfortunately, as happens in October in Pittsburgh, the airport was totally fogged in, and Carl Hempel had to land elsewhere and drive over a hundred miles to get to the meeting, provoking major handwringing from Grunbaum until his arrival. I don’t think that my sometime Ph.D. Director, Sidney Morgenbesser (who alternated directorships with Ernest Nagel during the year when Nagel temporarily left Columbia for Rockefeller) ever made it into Pittsburgh to chair his session.


Interestingly, there was a lot of philosophy of biology on the program, with David Hull and Michael Ruse offering their early views about this emerging discipline, intermixed with philosophy of physics and general issues. I, however, talked about correspondence rules, with my main examples drawn from the physics of the Lorentzian electron, and proposing a causal sequence interpretation of that traditional notion. 


The program was great, and the company extraordinary, with many now-departed giants of the field chairing sessions. They included Wilfrid Sellars and Carl Hempel, who provided deep insights and perspectives on the lectures.


And, we even had a “smoker,” back in those bygone days ….


Recollections of the past 50 years, and the future


I served as Editor-in-Chief of Philosophy of Science from 1975-1980, so I had a close-up look at the discipline during those years - but a reasonable perspective of the field before and after that. Two general thoughts: there is much more diversity of viewpoints and philosophies that have emerged, and more attention to diverse sciences and to potential practical implications of philosophy of science. These trends will continue, probably with more attention to biology, possibly to medicine, and especially to the sciences of the mind (particularly neuroscience) as those disciplines have become more significant than physics was back in the late 1960s and 1970s. 


Stay tuned for more posts soon! 

--Soazig Le Bihan 

PSA 1968 - Featured Philosopher - Bas van Fraassen

Bas van Fraassen was also kind enough to share a few memories and insights on 50 years of the PSA. Thank you Bas! 

BAS Cologne


At PSA 1968 I had the opportunity to meet others who were into quantum logic, especially Jeff Bub and Hilary Putnam.  I was in a symposium with Putnam, who was explaining how we all had to think quantum-logically, that was the one true logic for our language.  As an example he talked about a system in a quantum state:  its momentum had some value, but for each possible value, its momentum did not have that value.

 Putnam was very much my senior and I felt a little daunted, but I raised my hand and said that here he was using “not” in its classical, truth-functional sense, contrary to what he said we should do.  He just grinned and said, “Oh, that was just a concession to those of you who haven’t learned to think quantum-logically yet.”  I don’t know whether that was funny but people around me were laughing, so I just hung down my head.  It was only in my mind that that I was saying “But!, but!, but! ….


You asked about changes since then.  Well, at that time there were a lot of exciting things going on in philosophical logic and philosophy of language as well as in philosophy of science.  Hilary Putnam was a brilliant example of someone who worked in all three areas at once.  Today all these fields still exist of course, but I think there is not much overlap in the bibliographies at the moment.  On the other hand, there is much more overlap between philosophy of science and history of science than there was then, a really good thing.  I think there is increasingly more overlap with the history of philosophy as well, and that should help to make dialogue possible with philosophers in other areas.


Bas van Fraassen.



Stay tuned for more testimonies! 

--Soazig Le BIhan 

PSA 1968 - Featured Philosopher - Michael Ruse.

Exclusive: A picture of "Scruffy McGruff and his pet human". 

Michael Ruse shared a beautiful testimony on philosophy, belonging, and first conferences. Thank you Michael! 

RUSE scruffy mcgruff and pet human



I arrived in a very wet Quebec City on September 17, 1962, on my way to do an MA in philosophy at McMaster University in Ontario.  The next year, I was admitted to the doctoral program at the University of Rochester, just around Lake Ontario.  In the summer of 1965, two years later, I dropped out with seven incompletes and one B.  I don’t intend to dwell on past triumphs but, given that eighteen years later I got a Guggenheim, I think it was clearly not just intellectual ability that was a factor. 

Above all, obviously, it was that I was very lonely and not at all coping with being in a new and in respects rather alien country. For someone with my historical interests, it didn’t help either that Rochester was a rather analytic department. I don’t say this in a negative fashion, for in many ways it was a very good department and, if only by osmosis, I learnt a lot about living life as a professional philosopher – publishing and so forth.  It did teach me, what has stayed with me all my life, that in dealing with graduate students it is as important to care about their emotional lives as it is about their academic progress.

I returned to Canada and – this being the mid-sixties – even I managed to get a sessional job at the newly founded University of Guelph, where I stayed for the next thirty-five years.  I would be there still but that I was in 2000 facing compulsory retirement and so I moved south to Florida State University, where I am still. All those warnings about marrying your students would be much more effective if it was pointed out that you are liable to find yourself in your mid-seventies still supporting teenagers. 

As soon as I had to get up in the mornings, wash, and go to work, I reverted to my normal, rather-driven self.  I discovered that I loved teaching and was good at it.  I got on well with my new colleagues and they were willing to give me a regular job.  But I still had to get that PhD, so – now newly married (the first of the student-wives!) – I set off back to the University of Bristol, where I had done my undergraduate degree.  Suffice it to say that this time I was successful – although I might mention that the internal examiner on the viva was a former fellow student who (as it happens) never finished his own degree and gave me a grueling time on my comments about Thomas Kuhn.  

I spent the year 1967-1968 back in Bristol working on the thesis – as dissertations are called in the UK.  It all went very smoothly and by the summer of 1968, undoubtedly fueled by my time at Rochester, I was starting to think that publication must be the next move.  (I do want again to reemphasize the importance of that Rochester experience. My colleagues at Guelph, all of whom were two or three years ahead of me, with doctorates now in hand, rarely if ever thought in terms of publication.  Or if they did, only secondarily to serving on library committees and the like, a major item in a new institution like Guelph.)  

Then I saw a call for papers for the new PSA conference at Pittsburgh – and that for me was and still is one of the most eventful factors in my whole academic life.  Without hesitation, I wrote a paper and submitted it.  I was one of a new cohort – most notably David Hull – who were working on the philosophy of biology.  Most were motivated as was I – no one had done much work on it and what there was frankly was pretty second-rate.  My paper was on defending natural selection from the charge of being a tautology.  As I remember, my main target was Karl Popper who had argued just that, and I spent several happy pages showing just how wrong he was.  I should say, looking back, that I still think he was wrong and like most of us was intensely irritated by the coterie of sycophants with whom he surrounded himself. I still think he was a brave voice for science and objectivity in the 1930s and 1940s when such voices were conspicuously lacking.  

To my joy, the paper was accepted.  As I remember, my wife and I put together our pennies and went out and had pizza.  At the same time, the chairman Wesley Salmon sent a strong note about not exceeding the twenty-minute time limit.  Came the fall, back in Guelph, I practiced in front of the mirror – remember this was my first public presentation – so I would not go over the limit.  I was a lot more scared of program organizers in those days than I am in these!

Two or three colleagues and I drove down to Pittsburgh, I with paper in excited hand.  Came the session and disaster struck.  The regular chair was replaced by Peter Achinstein.  He was (as now) at Johns Hopkins and already he had a reputation for being, let us say, somewhat brusque and harsh.  Indeed, a year earlier I had encountered already an instance of this at our neighboring university in Waterloo where he was giving a paper.  He challenged the audience to give him an example of an established law that was later discarded and I had volunteered the biogenetic law – ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.  With a sneer, he dismissed me saying he was talking about real science, and that shut me up.

I got up, nervous as hell, and read my paper.  It took twelve minutes and was given at such high speed no one was able to understand a word of it.  There was an awful silence when I was finished.  Then, to his everlasting credit and to my fifty-years-later gratitude, Achinstein lobbied an easy one at me, I relaxed and answered, and we ended by having fifteen minutes of lively discussion.   I had triumphed.  Not just then in that session but more generally and importantly in my own life.  I had shown myself and the world that I was able to rise above the humiliation of Rochester and that I was good enough – so long as I worked hard enough – to play with the big boys and girls.  To be a functioning member of my chosen profession and to contribute as well as to receive.  That is why that first PSA meeting, in Pittsburgh back in 1968, has such a very special place in my heart.

Michael Ruse

Florida State University

PSA1968 - Featured Philosopher - Jeff Bub: On what not to do for your first talk!

jeff bub4

Jeff Bub was kind enough to share some memories and insights on the profession, and on what not to do for your first professional talk. Thank you Jeff! 

What is your dearest / funniest memory of the first PSA meeting in 1968?

I was a post-doc at the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science at the time. Herbert Feigl, Grover Maxwell, Keith Gunderson, and I set off for the airport in Minneapolis in the late afternoon or evening of October 10, the day before PSA 1968. Our flight to Pittsburgh was delayed … and delayed, and eventually cancelled. Too much fog over Pittsburgh. My talk and Keith’s were both scheduled for the first session at 9:30 am, mine in a session of contributed papers on philosophy of physics, and Keith’s in a symposium on philosophical implications of computer science. I think this was my first talk in front of a largish audience, and I was rather nervous about it. I turned to Feigl, somewhat relieved, and said: ‘Well, I guess my talk will have to be cancelled.’ Feigl's response was decisive: ‘You’re not missing your talk. We’ll rent a car and drive.’ So we did, and headed off for Pittsburgh around midnight. Feigl and Maxwell went to sleep in the back, and Keith and I shared the driving. It was something of a miracle that we arrived alive. As the night went on, I kept waking up from a dream, suddenly aware that I was actually driving a real car and not a dream car. When we arrived at around 8:30 in the morning, I remarked that I was so tired I couldn’t imagine giving a decent talk and would have to begin by apologizing. Feigl was not amused: ‘The last thing you should ever do when you give a talk is begin by apologizing. It’s bad form. People go to the trouble of coming to your talk to hear something interesting, not to listen to excuses for a bad talk. Never apologize!'

I gave my talk ‘Hidden variables and the Copenhagen interpretation — a reconciliation’ at 9:30 am. I was too tired to be nervous. The Chair of my session was Aage Petersen, formerly an assistant of Neils Bohr and at that time on the faculty at the now defunct Belfer Graduate School of Science at Yeshiva University in New York. His book Quantum Physics and the Philosophical Tradition (MIT Press, 1968) had just been published. It includes the infamous comment attributed to Bohr by Petersen, usually wrongly presented as a direct quote: ’There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.’

On a final note, both my name and Petersen’s were wrongly spelled on the program.

What are the most important changes you have seen in the philosophy of science over the last 50 years (beside growth)?

The philosophies of the special sciences, especially physics, have become a lot more technical. You require much more expertise in real physics to do original work in the field than would have been necessary 50 years ago.

What piece of advice would you give to the young scholars coming to the PSA for the first time this year?

Never begin a talk by apologizing for the form or the content.

50th Anniversaryblack

The first Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association took place 11-13 October 1968 at the Webster-Hall Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The program of that first meeting can be found here. A history of the Association can be found here. The image on the right was constructed from words from the 1968 Biennial Meeting Program.