Richard Marshall interviews Philip Kitcher in 3:AM Magazine:
3:AM: You’ve written books on science in a democratic society, living with Darwin, the ethical project and an invitation to Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. This is a broad field of interests and captures the flavour of your philosophical position where you argue for the importance of both science and humanities. How did your philosophical career begin? Were you always asking questions, reading and thinking?
Philip Kitcher: I rather stumbled into philosophy. When I began my undergraduate career at Cambridge, I studied mathematics (pure and applied, with a dash of theoretical physics). Under the British system, I’d had to specialize at age 15, and I found it very hard to decide between mathematics and literature (English, French, and German). After two years of undergraduate study, it was clear that I was bored by the regime of problem-solving required by the Cambridge mathematical tripos. A very sensitive mathematics don recommended that I talk to the historian of astronomy, Michael Hoskin, and the conversation led me to enroll in the History and Philosophy of Science for my final undergraduate year. I’d originally intended to concentrate in history of science, but reading Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions prompted me to switch to philosophy of science. Despite the fact that I hadn’t done any serious philosophy as Princeton understood it, I was accepted as a graduate student in the philosophy side of Princeton’s HPS program (now defunct). I struggled at first, but eventually managed to correct some of my initial ignorance.
But I think that, all along, I was occupied by a range of questions, often different from those fashionable in the professional philosophy of the past half century, that have sometimes troubled philosophers in the past. It’s taken me several decades to work out my own philosophical agenda, and it is, as your question suggests, wide. Some people would probably describe it as quite weird. Maybe this interview will dissolve some of that sense of weirdness.