16 October 2007

Nobel Laureates in Philosophy

Occasionally the topic turns up among philosophers, especially at this time of year: Suppose there were a Nobel Prize in philosophy, who then might receive it?

And then in hushed tones someone might suggest Kripke, or perhaps Habermas, or just maybe Putnam.

What such a discussion fails to appreciate, is that now it is almost commonplace for two or three laureates to be selected in a field each year. Assume the horizon within which a philosopher might be living and therefore eligible is 40 years. That means there could be as many as 120 living "philosophy" laureates at any one time. Thus there would be no question at all that Kripke, Habermas, and Putnam would have received a prize. But prizes would surely be awarded, too, for a Gettier problem, the Chinese room, Mary's qualia, and speculations about the interior lives of flying rodents.

Which leads me at least to ask a question involving a comparison: Do the discoveries in economics (say) which garner the prize appear to have an equivalent 'weight' (or, more precisely, lack of weight) to experts in that field, as those contributions that would have won a prize in philosophy do to us (or to me, at least), and, if not, should they? (As in: "Mechanism theory has been very indirectly applied to match medical students to residencies. Wow! Amazing!") Or are those discoveries indeed weighty, and the absence of anything of comparable weight in philosophy is further proof that to model the philosophical 'vocation' (as one might call it) on the particular sciences is a mistake?