To report properly my personal view of Ron Giere, I must mix autobiography with biography; I beg the reader’s indulgence.
Ron Giere was my first supervisor as a PhD student at HPS Indiana University from 1976-1980. He was always a supportive and kind mentor to me, which is not nearly as common amongst philosophy academics as it ought to be. In my second year I came off of a fellowship and started a TA-ship. In my first class as TA I proved myself an exceptionally bad teacher; so much so that the Department decided they urgently needed me to take care of their library. The books certainly appreciated my skills more than my students. After putting in the hard book time, I was given another shot at teaching, TA-ing for Ron’s Understanding Scientific Reasoning class (and helping with the eponymous book’s first edition). Ron encouraged my self-reflection, study and experimentation on students which slowly, and painfully, brought my skills up from the truly wretched to the merely mediocre. (Much later I even managed to improve to the better than just tolerable, at Monash University.) I much appreciate the opportunity and support Ron gave me in these early efforts. Ron, of course, also taught and mentored me in philosophy, and much encouraged my interests in probability and the philosophy of induction. Despite my being somewhat anti-historical (in practice, not principle), I supported a deeper engagement than Ron between history and philosophy of science, and I fondly recall our arguments about his “Marriage of Convenience” paper on the subject. I also fondly recall his home-made pasta which fueled those arguments.
I worked my way through coursework to my Qualifying Exams, somehow surviving the requisite History of Science classes. At some point I found I had a summer of study to prepare for the Quals without distractions. I decided to tackle it systematically and prepared an alphabetical list of topics I’d likely be tested on. When the summer ended, I was ready for any topic ranging from A-F. On the day, I sat down and read the questions and figured I’d ace one-third of the questions and fail the rest. I returned a blank paper. Ron Giere and I argued for at least an hour in his office; he wanted me to BS my way through two-thirds of the test and get a pass. I refused. That gave me a failure, plus one more year to prepare for the next test. The second time around I did much better, not due to systematic study, but due to the collaborative preparatory sessions I had with Osvaldo Pessoa and Eugene Pidzarko.
My next engagement with Ron was more than ten years later, since the combination of 2S student deferments from Vietnam and simple Baby Boomer demographics meant the job market collapsed immediately after my passing the Quals. In 1980 one of our PhDs received a rejection letter apologizing for not being able to actually read his application, since his name came one-third of the way down the list of 1400 applications. I hid out in Silicon Valley. When things improved, I returned to IU to finish my PhD in 1989. Unsurprisingly, the faculty insisted that I redo my Quals. They insisted that I should study intensively a dozen philosophy of science books published during the 1980s and be tested on them. The first book I studied was Clark Glymour’s Theory and Evidence. Glymour’s chapter “Why I Am Not a Bayesian” had the salubrious effect of converting me to Bayesianism, for which I am forever grateful (as I told Clark at a conference). This was because each of the arguments Glymour advanced against Bayesianism either had already been refuted or I already knew how to refute. If such an excellent and renowned philosopher could do no better, surely there is something importantly right about that philosophy. I’ve been following up that intuition ever since, in one way or another. That leads me to that clever, famous and wrong-headed book by Ron, Explaining Science. My reading of it, as required by the Department, resulted in my second publication, in BJPS (1991), shredding Ron’s central argument in that book defending orthodox statistical inference (my first was a rejection of John Searle’s views on AI, my former teacher at Berkeley). I managed to pass my third Quals and then complete my PhD.
So, Ron certainly launched me on my career, in a variety of ways. Apparently, Ron took my criticisms personally and stopped replying to my emails (and, sure, it’s hard to not take criticism personally). We reconciled at the Cognitive Science Conference at Stanford in 1997. Ron Giere was an engaging, resourceful and supportive philosopher of science, who’s had a lasting impact on the field, as a researcher, teacher and administrator. His contribution will be much missed.