A quote that is often attributed to Richard Feynman is

Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.

Is there any evidence to suggest that Richard Feynman actually said this?

Examples are here and here.

  • I have no clue what that means. Does it mean it's important, or not?
    – gerrit
    Mar 20, 2017 at 11:42
  • 2
    @gerrit, Useless from the perspective of science, but that doesn't necessarily mean it it useless in general.
    – Morgoth
    Mar 20, 2017 at 11:47
  • 3
    But ornithology is not useless to birds, human understanding of ornithology contributes to protecting and creating ecosystems in which birds can thrive. But this is Skeptics not Philosophy so I will shut up now ;-)
    – gerrit
    Mar 20, 2017 at 12:01
  • @Morgoth Isn't that reference from 2012? What makes you think it is 1990?
    – DavePhD
    Mar 20, 2017 at 12:34
  • @DavePhD, I blindly relied on the publication date suggested by a google scholar search. I have removed the link.
    – Morgoth
    Mar 20, 2017 at 12:42

1 Answer 1


The oldest two sources of the quote says it is anonymous, A Re- examination of the Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (1991), :

the anonymous remark that "philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds."

and Process Thought: Its Value and Meaning to Me (1990)

It is the exceptional scientist who is interested in the philosophy of science. As one of them said, "The philosophy of science is as useful to a scientist as ornithology is to birds."

It is borrowing from a quote of Barnett Newman :

aesthetics is to artists what ornithology is to birds

as quoted in the 1974 article Aesthetics - Gone with Gregor

  • So that is a "NO"?
    – matt_black
    Mar 21, 2017 at 9:52
  • 1
    @matt_black it's not a guaranteed "no". The original question was asking for the oldest reference for the quote, but SIMEL edited out that part of OP's question.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 21, 2017 at 12:56
  • @DavePHD, I feel that asking for the oldest available reference is a valid request.
    – Morgoth
    Mar 22, 2017 at 9:39

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