PHYLOSOPHY OF SCIENCE Soemarno , 2013. Philosophy of science is the study of assumptions, foundations, and implications of science. The philosophy of science may be divided into two areas: Epistemology of science and metaphysics of science.
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Philosophy of science is the study of assumptions, foundations, and implications of science.
The philosophy of science may be divided into two areas:
Epistemology of science and
metaphysics of science.
Issues of ethics, such as bioethics and scientific misconduct, are not generally considered part of philosophy of science.
These issues may be studied in ethics or science studies.
Nature of scientific concepts and statements
Science draws logical conclusions about the way the world works and the way in which scientific theory relates to the world.
Science draws upon evidence from experimentation, logical deduction, and rational thought in order to examine the world.
In making observations of the nature of individuals and their surroundings, science seeks to explain the concepts that are entwined with everyday lives.
Science in general is neither "natural" in its approach nor moral in its purpose.
It's simply science: the application of a logic (often in form of mathematics) to a set of objects or situations.
In a fundamental sense science is just a logic.
Objectivity of observations in science
It is vitally important for science that the information about the surrounding world and the objects of study be as accurate and as reliable as possible.
For the sake of this, measurements which are the source of this information must be as objective as possible.
Before the invention of measuring tools (like weights, meter sticks, clocks, etc) the only source of information available to humans were their senses (vision, hearing, taste, tactile, sense of heat, sense of gravity, etc.).
Because human senses differ from person to person (due to wide variations in personal chemistry, deficiencies, inherited flaws, etc) there was no objective measurements before the invention of these tools.
The consequence of this was the lack of a vigorous science.
With the advent of exchange of goods, trades, and agricultures there arose a need in such measurements, and science (arithmetics, geometry, mechanics, etc) based on standardized units of measurements (stadia, pounds, seconds, etc) was born.
To further abstract from unreliable human senses and make measurements more objective, science uses measuring devices (like spectrometers, voltmeters, interferometers, thermocouples, counters, etc) and lately - computers.
In most cases, the less human involvement in measuring process, the more accurate and reliable scientific data are.
Currently most measurements are done by variety of mechanical and electronic sensors directly linked to computers—which further reduces chance of human error/contamination of information.
This made possible to achieve astonishing accuracy of modern measurements.
For example, current accuracy of measurement of mass is about 10-10, of angles—about 10-9, and of time and length intervals in many cases reaches the order of 10-13 - 10-15.
This made possible to measure, say, distance to Moon with sub-centimeter accuracy (see Lunar laser ranging experiment), to measure slight movement of tectonic plates using GPS system with sub-millimeter accuracy,
or even to measure as slight variations in the distance between two mirrors separated by several kilometers as 10-18 m—three orders of magnitude less than the size of a single atomic nucleus
Theory-dependence of observation
A scientific method depends on objectiveobservation in defining the subject under investigation, gaining information about its behavior and in performing experiments.
Observation involves perception as well as a cognitive process. That is, one does not make an observation passively, but is actively involved in distinguishing the thing being observed from surrounding sensory data.
Therefore, observations depend on some underlying understanding of the way in which the world functions, and that understanding may influence what is perceived, noticed, or deemed worthy of consideration.
Empirical observation is supposedly used to determine the acceptability of some hypothesis within a theory.
When someone claims to have made an observation, it is reasonable to ask them to justify their claim. Such a justification must make reference to the theory - operational definitions and hypotheses - in which the observation is embedded.
That is, the observation is a component of the theory that also contains the hypothesis it either verifies or falsifies. But this means that the observation cannot serve as a neutral arbiter between competing hypotheses.
Observation could only do this "neutrally" if it were independent of the theory.
Thomas Kuhn denied that it is ever possible to isolate the theory being tested from the influence of the theory in which the observations are grounded.
He argued that observations always rely on a specific paradigm, and that it is not possible to evaluate competing paradigms independently.
By "paradigm" he meant, essentially, a logically consistent "portrait" of the world, one that involves no logical contradictions.
More than one such logically consistent construct can each paint a usable likeness of the world, but it is pointless to pit them against each other, theory against theory. Neither is a standard by which the other can be judged. Instead, the question is which "portrait" is judged by some set of people to promise the most in terms of “puzzle solving”.
For Kuhn, the choice of paradigm was sustained by, but not ultimately determined by, logical processes.
The individual's choice between paradigms involves setting two or more “portraits" against the world and deciding which likeness is most promising.
In the case of a general acceptance of one paradigm or another, Kuhn believed that it represented the consensus of the community of scientists.
Acceptance or rejection of some paradigm is, he argued, more a social than a logical process.
That observation is embedded in theory does not mean that observations are irrelevant to science.
Scientific understanding derives from observation, but the acceptance of scientific statements is dependent on the related theoretical background or paradigm as well as on observation.
Coherentism and skepticism offer alternatives to foundationalism for dealing with the difficulty of grounding scientific theories in something more than observations.
Indeterminacy of theory under empirical testing
According to the Duhem–Quine thesis, after Pierre Duhem and W.V. Quine, any theory can be made compatible with any empirical observation by the addition of suitable ad hoc hypotheses.
This is analogous to the way in which an infinite number of curves can be drawn through any finite set of data points on a graph.
This thesis was accepted by Karl Popper, leading him to reject naïve falsification in favour of 'survival of the fittest', or most falsifiable, of scientific theories.
In Popper's view, any hypothesis that does not make testable predictions is simply not science.
Such a hypothesis may be useful or valuable, but it cannot be said to be science.
Confirmation holism, developed by W.V. Quine, states that empirical data are not sufficient to make a judgement between theories.
In this view, a theory can always be made to fit with the available empirical data. However, that empirical evidence does not serve to determine between alternative theories does not necessarily imply that all theories are of equal value, as scientists often use guiding principles such as Occam's Razor.
One result of this view is that specialists in the philosophy of science stress the requirement that observations made for the purposes of science be restricted to inter-subjective objects.
That is, science is restricted to those areas where there is general agreement on the nature of the observations involved.
It is comparatively easy to agree on observations of physical phenomena, harder for them to agree on observations of social or mental phenomena, and difficult in the extreme to reach agreement on matters of theology or ethics (and thus the latter remain outside the normal purview of science).
A central concept in the philosophy of science is empiricism, or dependence on evidence.
Empiricism is the view that knowledge is derived from our experiences throughout our lives.
In this sense, scientific statements are subject to and derived from our experiences or observations.
Scientific hypotheses are developed and tested through empirical methods consisting of observations and experiments.
Once reproduced widely enough, the information resulting from our observations and experiments counts as the evidence upon which the scientific community develops theories that purport to explain facts about the world.
Observations involve perception, and so are themselves cognitive acts.
That is, observations are themselves embedded in our understanding of the way in which the world works; as this understanding changes, the observations themselves may apparently change.
More accurately, our interpretation of observations may change.
A well designed experiment will produce identical results when carried out in an identical fashion.
Whenever the social context of the observer is a factor in an observation, objectivity is lost, and the observation is no longer useful in a scientific sense.
Scientists attempt to use induction, deduction and quasi-empirical methods, and invoke key conceptual metaphors to work observations into a coherent, self-consistent structure.
Scientific realism and instrumentalism
Scientific realism is the view that the universe really is as explained by scientific statements.
Realists hold that things like electrons and magnetic fields actually exist.
In contrast to realism, instrumentalism holds that our perceptions, scientific ideas and theories do not necessarily reflect the real world accurately, but are useful instruments to explain, predict and control our experiences.
To an instrumentalist, electrons and magnetic fields are convenient ideas that may or may not actually exist.
For instrumentalists, the empirical method is used to do no more than show that theories are consistent with observations.
Instrumentalism is largely based on John Dewey's philosophy and, more generally, pragmatism, which was influenced by philosophers such as William James and Charles Sanders Peirce
Constructivism is a view in philosophy according to which all knowledge is "constructed" inasmuch as it is contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience.
It originated in sociology under the term "social constructionism" and has been given the name "constructivism" when referring to philosophical epistemology, though "constructionism" and "constructivism" are often used interchangeably.
In many ways, its views are similar to instrumentalism and pragmatism, or can appear so from the perspective of scientific realism.
For this reason, and because of its association with relativism, the constructivist view of the philosophy of science is not widely accepted among scientists and has been criticized by realists in both the scientific and philosophical communities.
Analysis and reductionism
Analysis is the activity of breaking an observation or theory down into simpler concepts in order to understand it.
Analysis is as essential to science as it is to all rational enterprises.
It would be impossible, for instance, to describe mathematically the motion of a projectile without separating out the force of gravity, angle of projection and initial velocity.
Only after this analysis is it possible to formulate a suitable theory of motion.
Reductionism in science can have several different senses.
One type of reductionism is the belief that all fields of study are ultimately amenable to scientific explanation.
Perhaps a historical event might be explained in sociological and psychological terms, which in turn might be described in terms of human physiology, which in turn might be described in terms of chemistry and physics.
The historical event will have been reduced to a physical event.
This might be seen as implying that the historical event was 'nothing but' the physical event, denying the existence of emergent phenomena.
Daniel Dennett invented the term greedy reductionism to describe the assumption that such reductionism was possible.
He claims that it is just 'bad science', seeking to find explanations which are appealing or eloquent, rather than those that are of use in predicting natural phenomena.
He also says that:
There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination. —Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995.
Arguments made against greedy reductionism through reference to emergent phenomena rely upon the fact that self-referential systems can be said to contain more information than can be described through individual analysis of their component parts.
Examples include systems that contain strange loops, fractal organisation and strange attractors in phase space.
Analysis of such systems is necessarily information-destructive because the observer must select a sample of the system that can be at best partially representative.
Information theory can be used to calculate the magnitude of information loss and is one of the techniques applied by Chaos theory.
Grounds of validity of scientific reasoning
The most powerful statements in science are those with the widest applicability. Newton's Third Law — "for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction" — is a powerful statement because it applies to every action, anywhere, and at any time.
But it is not possible for scientists to have tested every incidence of an action, and found a reaction. How is it, then, that they can assert that the Third Law is in some sense true?
They have, of course, tested many, many actions, and in each one have been able to find the corresponding reaction. But can we be sure that the next time we test the Third Law, it will be found to hold true?
One solution to this problem is to rely on the notion of induction.
Inductive reasoning maintains that if a situation holds in all observed cases, then the situation holds in all cases.
So, after completing a series of experiments that support the Third Law, one is justified in maintaining that the Law holds in all cases.
Explaining why induction commonly works has been somewhat problematic.
One cannot use deduction, the usual process of moving logically from premise to conclusion, because there is simply no syllogism that will allow such a move.
No matter how many times 17th century biologists observed white swans, and in how many different locations, there is no deductive path that can lead them to the conclusion that all swans are white.
This is just as well, since, as it turned out, that conclusion would have been wrong.
Similarly, it is at least possible that an observation will be done tomorrow that shows an occasion in which an action is not accompanied by a reaction; the same is true of any scientific law.
One answer has been to conceive of a different form of rational argument, one that does not rely on deduction.
Deduction allows one to formulate a specific truth from a general truth: all crows are black; this is a crow; therefore this is black.
Induction somehow allows one to formulate a general truth from some series of specific observations: this is a crow and it is black; that is a crow and it is black; therefore all crows are black.
The problem of induction is one of considerable debate and importance in the philosophy of science: is induction indeed justified, and if so, how?
Another way to distinguish science from pseudoscience (e.g. astronomy from astrology), first formally discussed by Karl Popper in 1919-20 and reformulated by him in the 1960s, is falsifiability.
This principle states that in order to be useful (or even scientific at all), a scientific statement ('fact', theory, 'law', principle, etc) must be falsifiable, that is, able to be tested and proven wrong.
Induction and falsification both attempt to justify scientific statements by reference to other specific scientific statements.
Both must avoid the problem of the criterion, in which any justification must in turn be justified, resulting in an infinite regress.
The regress argument has been used to justify one way out of the infinite regress, foundationalism.
Foundationalism claims that there are some basic statements that do not require justification.
Both induction and falsification are forms of foundationalism in that they rely on basic statements that derive directly from observations.
The way in which basic statements are derived from observation complicates the problem.
Observation is a cognitive act; that is, it relies on our existing understanding, our set of beliefs.
An observation of a transit of Venus requires a huge range of auxiliary beliefs, such as those that describe the optics of telescopes, the mechanics of the telescope mount, and an understanding of celestial mechanics.
At first sight, the observation does not appear to be 'basic'.
Coherentism offers an alternative by claiming that statements can be justified by their being a part of a coherent system.
In the case of science, the system is usually taken to be the complete set of beliefs of an individual or of the community of scientists. W. V. Quine argued for a Coherentist approach to science.
An observation of a transit of Venus is justified by its being coherent with our beliefs about optics, telescope mounts and celestial mechanics.
Where this observation is at odds with one of these auxiliary beliefs, an adjustment in the system will be required to remove the contradiction.
A very broad issue affecting the neutrality of science concerns the areas over which science chooses to explore, so what part of the world and man is studied by science.
Since the areas for science to investigate are theoretically infinite, the issue then arises as to what science should attempt to question or find out.
Philip Kitcher in his "Science, Truth, and Democracy" argues that scientific studies that attempt to show one segment of the population as being less intelligent, successful or emotionally backward compared to others have a political feedback effect which further excludes such groups from access to science.
Thus such studies undermine the broad consensus required for good science by excluding certain people, and so proving themselves in the end to be unscientific.
A critical question in the philosophy of science is, to what degree the current body of scientific knowledge can be taken as an indicator of what is actually true about the physical world in which we live?
The acceptance of such knowledge as if it were absolutely true and unquestionable (in the sense of theology or ideology) has been called scientism.
Claims of scientism ignore a key requirement of the scientific method that all claims be falsifiable and that, given adequate evidence, a scientist must abandon old theories and adopt new ones.
In spite of the past record of incremental progress in science (a repeating cycle of widely accepted theoretical views being rejected and replaced with new widely accepted theoretical views), scientism envisions no further progress and accepts as correct the body of scientific knowledge as it is currently constituted.
Critiques of scientific method
Paul Feyerabend argued that no description of scientific method could possibly be broad enough to encompass all the approaches and methods used by scientists.
Feyerabend objected to prescriptive scientific method on the grounds that any such method would stifle and cramp scientific progress.
Feyerabend claimed, "the only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes.“
Limitations of science
Many people consider science to be the most powerful human system ever devised for the discovery of truth.
Certainly, science has been extremely successful, in the sense that scientific theories underly the operation of all of modern technology.
For example, humans could not have devised computers, aviation, telecommunications, civil engineering, or Western medicine without the guidance of science, because all of these fields depend deeply on the basic and particular properties of the physical universe for their operation.
However, there are limitations to what any truth-finding method based on objective replication of experiments can discover.
Some fields, such as economics, ecology, or social science can be very hard to experiment with.
Even more problematic is the study of human consciousness, which is by nature subjective, yet undeniably "real" in some sense.
The human race does not at this time possess reliable techniques to study these and other subjects; better methods of truth-determination for these difficult areas are (or should be) an ongoing project of epistemology, the study of knowledge.
This is why science, though extremely powerful, cannot by itself give rise to a truly complete or balanced worldview.
Just as those who do not understand or do not trust science cut themselves off from what may be the largest and most accurate body of knowledge and technique that humankind has ever accumulated, anyone who studies only scientific fields denies a huge amount of knowledge, both currently known and potentially knowable.
Sociology and anthropology of science
In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn argues that the process of observation and evaluation take place within a paradigm.
'A paradigm is what the members of a community of scientists share, and, conversely, a scientific community consists of men who share a paradigm' .
On this account, science can be done only as a part of a community, and is inherently a communal activity.
For Kuhn, the fundamental difference between science and other disciplines is in the way in which the communities function.
Others, especially Feyerabend and some post-modernist thinkers, have argued that there is insufficient difference between social practices in science and other disciplines to maintain this distinction.
It is apparent that social factors play an important and direct role in scientific method, but that they do not serve to differentiate science from other disciplines.
Furthermore, although on this account science is socially constructed, it does not follow that reality is a social construct
In epistemology and the philosophy of perception, phenomenalism is the view that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli (e.g. redness, hardness, softness, sweetness, etc.) situated in time and in space.
In particular, phenomenalism reduces talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data.
Phenomenalism is a radical form of empiricism and, hence, its roots as an ontological view of the nature of existence can be traced back to George Berkeley and his subjective idealism.
John Stuart Mill had a theory of perception which is commonly referred to as classical phenomenalism.
This differs from Berkeley's idealism in its account of how objects continue to exist when no one is perceiving them.
Berkeley claimed that an omniscient God perceived all objects and this is what kept them in existence, whereas Mill claimed that permanent possibilities of experience were sufficient for an object's existence.
These permanent possibilites could be analysed into subjunctive conditionals, such as, if I were to have y-type sensations, then I would also have x-type sensations.
As an epistemological theory about the possibility of knowledge of objects in the external world, however, it is probable that the most perspicuous formulation of phenomenalism is to be found in the transcendental aesthetics of Immanuel Kant.
According to Kant, space and time, which are the a priori forms and preconditions of all sensory experience, "refer to objects only to the extent that these are considered as phenomena, but do not represent the things in themselves".
While Kant insisted that knowledge is limited to phenomena, he never denied or excluded the existence of objects which were not knowable by way of experience, the things in themselves or noumena, though he never proved them.
Kant's "epistemological phenomenalism", as it has been called, is therefore quite distinct from Berkeley's earlier ontological version.
In Berkeley's view, the so-called "things in themselves" do not exist except as subjectively perceived bundles of sensations which are guaranteed consistency and permanence because they are constantly perceived by the mind of God.
Hence, while it is true that for Berkeley, objects are merely bundles of sensations (see bundle theory), unlike other bundle theorists, objects do not cease to exist for Berkeley when they are no longer perceived by some merely human subject or mind.
In the late 19th century, an even more extreme form of phenomenalism was formulated by Ernst Mach, later developed and refined by Russell, Ayer and the logical positivists. Mach rejected the existence of God and also denied that phenomena were data experienced by the mind or consciousness of subjects.
Instead, sensory phenomena, for Mach, are "pure data" whose existence is to be considered anterior to any arbitrary distinction between mental and physical categories of phenomena. In this way, it was Mach who formulated the key thesis of phenomenalism and that which separates it from bundle theories of objects: objects are logical constructions out of sense-data or ideas.
Phenomenalism and the bundle theory
Phenomenalism is frequently confused with the bundle theory of perception and vice-versa. According to the bundle theory, objects are made up of sets, or bundles, of ideas or perceptions.
To say that the pear before me exists is simply to say that certain properties (greenness, hardness, etc.) are being perceived at this moment.
When these characteristics are no longer perceived or experienced by anyone, then the object (pear, in this case) no longer exists.
Phenomenalism is the view that objects are logical constructions out of perceptual properties.
On this view, to say there is a table in the other room when there is no one in that room to perceive it, is to say that if there were someone in that room, then that person would perceive the table.
It is not the actual perception that counts, but the conditional possibility of perceiving.
Phenomenalismof the positivists
Logical positivism, a movement begun as a small circle which grew around the philosopher Moritz Schlick in Vienna, inspired many philosophers in the English speaking world from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Important influences on their brand of empiricism included Ernst Mach--himself holding the Chair of Inductive Sciences at the University of Vienna, a position Schlick would later hold--and the Cambridge philosopher Bertrand Russell.
The idea of the logical positivists, such as A.J. Ayer and Rudolf Carnap, was to formulate the doctrine of phenomenalism in linguistic terms, so as to define references to such entities as physical objects in the external world out of existence.
Sentences which contained terms such as "table" were to be translated into sentences which referred exclusively to either actual or possible sensory experiences. Roderick Chisholm definitively refuted this version of phenomenalism in 1948.
To see how he did this, note that C.I. Lewis suggested that the physical claim "There is a doorknob in front of me" necessarily entails the sensory counterfactual "If I should seem to see a doorknob and if I should seem to myself to be initiating a grasping motion, then in all probability the sensation of contacting a doorknob should follow."
Of course, this statement itself contains references to physical objects which would have to be substituted by sense-data expressions, but the point is clear enough.
Chisholm showed that the statement "There is a doorknob..." does not entail the counterfactual statement.
If it were to do so, then it must do so without regard to the truth or falsity of any other statement. But suppose the following statement is true: "I am paralyzed from the neck down and experience hallucinations such that I seem to see myself moving toward the door".
If this is true, then there could be a doorknob in front of me, I could seem to myself to see a doorknob, and I could seem to myself to be performing the correct sort of grasping motion but with absolutely no chance of having a sensation of contacting the doorknob.
Likewise, the statement that "The only book in front of me is red" does not entail the sensory statement "Redness would probably appear to me were I to seem to myself to see a book" because redness is not likely to appear under a blue light-bulb.
Some have tried to avoid this problem by extending the conditions in the analysandum: instead of "There is a doorknob in front of me" one could have it that "There is a doorknob...and I am not paralyzed, etc." But if one complicates the analysandum, one must also complicate the analysans.
In this particular case, one must analyse in purely sensory terms what it means not to be paralyzed and so on.
The same problems would arise with respect to the new analysis and we would have an infinite regress.
Another common objection to phenomenalism is that in the process of eliminating material objects from language and replacing them with hypothetical propositions about observers and experiences, it seems to commit us to the existence of a new class of ontological object altogether: the sensibilia or sense-data which can exist independently of experience. Indeed, sense-data have been dismissed by some philosophers of mind, such as Donald Davidson, as mythological entities that are more troublesome than the entities that they were intended to replace.
A third common objection in the literature is that phenomenalism, in attempting to convert propositions about material objects into hypothetical propositions about sensibilia, postulates the existence of an irreducibly material observer in the antecedent of the conditional.
In attempting to overcome this, some phenomenalists suggested that the first observer could be reduced by constructing a second proposition in terms of a second observer, who actually or potentially observes the body of the first observer.
A third observer would observe the second and so on.
In this manner we would end up with a "Chinese box series of propositions" of ever decreasing material content ascribed to the original observer.
But if the final result is not the complete elimination of the materiality of the first observer (which it cannot be), then the translational reductions that are proposed by phenomenalists cannot, even in principle, be carried out.
A criticism especially relevant to classical phenomenalism is that the phenomenalist can give no satisfactory explanation of the permanent possibilities of experience.
The question can be asked; what are the subjunctive conditionals which ground the existence of objects true in virtue of?
One answer given by phenomenalists is that the conditionals are true in virtue of past regularities of experience. However the problem with this answer is that it leads to circularity.
A final, and perhaps the most devastating objection, to phenomenalism was formulated by R. Firth (1950). The objection stems from perceptual relativity: white wallpaper looks white under white light and red under red light, etc.
Any possible course of experience resulting from a possible course of action will apparently underdetermine our surroundings: it would determine, for example, that there is either white wallpaper under red light or red wallpaper under white light, and so on.
On what basis are we to decide which of the hypotheses is the correct one if we are constrained to rely exclusively on sensibilia?
Philosopher Arthur Danto explained phenomenalism as a reference to sensations. He asserted that Nietzsche was not "… a phenomenalist, believing that whatever is finally meaningful can be expressed in terms of our own [sense] experience.“
In Connections to the World, he claimed that "The phenomenalist really is committed to the most radical kind of empiricism: For him reference to objects is always finally a reference to sense–experience … ."
Objects of any kind must be related to experience. "John Stuart Mill once spoke of physical objects as but the 'permanent possibility of experience' and this, by and large, is what the phenomenalist exploits:
All we can mean, in talking about physical objects — or nonphysical objects, if there are any — is what experiences we would have in dealing with them … ."
However, phenomenalism is based on mental operations.
These operations, themselves, are not known from sense experience.
Such non–empirical, non–sensual operations are the "…nonempirical matters of space, time, and continuity that empiricism in all its forms and despite its structures seems to require … ."