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Philosophy of science

Philosophy of science is a sub-field of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of science. The central questions of this study concern what qualifies as science, the reliability of scientific theories, and the ultimate purpose of science. This discipline overlaps with metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology, for example, when it explores the relationship between science and truth.

There is no consensus among philosophers about many of the central problems concerned with the philosophy of science, including whether science can reveal the truth about unobservable things and whether scientific reasoning can be justified at all. In addition to these general questions about science as a whole, philosophers of science consider problems that apply to particular sciences (such as biology or physics). Some philosophers of science also use contemporary results in science to reach conclusions about philosophy itself.

While philosophical thought pertaining to science dates back at least to the time of Aristotle, philosophy of science emerged as a distinct discipline only in the 20th century in the wake of the logical positivism movement, which aimed to formulate criteria for ensuring all philosophical statements' meaningfulness and objectively assessing them. Thomas Kuhn's 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was also formative, challenging the view of scientific progress as steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge based on a fixed method of systematic experimentation and instead arguing that any progress is relative to a "paradigm," the set of questions, concepts, and practices that define a scientific discipline in a particular historical period. Karl Popper and Charles Sanders Peirce moved on from positivism to establish a modern set of standards for scientific methodology.

Subsequently, the coherentist approach to science, in which a theory is validated if it makes sense of observations as part of a coherent whole, became prominent due to W.V. Quine and others. Some thinkers such as Stephen Jay Gould seek to ground science in axiomatic assumptions, such as the uniformity of nature. A vocal minority of philosophers, and Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) in particular, argue that there is no such thing as the "scientific method", so all approaches to science should be allowed, including explicitly supernatural ones. Another approach to thinking about science involves studying how knowledge is created from a sociological perspective, an approach represented by scholars like David Bloor and Barry Barnes. Finally, a tradition in continental philosophy approaches science from the perspective of a rigorous analysis of human experience.

Philosophies of the particular sciences range from questions about the nature of time raised by Einstein's general relativity, to the implications of economics for public policy. A central theme is whether one scientific discipline can be reduced to the terms of another. That is, can chemistry be reduced to physics, or can sociology be reduced to individual psychology? The general questions of philosophy of science also arise with greater specificity in some particular sciences. For instance, the question of the validity of scientific reasoning is seen in a different guise in the foundations of statistics. The question of what counts as science and what should be excluded arises as a life-or-death matter in the philosophy of medicine. Additionally, the philosophies of biology, of psychology, and of the social sciences explore whether the scientific studies of human nature can achieve objectivity or are inevitably shaped by values and by social relations.

Selected Article

A simplified taxonomy of the most important philosophical positions regarding free will.
The problem of free will is the problem of whether rational agents exercise control over their own actions and decisions. Addressing this problem requires understanding the relation between freedom and causation, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic. The various philosophical positions taken differ on whether all events are determined or not—determinism versus indeterminism—and also on whether freedom can coexist with determinism or not—compatibilism versus incompatibilism. So, for instance, hard determinists argue that the universe is deterministic, and that this makes free will impossible.

In the scientific realm, the principle of free will may imply that the actions of the body, including the brain and the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality.

Selected image

Brain in a vat
Credit: Was a bee

In philosophy, the brain in a vat is any of a variety of thought experiments intended to examine our ideas of knowledge, reality, truth, mind, and meaning. The simplest use of brain-in-a-vat scenarios is as an argument for philosophical skepticism.

Quote

"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate. - Plurality should not be posited without necessity."

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Selected biography

Sir Isaac Newton was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, alchemist, and natural philosopher, regarded by many as the greatest scientist in the history of science. By deriving Kepler's laws of planetary motion from this system, he was the first to show that the motion of objects on Earth and of celestial bodies are governed by the same set of natural laws. The unifying and deterministic power of his laws was integral to the scientific revolution.

It was Newton’s conception of the universe based upon Natural and rationally understandable laws that became the ideological seed for the Age of Enlightenment, during which it (along with the works of Galileo and Robert Boyle) became the inspiration for the application of the singular concept of Natural Law to every physical and social field of the day.

Did you know...

The EPR thought experiment, performed with electrons. A source (center) sends electrons toward two observers, Alice (left) and Bob (right), who can perform spin measurements.

  • ...that Scientism is an ideology which holds that science has primacy over other interpretations of life?

WikiProjects

Subcategories

Philosophy of science

Anti-psychiatry • Determinism • Empiricism • Epistemology • Evolution • Free will • History of science • Holism • Ontology • Philosophy of biology • Philosophy of physics • Pseudoscience • Reductionism • Skepticism • Sociology of scientific knowledge • VitalismRationalismPropositionPositivismObjectivityKnowledge

Further Reading

  • Bernard H. Baumrin. 1963. Philosophy of Science, Volume 1.Publisher: Taylor & Francis, 1963
  • Alexander Rosenberg. 2000.Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Introduction. Publisher-Psychology Press. ISBN 041515281X, 9780415152815
  • Merrilee H. Salmon. 1992. Introduction to the Philosophy of Science: A Text by the Members of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science of the University of Pittsburgh. Publisher- Hackett ISBN 0872204502, 9780872204508
  • Martin Curd and Jan A. Cover. 1998. Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues. Publisher-W.W. Norton. ISBN 0393971759, 9780393971750
  • Stanley J. Tambiah. 1990. Magic, Science and Religion and the Scope of Rationality. Publisher Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521376319, 9780521376310
  • Terry F. Godlove, Jr. 1989. Religion, Interpretation and Diversity of Belief: The Framework Model from Kant to Durkheim to Davidson. Publisher -CUP Archive, 1989 ISBN 0521361796, 9780521361798
  • Gerd Buchdahl. 1969. Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science. Publisher- The MIT Press-ISBN-10-0-262-02057-2
  • Rudy Rucker. 2004. Infinity and the Mind:The Science and Philosophy of the Infinite. Publisher-Princeton University Press. ISBN: 9780691121277
  • Nancy Frankenberry, Hans H. Penner. 1999.Language, truth, and religious belief: studies in twentieth-century theory and method in religion. Publisher-Scholars Press. ISBN 0788505408, 9780788505409
  • Peter Godfrey-smith. 2003. Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science Publisher- University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226300633, 9780226300634

Journals

  • Cassandra Pinnick, George Gale. Philosophy of Science and History of Science: A Troubling Interaction. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2000), pp. 109-125
  • Watson Davis. Science, Philosophy, Religion Find Ground for Common Front. The Science News-Letter, Vol. 38, No. 12 (Sep. 21, 1940), pp. 180+188+190
  • Karola Stotz, Paul E. Griffiths. Biohumanities: Rethinking the Relationship Between Biosciences, Philosophy and History of Science, and Society. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2008), pp. 37-45
  • Massimo Pigliucci. The Borderlands Between Science And Philosophy: An Introduction. The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 83, No. 1 (March 2008), pp. 7-15

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