The question of the nature of scientific progress arises from reflection on the nature of scientific change. Change in science is not typically mere change nor is it typically a change of fashion. Scientific change leads to scientific progress. But how is progress to be conceived? Some have thought of scientific progress in terms of advance on truth or the cumulative build-up of truth. Others have been inclined to think of progress in terms of the growth of knowledge. Still others have thought of progress in a way that does not require growth of knowledge or truth, so much as improved problem-solving capacity or efficacity.
Concerns about the cumulative model of scientific progress may be found in Kuhn 1962, or in later editions, e.g. Kuhn 1996. Laudan 1977 is a sustained discussion of the topic which proposes a problem-solving model of progress. For a good introduction to Popper's views about science and scientific progress, see Popper 1989. A recent proposal which understands scientific progress in terms of the accumulation of knowledge is found in Bird 2007
I argue that (1) if scientific progress, construed in revolutionary terms, were to continue indefinitely long, then any non-trivial question answerable by the use of the scientific method would in fact be answered in a way that would allow for further refinement without undermining the essential correctness of the answer; and (2) it is reasonable to believe that scientific progress will continue indefinitely long. The establishment of (1) and (2) entails that any non-trivial empirically answerable question will be answered in (...) a way that allows for further indefinite refinement.Moreover, inasmuch as the establishment of (1) and (2) undermines the ontological relativity inherent in the commonly held view that unto eternity there will be competing alternative scientific theories of differing ontological commitment, it provides for the ontologically and epistemologically privileged position of science. (shrink)
The received view of an ad hochypothesis is that it accounts for only the observation(s) it was designed to account for, and so non-ad hocness is generally held to be necessary or important for an introduced hypothesis or modification to a theory. Attempts by Popper and several others to convincingly explicate this view, however, prove to be unsuccessful or of doubtful value, and familiar and firmer criteria for evaluating the hypotheses or modified theories so classified are characteristically available. These points (...) are obscured largely because the received view fails to adequately separate psychology from methodology or to recognise ambiguities in the use of ''ad hoc''. (shrink)
Popper's account of refutation is the linchpin of his famous view that the method of science is the method of conjecture and refutation. This thesis critically examines his account of refutation, and in particular the practice he deprecates as avoiding a refutation. I try to explain how he comes to hold the views that he does about these matters; how he seeks to make them plausible; how he has influenced others to accept his mistakes, and how some of the ideas (...) or responses to Popper of such people are thus similarly mistaken. I draw some distinctions necessary to the provision of an adequate account of the so-called practice of avoiding a refutation, and try to rid the debate about this practice of at least one red herring. I analyse one case of 'avoiding' a refutation in detail to show how the rationality of scientific practice eludes both Popper and many of his commentators. Popper's skepticism about contingent knowledge prevents him from providing an acceptable account of contingent refutation, and so his method is really the method of conjecture and conjecture. He cannot do without the concepts of knowledge and refutation, however, if his account of science is to be plausible or persuasive, and so he equivocates between, amongst other things, refutation as disproof and refutation as the weaker notion of discorroboration. I criticise David Stove's account of this matter, in particular to show how he misses this point. An additional advantage Popper would secure from this equivocation is that if refutations were mere discorroborations they would be easier to achieve, and hence more common in science, than is the case. On Popper's weak notion of refutation, it would be possible to refute true theories since corroboration does not entail truth. There are two other related doctrines Popper holds about refutation which, if accepted, make some refutations seem easier to obtain than is the case. I call these doctrines 'Strong Popperian Falsificationism' (SPF) and 'Weak Popperian Falsificationism' (WPF). SPF is the false doctrine that if a prediction from some theory is refuted then that theory is refuted. Popper does not always endorse SPF. In particular, when confronted with a counterexample to it, he retreats to WPF, which is the false doctrine that if a prediction from some theory is refuted then that theory is prima facie refuted. WPF , or even SPF, can seem plausible if one has in mind predictions derived from theories in strong or conclusive tests of those theories, which I suggest Popper characteristically does. v Popper is disposed to describe any such case of predictive failure which does not lead to the refutation of the theory concerned as one in which that refutation has been avoided. To reinforce his portrayal of the refutation, or the attempted refutation, of major scientific theories as the rational core of scientific practice, Popper treats the so-called practice of avoiding a refutation as untypical of science, and much so-called avoidance he dismisses as unscientific or pseudo-scientific. I argue that his notion of avoiding a refutation is incoherent. Popper is further driven to believe that such avoidance is possible, however, because he conflates sentences with propositions and propositions with propositional beliefs. Also, he wishes to avoid being saddled with the relativisim that is a consequence of his weak account of refutation as discorroboration. Popper believes that ad hoc hypotheses are the most important of the unscientific means of avoiding a refutation. I argue that his account of such hypotheses is also incoherent, and that several hypotheses thought to be ad hoc in his sense are not. Such hypotheses appear to be so largely because of Popper's use of rhetoric and partly because these hypotheses are unacceptable for other reasons. I conclude that to know that a hypothesis is ad hoc in Popper's sense does not illuminate scientific practice. Popper has also attempted to explicate ad hocness in terms of some undesirable, or allegedly undesirable, properties of hypotheses or the explanations they would provide. The first such property is circularity, which is undesirable; the second such property is reduction in empirical content, which is not. In the former case I argue that non-circularity is clearly preferable to non-ad hocness as a criterion for a satisfactory explanation or explanans, as the case may be, and in the latter case that Popper is barking up the wrong tree. Some cases of so-called avoidance are obviously not unscientific. The discovery of Neptune from a prediction based on the reasonable belief that there were residual perturbations in the motion of Uranus is an important case in point, and one that is much discussed in the literature. The manifest failure of astronomers to account for Uranus's motion did not lead to the refutation of Newton's law of gravitiation, yet significant scientific progress obviously did result. Retreating to WPF, Popper claims that Newton's law was prima facie refuted. In general, astronomers have never shared this view, and they are correct in not doing so. I argue that the law of gravitation would have been prima facie refuted only if there had been good reason at the time to believe as false what is true, namely, that an unknown trans-Uranian planet was the cause of those Uranian residuals. Knowledge of the trans-Uranian region was then so slight that it was merely a convenient assumption, one which there was little reason to believe was false, that the known influences on Uranus's motion were the only such influences. I conclude that in believing vi or supposing that it was this assumption that was false, rather than the law of gravitation, Leverrier and Adams, the co-predictors of Neptune, were acting rationally and intelligently. Popper's commentators offer a variety of accounts of the alleged practice of avoiding a refutation, and of this case in particular. I analyse a sample of their accounts to show how common is the acceptance of some of Popper's basic mistakes, even amongst those who claim to reject his falsificationism, and to display the effects on their accounts of this acceptance of his mistakes. Many commentators recognize that anomalies are typically dealt with by changes in the boundary conditions or in other of the auxiliary propositions employed. Where many still go wrong, however, is in retaining the presupposition of WPF which encouraged Popper to hold the contradictory view about anomalies in the first place. Thus Imre Lakatos and others, for example, have developed a 'siege mentality' about major scientific theories; they see them as under continual threat of refutation from anomalies, and so come to believe that dogmatism is essential in science if such theories are to survive as they do. I examine various such doomed attempts to reconcile Popper with the history of science. It is a common failure in this literature to conflate or to fail to see the need to distinguish a belief from a supposition, and an epistemic reason from a pragmatic reason. I argue that only if one does draw these distinctions can one give an adequate account of how anomalies are rationally dealt with in science. The other important strand in Popper's thinking about 'avoidance' of refutation which has seriously misled some of his commentators is his unfounded belief in the dangers of ad hoc hypotheses. I examine the accounts that a sample of such commentators provide of the trans-Uranian planet hypotheses of Leverrier and Adams. These commentators imply or assert what Popper only hints at, namely, that there is something fishy about this hypothesis. I provide a further defence of the rationality of entertaining this hypothesis at the time. I conclude with a few remarks about Popper's dilemma in respect of scientific practice and his long standing emphasis on refutations. (shrink)
This paper proposes a solution to David Miller's Minnesotan-Arizonan demonstration of the language dependence of truthlikeness (Miller 1974), along with Miller's first-order demonstration of the same (Miller 1978). It is assumed, with Peter Urbach, that the implication of these demonstrations is that the very notion of truthlikeness is intrinsically language dependent and thus non-objective. As such, truthlikeness cannot supply a basis for an objective account of scientific progress. I argue that, while Miller is correct in arguing that the number of (...) true atomic sentences of a false theory is language dependent, the number of known sentences (under certain straightforward assumptions) is conserved by translation; degree of knowledge, unlike truthlikeness, is thus a linguistically invariant notion. It is concluded that the objectivity of scientific progress must be grounded on the fact (noted in Cohen 1980) that knowledge, not mere truth, is the aim of science. (shrink)
In this paper I outline my conception of the epistemology of science, by reference to my published papers, showing how the ideas presented there fit together. In particular I discuss the aim of science, scientific progress, the nature of scientific evidence, the failings of empiricism, inference to the best (or only) explanation, and Kuhnian psychology of discovery. Throughout, I emphasize the significance of the concept of scientific knowledge.
I defend my view that scientific progress is constituted by the accumulation of knowledge against a challenge from Rowbottom in favour of the semantic view that it is only truth that is relevant to progress.
The present paper discusses Kitcher’s framework for studying conceptual change and progress. Kitcher’s core notion of reference potential is hard to apply to concrete cases. In addition, an account of conceptual change as change in reference potential misses some important aspects of conceptual change and conceptual progress. I propose an alternative framework that focuses on the inferences and explanations supported by scientific concepts. The application of my approach to the history of the gene concept offers a better account of the (...) conceptual progress that occurred in the transition from the Mendelian to the molecular gene than Kitcher’s theory. (shrink)
In this paper, we address the problem of truth approximation through theory change, asking whether revising our theories by newly acquired data leads us closer to the truth about a given domain. More particularly, we focus on “nomic conjunctive theories”, i.e., theories expressed as conjunctions of logically independent statements concerning the physical or, more generally, nomic possibilities and impossibilities of the domain under inquiry. We define both a comparative and a quantitative notion of the verisimilitude of such theories, and identify (...) suitable conditions concerning the (partial) correctness of acquired data, under which revising our theories by data leads us closer to “the nomic truth”, construed as the target of scientific inquiry. We conclude by indicating some further developments, generalizations, and open issues arising from our results. (shrink)
In this paper we provide a compact presentation of the verisimilitudinarian approach to scientific progress (VS, for short) and defend it against the sustained attack recently mounted by Alexander Bird (2007). Advocated by such authors as Ilkka Niiniluoto and Theo Kuipers, VS is the view that progress can be explained in terms of the increasing verisimilitude (or, equivalently, truthlikeness, or approximation to the truth) of scientific theories. According to Bird, VS overlooks the central issue of the appropriate grounding of scientific (...) beliefs in the evidence, and it is therefore unable (a) to reconstruct in a satisfactory way some hypothetical cases of scientific progress, and (b) to provide an explanation of the aversion to falsity that characterizes scientific practice. We rebut both of these criticisms and argue that they reveal a misunderstanding of some key concepts underlying VS. (shrink)
Kuhn wanted to install a new research agenda in philosophy of science. I argue that the tools are now available to better articulate his paradigm and let it guide philosophical research instead of itself remaining the object of philosophical debate.
In this study of the cognitive paradigm, De Mey applies the study of computer models of human perception to the philosophy and sociology of science. "A most stimulating, and intellectually delightful book."--John Goldsmith "[De Mey] has brought together an unusually wide range of material, and suggested some interesting lines of thought, about what should be an important application of cognitive science: The understanding of science itself."-- Cognition and Brain Theory "It ought to be on the shelf of every teacher and (...) researcher in the field and on the reading list of any student or practitioner seriously interested in how those they serve are likely to set about knowing."-- ISIS. (shrink)
In this paper I analyze the difficult question of the truth of mature scientific theories by tackling the problem of the truth of laws. After introducing the main philosophical positions in the field of scientific realism, I discuss and then counter the two main arguments against realism, namely the pessimistic metainduction and the abstract and idealized character of scientific laws. I conclude by defending the view that well-confirmed physical theories are true only relatively to certain values of the variables that (...) appear in the laws. (shrink)
Philip Kitcher's book begins with a familiar historical overview. In the 1940s and 50s a confident, optimistic vision of science was widely shared by philosophers and historians of science. The goal of science was to discover the truth about nature, and over the centuries science had advanced steadily towards that goal; science discerned the real kinds of things of which the world was composed and the causal relations between them; the methods of science were rational and its deliverances objective; and (...) so on. Only where science failed in some of these respects was there any need to provide external, that is social, political, or individual, explanations of scientific belief. In the late 50s, and especially subsequent to Kuhn's classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, all this started to change. Historians increasingly insisted that the development of science must be treated just like any other cultural process, which meant embedding the narrative of the growth of scientific knowledge fully in the social and political context in which it occurred. This suggested that the view of science as deriving from a uniquely rational process could no longer be sustained. And, notoriously, Kuhn argued that science could not be seen as cumulative across the most dramatic changes in scientific theory. Though philosophers have never given up entirely on the old optimistic picture ("Legend" as Kitcher refers to it), its influence has steadily waned. For various reasons philosophers have become increasingly concerned over whether one could believe scientific claims to be literally true. And influenced by Duhem's thesis, revived by Quine, that scientific theory must always be underdetermined by empirical evidence, they became more sympathetic to the possibility that scientific belief must be explained, at least in substantial part, by much more than the rational objective processes envisioned by Legend. These philosophical doubts existed in uneasy tension with more extreme tendencies toward thoroughgoing relativism or skepticism, and with the movement in the sociology of science to see the whole concern with truth and falsity as an irrelevant diversion. (shrink)
Abstract The paper is an attempt to interpret Imre Lakatos's methodology of scientific research programmes (MSRP) on the basis of his mathematical methodology, the method of proofs and refutations (MPR). After sketching MSRP and MPR and analysing their relationship to Popper's and Poly a's work, I argue that MSRP was originally conceived as a methodology in the same sense as MPR. The most conspicuous difference between the two, namely that MSRP is fundamentally backward?looking, whereas MPR is primarily forward?looking, is due (...) to the fact that Lakatos could not carry out his project in the full sense. I also explain why he could not. (shrink)
Larry Laudan has recently advanced a philosophy of science that appears to answer both Kuhnian critics of the rationality of science, on the one hand, and interpretive and critical theorists' objections to a naturalistic social science, on the other. Like Lakatos before him, Laudan argues that scientific progress is indeed a rational affair. But Laudan goes one step further, arguing that his analysis yields a set of rational criteria for theory choice. In addition, Laudan explicitly claims that the standard (...) he proposes can be applied in any realm of empirical inquiry. Employing a case study of the development of strategic doctrine during the Cold War period, I show this latter claim to be false. Because Laudan's standard for theory choice depends on an exclusively cognitive calculus, it cannot account for, much less help us weigh, the practical implications of theory choice. I conclude that such an accounting procedure may be appropriate for the natural sciences but can hardly be adequate in the realm of thermonuclear politics, where theory choice carries with it potentially catastrophic practical consequences. More generally, choosing from among competing political theories must make explicit room for discursive argument. (shrink)
This paper exploits the language of structuralism, as it has recently been developed with stunning effectiveness in defining the relations between confirmation, empirical progress and truth approximation, to concisely clarify the fundamental problem of the classical Lakatos concept of scientific progress, and to compare its way of evaluation to the real problems of scientists facing the far from perfect theories they wish to improve and defend against competitors.I opt basically for the structuralist terminology adopted in Kuipers (2000), because that is (...) balanced with care to deal with a range of issues far wider than the one dealt with in this contribution. It should be added that this does not commit me to any position on any subject, because structuralism is not a (meta-) theory, it is a language, able to express anything that can be said in other concept systems created to describe knowledge and its dynamics. (shrink)
In this book Professor Holton continues his analysis of how modem science works and what its influences are on our world, with particular emphasis on the role of the thematic elements - those often unconscious presuppositions that guide scientific work to success or failure. The foundation of the book is provided by the author's research on the work of Albert Einstein, which is then contrasted with other styles of research in the advancement of science. The author deals directly with the (...) often unforeseen consequences of the progress of contemporary science, detailing its fruits as well as its burdens. The many questions examined in this work range over a broad spectrum of areas that command the attention of all readers with an interest in understanding the development of modem science. (shrink)
Systemism and social mechanisms, as articulated by Bunge, are concepts with great potential for application to assessment of research progress. This study will use the conceptual tools made available by systemism and social mechanisms to evaluate the International Crisis Behavior (ICB) Project as a scientific effort toward the greater understanding of crises in world politics. Systemism and social mechanisms are articulated as key concepts in the quest for scientific progress. The goals and basic characteristics of the ICB Project as a (...) scientific venture then are described. The ICB Project is assessed in terms of how well it lives up to standards for scientific progress. Finally, conclusions and ideas about future research are presented. The basic finding of this study is that the ICB Project is quite successful in meeting the standards for scientific progress entailed by the concepts of systemism and social mechanisms. Key Words: scientific progress international relations international crises paradigm. (shrink)
The belief that science shows an accumulation of a body of objective knowledge has been widely challenged by philosophers and historians in the latter half of this century. In this treatise, Dr. Jardine defends this belief with a careful appreciation of the complexities involved, drawing on many controversial issues concerning truth in science, interpretation of past theories, and grounds of scientific method.
The article raises objections to some fundamental assumptions of ?normative naturalism? as put forth by Larry Laudan. It contests the view that matters of rationality are strictly to be separated from matters of (normative) methodology and progress of knowledge. Thus a modified version of what Laudan calls the ?historicist's meta?methodology thesis? is suggested. In particular, it is argued that methodological rules should not initially be taken as elliptical for hypothetical means?end relations. Assuming that they are taken as such, it is (...) argued that naturalized methodology becomes untestable, since methodological rules (norms) turn out to be either vacuous or not lawlike. It is suggested that methodological norms have a status which has much in common with social norms. Instead of starting with methodological instrumentalities, a view of methodology is sketched in which the traditional idea of rational reconstruction is utilized. Yet the history of science may still serve as a major warrant for normative methodological claims. This becomes possible once we accept John Rawls's justificationary strategy of a ?reflective equilibrium?. Finally, it is claimed that Laudan's misconception of methodology is in part due to an inadequate notion of (scientific) progress. (shrink)
In a recent article in this journal, Steve Clarke and Adrian Walsh propose a normative basis for John Dupré’s criticisms of scientific imperialism, namely, that scientific imperialism can cause a discipline to fail to progress in ways that it otherwise would have. This proposal is based on two presuppositions: one, that scientific disciplines have developmental teleologies, and two, that these teleologies are optimal. I argue that we should reject both of these presuppositions and so conclude that Clarke and Walsh’s proposal (...) is insufficiently warranted for it to provide a normative basis for criticisms of scientific imperialism. (shrink)
During the last three decades, reflections on the growth of scientific knowledge have inspired historians, sociologists, and some philosophers to contend that scientific objectivity is a myth. In this book, Kitcher attempts to resurrect the notions of objectivity and progress in science by identifying both the limitations of idealized treatments of growth of knowledge and the overreactions to philosophical idealizations. Recognizing that science is done not by logically omniscient subjects working in isolation, but by people with a variety of personal (...) and social interests, who cooperate and compete with one another, he argues that, nonetheless, we may conceive the growth of science as a process in which both our vision of nature and our ways of learning more about nature improve. Offering a detailed picture of the advancement of science, he sets a new agenda for the philosophy of science and for other "science studies" disciplines. (shrink)