New concepts are constantly being introduced into our thinking. Conceptual Systems explores how these new concepts are entered into our systems along with sufficient continuity with older ideas to ensure understanding. The encyclopaedic breadth of this text highlights the many different aspects and disciplines that together present an insightful view into the various theories of concepts. Harold Brown, a reputable author in the philosophy of science examines several historically influential theories of concepts as well as providing a clear view on (...) the general theory of conceptual change. Interesting case studies examine examples of conceptual change in the history of physics including the move in seventeenth century physics from Galileo to Descates to Newton; and the conceptual framework of the "standard model" in the late twentieth century high- energy physics. The key central themes in the philosophy of science that are explored in- depth in this enormous book make it an essential read for academics in this field. (shrink)
Berkeley’s “selective attention” account of how we establish general conclusions without abstract ideas—particularly in light of his denial of abstract ideas and rejection of the legitimacy of several subjects of scientific and philosophic study on the grounds that they presuppose abstract ideas—yields a puzzle: Why can’t we begin with ideas and use the method of selective attention to establish conclusions about qualities and material objects independently of their being perceived, even though we do not have ideas of these entities? I (...) argue that Berkeley’s reply depends partly on two doctrines that he suggests but does not develop explicitly: “Existing only when perceived” and “being inactive” are essential properties of ideas, and their status as essential means that they are included in the content of every idea. When conjoined with his account of representation, these doctrines leave us with no consistent cognitive surrogate that will allow us to think of qualities or material objects. (shrink)
Three major views of the observation?theory relation are now extant: (1) Observation and theory are mutually independent and observation provides the basis for evaluating theories. (2) Observations are theory?dependent and do not provide objective grounds for evaluating theories. (3) The concept of observation should be extended in a way that includes many so?called ?theoretical?entities? among the observables. Analyses of these views set the stage for a new approach that incorporates lessons learned from discussions of earlier accounts. The central idea of (...) this new approach is that empirical testing requires comparison of results arrived at by derivation from the theory being tested (plus appropriate auxiliary premises) with results derived from an interaction with aspects of nature in the theory's domain. These routes are independent in that each can be pursued without knowledge of the details or results of the alternative route. The approach accounts for the role of empirical results in evaluating theories without requiring that these results be theory?free or more certain than theoretical results. It also provides a basis for understanding the conditions under which a conflict between observation and theory can result in rejection of the observational result. (shrink)
The thesis of this paper is that philosophers are often too hasty in rejecting justifications because the argument that yields the justification is circular. Circularity is distinguished from vicious circularity and several examples are examined in which a proposed justification is circular in a precise sense, but not viciously circular. These include an observational procedure which could yield a velocity in excess of the velocity of light even though the impossibility of such velocities is assumed at a key step in (...) analyzing the data, and an argument that uses a specific argument form to show that that form is invalid. (shrink)
This paper argues that when used judiciously Bayes's law has a role to play in the evaluation of scientific hypotheses. Several examples are presented in which a rational response to evidence requires a judgement whether to apply Bayes's law or whether, for example, to redistribute prior probabilities. The paper concludes that reflection on Bayes's law illustrates how an adequate account of the rational evaluation of hypotheses requires an account of judgement--a point which several philosophers have noted despite few attempts to (...) develop an adequate theory of judgement. (shrink)
Several forms of naturalism are currently extant. Proponents of the various approaches disagree on matters of strategy and detail but one theme is common: we have not received any revelations about the nature of the world -- including our own nature. Whatever knowledge we have has been acquired through a fallible process of conjecture and revision. This common theme will bring to mind the writings of Karl Popper and, in many respects, Popper is the father of contemporary naturalism. Along with (...) Popper, the form of naturalism that I would defend is realistic in the following sense: it considers the acquisition of knowledge of the nature of the world to be a pursuable long-term goal of our epistemic activities. (See Brown [1987, 1988, 1990].) Popper's central interest in truth has led him to object to the pervasive concern with concepts among contemporary philosophers. Truth, Popper insists, is the fundamental epistemic concern; propositions are the bearers of truth; and the evaluation of propositions should be at the center of our epistemic focus (e.g., 1965, pp. 18-21; 1972, pp. 123-24). Concern with concepts, Popper maintains, is a distraction. Yet, this leaves us in an odd position. When we study a particular subject matter, one of our main problems is to determine what kinds of entities and processes occur in that domain. But the kinds of entities and processes we attribute to a domain will be captured in the concepts we use for describing that domain and, from a naturalistic point of view, concepts are no more available through revelation than are propositions. As our knowledge develops, we must not only propose and evaluate propositions, we must also propose and evaluate concepts. (shrink)
In the final chapter of Minimal Rationality Christopher Cherniak offers three arguments to show that an agent with finite cognitive resources is not capable of arriving at a true and complete theory of the universe. I discuss each of these arguments and show that Cherniak has not succeeded in making his antirealist case.
A number of philosophers have argued that a naturalized epistemology cannot be normative, and thus that the norms that govern science cannot themselves be established empirically. Three arguments for this conclusion are here developed and then responded to on behalf of naturalized epistemology. The response is developed in three stages. First, if we view human knowers as part of the natural world, then the attempt to establish epistemic norms that are immune to scientific evaluation faces difficulties that are at least (...) as severe as the purported difficulties for naturalized epistemology. Second, some examples of the ways in which norms are proposed and evaluated in the course of scientific research are considered and it is concluded that science has no need for trans?scientific norms. Finally, the three arguments introduced at the outset have no force when they are viewed in the light of the preceding discussion. (shrink)
Harold I. Brown (1987). Naturalizing Observation. In Nancy J. Nersessian (ed.), The Process of Science: Contemporary Philosophical Approaches to Understanding Scientific Practice. Distributors for the United States and Canada, Kluwer Academic Publishers.
This book develops an explanation for the roles of observation and theory in scientific endeavor that occupies the middle ground between empiricism and rationalism, and captures the strengths of both approaches. Brown argues that philosophical theories have the same epistemological status as scientific theories and constructs an epistemological theory that provides an account of the role that theory and instruments play in scientific observation. His theory of perception yields a new analysis of objectivity that combines the traditional view of observation (...) as the foundation of scientific objectivity with the contemporary recognition that observation is theory-dependent. (shrink)
A major theme of recent philosophy of science has been the rejection of the empiricist thesis that, with the exception of terms which play a purely formal role, the language of science derives its meaning from some, possibly quite indirect, correlation with experience. The alternative that has been proposed is that meaning is internal to each conceptual system, that terms derive their meaning from the role they play in a language, and that something akin to "meaning" flows from conceptual framework (...) to experience. Much contemporary debate on the nature of conceptual change is a direct outgrowth of this holistic view of concepts, and much of the inconclusiveness of that debate derives from the lack of any clear understanding of what a conceptual system is, or of how conceptual systems confer meaning on their terms. (shrink)
The thesis that certain competing scientific theories are incommensurable was introduced by Kuhn and Feyerabend in 1962 and has been a subject of widespread critique. Critics have generally taken incommensurable theories to be theories which cannot be compared in a rational manner, but both Kuhn and Feyerabend have explicitly rejected this interpretation, and Feyerabend has discussed ways in which such comparisons can be made in a number of his writings. This paper attempts to clarify the incommensurability thesis through the examination (...) of a number of examples, both scientific and nonscientific, of cases in which incommensurable points of view compete. There follows a discussion of Kuhn's analogy between paradigm change and gestalt shifts, the ways in which incommensurable theories can be compared, and one key reason why the incommensurability thesis has been so often misinterpreted by its critics. (shrink)