Historical science, experimental science, and the scientific method

Abstract

Many scientists believe that there is a uniform, interdisciplinary method for the prac- tice of good science. The paradigmatic examples, however, are drawn from classical ex- perimental science. Insofar as historical hypotheses cannot be tested in controlled labo- ratory settings, historical research is sometimes said to be inferior to experimental research. Using examples from diverse historical disciplines, this paper demonstrates that such claims are misguided. First, the reputed superiority of experimental research is based upon accounts of scientific methodology (Baconian inductivism or falsificationism) that are deeply flawed, both logically and as accounts of the actual practices of scientists. Second, although there are fundamental differences in methodology between experimental scien- tists and historical scientists, they are keyed to a pervasive feature of nature, a time asymmetry of causation. As a consequence, the claim that historical science is methodo- logically inferior to experimental science cannot be sustained.

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Carol Cleland
University of Colorado, Boulder

Citations of this work

Prediction and Explanation in Historical Natural Science.Carol E. Cleland - 2011 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (3):551-582.
Why experiments matter.Arnon Levy & Adrian Currie - 2019 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 62 (9-10):1066-1090.
Historical Reconstruction: Gaining Epistemic Access to the Deep Past.Patrick Forber - 2011 - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 3 (20130604).
Testing times: regularities in the historical sciences.Ben Jeffares - 2008 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 39 (4):469-475.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
Conjectures and Refutations.K. Popper - 1963 - Les Etudes Philosophiques 21 (3):431-434.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.David Bohm - 1964 - Philosophical Quarterly 14 (57):377-379.
Time’s arrow and Archimedes’ point.Huw Price - 1996 - Philosophical and Phenomenological Research 59 (4):1093-1096.

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