Theory-ladenness and scientific instruments in experimentation
Since the late 1950s one of the most important and influential views of post-positivist philosophy of science has been the theory-ladenness of observation. It comes in at least two forms: either as a psychological law pertaining to human perception (whether scientific or not) or as conceptual insight concerning the nature and functioning of scientific language and its meaning. According to its psychological form, perceptions of scientists, as perceptions of humans generally, are guided by prior beliefs and expectations, and perception has a peculiar holist character. In its conceptual form it maintains that scientists’ observations rest on the theories they accept and that the meaning of the observational terms involved depends upon the theoretical context in which they occur. Frequently, these two versions are combined with each other and give rise to a constructivist view of scientific knowledge (I shall use the term “constructivism” roughly in the same way as Golinski [1998, chap. 1]). According to this outlook, our experience is categorized and preconditioned by prior belief since the process of gaining knowledge through science always involves the use of concepts from some theory or other. This view can easily be strengthened to serve as the cornerstone of a constructivist and anti-empiricist account of science: The categories in terms of which we carve up our experience are not read off from the external world but follow from prior theoretical commitments.
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