In Defense of Rationalist Science

In William Krieger (ed.), Science at the Frontiers: Perspectives on the History and Philosophy of Science (2011)
Mainstream philosophy of science has embraced an “empiricist” approach to scientific method. To be slightly more precise, I venture that most philosophers of science today would endorse the view that experience is the source of most scientific knowledge. The aim of this essay will be to challenge the consensus, by showing how we cannot and should not abandon all elements of the “rationalist” tradition, a tradition often identified with philosophers such as Descartes. There are several elements frequently identified with “rationalist” science (Stump, 2005): questioning of sense experience, the attempt to rethink the “metaphysical” foundations of one’s science, using either thought experiment, or appealing to demonstrative arguments purporting to establish ‘necessary’ truths, often using either mathematics or geometry, and appeal to “virtues” not usually considered “strictly empirical,” such as simplicity. This essay explores the effective deployment of such considerations in the history and current practice of science.
Keywords rationalism  empiricism  scientific method
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