"Understanding ScientificProgress constitutes a potentially enormous and revolutionary advancement in philosophy of science. It deserves to be read and studied by everyone with any interest in or connection with physics or the theory of science. Maxwell cites the work of Hume, Kant, J.S. Mill, Ludwig Bolzmann, Pierre Duhem, Einstein, Henri Poincaré, C.S. Peirce, Whitehead, Russell, Carnap, A.J. Ayer, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend, Nelson Goodman, Bas van Fraassen, and numerous others. He lauds Popper for (...) advancing beyond verificationism and Hume’s problem of induction, but faults both Kuhn and Popper for being unable to show that and how their work could lead nearer to the truth." —Dr. LLOYD EBY teaches philosophy at The George Washington University and The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC "Maxwell's aim-oriented empiricism is in my opinion a very significant contribution to the philosophy of science. I hope that it will be widely discussed and debated." – ALAN SOKAL, Professor of Physics, New York University "Maxwell takes up the philosophical challenge of how natural science makes progress and provides a superb treatment of the problem in terms of the contrast between traditional conceptions and his own scientifically-informed theory—aim-oriented empiricism. This clear and rigorously-argued work deserves the attention of scientists and philosophers alike, especially those who believe that it is the accumulation of knowledge and technology that answers the question."—LEEMON McHENRY, California State University, Northridge "Maxwell has distilled the finest essence of the scientific enterprise. Science is about making the world a better place. Sometimes science loses its way. The future depends on scientists doing the right things for the right reasons. Maxwell's Aim-Oriented Empiricism is a map to put science back on the right track."—TIMOTHY McGETTIGAN, Professor of Sociology, Colorado State University - Pueblo "Maxwell has a great deal to offer with these important ideas, and deserves to be much more widely recognised than he is. Readers with a background in philosophy of science will appreciate the rigour and thoroughness of his argument, while more general readers will find his aim-oriented rationality a promising way forward in terms of a future sustainable and wise social order."—David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer, 2017/2 "This is a book about the very core problems of the philosophy of science. The idea of replacing Standard Empiricism with Aim-Oriented Empiricism is understood by Maxwell as the key to the solution of these central problems. Maxwell handles his main tool masterfully, producing a fascinating and important reading to his colleagues in the field. However, Nicholas Maxwell is much more than just a philosopher of science. In the closing part of the book he lets the reader know about his deep concern and possible solutions of the biggest problems humanity is facing."—Professor PEETER MŰŰREPP, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia “For many years, Maxwell has been arguing that fundamental philosophical problems about scientificprogress, especially the problem of induction, cannot be solved granted standard empiricism (SE), a doctrine which, he thinks, most scientists and philosophers of science take for granted. A key tenet of SE is that no permanent thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence. For a number of reasons, Maxwell argues, we need to adopt a rather different conception of science which he calls aim-oriented empiricism (AOE). This holds that we need to construe physics as accepting, as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, a hierarchy of metaphysical theses about the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, which become increasingly insubstantial as we go up the hierarchy. In his book “Understanding ScientificProgress: Aim-Oriented Empiricism”, Maxwell gives a concise and excellent illustration of this view and the arguments supporting it… Maxwell’s book is a potentially important contribution to our understanding of scientificprogress and philosophy of science more generally. Maybe it is the time for scientists and philosophers to acknowledge that science has to make metaphysical assumptions concerning the knowability and comprehensibility of the universe. Fundamental philosophical problems about scientificprogress, which cannot be solved granted SE, may be solved granted AOE.” Professor SHAN GAO, Shanxi University, China . (shrink)
I defend a novel account of scientificprogress centred around justification. Science progresses, on this account, where there is a change in justification. I consider three options for explicating this notion of change in justification. This account of scientificprogress dispels with a condition for scientificprogress that requires accumulation of truth or truthlikeness, and it emphasises the social nature of scientific justification.
What is scientificprogress? This paper advances an interpretation of this question, and an account that serves to answer it. Roughly, the question is here understood to concern what type of cognitive change with respect to a topic X constitutes a scientific improvement with respect to X. The answer explored in the paper is that the requisite type of cognitive change occurs when scientific results are made publicly available so as to make it possible for anyone (...) to increase their understanding of X. This account is briefly compared to two rival accounts of scientificprogress, based respectively on increasing truthlikeness and accumulating knowledge, and is argued to be preferable to both. (shrink)
According to some prominent accounts of scientificprogress, e.g. Bird’s epistemic account, accepting new theories is progressive only if the theories are justified in the sense required for knowledge. This paper argues that epistemic justification requirements of this sort should be rejected because they misclassify many paradigmatic instances of scientificprogress as non-progressive. In particular, scientificprogress would be implausibly rare in cases where (a) scientists are aware that most or all previous theories in (...) some domain have turned out to be false, (b) the new theory was a result of subsuming and/or logically strengthening previous theories, or (c) scientists are aware of significant peer disagreement about which theory is correct. (shrink)
Scientists are constantly making observations, carrying out experiments, and analyzing empirical data. Meanwhile, scientific theories are routinely being adopted, revised, discarded, and replaced. But when are such changes to the content of science improvements on what came before? This is the question of scientificprogress. One answer is that progress occurs when scientific theories ‘get closer to the truth’, i.e. increase their degree of truthlikeness. A second answer is that progress consists in increasing theories’ (...) effectiveness for solving scientific problems. A third answer is that progress occurs when the stock of scientific knowledge accumulates. A fourth and final answer is that scientificprogress consists in increasing scientific understanding, i.e. the capacity to correctly explain and reliably predict relevant phenomena. This paper compares and contrasts these four accounts of scientificprogress, considers some of the most prominent arguments for and against each account, and briefly explores connections to different forms of scientific realism. (shrink)
The paper argues that scientificprogress is best characterized as an increase in scientists' understanding of the world. It also connects this idea with the claim that scientific understanding and explanation are captured in terms of unification.
In the course of developing an account of scientificprogress, C. D. McCoy (2022) appeals centrally to understanding as well as to problem-solving. On the face of it, McCoy’s account could thus be described as a kind of hybrid of the understanding-based account that I favor (Dellsén 2016, 2021) and the functional (a.k.a. problem-solving) account developed most prominently by Laudan (1977; see also Kuhn 1970; Shan 2019). In this commentary, I offer two possible interpretations of McCoy’s account and (...) explain why I do not find it entirely compelling on either interpretation. (shrink)
Intuitively, science progresses from truth to truth. A glance at history quickly reveals that this idea is mistaken. We often learn from scientific theories that turned out to be false. This chapter focuses on a different challenge: Idealisations are deliberately and ubiquitously used in science. Scientists thus work with assumptions that are known to be false. Any account of scientificprogress needs to account for this widely accepted scientific practice. It is examined how the four dominant (...) accounts—the problem-solving account, the truthlikeness account, the epistemic account, and the noetic account—can cope with the challenge from idealisation, with an eye on indispensable idealisations. One upshot is that, on all accounts, idealisations can promote progress. Only some accounts allow them to constitute progress. (shrink)
First, I argue that scientificprogress is possible in the absence of increasing verisimilitude in science’s theories. Second, I argue that increasing theoretical verisimilitude is not the central, or primary, dimension of scientificprogress. Third, I defend my previous argument that unjustified changes in scientific belief may be progressive. Fourth, I illustrate how false beliefs can promote scientificprogress in ways that cannot be explicated by appeal to verisimilitude.
What is scientificprogress? On Alexander Bird’s epistemic account of scientificprogress, an episode in science is progressive precisely when there is more scientific knowledge at the end of the episode than at the beginning. Using Bird’s epistemic account as a foil, this paper develops an alternative understanding-based account on which an episode in science is progressive precisely when scientists grasp how to correctly explain or predict more aspects of the world at the end of (...) the episode than at the beginning. This account is shown to be superior to the epistemic account by examining cases in which knowledge and understanding come apart. In these cases, it is argued that scientificprogress matches increases in scientific understanding rather than accumulations of knowledge. In addition, considerations having to do with minimalist idealizations, pragmatic virtues, and epistemic value all favor this understanding-based account over its epistemic counterpart. (shrink)
Psychological-epistemic accounts take scientificprogress to consist in the development of some psychological-epistemic attitude. Disagreements over what the relevant attitude is – true belief, knowledge, or understanding – divide proponents of thesemantic,epistemic,andnoeticaccounts of scientificprogress, respectively. Proponents of all such accounts face a common challenge. On the face of it, only individuals have psychological attitudes. However, as I argue in what follows, increases in individual true belief, knowledge, and understanding are neither necessary nor sufficient for (...) class='Hi'>scientificprogress. Rather than being fatal to the semantic, epistemic, and noetic accounts, this objection shows that these accounts are most plausible when they take the psychological states relevant to scientificprogress to be states of communities, rather than individuals. I draw on recent work in social epistemology to develop two ways in which communities can be the bearers of irreducible psychological-epistemic states. Each way yields a strategy by which proponents of one of the psychological-epistemic accounts might attempt to account for the social dimensions of scientificprogress. While I present serious reasons for concern about the first strategy, I argue that the second strategy, at least, offers a promising path forward for a psychological-epistemic account of scientificprogress. (shrink)
Bird argues that scientificprogress consists in increasing knowledge. Dellsén objects that increasing knowledge is neither necessary nor sufficient for scientificprogress, and argues that scientificprogress rather consists in increasing understanding. Dellsén also contends that unlike Bird’s view, his view can account for the scientific practices of using idealizations and of choosing simple theories over complex ones. I argue that Dellsén’s criticisms against Bird’s view fail, and that increasing understanding cannot account for (...)scientificprogress, if acceptance, as opposed to belief, is required for scientific understanding. (shrink)
I defend my view that scientificprogress 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.Keywords: Scientificprogress; Knowledge; Aim of inquiry; Darrell Rowbottom.
ABSTRACTThis discussion note aims to contribute to the ongoing debate over the nature of scientificprogress. I argue against the semantic view of scientificprogress, according to which scientificprogress consists in approximation to truth or increasing verisimilitude. If the semantic view of scientificprogress were correct, then scientists would make scientificprogress simply by arbitrarily adding true disjuncts to their hypotheses or theories. Given that it is not the case (...) that scientists could make scientificprogress simply by arbitrarily adding true disjuncts to their hypotheses or theories, it follows that the semantic view of scientificprogress is incorrect. (shrink)
When science makes cognitive progress, who or what is it that improves in the requisite way? According to a widespread and unchallenged assumption, it is the cognitive attitudes of scientists themselves, i.e. the agents by whom scientificprogress is made, that improve during progressive episodes. This paper argues against this assumption and explores a different approach. Scientificprogress should be defined in terms of potential improvements to the cognitive attitudes of those for whom progress (...) is made, i.e. the receivers rather than the producers of scientific information. This includes not only scientists themselves, but also various other individuals who utilize scientific information in different ways for the benefit of society as a whole. (shrink)
The functional approach to scientificprogress has been mainly developed by Kuhn, Lakatos, Popper, Laudan, and more recently by Shan. The basic idea is that science progresses if key functions of science are fulfilled in a better way. This chapter defends the function approach. It begins with an overview of the two old versions of the functional approach by examining the work of Kuhn, Laudan, Popper, and Lakatos. It then argues for Shan’s new functional approach, in which (...) class='Hi'>scientificprogress is defined as an increase of usefulness of exemplary practices. (shrink)
Scientificprogress remains one of the most significant issues in the philosophy of science today. This is not only because of the intrinsic importance of the topic, but also because of its immense difficulty. In what sense exactly does science makes progress, and how is it that scientists are apparently able to achieve it better than people in other realms of human intellectual endeavour? Neither philosophers nor scientists themselves have been able to answer these questions to general (...) satisfaction. (shrink)
Dellsén (2017) has recently argued for an understanding-based account of scientificprogress, the noetic account, according to which science (or a particular scientific discipline) makes cognitive progress precisely when it increases our understanding of some aspect of the world. Dellsén contrasts this account with Bird’s (2007, 2015) epistemic account, according to which such progress is made precisely when our knowledge of the world is increased or accumulated. In a recent paper, Park (2017) criticizes various aspects (...) of Dellsén’s account and his arguments in favor of the noetic account as against Bird’s epistemic account. This paper responds to Park’s objections. Since a number of Park’s arguments rely on the idea that scientificprogress may merely consists in “achieving the means to increase knowledge” (Park 2017: 570), I will start by discussing this “means-end thesis”. (shrink)
According to the foundationalist picture, shared by many rationalists and positivist empiricists, science makes cognitive progress by accumulating justified truths. Fallibilists, who point out that complete certainty cannot be achieved in empirical science, can still argue that even successions of false theories may progress toward the truth. This proposal was supported by Karl Popper with his notion of truthlikeness or verisimilitude. Popper’s own technical definition failed, but the idea that scientificprogress means increasing truthlikeness can be (...) expressed by defining degrees of truthlikeness in terms of similarities between states of affairs. This paper defends the verisimilitude approach against Alexander Bird who argues that the “semantic” definition is not sufficient to define progress, but the “epistemic” definition referring to justification and knowledge is more adequate. Here Bird ignores the crucial distinction between real progress and estimated progress, explicated by the difference between absolute degrees of truthlikeness and their evidence-relative expected values. Further, it is argued that Bird’s idea of returning to the cumulative model of growth requires an implausible trick of transforming past false theories into true ones. (shrink)
In the Postscript to the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Kuhn addresses charges of relativism by exhibiting his notion of scientificprogress, a notion he claims is not relativistic. Critics have largely bypassed this as an evasion on Kuhn’s part. This essay argues that Kuhn’s model of progress does not rescue him from self-refutation charges, and that this criticism can be pressed regardless of whether he embraces global relativism. It concludes by tracing the (...) ongoing controversy regarding Kuhn and relativism to the elusive nature of Kuhn’s prose. (shrink)
This paper challenges Bird’s view that scientificprogress should be understood in terms of knowledge, by arguing that unjustified scientific beliefs (and/or changes in belief) may nevertheless be progressive. It also argues that false beliefs may promote progress.
This book presents the concept of “complementary science” which contributes to scientific knowledge through historical and philosophical investigations. It emphasizes the fact that many simple items of knowledge that we take for granted were actually spectacular achievements obtained only after a great deal of innovative thinking, painstaking experiments, bold conjectures, and serious controversies. Each chapter in the book consists of two parts: a narrative part that states the philosophical puzzle and gives a problem-centred narrative on the historical attempts to (...) solve the puzzle; and the analysis part which provides in-depth analyses of certain scientific, historical, and philosophical aspects of the story. (shrink)
Scientificprogress is a hot topic in the philosophy of science. However, as yet we lack a comprehensive philosophical examination of scientificprogress. First, the recent debate pays too much attention to the epistemic approach and the semantic approach. Shan’s new functional approach and Dellsén’s noetic approach are still insufficiently assessed. Second, there is little in-depth analysis of the progress in the history of the sciences. Third, many related philosophical issues are still to be explored. (...) For example, what are the implications of scientificprogress for the scientific realism/antirealism debate? Is the incommensurability thesis a challenge to scientificprogress? What role does aesthetic values play in scientificprogress? Does idealisation impede scientificprogress? This book fills this gap. It offers a new assessment of the four main approaches to scientificprogress (Part I). It also features eight historical case studies to investigate the notion of progress in different disciplines: physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, seismology, psychology, sociology, economics, and medicine respectively (Part II). It discusses some issues related to scientificprogress: scientific realism, incommensurability, values in science, idealisation, scientific speculation, interdisciplinarity, and scientific perspectivalism (Part III). (shrink)
One of the key interpretative problems generated by the development of quantum theory was the conceptual consistency underlying scientific change, a problem not adequately treated by any of the leading theories of scientific development. In different but related ways Quine, Sellars, and Davidson have treated the problem of conceptual consistency by showing how one can begin with ordinary language and proceed to specialized extensions. Their techniques have not been applied to modern physics. However, one basis for applying them (...) arises from the deep similarities between some of the work of these analysts and the Copenhagen interpretation rightly interpreted. To make this more concrete three concepts whose meanings have changed as a result of scientificprogress are considered: 'atom', 'state of a system', and 'particle'. Each functions in a different way and requires a different type of analysis. (shrink)
This article challenges Bird’s view that scientificprogress should be understood in terms of knowledge, by arguing that unjustified scientific beliefs (and/or changes in belief) may nevertheless be progressive. It also argues that false beliefs may promote progress.
“Problem-solving” as a criterion of scientificprogress defended by Thomas S. Kuhn and Larry Laudan, respectively, has been criticized by several authors. Recently, Alexander Bird has suggested that problem-solving as a criterion of scientificprogress is regressive and anti-intuitive. In this text I reassess Kuhn, Laudan and Bird’s positions and I show that Bird’s arguments are untenable.
Discussions on the status of definitions of life have long been dominated by a position known as definitional pessimism. Per the definitional pessimist, there is no point in trying to define life. This claim is defended in different ways, but one of the shared assumptions of all definitional pessimists is that our attempts to define life are attempts to provide a list of all necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as alive. In other words, a definition of life (...) is a strict, descriptive definition. Against this, several pragmatic alternatives have been put forward. On these pragmatic accounts, definitions of life are not strictly, but rather loosely descriptive. Their purpose is not to be true, but to be useful to scientists by guiding scientific practice. More recently, this position has come under attack for not being able to explain how our attempts to define life are connected to scientificprogress within the biological sciences. Here, I argue to the contrary by showing how pragmatic definitions of life can be, and in fact are, conducive to scientificprogress. Additionally, I show how the pragmatic account of definitions of life can be brought to bear upon our normative discussions involving definitions of life. (shrink)
Featuring the Gestalt Model and the Perspectivist conception of science, this book is unusual in its non-relativistic development of the idea that successive scientific theories are logically incommensurable. This edition includes four new appendices in which the central ideas of the book are applied to subatomic physics, the distinction between laws and theories, the relation between absolute and relative conceptions of space, and the environmental issue of sustainable development.
There are three main accounts of scientificprogress: 1) the epistemic account, according to which an episode in science constitutes progress when there is an increase in knowledge; 2) the semantic account, according to which progress is made when the number of truths increases; 3) the problem-solving account, according to which progress is made when the number of problems that we are able to solve increases. Each of these accounts has received several criticisms in the (...) last decades. Nevertheless, some authors think that the epistemic account is to be preferred if one takes a realist stance. Recently, Dellsén proposed the noetic account, according to which an episode in science constitutes progress when scientists achieve increased understanding of a phenomenon. Dellsén claims that the noetic account is a more adequate realist account of scientificprogress than the epistemic account. This paper aims precisely at assessing whether the noetic account is a more adequate realist account of progress than the epistemic account. (shrink)
In my book Understanding ScientificProgress, I argue that fundamental philosophical problems about scientificprogress, above all the problem of induction, cannot be solved granted standard empiricism (SE), a doctrine which most scientists and philosophers of science take for granted. A key tenet of SE is that no permanent thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence. For a number of reasons, we need to adopt a rather (...) different conception of science which I call aim-oriented empiricism (AOE). This holds that we need to construe physics as accepting, as a part of theoretical scientific knowledge, a hierarchy of metaphysical theses about the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, these theses becoming increasingly insubstantial as we go up the hierarchy. Fundamental philosophical problems about scientificprogress, including the problems of induction, theory unity, verisimilitude and scientific discovery, which cannot be solved granted SE, can be solved granted AOE. In his review of Understanding ScientificProgress, Moti Mizrahi makes a number of criticisms, almost all of which are invalid in quite elementary ways. (shrink)
What is the nature of scientificprogress and what makes it possible? When we look back at the scientific theories of the past and compare them to the state of science today, there seems little doubt that we have made progress. But is it a continuous process which gradually incorporates past successes into present theories, or are entrenched theories overthrown by superior competitors in a revolutionary manner? _Theories of ScientificProgress _is the ideal introduction (...) to this topic. It is clearly organized, with suggestions for further reading that point the way to both primary texts and secondary literature. It will be essential reading for students of the history and philosophy of science. (shrink)
This collection of original essays offers a comprehensive examination of scientificprogress, which has been a central topic in recent debates in philosophy of science. Traditionally, debates over scientificprogress have focused on different methodological approaches, notably the epistemic and semantic approaches. The chapters in Part I of the book examine these two traditional approaches, as well as the newly revived functional and newly developed noetic approaches. Part II features in-depth case studies of scientific (...) class='Hi'>progress from the history of science. The chapters cover individual sciences including physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, seismology, psychology, sociology, economics, and medicine. Finally, Part III of the book explores important issues from contemporary philosophy of science. These chapters address the implications of scientificprogress for the scientific realism/anti-realism debate, incommensurability, values in science, idealisation, scientific speculation, interdisciplinarity, and scientific perspectivalism. New Philosophical Perspectives on ScientificProgress will be of interest to researchers and advanced students working on the history and philosophy of science. (shrink)
Alexander Bird argues for an epistemic account of scientificprogress, whereas Darrell Rowbottom argues for a semantic account. Both appeal to intuitions about hypothetical cases in support of their accounts. Since the methodological significance of such appeals to intuition is unclear, I think that a new approach might be fruitful at this stage in the debate. So I propose to abandon appeals to intuition and look at scientific practice instead. I discuss two cases that illustrate the way (...) in which scientists make judgments about progress. As far as scientists are concerned, progress is made when scientific discoveries contribute to the increase of scientific knowledge of the following sorts: empirical, theoretical, practical, and methodological. I then propose to articulate an account of progress that does justice to this broad conception of progress employed by scientists. I discuss one way of doing so, namely, by expanding our notion of scientific knowledge to include both know-that and know-how. (shrink)
One of the main goals of scientific research is to provide a description of the empirical data which is as accurate and comprehensive as possible, while relying on as few and simple assumptions as possible. In this paper, I propose a definition of the notion of few and simple assumptions that is not affected by known problems. This leads to the introduction of a simple model of scientificprogress that is based only on empirical accuracy and conciseness. (...) An essential point in this task is the understanding of the role played by measurability in the formulation of a scientific theory. This is the key to prevent artificially concise formulations. The model is confronted here with many possible objections and with challenging cases of real progress. Although I cannot exclude that the model might have some limitations, it includes all the cases of genuine progress examined here, and no spurious one. In this model, I stress the role of the state of the art, which is the collection of all the theories that are the only legitimate source of scientific predictions. Progress is a global upgrade of the state of the art. (shrink)