More on Science

Chris M. Sciabarra sciabrrc at is2.NYU.EDU
Mon Jun 19 21:21:02 MDT 1995

     Rahul has asked a few very good questions with regard to
my recent post, "Dialectics and Science."  I just hope that
Rahul read the beginning of my post, which stated quite
clearly that "I haven't worked out all of these
issues . . . "  So, I'll merely "take a stab" here at some of
the questions raised.

     Rahul states that "physicists have invaded the arena of
second-order questions," so it is difficult to maintain the
philosophy-science distinction.  He also suggests that
physicists can pose some of their own philosophical and
epistemological questions.  By all means, I don't mean to
imply that there is some kind of hermetically-sealed vacuum
separating science and philosophy.  I certainly acknowledge
that physicists have "invaded" the arena of second-order
questions, and no one is stopping them from doing so.  My
point however, is that "second-order" questions refer to more
basic, general concepts that can (and should) be addressed by
non-scientists as well.

     (Oh, and btw, my point about the Heisenberg uncertainty
principle was only meant as a rejoinder to those who
misconstrue its meaning and who argue that everything is

     Rahul also argues that "scientists have all had to learn
(in the 20th century) that they must be open to epistemic
evolution.  They've always been open to change."

     This may be true, but there are still some broad
philosophical issues that have a tendency to "chew away" at
the integrity of scientific investigation.  I am reminded by
a recent NEW YORK TIMES article ("Scientists Deplore Flight
>From Reason") that under the sway of postmodern philosophy
and irrationalist culture, "the fabric of reason is being
ripped asunder, and that if scientists and other thinkers
continue to acquiesce in the process, the hobbling of science
and its handmaidens--medicine and technology among them--
seems assured."  Just as science has advanced in the 20th
century, we have witnessed the cultural onslaught of faith
healing, astrology, the occult, and religious fundamentalism.
All I'm saying is that while there is an obvious (dare I say
"internal") relationship between "first-order" and "second-
order" issues, the second-order issues are, for lack of a
better phrase, "meta-scientific," in that they provide the
philosophic basis for all scientific inquiry.  Without a
formidable epistemic foundation, science is bound to
disintegrate, as pseudo-scientific theories give new meaning
to the phrase "nonsense upon stilts."

                              - Chris
Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics

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