Dialectics and Science

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Wed Jun 21 01:21:30 MDT 1995


Justin, I agree completely on the role of philosophy of science, and the
lack of privileged position of the philosopher. The idea of attempting to
answer 2nd-order questions is an interesting one, but the chances of
talking nonsense are very great. We don't know enough to address them
(although fundamental physics may be getting there with regard to some of
them) and statements like, for example, that reality must have breaks in it
mean nothing to me.

Although perhaps sociology of the scientific community is a legitimate task
of the philosopher of science, there has been far too much confusion and
conflation of the scientific community with science, especially of course a
la Kuhn. Although it's certainly legitimate to say that philosophers need
some understanding of what scientist are doing and how and what they think
on certain matters, the tendency becomes to think of science purely as a
game played by the scientific community. Philosophers and ordinary people
alike often confuse the statements "Proposition X is scientifically valid"
(provisionally, of course) with "Propsition X is accepted by a majority of
the scientific community." If one tries to find out what are the rules
underlying the process of achievement of scientific consensus, that's fine,
but to treat it as a given, and therefore irrelevant to non-sociological
questions, leads to the effortless and insubstantial relativism that is so
common and so annoying.

Also, philosophers of science have to be careful not to push logic too far
(by this, I don't mean they should sometimes be illogical). They should
always keep in mind that science is not merealy a logical enterprise, like
mathematics. For example, Hume's basic critique of finite empirical
induction. He's absolutely right that it has no logical basis, but that's
not quite a reason to throw science out the window.

Rahul




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