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Nature of Science

Nature of Science

Introduction Science is considered to be superior to all other forms of knowledge. It is believed that there is something special about science and the scientific method. Many philosophers have tried to give their account of what is science and why it is deemed superior as compared to other forms of knowledge. The question what is the method of science? is as old as science itself. Aristotle worked out a detailed answer to this question in his theory of scientific method. His scientific theories exercised tremendous influence till around 16th century. Infact, knowledge was based largely on authority during the 16th century, especially, the authority of the philosopher Aristotle and the authority of the Bible. However, with the rise of modern science this view and authority was challenged and the question what is the method of science? was raised afresh. Inductivism and Hypothesism In the period between 17th to 19thcentury two views stand out prominently as answers to the question of method of science. The first view is inductivism, according to which the method of science is induction. The second view is called hypothesism, according to which the method of science is the method of hypothesis. Francis Bacon was the pioneer of inductivism and Rene Descartes the pioneer of hypothesism. Therefore, we have Baconean model and Cartesian model of scientific method. Inductivism is rooted in empiricism according to which only those ideas which are traceable to sense experience are legitimate. According to inductivists, science must confine itself to observations since it is only our observations that we can be certain of. The principle of induction allows us to go from particular observations to generalizations. According to inductivists, we first collect observational data and we then put forward a tentative generalization which we verify. Once verified, the tentative generalization becomes a law enabling us establish inductive generalizations. Hypothesism, on the other hand, is grounded on rationalism according to which a significant portion of human knowledge, cannot be traced to and therefore, is independent of sense experience. According to hypothesism, science must not remain confined to generalization based on observations, but must seek to explain the observable in terms of the unobservable or deeper entities. Thus, both inductivism and hypothesism were rival methodologies advocating antagonistic views regarding the method of science. Both these methodologies competed with each other to gain acceptance. Both had strong followers, however, it was hypothesism had an upper hand in the beginning. But as time passed by, inductivism emerged as a dominant view and hypothesism lost its ground. The rise of inductivism can be attributed to the fact that the method of inductivism had Issac Newton as its adherent. Newton said What is not deduced from phenomena (observations) is to be called a hypothesis; and hypothesis, whether metaphysical or physical, whether on occult qualities or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophy. In this philosophy, particular propositions are inferred from phenomena and afterwards rendered general by induction. However, inductivism faced serious challenges. Many developments in the scientific field could not be explained by using the inductivist framework. Scientist soon realized that their theories would face stiff opposition and as a result they revived the method of hypothesis. During this phase the

Nature of Science

scientists and philosophers produced works of immense importance. Moreover, the method of induction faced an internal crisis as well. David Hume, an eminent 18th century inductivist, started undermining it from within. He argued that the very principle of induction is unjustified. As a result the foundation of inductivism was shaken. 20th century views: Positivism Auguste Comte the French philosopher and social activist was the founder of positivism and this concept stands squarely within the empiricist tradition. Metaphysical speculation is rejected in favour of positive knowledge based on systematic observation and experiment. According to positivists, science is distinct from other areas of human creativity because it possesses a method which is unique to it. And there is only one method common to all sciences irrespective of their subject matter. This method of science is the method of induction. Scientific observations are pure, in the sense that they are theory-independent. Theories are winnowed from facts or observations such that a theory is nothing more than a condensed version of and therefore, reducible to a set of statements describing the observations. Some of the tenets of positivism are as follows: Science is distinct from other areas of human creativity because it possesses a method which is unique to it (methodological). There is only one method common to all sciences irrespective of their subject matter (methodological monism). The method of science is the method of induction (inductivism). The hallmark of science is in the fact that its statements are systematically verifiable. Scientific observations are pure in the sense that they are theory-independent. Theories are winnowed from facts or observations. Theories are dependent on observations and observations are theory independent. The progress of science occurs by accumulating more and more observations and cumulative growth of our theories.

Keeping these tenets in mind, positivists set for themselves a programme by adopting which they thought that they could defend the principle of induction. They maintained that observations are prior and, theories which are their interpretations are posterior. Positivism dominated the scene during the bulk of the first half of the 20th century. But, every tenet of positivism has been successfully called into question by subsequent developments. Views of Karl Popper The positivistic construct of science was most systematically attacked by Karl Popper who provided an alternative image of science.According to Popper, the philosophical enquiry into the nature of scientific method must limit itself to the manner in which scientific theories are evaluated, and accepted or rejected. He refuses to consider as legitimate the enquiry into the way in which these theories are arrived at. Popper is convinced of the uniqueness of science and according to him, the hallmark of scientific theories lies in their systematic falsifiability. The scientific theories are falsifiable, according to Popper, in the sense that they transparently state what circumstances lead

Nature of Science

to their rejection. An ideal scientific statement is constituted in such a way that its terms instead of helping to survive enable it to readily accept the risk of being falsified. According to him, the method of science is not the method of induction, but the method of hypothetico-deduction. In Poppers scheme no amount of positive result of scientific testing can prove our theories and he speaks only of corroboration. According to Popper, no scientific theory however corroborated can be said to be true. Hence, Popper drops the very concept of truth and replaces it by the concept of verisimilitude (truth-likeness or truth-nearness). Although science cannot attain the truth, it can set for itself the goal of achieving higher and higher degrees of verisimilitude. Thus, according to Popper, our theories can never said to be true, science can set for itself the goal of achieving higher and higher degrees of verisimilitude. Kuhns debate Thomas S. Kuhn, whose magnum opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), created a turning point in the 20th century philosophy of science. Life of every major science, according to Kuhn, passes through two stages which can be characterized as pre-paradigmatic and paradigmatic. In the former stage, one finds more than one mode of practicing that science. The transition from the pre-paradigmatic to paradigmatic stage implies the replacement of plurality by uniformity of practice. Once science comes to possess a paradigm it develops into a normal science. However, when a paradigm fails to promote fruitful, interesting and smooth normal science, it is considered to be in a crisis. In order to declare a paradigm as crisis ridden, what is required is an accumulation of major anomalies. But there is no clear cut and objective criterion to decide which anomalies are major and how many anomalies must accumulate to declare a paradigm crisis ridden. The issue will be decided by the community of practitioners of the discipline through the judgment of its peers. The deepening of the crisis leads to the replacement of the existing paradigm by a new one. This process of replacement is called scientific revolution. Normal science occupies much larger space than does revolutionary science. That is to say, science is revolutionary once a while and mostly it is non-revolutionary. According to Kuhn, one cannot say that the new paradigm is better or truer than the old one. Kuhn maintains that the two successful paradigms cut the world differently. They speak different languages. Kuhn says, the transition from a paradigm in crisis to a new one from which a new tradition of normal science can emerge is far from an accumulative process, one is achieved (not merely) by an articulation or extension of the old paradigm. Rather, it is a reconstruction of the field from new fundamentals, a reconstruction that changes some of the fields most elementary theoretical generalizations as well as many of its methods and applications. Based on this reason, Kuhn claims that the relationship between two successive paradigms is incommensurable. What is true is relative to a paradigm. Lakatoss Research programs Imre Lakatos was a Hungarian who moved to England in the late 1950s and came under the influence of Karl Popper. Lakatos came to realize some of the difficulties that faced Poppers falsificationsim and he was aware of the alternative view of science proposed by Kuhn. Although Popper and Kuhn proposed rival accounts of science, their views do have much in common. They

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both take a stand against the positivists inductivist accounts of science. They both give priority to theory over observation and insist that the search for, interpretation and acceptance or rejection of the results of observation and experiment take place against a background of theory. Lakatos carried on that tradition and looked a way of modifying Poppers falsificationsim and ridding of its difficulties by drawing some insights from Kuhn. One of the main difficulties with falsificationsim was that there was no clear guidance concerning which part of a theoretical maze was to be blamed for an apparent falsification. It is left to the notion of the individual researcher to place the blame wherever he/she might wish, then it is difficult to see how science could progress in a coordinated and cohesive way, that they seem to do. Lakatos saw the merit in portraying scientific activity as taking place in a framework and, coined the phrase research program to name what were, in a sense, Lakatoss alternative to Kuhns paradigm. Lakatos suggested that not all parts of science are on a par. Some laws or principles are more basic than others. Indeed, some are so fundamental as to come close to being the defining feature of a science. As such they are not to be blamed for any apparent failure. Rather, blame is to be placed on the less fundamental components. Lakatos referred to the fundamental principles as the hard core of a research program. The hard core, is, more than anything else the defining characteristic of a program. It takes the form of some very general hypotheses that form the basis of program development. The hard core Copernican program in astronomy, for example, was the assumption that earth and planets orbit a stationary sun and that the earth spins on its axis once a day. The fundamentals of a program need to be augmented by a range of supplementary assumptions in order to flesh it out to the point where definite predictions can be made. It will consist not only of explicit assumptions and laws supplementing the hard core, but also assumptions underlying the initial conditions used to specify particular situations and theories presupposed in the statement of observations and experimental results. For example, the hard core of the Copernican program needed to be supplemented by adding numerous epicycles to the initially circular orbits and it was also necessary to alter previous estimates of the distance of the stars from earth. Lakatos referred to the sum of the additional hypotheses supplementing the hard core as the protective belt, to emphasize its role of protecting the hard core from falsification. According to Lakatos, the hard core is rendered unfalsifiable by the methodological decisions of its protagonist. By contrast, assumptions in the protective belt are to be modified in an attempt to improve the match between the predictions of the program and the results of observation and experiment. For example, the protective belt within the Copernican program was modified by substituting elliptical orbits for epicycles and telescopic data for naked eye data. Lakatos made use of the term heuristic in characterizing research programs. A heuristic is a set of rules or hints to aid discovery or invention. Lakatos divided guideline for work within research programs into a negative heuristic and positive heuristic. The negative heuristic specifies what the scientist is advised not to do. As we already know, scientists are advised not to interfere with the hard core of the program in which they work. If a scientist does modify the hard core then he/she has, in effect, opted out of the program. The positive heuristic of a program specifies what scientists should do rather than what they should not do within a program is more difficult to characterize specifically, then the negative heuristic. The positive heuristic gives guidance on how the hard core is

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to be supplemented and how the resulting protective belt is to be modified in order for a program to yield explanations and predictions of observable phenomena. Early work of a research program is portrayed as taking place in spite of apparent falsifications by observation. A research program must be given a chance to realize its full potential. A suitable sophisticated and adequate protective belt must be constructed. When a program has been developed to the stage where it is appropriate to subject it to experimental test, it is confirmation rather than falsifications that are of paramount significance, according to Lakatos. According to Lakatos, scientific progress involves the replacement of a degenerating program with a progressive one, with the latter being an improvement over the former in the sense that it has been shown to be a more efficient predictor of novel phenomena. Lakatos came to realize, the notion of novel prediction is not as straightforward as it appears. For example, one of the most impressive features of quantum mechanics was itsability to explain the spectra exhibited by light emitted from gases, phenomena familiar to experimenters for over half a century before quantum mechanical explanation was available. These successes can be described as novel prediction of phenomena as compared to prediction of novel phenomena. In light of this, Lakatoss methodology was modified so that a program is progressive to the extent that it makes natural, as opposed to novel, predictions that are confirmed (natural stands opposed to contrived or ad hoc). Lakatos regarded it as appropriate to test methodologies against the history of science. He believed it to be desirable that any theory of science be able to make sense to the history of science. Lakatos came to see the main virtue of his methodology to be in the aid it gives to writing the history of science. The historian must attempt to identify research programs, characterize their hard cores and protective belts, and document the ways in which they progressed or degenerated. In the way, light can be shed on the way science progresses by way of the competition between programs. Paul Fayerbands anarchistic theory of science Paul Fayerband, an Austrian who was based in Berkeley, California for most of his academic career, but who also spent time interacting with (and antagonizing) Popper and Lakatos in London, published a book in 1975 with the title Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge. In it he challenged all of the attempts to give an account of scientific method that would serve to capture its special status by arguing that there is no such method, and, indeed that science does not possess features that render it necessarily superior to other forms of knowledge. If there is a single, unchanging principle of scientific method, Fayerband came to profess, it is the principle of anything goes. Both on grounds of logic and history, he calls into question the time honoured belief that there is something called the method of science which distinguished science from the rest of our cognitive activities. Though philosophers of science differ in their account of what they consider to be the methods of science, all of them maintain that there are at least two conditions which ought to be met by any theory that is proposed for acceptance. These conditions can be called consistency condition and correspondence condition. According to consistency condition, the new theory must be consistent with the already well-established theories. According to correspondence condition, the new theory must correspond to the well-established facts or observations. According to Fayerband, both these conditions are illegitimate in the sense that their acceptance hinders the progress of science. By

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insisting upon the first condition, the traditional philosophers of science, both positivists and Popperian, overlooked the fact that the so-called well-established theories may themselves be faulty. Their faulty character might come to surface only if we allow acceptance of the new theory provisionally. In other words, if a new theory is inconsistent with the existing theories which we believe to be extremely well supported, the fault may not necessarily be with the new theory, but with the latter whose serious limitations may become obvious to us only by adapting an alternative theory. That is to say, by insisting upon the consistency condition, we may be thwarting the chances of a very good theory and remain blind to the serious lacunae of the existing theories which we might miss only because we remain confined to these theories. However, we may never become aware of these new facts unless we transcend those theories and adopt an alternative just as we cannot become aware of all the defects of our society unless we look at it from the point of view of another society. Similarly, the correspondence condition too cannot be sustained. By insisting upon the correspondence condition the traditional philosophers of science overlooked the fact that the new theory might fail to correspond to facts because facts themselves may degenerate to the sense, they are interpreted consciously or otherwise in terms of a theory which is itself questionable and whose questionability we have not realized since our thinking has been constrained by it. Given the fact that all observations are theory laden, it may be that what we consider to be observationally obvious might be absolutely wrong due to the incorrectness of the theory. Hence, Fayerband says that a new theory must be allowed to grow, even if it goes against well known facts. By rejecting both the conditions, Fayerband advocated that a new theory should not be constrained by the rule that it should first correspond with facts which we already know. In fact, Fayerband says that we must make deliberate attempt to develop theories which go counter to the so-called known facts. According to him, in the productive periods of any science, scientists found themselves in situations which are too complex to be tackled by simple rules of thumb which philosophers of science glorify as methodological norms. Science in its history has violated every possible norm, and we must give up the very idea of the scientific method. However, Fayerband does not mean that our theories should not have any empirical basis. All that he says is that we must not insist that our theories must have an empirical basis the very moment they are generated. They must be allowed to develop their empirical basis instead of being nipped in the end for the sole reason that existing theories and known facts do not support them. In this connection, he discusses in detail the case of Galileo. Galileo sought to replace the geocentric theory of Ptolemy by the heliocentric theory of Copernicus. It must be mentioned that most of the known facts were in harmony with the geocentric theory. There were many observations which prima facie were against the geocentric theory. In sum, going by the well-established observations and known facts the geocentric theory had definitely an edge over the heliocentric theory. Hence, Galileo rightly did not try to get support from already known facts for the Copernican view. Instead, he tried to come out with new observations using telescope. But, Galileos rivals questioned the legitimacy of extending the use of telescope observations from terrestrial to the celestial sphere. Galileo could have answered his opponents by propounding a theory of light which would justify telescopic observations. Galileo similarly required many auxiliary theories to justify the new facts which he enlisted in support of the heliocentric theory. Galileos rivals on one hand were no doubt right in demanding the explanations. But, on the other, Galileo was convinced that these auxiliary theories

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could be developed once the Copernican theory passes through on the basis of however slender and yet-to-be substantiated observational evidence so that the new theory could build for itself enormous amount of empirical basis in terms of new observations. Once the new theory stands on its own feet, the old observation and facts which were taken to support the geocentric theory came to be interpreted in the light of the new theory. If Galileo had taken the correspondence condition seriously and endeavoured to enlist the support of the known facts, he would not have been able to bring about the revolution which he did. Since, according to Fayerband, scientific practice at its best does not go by any set norms, we cannot discourage any theory which might go against the so-called well-known facts. Calling himself an anarchist, Fayerband vehemently argues that any approach or view, however, bizarre or eccentric has the right for continued existence. Instead of killing a theory just because it goes against known facts, we must allow it to grow or to die a natural death consequent upon its failure to build for itself an empirical basis. Thus, Fayerband very effectively pleads for tolerance in case of those theories which may not find support from what we already know. He strongly advocates proliferation of theories. Scientists who work in a certain domain must work with more than one theory since there is no norm which decides beforehand which one of these theories is more plausible. In other words, Fayerband calls for pluralism in scientific practice. Finally like Kuhn, Fayerband maintains that the relationship between successive theories in science is incommensurable. Fayerband advocates the use of post paradigmatic stage in which scientific practice is characterized by plurality. Thus, we can conclude that- positivists, Popper and Kuhn in different ways sought to show how science is unique. Whereas according to positivists, the uniqueness of science consists in systematic verifiability of scientific claims; according to Popper, systematic falsifiability; and it is consensus, according to Kuhn. All the three sought to draw a line of demarcation between science and nonscience, and by doing so presented science as a type of knowledge seeking activity which is unique in itself. Fayerband repudiates the possibility of drawing a line of demarcation between science and non-science. This does not imply that there is no difference between science and say religion or art. He only maintains that such a line of demarcation keeps shifting with the result, the line is not absolute but relative (to an age) and historical. By construing the line of demarcation between science and non-science, Fayerband seeks to strip science of its uniqueness and nullifies its alleged ideal hood. According to Fayerband, the idea that science is unique is based on a myth that is equipped with a method constituted by certain norms scrupulously adhered to in all ages. Once this myth stands exploded science can no longer occupy the citadel it has been placed upon by contemporary culture. References Book: A.F. Chalmers, What is this thing called Science?, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1999 Website: http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/109103024/4