Philosophy of Science and Historical Enquiry

Philosophy of Science and Historical Enquiry

Philosophy of Science and Historical Enquiry

Philosophy of Science and Historical Enquiry

Synopsis

Philosophy of science and history of science are both interpretations of scientific practice, and the relationship between these two disciplines can take various forms: they may be mutually exclusive, interdependent, or related by inclusion. Much depends on whether philosophy of science is taken to be a prescriptive or a descriptive science. This book is concerned with the nature of the relationship between philosophy of science and history of science, and sheds new light on our understanding of those activities that comprise science.

Excerpt

Historians of science regularly judge whether particular decisions of scientists conform to the evaluative standards of the time. Philosophers of science may render such judgements as well. However, many philosophers of science also accept a prescriptive role for their discipline. They are not content merely to collect cases in which scientific practice does, or does not, conform to selected standards. Rather they seek to formulate and recommend criteria that ought to govern evaluative practice. Among these criteria are criteria to gauge the evidential support provided for hypotheses by observation reports, criteria to rank competing theories, and criteria to assess the cogency of diverse types of explanation. Philosophers of science may disagree about the content of proper evaluative practice, but an underlying assumption of prescriptive philosophy of science is that conformity to evaluative standards is a necessary condition for the creation of 'good science'. Prescriptive philosophy of science thus sanctions a distinction between correct and incorrect evaluative practice. To work within its tradition is to accept the possibility of adverse judgements about present evaluative practice in science.

It is a task for the historian of science to record the evaluative standards that are explicit or implicit within scientific practice in diverse contexts. The historian of science may also seek to catalogue cases in which scientific practice does or does not conform to accepted standards. From the standpoint of prescriptive philosophy of science, success in this enterprise is at best a preparatory stage for what is really important, namely the formulation of standards, application of which constitutes good evaluative practice in science. The appropriateness of this view of the relationship between philosophy of science and history of science is the principal concern of this book.

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