Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Function of Theory, Probability and Law in Science. Based upon the Tarner Lectures, 1946

Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Function of Theory, Probability and Law in Science. Based upon the Tarner Lectures, 1946

Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Function of Theory, Probability and Law in Science. Based upon the Tarner Lectures, 1946

Scientific Explanation: A Study of the Function of Theory, Probability and Law in Science. Based upon the Tarner Lectures, 1946

Excerpt

This book contains the substance of the course of lectures which I delivered in 1946 as Tarner Lecturer of Trinity College, Cambridge. In preparing the lectures for publication I have throughout developed, elaborated and (I hope) improved their line of argument.

My primary purpose in this book is to examine the logical features common to all the sciences. It is almost a platitude to say that every science proceeds, more or less explicitly, by thinking of general, hypotheses, of greater or less generality, from which particular consequences are deduced which can be tested by observation and experiment. But the implications of this view are by no means platitudinous; and this book aims to show how these implications will throw light upon many features of scientific procedure which appear mysterious and will resolve many of the difficulties which philosophers have found in these procedures.

For science, as it advances, does not rest content with establishing simple generalizations from observable facts: it tries to explain these lowest-level generalizations by deducing them from more general hypotheses at a higher level. Such an organization of a science into a hierarchical deductive system requires the use of subtle deductive techniques, which are provided by pure mathematics. As the hierarchy of hypotheses of increasing generality rises, the concepts with which the hypotheses are concerned cease to be properties of things which are directly observable, and instead become 'theoretical' concepts -- atoms, electrons, fields of force, genes, unconscious mental processes -- which are connected to the observable facts by complicated logical relationships. The first four chapters of this book are devoted to explaining the parts played by mathematical reasoning and by theoretical concepts and 'models' in the organization of a scientific theory.

There has been too much mystery-mongering about the 'abstract mathematical entities' involved in an elaborate theoretical system like that of contemporary physics. It is true that the mathematics employed in such a system is difficult, and can only be understood after long training. But to understand the way in which the difficult . . .

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