Studies in the History and Methods of the Sciences

Studies in the History and Methods of the Sciences

Studies in the History and Methods of the Sciences

Studies in the History and Methods of the Sciences

Excerpt

Sciences, not science · General aims of this book · Summary of principles

§1. THESE studies are bound to appear incomplete and patchy, and for such defects excuses can be made, even if there are none for other defects. No science is complete, none has solved all its problems, surveyed its whole subject matter, or even discovered its limitations; though limitations it must have, for it deals with some problems better than others. Each claims to say the first word on its own special topics, and rightly. Rightly too, for its own immediate purpose, it dismisses many other topics as irrelevant. Sometimes it can be seen that a science has said the last word on certain special and restricted topics, but last words in general do not belong to science, and as long as human experience is incomplete no human being utters any completely last words. This may perhaps suffice as an apology, for incompleteness.

If the sciences are patchy, as they clearly are, that does not in itself excuse patchiness in discussing them. Yet it has to be my excuse. The sciences have arisen out of certain special human relations (briefly considered in Chapter II) and consist of special human practices and thought about the practice. They have grown, developed and sometimes changed radically in the process. The whole of any branch of science is the whole of that historical process as a part of human experience, and nobody can write its biography in full any more than he can write any man's biography in full. Yet we cannot understand what a science is now unless we understand how it has come to be what it is, that is to say historically. The only alternative is to take it a priori as we suppose it might be, or ought to be, or will be if people take our advice about it. Since our historical survey cannot be a full one we must use the sampling method and our choice of samples depends upon our purpose or bias or philosophical point of view, whichever you prefer to call it. At any rate, positivists write one kind of history of science and bring out certain important . . .

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