Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Natural Sciences: Definitions and Attempt at Classification

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Natural Sciences: Definitions and Attempt at Classification

Article excerpt


The goal of this article is to provide a formal classification of natural sciences. A necessary prerequisite for this attempt is a brief exposition of definitions related to natural sciences. The principal philosophical basis of this presentation is pragmaticism as proposed by C. S. Peirce (1878). Some of the ideas used in the text were formulated long ago in the early works of K. Popper (1934) and T. Kuhn (1962); these ideas are well known; referencing and describing them would be superfluous. In general, this text can be viewed as an affirmation and elaboration of the reductionism principle in describing natural sciences, in opposition to several authors in the field of natural philosophy, notably N. Cartwright (1989, 1999) and J. Dupre (1993, 2003).

Before the principles of science classification are discussed, two points must be made clear:

(a) The proposed classification completely ignores the history of natural sciences. We call "a natural science" a particular field of knowledge as we know it now and what we can anticipate to learn in the foreseeable future. The reason for this neglect of historicity is discussed in the final section of the paper.

(b) The classification of natural sciences, as any other classification, is not by itself an especially exciting subject. The reader should not expect to find new sweeping scientific ideas here. Moreover, any attempt at classification of sciences suffers from inevitable obviousness of many statements (for which this author apologizes). Rather, classification of natural sciences is useful by providing a single framework for placing any current or future scientific finding or a theory within a common context.

The author finds convenient to discuss the subjects related to classification of natural sciences in the terms of four categories of statements:

1. Definition: a linguistic statement defining a particular subject.

2. Proposition: a statement representing one of the bases of a given theory.

3. Lemma: a simple proposition that does not require a proof for obviousness.

4. Conjecture: an intuitively appealing but not an obvious statement that does not have a proof yet.

This approach inevitably leads to a certain level of didactic exposition, a manner which may irritate some readers but appears to be the most suitable for the task at hand.


Proposition 1: Within the present context, the term "natural science" describes the gnosiologic construct. A natural science is a category of human intellectual activity which has two goals: (a) the development of models (theories) about the nature of particular natural phenomena or objects, and (b) testing these models by comparing their predictions vs. experimentally observable (accessible) features of the phenomena or the objects.

Definition 1. Natural sciences are the group of sciences dealing with the material word.

Proposition 2: Scientific models. A scientific model is a rule or a list of rules (preferably, precise quantitative rules) that describe a set of phenomena or the properties and the behavior of a set of objects. The term "model" reflects the temporary nature and fallibility of most models (see Proposition 3 and Conjecture 2 below) and the subjective nature of scientific models, which are merely intellectual constructs (P. Teller, 2008). One good example of the models' subjectivity is the statement of Hawking (2001) about extra dimensions in the string theory: "... the question 'Do extra dimensions really exist?' has no meaning. All one can ask is whether mathematical models with extra dimensions provide a good description of the Universe." In layman's terms, the goal of a scientific model is to provide exhaustive answers to all applicable questions of "how" and "why". An answer to a "how" question refers to the quantitative description of a phenomenon or an object. …

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