Beyond Positivism: Economic Methodology in the Twentieth Century

By Bruce J. Caldwell | Go to book overview

5

Contemporary Philosophy of Science—The Growth of Knowledge Tradition

Introduction

In the last chapter, the erosion of a unified and defensible logical empiricist approach to the philosophy of science was detailed. Within certain of the traditional positivist categories of investigation, alternative models (e.g. of the structure of theories and the nature of scientific explanation) were proposed. However, it was also hinted that certain philosophers were simultaneously advancing alternative and radically new approaches to the philosophy of science, and it is some of those new developments that are the focus of investigation of this chapter.

An obvious but nonetheless essential point must be made right away—no single, unified approach has arisen in response to the failures of positivist philosophy of science. On the other hand, the disparate analyses which are examined in this chapter do have a number of common elements. First and foremost, contemporary philosophers of science see their job qua philosophers in a very different way than did their positivist predecessors. Whereas logical empiricists concerned themselves with the elaboration of universal models and procedural rules which they believed aptly characterized legitimate scientific practice, post-positivists emphasize the growth of knowledge over time, the dynamics of change within individual disciplines, and the actual practices of scientists. Universality is qualified by specificity; immutable verities are challenged by recognition of changing standards of investigation and patterns of thought; logical analysis is supplemented by and checked against the study of history.

But how does this affect methodology, one may well ask? In a sense, the new approach taken in philosophy of science can be con-

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